25 July 2023

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

Pic courtesy www.sierraclub.com

During a rare but typical gathering of siblings, the eldest, in the thick of a relationship conundrum, declared, ‘I just want these people out of my hair so I can sit under a tree and meditate.’

His brother said wryly, ‘you need to get out of your hair.’ And the sister added (or was it the brother?) a few moments later, ‘a tree is a metaphor, it could be right here in this garage (which he had converted into a room).’

I got to thinking about trees after coming across a quote by Kahlil Gibran, ‘Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky; we fell them down and turn them into paper [so] that we may record our emptiness.’

Trees are not felled just to turn them into paper, of course.  It’s an e-world we live in or rather an e-world we are moving towards. Paper-free one day and until then recycled paper to the extent possible. Doesn't mean that trees aren’t being felled. Doesn’t mean that trees aren’t being planted. Doesn’t mean that the planting equals or exceeds felling. Doesn't mean that this e-business, taken in totality, is paper-free either.

It is estimated that the net annual forest loss on forest cover globally since 2010 is approximately 4.7 million hectares. That is a territory close to the size of Sri Lanka. That is a lot of emptiness we, as a species, are creating.

Interestingly, it has been argued that net forest loss is typical in low-income countries whereas there’s actually a net gain in richer nations. It is not a coincidence, also, that industries that make for forest-loss and general pollution have been deliberately relocated in the poorer nations, not to save trees but because labour is cheaper and draconian labour laws more easily enacted and enforced. And we know where the profits go.

All in the name of development, friends. All in the name of progress. All in the name of pursuing modernity. Some crumbs tossed out marked ‘we are concerned,’ but by and large, things that give us shade, nutrition, medicine, oxygen etc., are being destroyed.  

And under trees called progress, at your fingertips, creature comforts, point and click, palmtop ease, better-than-before and so on, we are free to meditate on emptiness, solitude, meaninglessness and tomorrows we are reluctant to worry about. We don’t need paper for any of this.

There are trees being felled as I write. There are manuscripts of poetry that are being burnt. There are voices being silenced. There are self righteous calls to arms. There’s unabashed drives to develop and deploy weapons of mass destruction. There’s mass destruction happening without weapons, fiercely defended on the basis of economic theories that have ‘ANTI-INTELLECTUAL’ stamped all over them in BIG, BOLD, LETTERS, so big, so bold and so over-decorated with glitter that we are too blinded to read them.

Somewhere, though, someone is meditating. Someone is deciding, ‘I will be conscious of my carbon footprint.’ Someone is teaching someone that rivers have sources and trees have roots, that we have all drunk from other’s wells and sat under the shade of trees planted by people whose name we don’t know. Somewhere, someone is treading softly on the grass. Someone, somewhere, is planting verse-seeds in the most unforgiving terrain and watering these future-notes with love. Someone, somewhere gives and shares without thinking of return. Someone, somewhere is noting calloused hands and telling others, ‘this is wrong; this can be stopped.’ 

Someone’s in our hair. All the time.  We are in someone else’s hair. All the time. We all need to sit under a tree and meditate. Now and then.

At some point, maybe, some of us will realise that we need to get out of our own hair first. We need to consider the possibility that there is poetry that the earth writes upon the sky and although the sky writes enough poetry with wind, cloud and sun as ink, there are poetic greens that the sky alone can never compose. The earth has to do it. If we allow the earth to write. Right now, as a species, we are destroying the ink and the paper. We are poisoning the poet and shredding the manuscripts of poetry that provide life breath and keep our hearts beating.

We are getting to the point that we will not be able to get out of our hair, never mind sitting under a tree and meditating, on emptiness or anything else for that matter. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below] 

Other articles in this series: 

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road