08 October 2023

'Irvin' and other one-word poems

['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 the 236th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]

 My favourite contemporary Sri Lankan poet, Ruwan Bandujeewa, has come out with his third collection of poems, ධූමළාවණ්‍යාගාරය (Dhoomalaavanyaagaaraya). I’ll come to the title in a moment. This comes a decade after මීළඟ මීවිත (The next wine) and 15 years after his maiden collection, ඇල්කොහොල් නොමැති සඳ (A moon sans alcohol).

As sweet as the one that came before, Dhoomalaavanyaagaraya intoxicates. Just to give a flavour, here’s the first verse of ‘Kanagarayan Aru’ (the only river in Sri Lanka that flows to the North).

නදියක් දුටු තැන නවතා
ලලිත ලතාවෙන් අමතා
දකුණට හරවන්න හදන
රජුන්, ඇමතියන් නොතකා
උතුරටම ගලා යයි
කනගරායන් ආරු

Ignoring kings and ministers
who seeing a river
would with sweet words
stop and turn it southward
the river Kanagarayan Are
flows unwavering
to the North.

The collection deserves a careful read and a decent review. Ratna Sri Wijesinghe, Liyanage Amarakeerthi and Sunanda Karunaratne are eminently suited for this task. There could be others. I am fascinated by the title.  

‘Think of රූපළාවණ්‍යාගාරය (roopalaavanyaagaaraya),’ he told me. I’ve replaced රූප with ධූම. The word ‘roopa’ refers to form, but it can and has been used as a synonym for countenance and even beauty. A ‘roopalaavanyaagaaraya’ would be a beauty salon, a place where the face, typically, is made up.  ‘Smoking room/salon’ would be a decent translation of ‘doomalaavanyaagaaraya,’ but it implies the application of something opaque upon things. The poet cuts through and reveals what he considers the unfilled truths that are too often dressed up and therefore rendered unrecognisable.

It’s a poem. A one word poem.

It reminded me of a similar ‘poem,’ one penned by my friend, part-time boss and mentor in all things related to advertising, Irvin Weerackody, 'boss' of Phoenix Ogilvy.  

It happened a long time ago, I believe at the time when Irvin was the United National Party’s organiser for the Maharagama Electorate. It may have been later too, for he was often invited to speak at various events in that area, long after he ‘retired’ from electoral politics.

He had been invited to speak at the opening of a new crematorium somewhere in Maharagama. The Sinhala word for crematorium is ආදාහනාගාරය (Aadaahanaagaaraya), literally a place where something (in this case a corpse) is burnt. Irvin, lightened up what could have been quite a somber moment by suggesting that the crematorium should be called අනිත්‍යාගාරය (anithyaagaaraya) or a place that symbolises අනිත්‍ය (anithya) or impermanence.

That, now, could be the title of a poem, a poetry collection, a short story or even a novel. Indeed, it is a one-word poem.

Irvin Weerackody, even his detractors would grudgingly concede, helped shape advertising in Sri Lanka. His mark is visible all over the broader field of communications, although few would acknowledge this. He’s a brand in and of itself.

He’s an icon, clearly. The title of a recent article published in a website captures Irvin perfectly: ‘Irvin hithana tharam kaluth nae suduth nae (Irvin is neither as black or as white as one may believe).’ Those who have worked with or under him, his clients and the competition would no doubt have reacted with a smile to this claim.

I still remember the first conversation I had with him. Jayanath Bodahandi, a long time employee at Phoenix O&M had informed Irvin about something I had written to counter a campaign designed by the agency, the ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ project of the UNP government of the time. Irvin wanted to meet me. I dodged for a few months and finally agreed.

He knew I wouldn’t work full time in advertising. He knew I wouldn't work on certain accounts. He said, ‘I’ll give you a retainer.’ I said there could be months when I don’t do any work and therefore I cannot accept payment. ‘Then I’ll pay you for what you do,' he always had an answer.  

That was in 2004. Since then, whenever I was dismissed by employers or I dismissed companies, I would just walk into No 16 Barnes Place and return to being a part time copywriter; but Irvin paid me a monthly salary and never asked me to work on anything I was not interested in.

He once laughed and said, ’this is your most permanent job!’

Irvin’s biography ought to be written, but it’s all there already, in bits and pieces all over the advertising industry and not just the creative work he did or supervised. For me, to put it simply, ‘Irvin’ is a poem, just like dhoomalaavanyaagaaraya and anithyaagaaraya, only it is less elaborate, just two-syllables!


Other articles in this series: 

Earth pieces Kerala and Sri Lanka

Obligation as bomb and ocean

In the land of insomnial poets

In and out of shadows

Over to Eve

When you don't need an invitation, it's home

When the Canadian House of Commons applauded a Nazi...

Touching the touch-me-nots

The importance of not skipping steps

No free passes to the Land of Integrity

Hector Kobbekaduwa is not a building, statue, street or stamp

Rajagala and the Parable of the Panner

Let's show love to Starbucks employees!

You've got mail?

Octavio Paz and Arthur C Clarke in the stratosphere 

Enduring solidarities 

Coco 'Quotes' Gauff!

9/11 and the calm metal instrument of Salvador Allende's voice 

What a memory-keeper foregoes 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

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