21 December 2023

Of masks, skins and the best poetry in the world

Clockwise from top left: Udayasiri Wickramaratne, Vajira Mahakanumulla,  Chaaminda Rathnasuriya, Irvin Weerackody, Harith Gunawardena, Kapila Kumara Kalinga and Athula Kaldemulla

Almost twenty years ago, some of the copywriters working at Phoenix O&M thought it would be good to share their poetry with each other and anyone else interested. There was an empty space on a wall close to the entrance of the Creative Department and this was chosen as the Ketapath Pavura of the agency.  

There were some well known lyricists, in particular Kapila Kumara Kalinga, Athula Kaldemulla, Chaaminda Rathnasuriya and Vajira Mahakanumulle. In addition we had the versatile Udayasiri Wickramaratne and Harith Gunawardena of King Barnet and Always Breakdown fame. Boss, i.e. Irvin Weerackody, often quipped, ‘we have playwrights, film-makers, lyricists and columnists but none of them writer advertising copy!’ In fact Udayasiri came up with a title for the book we laughingly planned to publish once we had enough poems: ‘ලෝකයේ හොඳම කවි (The Best Poems in the World)’! Yes, we laughed a lot and mostly at ourselves and how ridiculous we could be.

I hardly ever write poetry or anything close to verse in Sinhala, but one day I wrote the following:



[Love: a moment, sweet and that’s it].

A few minutes later, Chaaminda put up a poem of his own:



[Lust: a moment, sweet and that’s it].

At that very moment Boss happened to walk by. I told him, dejectedly, that Chaaminda had wrecked my poem.

After a quick read, Boss, quick of wit and probably one of the best copywriters in the business, quipped, ‘are you suffering from premature ejaculation?’ From then onwards, until he left the agency, Boss, whenever he ran into Chaaminda, would ask ‘haven’t you written any sensual poetry lately?’

It was a good time. Years later, Chaaminda and I discussed how in certain instances moments can be stretched to eternities. I told him that the poem could be edited thus:



[Love: a moment, sweet and forgotten].

He laughed. We still laugh whenever we talk about these 'working definitions' of love.

I remember writing another ‘poem’ around that time. I am not sure if I posted it on our ‘wall.’ The title was ‘මම (I).’ It was a one-liner: මම ධන මගේ වෙස් මුහුණ (Myself plus my mask).

It was this line that came to mind today and that’s what got me going about the allegedly best verse on the planet, though we said so ourselves.  

We have skins and we have make up. There’s a face we own and a face we wear for others. There’s an ‘I’ and there’s also the ‘I’ we believe someone or people in general expect us to be. So faces and masks come into conflict. And indeed, there could come a moment when our masks replace our face forever. Tragically, we find it difficult to pin point that moment, the precipitation factors and the long history that produced this outcome. Indeed, we walk through life, the world and even by the side of love ones firmly believing that we never lost our faces, we could never lose our skins.

Dananjaya Bandara

Dananjaya Bandara, again in a small poem, offers a different perspective.  

සර්පයෙකු දමා ගිය
සුන්දරම පණිවිඩය
නව මගක් තිබේ නම් "නුඹ"
හැරදමා යා යුතුය හැව

The sweetest lesson
left behind by a snake
if there is a new path, then ‘you’
must your skin shed

We see politicians doing this all the time. They drop one flag and pick up another, abandon one color and embrace another — they are skin-changers, almost by definition. What Dananjaya is referring to is something more profound. I feel it is about reinventing oneself, either removing the mask and being comfortable in one’s skin or shedding both and growing a new skin compatible with changed ideology, philosophy, lifestyle, circumstances, landscapes or the search for better profits. It's called brand repositioning in advertising.

Masks are easier, skin tough. Abandoning both would require one to be absolutely courageous because it involves abandonment of all ‘truths’ previously held sacred. One might require a good explanation, but then the explanation-requirement is also a skin or mask — to serve the need for validation, often by those who wouldn’t care less if we existed or not.

There are many layers of skin that cloth our hearts and minds. They gather dust, they cloud judgment, they force us to live lives as defined by rent-collectors who force us to lose love by ‘loving’ and concede life by ‘living.’ We end up inhabiting territories as would impoverished tenants who endlessly toil and are bitten by employer, retailer and landlord.

Danajaya’s elegant poem suggests that there indeed is a better path, a better way and better countries to inhabit. Not many get there but there are some who try. Accounts of their journeys, if collected, could indeed be called ‘ලෝකයේ හොඳම කවි (The Best Poems of the World).’ I’m sure Udayasiri would agree. As would my old friends from Phoenix O&M would, Boss too.

['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 298th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]


Other articles in this series: 

Calling Kapila Bandaranayake, wherever he may be!

The IDF and Rules of Engagement

Anthony Courseault's tryst with grapes

Sarath Karunaratne can't stop teaching

In the delirium of my insomnia

Herculaneum of the 21st Century

Gauze-kites in intemperate skies

Semitism: unclothed, unadulterated and unvarnished

The residences of Refaat Al Areer

Pity the all-knowing and naive as they stutter grandiose alibis!

No shortcuts to direct hits

Love-residue on park benches that have disappeared

Reflections on things left unfinished

The virtues of an empty canvas

Rukshan does not age

Autumn days and nights thirteen centuries apart

Texts are ancient, transcription error-ridden

The naked truth

The poetry of resistance 

Dung-lies and flower-truths

The word as a sword held to the throat of truth

Residents of and residency in heart and mind

Merit, integrity and seniority in the superior courts

Hunters and 'victims' of immemorial light

The unbearable lightness of pause

Magic carpet to Dutuwewa

Gauze, blood-stained and torn

Seasons bookeneded by leaves on park benches

Writers' blocs and dead lines  

Stop Press!

The world shall not be emptied of poetry

Reclaiming the everyday with solidarities of tender fury

An Aussie broke a SLan heart in Ind for Afg

Writing magical pieces about something beautiful when time permits

The scattered archives of art and protest

Friendship that keep friends permanently at 16

Amherst: silent, rural, poetic and serendipitous 

The virtues of unemployability

A breathless hush at the close

Ahmed Issa, fearless and audacious in Gaza

Let us take a deep breath now...

How Grolier Poetry writes 'Harvard Square'

Let us write beautiful poetry

Following children and their smiles

Let's plant words in cracks and craters

Re-weaving lives and love

When the earth closes upon us...

Let us now march to the battleground of words

The most pernicious human shield

Who bombed Frankfurter Buchmesse

The truly besieged 

Love's austere and lonely offices

The mysteriously enjoined in the middle of nowhere

Serendipity now!

Reflections on the unimaginable 

Jackson Anthony is a book and will be read 

A village called Narberth Bookshop

Gateway drugs to A-B-C

'Irvin' and other one-word poems

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



Anonymous said...

වෙස් මුහුණට මුහුණ දෙන්න

Anonymous said...

වෙස් මුහුණට මුහුණ දෙන්න