A Mosaic of Diverse Devices and Inquiry | Sunday Observer
The Kingfisher:

A Mosaic of Diverse Devices and Inquiry

29 March, 2020

Internationally renowned world-class academic in the liberal arts disciplines such as cinema and communication studies, Prof. Wimal Dissanayake’s maiden book of English poetry titled ‘The Kingfisher’ offers readers new insights about this widely read Sinhala poet whose work is greatly appreciated in the sphere of arts and letters.

The book offers 79 poems that vary in theme and subject foci, written as free verse. While bearing veins of sobriety, colourfulness and facets of conservatism, some of the poems in ‘The Kingfisher’, are built on the poetically prosaic approach of descriptiveness that blends seamlessly grains of the voice of an essayist with the image bound flows of verse writing.   

The poems ‘Remembering Elliot’ and ‘Russian Formalists’ bring out a facet of Dissanayake’s voice as a scholar of letters. The contents of the two poems seem to show a subconscious attempt to build a bridge between himself, his knowledge on the subjects and actors in the world of literature, and the mundane world that although surrounds him materially may not necessarily be gripped to his senses at all times. The poem ‘Russian Formalists’ reveal a simple and private revelation to a learned yet modest and unassuming soul who may see ‘masks of metaphors’ in something as mundane as a fruit borne on a tree in one’s garden, and in that discovers the magic of bridging grandiose scholarly theories with simple grains of nature that surround us.

‘Panic’ is a poem that touched me deeply. It is in every sense a very personal poem that comes straight from the poet’s unfiltered spring of emotions. The dilemma of being conscious to mortality, not so much in one’s own self, but one’s mother, and her very identity as a person capable of meaningful communication, speaks with urgency in this poem. The poet’s belief that all identity rests on memory and the validation of memory, brings to the fore the daunting question as to how much he exists as ‘son’ in the mind of his mother who is besieged by loss of memory due to old age, against which the poet is reminded of his helplessness.

Among the tropes and themes running a course of creating a mosaic of scholarly inquiry, imagery, metaphor and mindscapes through textual flows, one of the noticeable and significant themes that can be found among several poems is how the poet is at times at a contest with himself to drive his creative veins to reach his goals as a poet. There seems to be a battle within the poet to overcome some instances of writer’s block and break impasses that hold him back from fully realising the delight his creative senses seek to manifest in the form of verse. I dare say this aspect of this book seems to show how Dissanayake may have been playing tug: of: war within, between the scholar and poet, when one sought to overpower the other and claim supremacy! It is no easy task to let the intellect of logic and rationality admit submission to the unbridled flows of a poet’s meditative elopement with aesthetic beauty.   

Poems such as ‘Reading and Solitude’,  ‘Poems’, ‘Sleepless Night’, ‘River’, ‘Statue’, ‘The Old Poet’,  and ‘The Sharp and Sweet Sword of Poetry’ offer rich imagery, metaphoric devices and mindscapes that deal with matters of the scholar’s intellect and also the sensibility of beauty sought by the heart of the poet. The title poem of this book, ‘The Kingfisher’ was something of conundrum to me at first. It is rather simple and unassuming. There seems at first glance little to celebrate about this title poem. Why did this erudition, Wimal Dissanayake, chose or cite this particular poem as the title when there would be far more apt poems in this collection I wondered? It soon dawned on me that perhaps like the kingfisher, that is known to disguise himself upon a leafy branch, the poet believes this poem works as a metaphor of his own self? Like the kingfisher that makes a sharply calculated move that is near infallible and unexpected, Dissanayake who is predominantly known for his Sinhala poetry, in writing this book of English poetry, presented to readers something that was not necessarily predicted in the sphere of arts and letter in Sri Lanka.

Surveying the landscape below for the right time to make the right flight of swooping down and jetting back up, the kingfisher enjoys the fruits of his talents far from the madding crowd. Perhaps that is Dissanayake himself deep down? Resting on the satisfaction that he has achieved yet another feather on his cap, he is free to be perched once more and survey the land below couched in the tranquillity of his solitude.