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Out of Sri Lanka | Bloodaxe Books

Shash Trevett

& Seni Seneviratne

& Vidyan Ravinthiran

Out of Sri Lanka

Tamil, Sinhala and English poetry from Sri Lanka and its diasporas

Shash Trevett

Publication Date : 22 Jun 2023

ISBN: 9781780376738

Pages: 65
Size :216 x 138mm
Rights: World

Poetry Book Society Special Commendation

Sri Lanka has thrilled the foreign imagination as a land of infinite possibility. Portuguese, Dutch and British colonisers envisioned an island of gems and pearls, a stopping-point on the Silk Road; tourists today are sold a vision of golden beaches and swaying palm trees, delicious food and smiling locals. This favours the south of the island over the north rebuilt piecemeal after the end of the civil war in 2009, and erases a history of war crimes, illicit assassination of activists and journalists, subjugation of minorities, and a legacy of governmental corruption that has now led the country  into economic and social crisis.

This first ever anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry – many exiles refuse to identify as “Sri Lankan” – features over a hundred poets writing in English, or translated from Tamil and Sinhala. It brings to light a long-neglected national literature, and reshapes our understanding of migrational poetics and the poetics of atrocity. Poets long out of print appear beside exciting new talents; works written in the country converse with poetry from the UK, the US, Canada and Australia. Poems in traditional and in open forms, concrete poems, spoken word poems, and experimental post-lyric hybrids of poetry and prose, appear with an introduction explaining Sri Lanka’s history.

There are poems here about love, art, nature – and others exploring critical events: the Marxist JVP insurrections of the 1970s and 80s, the 2004 tsunami and its aftermath, recent bombings linked with the demonisation of Muslim communities. The civil war between the government and the separatist Tamil Tigers is a haunting and continual presence. A poetry of witness challenges those who would erase, rather than enquire into, the country’s troubled past. This anthology affirms the imperative to remember, whether this relates to folk practices suppressed by colonisers, or more recent events erased from the record by Sinhalese nationalists.

‘My anthology of the year was Out of Sri Lanka: Tamil, Sinhala and English poetry from Sri Lanka and its diasporas, edited by Vidyan Ravinthiran, Seni Seneviratne and Shash Trevett, which is everything an anthology should be: conscientious, archival, surprising, world-building, full of voices and lives.’ – Jeremy Noel-Tod, The Times Literary Supplement (Books of the Year 2023)

‘This generous, essential anthology of “Tamil, Sinhala and English Poetry from Sri Lanka and its Diasporas” is endlessly varied, moving and enlightening … While it is, of course, focused on specific histories and experiences, the suffering and the questions it raises remain painfully resonant for the wider world at the ruinous close of 2023.’ – Simon Barraclough, Broken Sleep Books (Books of the Year 2023), on Out of Sri Lanka

'Out of Sri Lanka: Tamil, Sinhala & English Poetry from Sri Lanka & Its Diasporas, edited by Vidyan Ravinthiran, Seni Seneviratne, and Shash Trevett, is an anthology that gazes at the future — at inheritance, to be more precise. Prophetic at times, the anthology has been carefully put together, not to coerce readers into believing that what comes ‘out’ of Sri Lanka is homogenous, but to display stylistic innovations of a nation that is marked by its multiculturalism, whilst simultaneously defying prefabricated geopolitical narratives that the Western-anglophone world tends to reduce most Global South works into.' – Adrija Ghosh, Wasafiri

'Generously edited by Vidyan Ravinthiran, Seni Seneviratne, and Shash Trevett, this 422-page mighty anthology features over 336 poems from 138 poets, with the vast majority of them translated from Sinhala and Tamil, set alongside a good sample of poems in English [...] given that this is the first ever anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry, I'm inclined to go with its ambition and let the chorus echo through and beyond this indispensable book, a Yeatsian singing school that not only bears witness to the past and present voices from the troubled island, but might inspire what's to come.' – Kit Fan, Poetry London, on Out of Sri Lanka

'There are angry waves crashing throughout this collection, the reverberations of colonialism and imperialism, swelled into a civil war, factions and the demonising of Muslim communities, yet amid all of this, each poem is a silent dewdrop shining on the Sri Lankan diaspora. A compilation of jasmine in full bloom and honey birds by day.' – Roy McFarlane, PBS Selector, Poetry Book Society Summer Bulletin 2023, on Out of Sri Lanka

Out of Sri Lanka’s post-1948 verse defies Anglo-American marginalisations of ‘world poetry’ and demands we encounter this rich body of work as poetry without qualifying adjectives.’ – Orla Polten, New Internationalist

‘This expansive and exciting anthology is edited by Shash Trevett, Seni Seneviratne and Vidyan Ravinthiran … and includes poems by new poets alongside older work, some of which was previously out of print.’ – Will Mackie, New & Recent Poetry from the North, New Writing North, on Out of Sri Lanka

‘There are too many books one might pick up to mark National Poetry Day this year, with its theme of Refuge. My recommendation is one of the most important anthologies to have appeared recently: Out of Sri Lanka: Tamil, Sinhala and English Poetry from Sri Lanka and its Diasporas. It’s a huge achievement by its three editors — Vidyan Ravinthiran, Seni Seneviratne and Shash Trevett — who have placed 400 pages of poetry into an enormous gap in Anglophone literary culture.’ – Jeremy Noel-Tod, Some Flowers Soon

‘A vast range of subject matter is included, from landscape-pastoral to the horrors of conflict. Valuable not just as a collection of admirable poetry, but also as a historical record, this should be on the shelf of every library.’ – Frank Startup, The School Librarian, on Out of Sri Lanka

‘The trueness of this anthology lies not just in its celebration of Sri Lanka’s multilingual traditions, but in its recognition that poets writing about the country in various languages and from different locations can converse and, at times, speak as one.’ – Manan Kapoor, Harvard Review, on Out of Sri Lanka

'A monumental work of literary activism, rigorous and laborious archival, and passionate commitment, this is more than a collection of poems. It is an act of rehabilitation, an attempt toward community-building, an unforgiving appraisal of the past, and a clear-eyed gaze into the future. Every nation must, at some time, stop to listen to itself and to speak of itself. One is glad that for Sri Lanka that time is here.' – Basudhara Roy, Borderless Journal, on Out of Sri Lanka


Out of Sri Lanka anthology editors Vidyan Ravinthiran, Seni Seneviratne and Shash Trevett joined NCLA Director Preti Taneja to discuss the anthology at GemArts' Masala Festival in Newcastle on 20 July 2023. The event featured an exclusive video of contributors to the anthology reading their poems as well as the three poet-editors reading their own poems and those of other contributors to the book.

A selection of contributors to the Out of Sri Lanka anthology read their poems. Featuring readings from Yasmin V. Tambiah, Cheran, Megan Dhakshini, Sandaresee Sudusinghe, Mishal Mazin, S. Pathmanathan, Ratna Sri Wijesinghe and Romesh Gunesekera.


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Videos of launch events for the Out of Sri Lanka anthology Summer 2023 are on YouTube. More events to follow in 2024.

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Co-editors of Out of Sri Lanka interview in Words Without Borders; reviews in New Internationalist, Harvard Review, Wasafiri & Poetry London; Books of the Year in TLS;...

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