Poetry Book Society Recommendation
Shortlisted for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection
Vidyan Ravinthiran’s second collection is a book of sonnets for his wife. These are love poems that turn analytical, consider the world, and in which the pronoun ‘we’ aspires to stand for a larger community, including (if you like) the readers themselves. Many describe life in northern England for a mixed-race couple, considering both the redemptive force of love and the cultural origins of our discontent.
Brexit; racist and sexist abuse; class; our work-life balance, and our relationship with institutions (be it our employer, or the NHS); taboos surrounding mental health; civil war in Sri Lanka; media representation of minorities; immigrant anxieties: these poems look inward, but also outward. Worrying at the link between society and our private lives, they scorn a politics which would put us in separate boxes. Love, and imagination, may not conquer all, but as recent shocks suggest, ‘we’ must at least try to understand people different from us.
‘Also on the shortlist [for the Forward Prize for Best Collection] is another collection that approaches divisive politics with humanity and warmth: Vidyan Ravinthiran’s The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here. Formally assured but far from formulaic, this book of sonnets for the poet’s wife is testament, at its best, to the ways in which poetry can reach from the particular to the universal. Moving and inviting in their conversational ease, Ravinthiran’s sonnets stretch from the grounding details of life for a mixed-race couple in England today… to thoughtfully touch on themes of identity, class, work and community.’ – Ben Wilkinson, The Guardian
'The poet’s domestic introspection is no less than a conduit for contemplation of the troubles which define many lives. And in this fine collection, they include racism (Ravinthiran is British by birth and Sinhalese by family origin, his wife is white British), cultural dislocation, mental illness, politics and identity... Vidyan Ravinthiran’s collection is both bracing and complex, and it is difficult to give a comprehensive review of such a diversionary, inclusive body of work without venturing into essay territory.' - Steve Whitaker, The Yorkshire Times [on The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here]
From the reviews of Grun-tu-molani:
'As a very rare kind of British poet indeed - one from a Sri Lankan background readers might expect Vidyan Ravinthiran to have a lot of important things to say. He does, but, like Oscar Wilde, whom this witty and ambitious debut quotes twice, Grun-tu-molani also delights in wrong-footing expectations of earnestness' – Jeremy Noel-Tod, Sunday Times.
'“Grun-tu-molani” is borrowed from Bellow’s phrase meaning “man wants to live” and Ravinthiran’s verse seems driven by a comparably urgent impulse, to perfect his craft. From translations of ancient Tamil texts to contemporary riffs on recession and technology, he combines formal range with wit as well as moral, sensual and emotional complexity' – Maria Crawford, Financial Times, Summer books 2014.
'Grun-tu-Molani brings a light touch and a sometimes damning elegance to subjects including MTV, a chair addressing Jackie Chan, the Tamil Tigers, militarism and the purpose of money – recalling the early Michael Hofmann as he does so, which is a good sign' – Sean O'Brien, Independent.
‘Gripping is not a word you usually associate with poetry, but Vidyan Ravinthiran’s poems are precisely that, and they seldom let go. They are full of surprising turns (and turns of phrase), and their humour can make you squirm, as humour should… A ferocious intelligence is at work in these poems, whose stylish armoured exterior reflects sometimes a literary scholar and sometimes a displaced person; sometimes contemporary Britain and sometimes ancient Sri Lanka’ – Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.