Poetry Book Society Recommendation
Shortlisted for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection
Shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize 2019
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
'These poets are all, in their own ways, political. Race, the body, feminism, gender, the environment, identity, state violence – all these subjects are explored in different ways. Their work pushes at the edges of what a book of poems can be. To read their words is to be brought tidings of the fragile, fraught times we live in that the language of the news bulletins cannot quite convey.' - Guardian editorial on some of the books up for the 2019 Forward Prizes for Poetry - including Vidyan Ravinthiran's Best Collection-shortlisted The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here
'In these days of polemical identity assertion it’s refreshing to read a book whose explorations of identity and relationship are as generous, subtle and sensitively enquiring as these....The heart of the volume is the thoughtfulness with which personal difficulties are related to wider issues, the intimacy with which personal vulnerabilities are revealed, the radiance of the love breaking through clouds of difficulty and distraction, and the generosity of spirit looking with an equal eye at the poet’s own experience and that of other people.' - Edmund Prestwich, PN Review
'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… 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]
‘This is a collection both about the particulars of shared domestic life, and one charged with greater, uninvited, forces. It is about the persistence of that love, and how it might be brought to bear on the wider world; how the intercultural understanding which exists in a couple, if scaled up, has the power to make the world anew, to bring into being new and wondrous modes of coexistence.’ – Stephanie Sy-Quia, Poetry School [on The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here]
'Through these beautiful poems of love and the domestic, we encounter the wider world; its racism, its parents, its day-to-day minutiae of living... There is violence lurking here too, a history which keeps threatening to break out from the tight lines and, alongside love, we are asked to consider the value of art, and of politics as well; the ultimate effect and feeling is one of radical sincerity as we move through the collection. Larkin, who gives this collection its title, was a poet who was never afraid to reach towards "Poetry", towards the transcendent truth of the perfectly-selected image. He does not go un-critiqued within this collection, but this is a collection with that same sincere belief in the power of language to capture a feeling precisely.' – Andrew McMillan, PBS Bulletin