Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Splintered Face Tsunami Poems: A Reading in London

For those of you in or about London, I have been invited by the Centre for Community Development to read from The Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems on Saturday January 12. The event will begin with cofffee at 10 am to be followed by the reading.

The address of the venue is

Thulasi, Bridge End Close (Off Clifton Road)
Kingston Upon Thames KT26PZ

This will be the first reading from the new book and I would be delighted to see you there. I will then take the book to the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka where it will have its official launch.



Oui, c’est vrai,
la diplomatie est
une responsabilité,
representer un peuple
est un privilège,
tout ca,

mais quelquefois
elle devient un fardeau,
on doit être prudent,
maintenir le silence
quand le coeur
veut crier.

-- Indran Amirthanayagam, le 19 Decembre c) 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007


A friend asked me to return to this early poem. I met Ernesto Cardenal for the first time last May in Hermosillo, Mexico at the annual Horas de Junio festival. I was honored to present a paper on his work with the great poet at my side. But I digress. This homage moves beyond Cardenal to honor youthful ideals and ambition.

May 23, 1985 for JB

What are you doing down in Nicaragua?
have you drunk coffee yet at the Café Buena Vista,
have you met Cardenal?

A woman I know is so intrigued by your visit,
what about his lover, she said, doesn’t she care
about his proximity to bombs, Contras,
Sandinistas, long lines of women after bread.

Would you live within an embargo,
she asked knowingly, as I sipped coffee
In my West Side room and thought
of the train that took a recent love
away, nothing more, not bread
or tea, fear of the yankee.

Your grandmother said you reminded her
of the boys that went to Spain.
Is there still Spain and a civil war?
Catalonia, Neruda, Garcia Lorca.
Tell me, what are you doing down in Nicaragua?

I have not travelled in years.
I no longer know black or white,
Naïve yes, Botha is evil, true,
and the right wars, Jaffna,
Palestine, so I ask you again:
what are you doing down in Nicaragua?

To observe, you said,
to read and write
and keep your hands off, perhaps.

When you left
that early Sunday morning
shortly after Dawn,
I imagined hair blown back
and dreams falling like flowers
off an unadorned tree,

waiting on Broadway for a taxi,
belongings sent off to London,
carrying a few clothes, notebooks, shoes,
a few too many socks,
but you could not think of everything,
a hat.

A wallet of single dollar bills
to live like a king
and look and practice Spanish.
(Rest your head in some dark, loping hair.)

A good contrast to the twin towers, you said,
to see Nicaragua before you left the Americas,

to walk in the blessing of morning
with the fisherman and cobbler,
preacher, drinker, market women.

Tell me, what are you doing down in Nicaragua
and what have you seen?

c) Indran Amirthanayagam. Use only with author’s permission

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Hay poemas que uno esconde en un poemario. Pertencen los textos a la colección pero les da al autor un poco de vergüenza. Son intimos de manera reveladora. No son ejercicios de genio ni observaciones abrumadoras sobre la realidad familiar o la salud del planeta. Importan por un ritmo, una destilación de una experiencia que si no hubiera encontrado su poema hubiera roido el alma, molestado los sueños. Asi es este poema del libro El Hombre que Recoge Nidos.


Se llamaba Carroll, me llamaba
sambo, su nombre era Zago,
era hijo de un italiano pero
me nombraba sin nombre

con mi apellido de catorce
letras, me cortaron diez,
me llamaban Amir, era feliz
al menos olvidaban nigger.

Eran mis compañeros
de la primaria, no sabían nada,
gordos y enrojecidos como
frutas maduras, se derramaban

en su ropa, no tenían buenos
modales, les había regalado
la aduana un hindú para que
supiesen el misterio del continente

perdido por sus padres y madres
con los nombres imposibles,
sus anillos en la nariz, hijos e hijas
en el patio de recreo y aprendizaje.

Indran Amirthanayagam, derechos reservados, del poemario
El Hombre que Recoge Nidos (Resistencia/CONARTE, México, 2005)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


10 years in New York, a city I return to in dream rhythms, to jazz beats. Let us dance this New Year and be glad if even for a time.


The cats want to play.
They’ve all got tunes
in their heads, popping
out of eyes and ears,

flounced on tongues.
Will you have me, Lick,
a bit of bother,
smooth swing,

cymbals shimmering.
We’re music, man,
players and pieces.
After us, what words

or dance steps
can distract the crowd
while we orchestrate
sound and body down—

yet the reviewer says
oh what an instrumental
as we walk past 40th
and 10th on the way

down to Hell’s Kitchen,
to the river, to write
poems and fill bottles,
block up sea lanes

with our heart’s cries.
Oh, stop the music,
stop spending
the duracell,

atrophy and
we’re in the global
soup, man,

hotter by the minute,
the kitchen’s
been franchised.
Oh stop

the poems!
They only make
the heart glad
for a time.

-- Indran Amirthanayagam, c) 2007. Any reproduction, only with author's permission

Monday, December 24, 2007


Andy Young is a New Orleans poet, a poet of the American South, editor of a journal Meena that unites the city with Alexandria in English and Arabic. She is a fine lyricist, word dancer and, in her heart breaking, witness to the wrath of hurricanes and the slaughter of war. This poem comes from a new book I have had the pleasure of reading quietly. I hope soon it will be recited in the public square, barked on the roads and stages, whispered and memorized at home and struck into the record at the hearings.


the moon a smudge above the wreckage
here is the peace of the grave

a sob-soaked sky flaps its curtain of ash
egrets fly over, white as bone

here on the right a house in a heap
here is a church on its knees

here is a street tumbled to sticks
a tricycle hangs from a wire

the canal and its ships drift on, drift on
the canal and its ships drift on

there is a dog hobbling off,
it dangles a leg like a charm

here on the right a barge on a school
a store lifted onto a truck

three steps lead to nothing (this was a house)
mud cracks in patterns as in drought

oh lady of ruins, your head crushed to dust
where are the ones you have no eyes to see

where did they go, dragging their bags
across the bridge to find ground

where do they rest if they rest if they rest
and where would they be if they returned

the canal and its ships drift on, drift on
the canal and its ships drift on

-- Andy Young c) 2007, used with the author's permission

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The first poem I ever wrote imitated this poem of my father’s. My cousin Ravi reminded me of it today and I thought I would share it here. I recall Guy adding Words for Music to the title many years after the original composition. He may have wanted to temper slightly the import of this powerful parable. After all, he gave his four sons and only daughter the instruction to become Western Oriental gentlemen and woman.


Eastern man walks slowly
Afraid of the flash in the sky,
Western Man walks swiftly
Less reason why.

Eastern man walks slowly
Afraid of the bolt from the blue,
Western man walks swiftly
Blind to the view.

Eastern man walks slowly
Shakes as the rockets boom,
Western man walks swiftly
Swiftly to his doom.

-- Guy Amirthanayagam, Selected Poems, Ceylon Printers, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2002

Monday, December 17, 2007



Me sentaré en tus ojos hasta que
Me mires. No tengo otro proyecto,
Puedo quedarme años y horas.

He dejado a otros la prosecución
De la guerra, la competencia
Para que todos se sientan

Agobiados o muertos. Estoy fresco
Como una limonada. Me visto
En ropa casi del aire. Me pongo

El maquillaje de los salones
De Francia. No tengo nada
Que hacer sino darte gozo,

Soy tu sirviente, mis hombros,
Mi cerebro, mis manos,
Mis caderas están pulidos

Para que puedas resbalar sobre ellos,
¿Por qué cruzas las fronteras?
¿Por qué no me miras?

Indran Amirthanayagam c)2001 del poemario El Infierno de los Pájaros,
Resistencia, Mexico, D.F.

CRITICAL MASS: Preview 2008: Indran Amirthanayagam's "The Splintered Face: Tsunami"

CRITICAL MASS: Preview 2008: Indran Amirthanayagam's "The Splintered Face: Tsunami"

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I just received my first copies of The Splintered Face Tsunami Poems. The official release date is January 2008. Here is one of the poems.


The ghosts will need food,
bed sheets, towels,
birthdays celebrated,
children washed, clothed.

They will require white
candles, low-cut wicks,
nothing ostentatious,
a small altar, table

in the living room,
in a corner, to keep
an eye on the children
as they study and dream,

put flesh on their arms,
become young men
and women, get drunk,
fall in love.

The ghosts will
not leave us
to grow up
unattached, alone.

--c) 2007 Indran Amirthanayagam

Some of the proceeds from the book will be donated to tsunami relief.
You can order the book now from bookstores, the publisher Hanging Loose (there's a link in this blog), or on line.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

LIEN, un poeme


Mon ami la télévision
avec ses hôtes mignons
et ses visions du caraïbe
quand à ma fenêtre
le jardin est blanc,
et tu dors a 10, 000 kilometres

de ma bouche, et je dis
ton nom et la neige
tombe plus fort,
et il n ya aucun lien
logique ou pas entre
la météo et l’absence.

-- dr, Indran Amirthanayagam, c) 2007


My friend television,
with handsome hosts
and visions of the Caribbean,
when the garden is white
outside my window
and you sleep ten thousand

miles from my lips,
I say your name and
snow falls even stronger,
and there is no link
in logic between
weather and absence.

Indran Amirthanayagam, c) 2007

Please Note: If you wish to reproduce this poem or any others by the author Indran Amirthanayagam, do seek permission at

Tuesday, December 11, 2007



Will my funeral start out from our courtyard?
How will you get me down from the third floor?
The coffin won’t fit in the elevator,
and the stairs are awfully narrow.

Maybe there’ll be sun knee-deep in the yard, and pigeons,
maybe snow filled with the cries of children,
maybe rain with its wet asphalt.
And the trash cans will stand in the courtyard as always.

If, as is the custom here, I’m put in the truck face open,
a pigeon might drop something on my forehead: it’s good luck.
Band or no band, the children will come up to me—
they’re curious about the dead.

Our kitchen window will watch me leave.
Our balcony will see me off with the wash on the line.
In this yard I was happier than you’ll ever know.
Neighbors, I wish you all long lives.

April 1963

--Nazim Hikmet, trans. from the Turkish by
Randy Blasing, Mutlu Konuk

Ay Nazim, you left us with a few thousand indelible treasures, word beats, nostalgias for Ramazan Night and the long train journeys through the countries of your exile, with Vera “ straw-blond eyelashes blue.”
Nazim, you kept me company nursing my poems with infinite patience writing your human landscapes on scraps of paper in the jail cells.
Nazim, you taught me that the heart thinks and bleeds and the metaphor is the heart thinking and bleeding.
Nazim, let there always be commerce between us.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Me anima mucho el papel del poema ante el ruido de la politica, el zumbido de las bombas, el sentir de estar asediado y la necesidad de buscar refugio. Encontré casa, pesebre, lecho, respuesta en la poesia de Sergio Madrid. Vive en Valparaiso en ese país sureño, cuna de poetas, Chile.


No hay nada que pueda romper
este impulse bajo el dintel, debemos
cuidar nuestra libertad, cuidarnos
de la gran guerra que es el mundo

¿sabes? aquellos que hace un tiempo
asediaban y despedazaban a la gente
por la estúpida convicción
de que salvarían la patria, hoy
están más vivos que nunca

debemos cuidarnos de la malsanía
no deberíamos olvidar la inocencia
que nos reúne, esta libertad de ir desnudos
hacia la amplia cama, y saludarnos
no sólo con la sonrisa del amor

sino con la mueca invisible de la convicción

ni temer al futuro ni a la pobreza
ni a la vicisitud, tomarnos
de la cintura, cantar juntos
en la tina, cuando el atardecer
deja pasar un rayo vespertino.

-Sergio Madrid, del poemario Cadáveres, Ediciones Cataclismo, Viña del Mar, Chile

Sunday, December 9, 2007



Fais ta declaration,
mon ami, est-ce que
tu te sentais heureux
le lendemain du vol,
quand tu cherchais
des temoins
e tu t’es rendis compte
qu’il n y avait aucune
assurance pour le vol
d’un oiseau?

Est-ce que tu veux
preserver le nid,
arranger ses cheveux
dans une boîte à bijoux,
dis-moi, n’est-ce pas
mieux, que la vie s’arrange,
que l’oubli arrive—

mais laisse quand même
quelques souvenirs
de la première fois,
il n’y a que la première fois,

quand juste avant
de se lever, ta bien-aimée
se tourne et te prend

et tu te sens comme
un poussin, tu ne penses
a rien, le soleil ne se lève
jamais, et ce poème
n’a pas de lendemain.

-- Indran Amirthanayagam, le 6 Aout, 1998, Abidjan.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

DRIVE, a Poem


in the morning,
I will drive
from Beirut to Jerusalem,

my son and daughter
swaddled in the back seat,
a white flag draped
on the windshield,

a cage for a cock and hen,
some source of eggs,
a briefcase
with letters

my grandfather wrote
when he left for America.
I must not forget
the urn, my mother's beads.

The sea breeze will refresh
us. I will avoid potholes
with swift and limber
driving. I came back

during the cold peace.
I do not read leaflets
dropped from the sky;
perhaps I am a fool

to believe in the witchcraft
of white, sun bright,
sea blue, roads empty,
rats scurrying

into basements,
whelps, squeals,
constant blackness
while I crank my engine,

son and daughter
in the rear-view mirror,
hood flagged,
cock in song, in flight.

-- Indran Amirthanayagam c)2006

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nicanor Butterfly


--for Nicanor Parra

The woods nearby have vanished.
Where shall the heart go
to see the butterfly, to die?
Yet bread cooks in a few
new furnaces around
the globe, and at Las Cruces
the poet has not quite
split the atom or woman.

The butterfly’s resplendence
remains a metaphor
realized only in language,
while he speaks still,
takes notes but will not travel—
for what?—nor draw
stick figures with conundrums,
but writes and writes

infinite series of notes,
claps his hands and waves
like the Pope
to the schoolchildren
who spot him
on the porch shouting
“Nicanor, Nicanor,
Idolo, Idolo”

while the waves crash
on somebody else’s
beach, at Las Cruces
the poet returns
to the sitting room
to have afternoon tea
served by two
tea maidens.

Indran Amirthanayagam, Chile, April 2005

Monday, December 3, 2007

Carta Al Papa- Poema

--a Eduardo

Estimada Eminencia,
el Papa, no hay otro
papa que mi papi
del neobarroco,

quien me ha hecho
sitio en su retórica
y me haces sentir
el placer puro

del verso lleno, sucio,
bañado en las ciencias
naturales y la tecnología
del ratón que juega

en un rompecabezas
digital. Amigo,
más bien, su Excelencia,
tu apóstol viaja

sin miedo hasta tierras
inhospitalarias donde
los poetas escriben
todavía para los pescadores

y me dicen, mis compañeros,
que casi lo mataron,
el discípulo José en esa
universidad al extremo Sur,

donde los pingüinos miden
los versos y aplauden
las metáforas. No,
mi Supremo, no es fácil

este trabajo de la difusión
del neobarroco, aun cuando
me dicen que tu fama
de futbolista

te ayuda y te protege,
pero estás en tu torre
de marfil, en la tierra
bendita, detrás del muro,

y los fieles vienen
cada dos años
a tu congreso
mundial del neobarroco,

pero yo, y él, y ese otro,
somos vagabundos en América
con tu evangelio, y estamos
solos ante tu verbo.

-- Indran Amirthanayagam, el 1 de diciembre, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007


I received a copy of the page proofs today. This Splintered Face has almost materialized. As l leaf through these poems, I think of my father, Guy Amirthanayagam, who gave me a great send-off as a poet, reading all of my first poems, encouraging them along with comments and suggestions during a wet Honolulu summer where poetry filled my lonely heart-ache, gave my life some purpose.

I continue, of course, to engage in the inevitable tussle between woman of flesh and blood, and the muse, this sweet absence, saree pulled through the ring in my friend Shahid’s “The Dacca Gauzes.”

My father wrote at times about woman and solitude. Here is


Exactitude is vital:
The pilot sounds precise enough
As he announces loud and clear
We are thirty thousand
Five hundred and forty feet
Above the ground.

The climb over affronted clouds
In a mood to mass together,
Shutting out of sight
Inhospitable desert mountains
Seems a true image, the only one
Of man’s ascent, till
A vision of a kind-looking
Hostess, like the serene, low
Lying cloud just appearing
In the right corner of my window
Floats past me with the question,
Do you need a drink?

Startled, I mumble under my breath;
My sub-vocal speech she does not hear
My ‘yes’ is neither firm nor clear.
She passes me by, as though
We were in a park on earth
Or a supermarket.
I do not need a drink.
But I could be comforted.

And the price of comfort is to have
Assertiveness to match my need:
Strong certitude in every deed.
Exactitude is vital.

--- Guy Amirthanayagam, New Verse, Paperback Edition, Ceylon Printers, 1990

Press Release for The Splintered Face Tsunami Poems

Hanging Loose Press
231 Wyckoff Street phone: 212 206-8465
Brooklyn, New York fax: 212 243-7499

For immediate release:


Brooklyn – Hanging Loose Press will publish The Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems the second English language collection by prize winning poet Indran Amirthanayagam on January 25, 2008.

Indran Amirthanayagam is a poet, essayist and translator in English, Spanish and French. His first book The Elephants of Reckoning won the 1994 Paterson Poetry Prize. The poem “Juarez” won the Juegos Florales of Guaymas, Sonora in 2006. Other books include El Infierno de los Pajaros, El Hombre que Recoge Nidos, and Ceylon R.I.P. Amirthanayagam has been a NYFA fellow in poetry as well as a grantee of the U.S./Mexico Fund for Culture for his translations. He was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He is a member of the United States Foreign Service. This is his second book to be published in the United States.

Praise for The Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems:
“These poems both about those who died in, and those who survived, the Tsunami of 2004 memorialize with anger and beauty one of the most devastating tragedies of our time. In its largeness of heart, bold artistry, and admirable desire to bear witness, Amirthanayagam’s consoling, life-affirming and triumphant volume reminds me of Neruda’s great Residence on Earth.”
—Jaime Manrique
“Indran Amirthanayagam’s densely woven Tsunami Poems display a perfect marriage of form and content. His rhythms, rhymes, and intricate consonantal endings as well as his precise images and mots justes ironically intensify the terror of the stories these poems tell—stories of real men, women, and children whose lives have been changed forever by a terrible natural disaster. This beautifully written and graphic sequence makes for fascinating reading.”—Marjorie Perloff

“Indran Amirthanayagam’s poems about tragedy and loss are woven with such fine irony. Each offers the poet’s consolation, challenging horror with the beautiful line.”—Richard Rodriguez

“In his powerful and vivid reenactment of the devastating 2004 tsunami and its aftermath, Indran Amirthanayagam rematerializes a composite but ‘splintered face,’ and conjures a myriad of voices, memorializing this incomprehensible tragedy. With plain-spoken eloquence and consummate skill, he presents a chorus of individual testimonials from survivors—including monologues by a Sri Lankan fisherman who lost his entire family, visiting tourists, a body builder, and a bereft but ever faithful priest—all who witnessed and survived ‘the shape of a giant wave’ rising to devour tens of thousands of lives.


“A deeply moving and wise book, The Splintered Face recognizes the great and small paradoxes inherent in the world, and among them: ‘the sea [as] father/ and mother,/ karma and dharma// and all other/ available terms,/ including fate.’ The poet understands how, while we still mourn for the lost and dead, we also engender ‘the ceremonies of innocence,’ and muster both hope and strength to carry on. Ultimately, Amirthanayagam’s poems celebrate the human spirit’s resilience, even when faced with unutterable loss.”—Maurya Simon

Hanging Loose Press, founded in 1966, publishes Hanging Loose magazine and individual collections of fiction and poetry. The press has received many awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Poetry, 104 pages For more information call:
paper, ISBN: 978-1-931236-82-9, $16.00 New York, Robert Hershon: 212 206-8465
cloth, ISBN: 978-1-931236-83-6, $26.00 Boston, Mark Pawlak: 617 491-6416

Please send tear sheets or two photocopies of any reviews.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


-- a L.D.

despierta al aleteo del picaflor,
arranca su auto
para cruzar el río seco;
y en Constitución
va en busca de un cachete.

En el camino susurra
que no soportará
la violación
del sentido comun,
que prefiere

a poetas que escriban
con pinceles, mujeres
que aceptan ser dibujadas
con pinceles, y las
que pintan autorretratos,

y las demás mujeres
por el consuelo
de ser abrazado, amado,
y esa musa que vive
en la calle Mina

quien le invita a casa
a comer tortillas y frijoles
y machacado con huevos
y lo corrige con gusto,
la Mexicana

quien le ha hecho
un lugar en su literatura
como chico del barrio,
hombre regio,
amigo imaginista.

-- Indran Amirthanayagam, el 28 de noviembre, derechos reservados 2008

Las Cruces

Cumpleaños, Las Cruces

El dia de mi cumpleaños, de mi cuarenta y séptimo año hacia el Cielo, llegué a la puerta de la casa del poeta en Las Cruces. Estaba abierta. Era la una de la tarde. Entré y me dirigí hacia la sala. Ahí lo encontré leyendo sentado en un sofá: a los 93 años, con un sombrero, a Nicanor Parra. Lo saludé y le pregunté si nos podíamos hablar, si mis amigos también podían entrar y charlar con el. Asintió y empezamos a charlar: de las fotografías (que roban el alma según los Mapuches), de un poema que le había enviado hace dos años: “Nicanor Butterfly,” “como puedo recordar si apenas me acuerdo de una de las primeras lineas de Hamlet: What hour is it?”

I found him in a hat
and sweater lazing
on the sofa with a book,
the front door open,
nobody about.

We had met
the maid who attends
to his lunch
by chance
on the street.

She told us she’d return
in a few minutes,
leaving him alone
with the sea
and his admirers.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I just returned from South America, journeys to Buenos Aires, Parana, Santiago, Valparaiso, Las Cruces, Zapallar. How to speak of journeys in mere prose? They lift you up and throw you flat on the ground, wide-eyed, astonished, perhaps even bemused by the banal stood up against the terrifying, the awesome canyon and the need to get a bit of bread or a wash.

My new manuscript in Spanish, Sol Camuflado, is in good hands in Chile, read and encouraged by Raul Zurita and other poets; it has begun its journey towards eventual publication in that country. Once I have firm news I will let you know here and everywhere.

Meanwhile, the Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems is occupying the attentions of the printers. Soon I will have the book in hand. These are indeed heady times for a poet.
but the domestic, full of its small joys and sadnesses, keeps me walking the line.

From Vancouver at Thanksgiving I send you my love.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

a new blog, a new life

New to blogs I am suddenly managing two of them. I wonder where this conversation will go. Here you will find poems, essays, photos as I begin a new adventure with a new book, to be published by year's end. The Splintered Face Tsunami Poems.

take care