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This review is taken from PN Review 250, Volume 46 Number 2, November - December 2019.

Cover of The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here
Edmund PrestwichLove and Otherness
Vidyan Ravinthiran, The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here (Bloodaxe) £9.95
The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here is a sequence of a hundred loosely rhyming, metrically free sonnets written to his wife by a man of Sri Lankan Tamil ethnicity and heritage. 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. No doubt this is because it’s written out of love and the need to face the difficulties put in love’s way by differences of ethnicity, gender, and the host of other factors that make us what we are. Two sonnets quote the opening phrase of Arcade Fire’s ‘My body is a cage’. Befitting his effort to escape the prison of self, Ravinthiran writes in a way that avoids the tendency of a dense, highly wrought sonnet to become cage-like, creating a field of force that folds inwards, enclosing whatever riches of thought and feeling it has within itself. That, it seems to me, is what the great stand-alone sonnet must do. But Ravinthiran hasn’t written stand-alone sonnets, he’s written a sequence whose beauty, growing with each rereading, depends on the reader’s being drawn into the movement between poems, with its endless process of adjustment and discovery.

This way of writing involves sacrifice, as we see in the first poem:
I was reading my book by the window
waiting for you when I noticed one flower
of those you’d artfully splayed had snapped.
Like a limp wrist the orange gerbera hung, and over
my knuckle it vented ...


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