For many poets, place is an enormous point of inspiration. These places may not necessarily be places where the poet physically resides or has resided in, but they may be the imaginative or spiritual places where the poet is most open to their vulnerabilities and affections, and thus the place becomes a bearer of human feeling. This is what attracted me to Simeon Kronenberg’s poem, ‘Kalutara’. In this poem, the name of the place has unlocked the poet’s imagination enabling him to evoke an image-rich landscape, one that becomes a celebration of the people who live and work on the shore.
Barry Lopez has said that you become a poet of place ‘not by knowing the name or identity of everything in (a place), but by perceiving the relationships in it.’ This Simeon has done beautifully, noting the erotic beauty of the fishermen who have been shaped by their work and their environment, these men who are ‘masters of their skin and slim destinies’. The sense of community and family is also strongly suggested. You know that these people are not materially rich, but rich in happiness and with the joy that comes with living in close relationships with others and the natural environment. The poet avoids all sentimentality by his use of adjectives. I love the coupling of ‘beautiful’ with ‘cluttered’ in line two, and the implications in the word ‘manhandled’ underscoring the speaker’s desire to be close to these fishermen. The tone, though tinged with longing, is joyous and the poem is a glorious celebration of male sexuality and desire.
Kalutara I will go to Kalutara. I read of it once in a poem and was won by its beautiful, cluttered name. It thrilled me into desire for the elegant lean-limbed fishermen with black legs like knotted rope (shiny and clean up to their sex) half-hidden, beneath sarongs that hang like tea towels. Grinning through white teeth and bright pink gums they are perfect masters of their skin and slim destinies and daily, they haul in a catch worth having, live, silver bullets, some thrashing still mouths agape, manhandled. Women come to the beach with baskets and children, ready to claim what’s theirs. The thin-legged men shout names, Lakshika, Hashani, Dini – and they laugh, their eyes like black fire on marble.