Then There Were No Witnesses

Translated from Tamil into English by Geetha Sukumaran.

In recent times, Tamil poetry from Sri Lanka has taken a new turn, serving as a countermemory–a witness to torture, loss, trauma, and exile. Ahilan gives us a unique voice and style, in which he expresses the trauma of the violence in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka with great nuance and subtlety. His background as art historian has allowed him to blend the 2,000-year-old Tamil cultural, literary, and philosophic tradition with visual, graphic imagery to create a rich and distinct body of poetry.

“This is a powerful, essential, book that should be read by all, to understand the unofficial truth of a war in any country where ‘the Watchtowers lying awake / on the face of the sea / do not rest.'”
–Michael Ondaatje

“If Raul Zurita describes the horrors of Chilean massacres by a visceral figuration of the landscape, Ahilan turns his unflinching gaze on the mutilated body itself, making it possible to bring into the syntax of the poem that which usually stays in the coroner’s report. Some are love poems, some nostalgic for a time before the wars, but they are all poems of the battered survivor, desperate to remember the dead. Ahilan is a national treasure, and we are grateful to Geetha Sukumaran for her sensitive translation, careful notes and stunning introduction.”
–Anushiya Ramaswamy, Professor of English, Southern Illinois University

“Ahilan, a Tamilian Goya, visits the killing fields of Northern Sri Lanka and sketches what he finds there, lovers clasped in bunkers, limbs separated from trunks, umbilical cords dangling from vaginas. His eye is unsparing, wide-lensed, 360-degreed. The poems are startling, precise, distilled, and they form a new, essential anthology of the poetry of love and war. Geetha Sukumaran, the translator, is a worthy heir to Ramanujan and the Imagists of the celebrated Tamil anthologies, bringing a timeless, new classic into a vigorous, graceful and haunting English.”
–Indran Amirthanayagam, author of Uncivil War

Then There Were No Witnesses is the first comprehensive collection of Tamil poet P. Ahilan’s work translated into English. Ahilan’s poetry is a powerful testimony to the pain and suffering caused by ethnic strife in Sri Lanka. It also demonstrates the power of the Tamil literary tradition to record and give expression to the traumatic experience of violence, captured perceptively and with deep empathy in this translation.”
–Markus Reisenleitner, Professor of Humanities, York University

“Sri Lankan Tamil poet P Ahilan is a devastating and diligent recorder of war, many forms of trauma, the subtleties of memory, and more. His passionate and deceptively simple poems are now gathered in this fine collection, edited and translated by Geetha Sukumaran, whose introduction is a work of deep knowledge and engagement.”
–S Shankar, author of Ghost in the Tamarind

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Publication Date: April 2018

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-988449-35-7
Page size: 5.5″ x 8.25″
160 pages

eBook ISBN: 978-1-988449-63-0

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Ahilan was born in 1970 during a troubled period in Sri Lanka. He has published three anthologies of poetry in Tamil. He is a senior lecturer in Art History at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

Geetha Sukumaran, a poet and translator, is a doctoral candidate in Humanities at York University, Toronto. She holds an MPhil degree in Tamil literature. Her research interests include contemporary Tamil poetry, women’s writing, trauma literature and translation. Her current research focuses on the literature and oral narratives of women from conflict zones that connect with culinary practices, war trauma and religion. Her Tamil translation of Sylvia Plath’s poems was published in 2013 and her own poetry collection in Tamil was published in 2014.