Warriors, Sundra LawrenceThe jacket is a full colour photograph of a woman, dark hair brown skin (probably Sri Lankan) holding a small boy, who is leaning against her but sitting on a huge motor bike. The title is in orange caps near the top of the photo. The author's name is in the same sort of letting bottom right.

Fly on the Wall Press, 2022    £6.99

Reluctant warriors

These poems make me wonder what kind of warrior I am and what kind of warrior I could and should be. In ‘Tiger balm, 1983’, a child asks:

Why do you have a bomb in your bedroom mummy?
She says it is balm and not to play with her things.

The child then reveals, ‘Daddy calls the Tigers our only hope, like Tamil / Obi-Wan Kenobi, fighting for a separate homeland’. I am not Jedi material; but maybe the individuals who make up the collective called ‘the Tigers’ never thought they would need The Force to be with them.

Then there is Sivaramani (who ‘set fire to her poems / then killed herself. Silly girl, they said’). She was only

     [...] twenty-one years old. Her protests,
in twenty-three poems, survive her.

In the same poem, the reader is not told what Kuttimani is accused of, only that he is handsome, wears a clean shirt, was tortured in custody and — as he stands in the dock — he requests that ‘his eyes be donated / to the blind, so [he] may one day see Eelam.’ And yet ‘Two years later, his eyes are crow-barred / from their sockets in in a high-security prison riot.’ But perhaps there is still hope, because in the same poem, ‘Protest’:

One Sinhalese guard protests, tells a skirl
of inmates intent on skinning his Tamil wing,
over my dead body. No guards are harmed.

The glory and the horror of these poems is that they show individuals fighting, but they are people who would prefer not to be warriors. The title poem begins,

We never asked to be made like this,
brutal and injured totems
with the vanity of mountains.

And if you aren’t familiar with the defiant eyes and determined stance of Schütte’s wooden warrior (‘Krieger’), please seek it out. It stands side by side with Sundra Lawrence’s warriors and, in doing so, with Sundra Lawrence herself.

Sue Butler