Michael Ondaatje on poetry in captivity

I am great fan of Ondaatje in general, and I am reading Running with the Family, his memoir of his family and experiences in Ceylon. It’s not a conventional memoir at all; it combines poetry, discussions of colonial histories, intermarriage, alcohalism, Protestantism, and the place itself. He’s such a marvelous writer that all these things live, vibrantly, on the page.

This paragraph caught my eye this morning:

When the government rounded up thousands of suspects during the Insurgency of 1971, the Vidyalankara campus of the University of Ceylon was turned into a prison camp. The police weeded out the guilty, trying to break their spirit. When the university opened again the returning students found hundreds of poems written on walls, ceilings, and in hidden corners of the campus. Quatrains and free verse about the struggle, tortures, the unbroken spirit, love of friends who had died for the cause. The students went around for days transcribing them into their notebooks before they covered with whitewash and lye.