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Magnolia Review – Volume 5 Issue 1 – January 16, 2019

Thanks to Suzanna Anderson for the review of I Exist. Therefore I Am in this issue of Magnolia Review. You can read it at the Magnolia Review site, at Amazon or Goodreads, or see below.

Rajapakse has traveled to India often, and these stories “…were written at two stages of my life and represents the eight years I spent in India, working and travelling to cities and also some of the remote places where I encountered many instances of negativity towards women and girls. Some of the incidents I came across or heard about are too painful to recount or fictionalize. The tales I have included here are a mere fraction of the lives touched during my stay.”

In “Drink Your Milk and Go to Sleep,” a married woman continues to carry girls while her husband and mother-in-law want a boy child. Her family takes her to a midwife who “…was famed for helping women with problems. She must be good because women from all over the land visited her to find solutions to their sorrows. She didn’t talk much. There was no time for any words as it was obvious why we were all there. She had lots of customers like me waiting to be served every day. She gave me something to drink when I got home.”

As a widow, Gayathri Devi was “…waiting to die” in the story “On Death Row.” In the beginning of the story, Gayathri Devi “…had been sitting here in the same place for a while, not caring about what happened around her. She’d seen the colors change in the sky a thousand and one times and more and was no longer interested. Was no longer overjoyed. She no longer anticipated the fading beauty of the end of the day as she did the first time she arrived.” The widows “…were a burden on the young, an unnecessary life that needed to be cared for, fed, clothed and helped along the way. There was no time, no money or room left in houses for the likes of these women that passed their expiration date and were still sitting on the shelf, when whatever little money the families had were needed for the hungry mouths to feed, the demands of school and the dowries to be collected throughout their lives. Women like Gayathri Devi were put aside and left to themselves and what better way to get rid of the unwanted than to send them to God.”

The collection’s title comes from the story “I Exist. There I Am.” Those words are the opening line and the refrain carried throughout the story. “I rest deep inside you, wrapped up tight like an old woman swathed in quilts in the desert during winter when it’s too cold to do anything but sit by the fire and wish it was summer once again.” “You see me through the folds of fat projected onto the screen and can only discern a small shape with a centre that beats like a drum. The sound and rhythm unlike the drums they played at your union, but a drum just the same. Thudak, thudak, thudak, it beats softly. You place your hand on your stomach but you can’t feel me, nor can you hear the drum beats of my heart pounding inside me. Only the machine can tell you that.”

And in “Secrets” “Rules kept the family together, rules made things work the way it was supposed to.”

Each story is heart breaking in its own way. I can’t even begin to imagine the stories that were too painful to recount or fictionalize. Rajapakse’s prose is as strong as her poetry. The characters’ pain is real and their circumstances resonate. I hope for a brighter future.

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Lady/Liberty/Lit – January 1, 2019

What a wonderful way to start the year with a poem published in a Lady/Liberty/Lit. Response to a Man is from #ChantofaMillionWomen 

Response to a Man

January 1, 2019

Shirani Rajapakse

You can’t mold me into

something you want—those

rough hands trying to create

dreams that can only shatter.

You are no sculptor and cannot shape

perfection from mud nor

chisel beauty out of a slab of granite.

I am flesh and blood

just like you.

Not made of clay or rubber that

bends at your will.

Don’t even try to change me

for you will not like the person

I might become in your hands.

Leave me as I am and let me

mold myself as I have done all this while.

I am an individual, a human.

Not a doll made of plastic

or wood that you take out to play

when it pleases you.

Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and short story writer. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her critically acclaimed poetry collection Chant of a Million Women (self published 2017) won the 2018 Kindle Book Awards. It received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Readers’ Favorite Awards and was chosen as an “Official Selection” in the 2018 New Apple Summer eBook Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing. Her recently published short story collection I Exist. Therefore I Am is also about women and is set in India. Rajapakse’s work appears in many literary journals and anthologies around the world. Rajapakse read for a BA in English Literature from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and has a MA in International Relations from JNU, India.

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A Chat with Annette – November 30, 2018

A review of I Exist. Therefore I Am by Annette Spratte on her blog A Chant with Annette. She also posted a shorter version on goodreads a few weeks back.

Thanks for the Chatworthy Read Badge. That was a lovely surprise.

I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse

41hVfXozwZLThis collection of short stories by highly acclaimed Sri Lanka author Shirani Rajapakse has touched me and left me with one dire, unanswered question: Why?

‘I exist. Therefore I am’ is written in a very quiet, yet poetic style. For the difficult topic it addresses, it uses no drama and no judgment. The stories tell individual episodes of lives of women in India from all ranges of society, thereby drawing a devastating picture of an entire culture. Even before I read the book I knew that women are not highly regarded and suffer a lot in India. Arranged marriages, infanticide and lack of rights or education were familiar topics. But the depth of hatred running deep in the mindset of an entire people shocked me and left me speechless.

‘Why?’ I asked myself after every story. Why would a mother poison her newborn child, just because it was a girl? Why would a girl spend all of her family’s money just to get a socially acceptable husband? Why, oh why would a woman douse her daughter-in-law in kerosene and burning oil and watch her burn to death? And why are these things not only accepted by the majority, but passed on through generations?

For me, the most striking piece of the collection is the one that gave the book its title. The reader gets to share the thoughts of an unborn girl from first awareness to the point of abortion. As a Christian and a mother of two (I would be highly esteemed in India, having borne two sons!) it is inconceivable how women can be put under so much pressure (by other women!) that they begin to hate that which they are called to love and protect, nourish and raise.

It makes me sad and calls me to pray for a nation hopelessly lost and without love. This is a far cry from Bollywood!

I read the book knowing it was not an easy topic. I’m glad I read it because I cannot close my eyes to the fate of millions, even if they live far away. The author has done a marvelous job in portraying each of the women without making it garish sensationalism. Her calm recounting of facts and feelings make the stories digestible, despite their often cruel contents; and her poetic language give the thoughts and feelings depth and beauty.

In the introduction she states that she has lived in India for eight years, taking the risk of leaving the tourist trails to discover the true heart beating in that big and wildly differing country. I commend her for that and for her aim of raising awareness on behalf of women who are so deeply suppressed they often have no way of standing up for themselves.

I highly recommend this book. It has filled me with gratitude for my own loving family, the respect I am treated with and the freedom I may enjoy every day. I am also deeply grateful for my faith in Jesus Christ, which has given my life purpose and meaning and has established an identity and value as a person that nobody will be able to take from me. I exist. Therefore I am – able to love with the freedom to do so.
My prayers go out to women in India now more than ever.

BadgeTLI

For the beautiful language used, the touching storytelling that kept me turning the pages and the depth of topic I gladly award ‘I exist. Therefore I am’ a Chatworthy Read badge.

Congratulations to the author!

 

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Princess Perceptions – November 27, 2018

An interview about why I write about women with Andrea Singh of Princess Perceptions.

Interview With Poet and Author Shirani Rajapakse

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Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and short story writer. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her critically acclaimed poetry collection Chant of a Million Women (self published 2017) is a Finalist in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards.  It received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Readers’ Favorite Awards and was chosen as an “Official Selection” in the 2018 New Apple Summer eBook Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing.

Rajapakse’s work appears in publications around the world including, Flash:The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Litro, Silver Birch, International Times, City Journal, Writers for Calais Refugees, The Write-In, Asian Signature, Moving Worlds, Citiesplus, Deep Water Literary Journal, Mascara Literary Review, Kitaab, Lakeview Journal, Cyclamens & Swords, New Ceylon Writing, Channels, Linnet’s Wings, Spark, Berfrois, Counterpunch, Earthen Lamp Journal, Asian Cha, Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry Review, About Place Journal, Skylight 47, The Smoking Poet, New Verse News, The Occupy Poetry Project and in anthologies, Fireflies & Fairy Dust: A Fantasy Anthology (Eu-2 2018),  Flash Fiction International (Norton 2015), Ballads (Dagda 2014), Short & Sweet (Perera Hussein 2014), Poems for Freedom (River Books 2013), Voices Israel Poetry Anthology 2012, Song of Sahel (Plum Tree 2012), Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, World Healing World Peace (Inner City Press 2012 & 2014) and Every Child Is Entitled to Innocence (Plum Tree 2012).

A: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to have a chat. You’ve won the Kindle Award for your poetry collection “Chant of a Million Women”, which was well deserved. Congratulations for the win! You’ve also published your book of short stories “I Exist. Therefore I Am”. Most of your writings are about the lives of women and the atrocities they are subjected to. What inspires you to venture into feminism and write such striking stories about the lives and struggles of women?

 

S: Hi Andrea, thanks for the felicitations for Chant of a Million Women and for having me over for a chat.

When I started writing the only objective was to write and highlight what I saw and experienced around me. The fact that a lot of that was about women is probably because I could empathize or at least try to see it their way. I didn’t make a conscious effort to highlight atrocities committed against women or girls. It just so happens there are a large number of such atrocities and writing about them became important. A major portion of writing for both Chant of a Million Women and I Exist. Therefore I Am was done several years ago.

Chant of a Million Women was an unplanned collection. It just happened. A couple of years back when I started separating the poems I had in an effort to create collections to publish, I realized there were many poems about women. I decided to use what I had and also write a few more. This resulted in poems that are not only time sensitive but also look at the role of women down the ages, from Draupadi, Sita, Suparnaka, Helen of Troy and even Marie Antoinette. Sadly not a lot has changed despite the centuries separating these women and modern women. We have evolved and supposedly made strides to the future, our building are bigger, our houses have more luxurious items, most women work and earn, we have women shattering barriers and getting rid of the glass ceilings in almost every sphere, our quality of life has improved, but have we really progressed? Are women’s lives better or is there more to be done? When we look around us we see that this progress is only in pockets; the vast majority of women still don’t have the basic rights to be who they are. Some are still owned by the men in their families and can’t make decisions about their lives. Most rarely get an education and can’t earn a living. Those who can earn are subject to harassment, low pay and have to work long hours. This is not restricted to women in the developing world. We see women in developed countries being subjected to harassment and they don’t even have the right to make decisions about their own bodies.

If the poems in Chant of a Million Women evolved naturally the stories in I Exist. Therefore I Am were put together with a definite view of creating a collection about women. It was inspired by what I read and heard about while living and travelling in India. Some of the things that happened to women were so shocking that there were times I wondered if what I was hearing about was really true. Every day some incident about abuse or the exploitation of women was reported in the news. I found it horrifying that society would look the other way as members of that same society would be subjected to such terrible things. What was even more shocking was that I was from a neighboring country and I had never experienced or know women subjected to this level of torment in Sri Lanka. I found that cultural and religious values were very different and caste and age old beliefs played a major role in shaping the way society treated women not just in the villages but in urban areas where people were considered to be more modern and progressive. Several women I spoke to seemed to accept this as inevitable. Although they didn’t like it there was nothing much they could do as these views about women were deeply ingrained in the psyche of society. I wanted to talk about these women who lived amongst us. I wanted to highlight their lives and show how different they are from others. I felt it was important to emphasize how wrong it is to treat them like this. I was looking at their lives from the outside and this was an advantage as I didn’t have to subscribe to their view of the world or be subject to the unseen rules that governed their lives. And it was quite traumatic knowing what they had to go through.

 

A: Do you think the #MeToo movement in India will improve the situation in rural India?

S: I hope it does because this is where it is needed the most. Rural women are under more strain than their counterparts in urban areas. They are subjected to social shamming and patriarchy and have little or no recourse to law. Women in rural areas are also far more vulnerable to sexual abuse. They are also less likely to get attention for their complaints, that is, if they even dare to do complain.  Moreover, caste plays a significant role in the way women are treated as most backward and scheduled caste and tribes are helpless against men from the more dominant caste. We have heard so many sad incidents about how rural women, travelling in groups to collect firewood and water are subjected to harassment by not just men from upper castes but men from their own castes as well. Women working in unskilled labor in the construction industry and women migrant workers are also susceptible to abuse and exploitation. The sad situation is that they are the ones who need to voice their injustices but these are the very women who can’t do so as most are illiterate, don’t have the economic means to own a phone or have the ability to stand up for themselves in a community that expects them to act in a certain way. So how do they benefit and how do they demand justice?

The #MeToo movement in India is, for the moment, about urban society. Like the offshoot American #MeToo movement, the Indian #MeToo movement started in the entertainment industry and has since included media personnel and a whole lot of others. It has resulted in many well known personalities being accused of sexual harassment. But will this die out soon or will it find a way of addressing the issues faced by rural women as well? There are just as many incidents of rape and abuse of women in rural areas that go unreported mainly because the women are too scared to report them or they are threatened. After the infamous incident in Delhi where a young student was raped on a bus in 2012 there was a lot of outrage at the inability of society to safeguard the rights of women. Sadly there were many, including prominent lawmakers and even religious figures that placed the blame on women and the way they dressed or behaved. It’s sad to see such prominent and educated people using flimsy excuses as clothes or quoting from religious texts to claim women shouldn’t be educated or even going out to work. What responses do these religious figures and lawmakers have to give for women in rural communities who are forced to do hard labor to help supplement the income of their families? How do they see the atrocities committed against women play out in this scenario where they say women should stay at home yet force women out to earn because there is no other alternative?

While the #MeToo movement has helped to give women a voice and also resulted in educating them about workplace rights there is much more that needs to be done and making sure women in the rural and remote areas also benefit is the next step. It would also be a case study for replicating in other countries where rural women have no recourse to basic needs and information to help them.

A: Tell us about your experience of growing up in Sri Lanka.

S: I had an interesting childhood doing things most other kids also did back in the day. We didn’t have most of the stuff kids have today like phones, computers and video games. Yet despite this we had a lot of fun. There were more connections with each other than the kids of today. We read a lot and in fact I remember spending hours in libraries, searching for books and being disappointed when I couldn’t find the book I wanted. Now everything is there at the touch of a bu%on and if you want to read a book all you have to do is download it onto your kindle. But growing up was also tough. We lived under the threat of terrorism and everyday we’d hear about bombs exploding somewhere in the country. In a way we grew up differently, always cautious and always wondering if we’d be the next victim of a bomb blast. Living in the suburbs of the capital, Colombo it was more dangerous because the terrorists always targeted Colombo and although there was high security it was still unsafe and we had to be vigilant and careful. We lived like this not knowing if we would see our loved ones or friends the next day. It was hard but somehow we got through it. I think it changed our perspective about life and made us realize how transient everything is because all that we value can be lost in a ma%er of seconds.
It’s now safer than it was now that there is no longer the threat of terrorism. However there is a lot of violence against woman and gender stereotyping, although it isn’t as strong as in India. Women are subject to harassment be it at home, on the roads or at the workplace; rape happens in many places and women are still considered objects. Mindset and attitudes need to change. There is also a lot of harassment at institutes of higher education where ragging of fresher’s, both men and women, has resulted in deaths and even suicide by some who have not been able to cope with the kind of mental and physical torment by their own fellow students.

A: What do you think is the role of feminist writers in the present scenario?

S: Chant of a Million Women is about taking back the narrative and giving women their voice. The poems speak of different issues faced by women, the voices range from children to adults and women from across the world, from ancient times to the present. The poem Fault Lines is about juxtaposing the past and the present and trying to see what has changed. It is in two voices; a modern women and Sita, and the poem looks at the idea that was Sita and how she was portrayed. Was she really that person we read about in the Ramayana or someone completely different? Was she even asked if she preferred to leave her palace and all the luxuries to follow her husband into exile? Was that really her narrative that is mentioned in the epic, or someone else’s idea of her?

“They changed

the story. Said he

            abducted her.

                        Said

                                    she was

                                                out

                                                            of

                                                                        line.”  

Similarly in A Princess Wronged, I look at Suparnaka and how she was treated and portrayed. She was royalty but because she was on the wrong side, according to the scribes of the Ramayana, she was portrayed in a very humiliating and negative light. The poem is in her voice and questions the way Lakshman had her depicted in history.

“You had authority. You had the scribes

falling at your feet waiting to

lap up words

gushing out your lips.

 

You made sure they recorded your view.

Not mine.

Never mine.

They weren’t there. They didn’t see.

Never knew me.

Only heard your words much later.”

Lines of Control looks at patriarchy down the ages and how men have controlled women from Draupadi, Sita to Helen of Troy, Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc telling us who they were as seen through the eyes of patriarchy and all that it suppresses rather than seeing them for who they are. We are either goddesses or whores and if men can’t place us in those two little boxes then they portray us as mad or weak; insipid characters that are only good for laughs.

Goddess in Chains shows that we are still controlled even if we are the goddesses while On a Street in London depicts women donning the mantle of whore to please her clients. These are some of the ‘stories’ and I’ve only just touched the surface.

For centuries men have written our stories. They have assumed our feelings, desires and needs and have suppressed our strength and ambitions. They have portrayed us as weak, inferior beings that couldn’t do anything for themselves. As women writers or as feminist writers, call it whatever you want, we need to take back control of our narratives and tell it as it is rather than tell it laced with male perceptions.

As writers we need to look for the stories that are not always in the news because these are the stories that silently scream out to be told. As feminist writers we should go deeper and look for the stories that are hushed and pushed away because this is where injustice happens and we must try to find the stories that are not told, bring them out and show the world that here is injustice, do something. We have the power to make things better. As Journalists we can highlight injustice women face and create conversations around them, thereby creating more awareness about the problems. We can also help to call for laws to be brought to protect the lives of women as it was done after the Delhi rape incident. We can interview women from disadvantaged communities and try to call for changes in their lives.

As poets and fiction writers we rely on creating the stories based on other lives. We have more leeway to talk about injustice as we don’t have to quote anyone or stick to facts like our counterparts in journalism. We craft the stories based on what we see around us and this is also a powerful medium. While the media highlights factual stories that will be forgotten the moment the next sensational story comes along as fiction writers or poets our work stays in the public eye for longer. It doesn’t go out of style or is time bound like a news item. We can generate more awareness and continue to lobby for change for women by sharing our work over and over. In that sense we have more power and responsibility to share stories and talk about issues that women face.

A: In your latest book, I Exist. Therefore I Am, you focus on women in rural India. What was your approach towards research and developing story lines when writing this book?

S: Whether I write poetry or fiction I have to see the story unfold in my mind. There are many issues I want to write about and many incidents I’ve seen that I want to turn into stories, but things don’t work like that for me. I have to let the stories come to me rather than go looking for them. I’ve found through experience that it never works when I go looking for a story. For some reason the story turns out to be dull and boring. So now I don’t bother with trying to force myself to create something. I can’t tell myself, here’s a good idea, let me turn that into a story. It doesn’t work even though I may have a volume of literature to back that particular issue I want to highlight or sufficient research to support it. The story has to work itself out in my head.  It’s like creating a little movie that runs with the incidents that I want to portray. I see the place my characters move in, feel the pebbles on the ground as I walk in their shoes or the clumps of grass sticking out, touch the clothes my characters wear and feel the designs on them. I see the color of their skin, their hair, taste and smell the food they eat and breathe the very air they do. I have to let this happen while I make subtle changes and add dialogue. Only when I’m quite satisfied that it works do I start to write it down.

I spent eight years in India. The first two years I was there for post graduate study and was based in Delhi. Several years later I moved to India for work and was based in Chandigarh. I was a travel junkie and would take off whenever I had time or there was a long holiday. I’ve been to almost every place in India. I wasn’t really interested in writing about India when I was there. I used to listen to stories people recounted, but didn’t bother to write about them. In fact my first stories that are based in India are about mundane incidents I came across and was curious about. It was only when I began living in Chandigarh that I became aware of the issues faced by women to a greater extent.

One of the things I found really traumatic was that every day the newspapers carried a story about the abuse of women; either due to dowry or some other incident and it was appalling to read about such incidents. There was one in particular that I read about the honor killing of a young girl who had displeased her family and married someone of her choice. When I expressed shock about this to an older woman I knew, I was even more startled by her response as she agreed with the family that this was right and the girl had insulted the family. I didn’t use this incident to create a story although I used many other examples to create my stories.

I carried the scenes for the stories in I Exist. Therefore I Am with me for a long time. I hadn’t planned on writing anything at the time, but whenever I heard something or read about something my mind would immediately start seeing the ‘story’ and I would think about this a lot. I started wondering what would have happened if the particular women facing the issue were from a different place, the circumstances were altered or they had changed their decisions. When I wrote Shweta’s Journey I concentrated a lot about the movement of Shweta’s arm as she washed clothes. This was a significant moment in Shweta’s life. She was an upper caste woman from an economically and socially higher place than a washer woman, yet here she was, this highly educated feminist who was reduced to a washer woman all because of a misguided belief in a man. I created a 3D image of a woman in my mind and made her into a washer woman, taking various characteristics of several washer women I had seen. I followed the arms of the character image I created, stopped to note how her muscles tensed as she lifted the weigh and noted how the water would drain off the clothes and fall back into the basin as the clothes were raised. Sometimes it takes a long time to get little incidents right to be believable.

Just as I see the stories play out in my mind I also see the places. When I wrote On Death Row, I had the image of the banks of Varanasi at the back of my mind. I remember walking here many times and as I began developing the story I walked back and forth along the bank of the river in my mind. It made it more real and easier for me to place my characters as the daily life along the river bank was present in vivid detail. But most of the time I try not to place the stories in a particular setting, unless place is crucial, like On Death Row, as I feel the stories are universal and giving them a particular location – village or town – takes away its universality.

A: At last, what is your advice to young writers trying to make it big in the world of literature?

S: Be a reader first. Read whatever interests you. Read for pleasure and also to learn how language is used. See how language can be shaped to suit the story you want to tell. Then start writing your stories. Remember that every writer is different. We all may write about similar issues but our voices are unique. Our experiences and where we come from make our writing diverse and exceptional. How I see a story is unlike how you or someone else sees it and we should take advantage of this. My advice to any writer wherever you are, is to be honest with your writing. Write about what you feel strongly about. If the story is taking place in another country, it’s ok if you haven’t been there or don’t have any experience. There is always research and all you have to do is get online and find out what you need to know to write our story.

Let me give an example. My story “This is Home” that was published in Litro in 2016 is about a Palestinian women who lives through an attack on her town. I have never been there, don’t know anyone from there, but when I read on the news about the bombings and about how people were losing lives and property and saw some images of bombed out building I felt I had to write about this from the perspective of a woman because we were seeing more men than women on the news and hearing about what happened from the men’s perspective. I wanted to see the story from a woman’s point of view. I wanted to know her life and what she was going through. I put myself in the shoes of someone, a woman who lived there, and tried to imagine what it must be like and how she must feel. I think empathy is important. Connecting with your characters is important. Creating the environment and the dialogue is crucial to getting the story right. The story we create is far longer and more diverse than the story we put down on paper; that’s merely a fraction of the whole piece. We have to build the lives of our characters and create their homes before attempting to make a story out of nothing. Some people say that we shouldn’t write about what we don’t know. But I disagree with that because if we only wrote about our own experiences we will not write much. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries, to experiment and experience with language, characters and place. It might not work in the beginning, but given time once you start feeling confident you will succeed.

Most importantly don’t write if your only objective is to sell millions of books, win awards or gain fame. Writing is a very solitary pursuit. Good writing will be rewarded and will be remembered long after you are gone. Strive to leave something significant for generations that follow, not lines on social media that will fade with the next big line. Use your strength as a writer, as a person. Learn about your subjects, feel what they feel and live their lives before you pour it all on paper. Writing is art, words are like dabs of paint on a canvas. Use them wisely.

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Writing in a Woman’s Voice – November 27, 2018

No One Wants to Know, a poem from Chant of a Million Women was featured in Writing in a Woman’s Voice.

Writing In A Woman’s Voice

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

No One Wants to Know

by Shirani Rajapakse

It was only much later,

when the world had gone to sleep and

awoken many times, that they found out.

By then it was far too late.

People had moved on. Old news was of no use,

they yawned as they picked up the papers

delivered that morning to read the news

crisp and new. Someone lost a cat,

someone broke into a home.

No laws were needed for any of that, no urgent

appeals, that could wait.

But she was only five years old.

They are all silent, those people in high places.

They’ve run out of words, catch phrases they

threw out to the women in jest.

Wrong clothes, out in the dark alone

with a strange man. Of course they deserved it,

those stupid women, they said laughing

behind closed doors.

And now they are scratching their balls and

trying to come up with reasons where

reasons never existed for any of this.

But it’s too late.

Too late for her, the little girl.

Too late for her sisters in other places.

Too late for the mothers whose

daughters died a slow painful death.

Too late, too late. But no one cares.

Not theirs to care.

* * * * *

© 2018 Shirani Rajapakse, “No One Wants to Know” is from the award winning collection Chant of a Million Women (2017) by Shirani Rajapakse

Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and short story writer. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her critically acclaimed poetry collection Chant of a Million Women (self published 2017) is a Finalist in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards. It received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Readers’ Favorite Awards and was chosen as an “Official Selection” in the 2018 New Apple Summer eBook Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing. Rajapakse’s work appears in many literary journals and anthologies around the world. Rajapakse read for a BA in English Literature from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and has a MA in International Relations from JNU, India.

shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com

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Renaissance Writer – November 25, 2018

This review of I Exist. Therefore I Am by Gordon Long was posted on Renaissance Writer as well as on Goodreads.

“I Exist. Therefore I Am” by Shirani Rajapakse

This is a book of short stories chronicling the unremitting horror of being a woman in India. It is poetic, descriptive, and unrelenting in its portrayal of what life is like for the unlucky woman who is poor, unable to produce sons or widowed. Each separate story outlines one possible scenario where a happy person is brought to despair, poverty or death through the cruelty of people who use the system to prey on the weak.

But these are not really stories with plotlines. The only important event that happens in any of them is when the victim dies. Otherwise, each is a rich portrayal of misery, described in elegant poetic detail.

A strident torrent of damnation of the Indian social system that condemns the innocent to suffer.  A difficult read for anyone with any sensibilities, but an eye-opening experience. Beautiful writing, best read in small doses.

(4 / 5)

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Always Write Again – November 24, 2018

A review of I Exist. Therefore I Am by Natalie Wood on her blog Always Write Again. You can also read it on Goodreads.

Natalie Wood’s Reviews > I Exist. Therefore I Am

I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse

I Exist. Therefore I Am
by

Shirani Rajapakse (Goodreads Author)
4390236

Natalie Wood‘s review

Nov 24, 2018


A whimsical travel feature in India Today advises readers not to visit the mountain beauty spot of Ladakh.

Correspondent Samonway Duttagupta says the locale is remote and that India boasts far prettier destinations. What’s more, it is overcrowded, everything there is ridiculously expensive and much worse – the climate can become cold enough to cause ill-health and even death.

But he does not describe the large numbers of Kashmiri Muslims who have migrated to the area and whose growing presence has adversely affected the centuries-old Buddhist traditions of those born there. Inevitably, the women are most badly treated and have been brutally shoved to the bottom of the social heap.

So much emerges from Shirani Rajapakse’s A Chill Flew across the Mountains, the penultimate tale in her short story collection, **I Exist. Therefore I Am.

There is never a good moment to read a book like t his and several times I delayed posting my review as I found more and more comparisons between the domestic serfdom that Sri Lankan Rajapakse’s fictional characters endure and the oppressed reality for too many women worldwide.

Believe me: it does not happen only in dramatic fashion to forced labourers in Uzbekistan or to Yazidi sex slaves. It occurs over and again every which way in modern democracies like the UK or even in Israel where following the murder of a Netanya housewife by her husband – a police officer – nationwide public demonstrations were held urging action to stop violence against women.

But I was distressed to note that the protests did not embrace the sort of non-physical but public humiliation meted to some female members of the religious Zionist B’nei Akiva youth movement, whose staged dance performance at a recent event in Katsrin near the Golan Heights was allegedly blacked out for spurious reasons of ‘modesty’.

I was also dismayed that the one woman who actively campaigned to be Karmiel’s new mayor was absent from the local demonstration.

Why did this well-known woman city councillor appear so indifferent to domestic abuse? Was her personal background to blame?

It is often noted that the affairs of the Jewish Diaspora and Israeli communities are a reflective microcosm of what happens outside. Should the answer to the conundrum therefore be the same as to that posed at the heart of Rajapakse’s book?

Why, as we near the close of the eighteenth year of the 21st century and vast numbers of us enjoy the countless advantages that implies, are so many young adult women still bound by antiquated tribal traditions of land, property and paternalism?

More important: why are these outmoded, unwritten laws sustained with such ferocity by family matriarchs so haunted by personal status that they despise the births and then continuing presence of any infant girls?

Must they be reminded of the difficulty of producing future generations without them?

In her introduction, Rajapakse cites a June 2018 global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that ‘ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world for women’. No-one will deny that it has plenty of stiff competition!

She also refers to the December 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandeh (variously nicknamed ‘Nirbhaya’ and ‘Damini’) and other similar incidents that may have helped to change Indian law. But legislation has never altered constitutional prejudice. Only time and patience will do that.

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Cultural Weekly – November 21, 2018

Asking for It, a poem from Chant of a Million Women was published in #CulturalWeekly.

 

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Pendle War Poetry – 2018 Anthology

Rush Hour, the poem submitted to the Pendle War Poetry Competition, in the adult overseas category, may not have won the competition, but it was selected from the long list to be included in the anthology.

OVERSEAS ADULT POEMS INCLUDED IN 2018 ANTHOLOGY:

Sister Bullwinkle – Paula Miles, Australia
Those Boys – Teresa Hall, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.
Cesspool Your Name is War – Faleeha Hassan, New Jersey, USA
Indo-Pak Border – FABIYAS M V – KERALA STATE, INDIA
No Doctor To Cry – Jerusha Hackworth – New South Wales, Australia
Far Back In The Dark – Ogunlade John Oluwaseyi, Lagos, Nigeria
Hiroshima n Nagasaki – Seventy+ Years Since 1945 – Matthew Harris – Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA
MOTHER EARTH – Cecilia Mallon – Ontario, Canada
WHEN DID WE LAST LIVE? – Yamberzal – Bahrain
Shell Shock Parasite – Gregory Fino, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Bantering with the Dead Soul – Harshita Lall – Dallas, Texas, USA
SYRIAN DESERT– 2015 – Kevin Le Merle – Paris, France.
Memorials – John Seriot – Aurland, Norway.
HEADSPACE – Emily Dentler – Bad Homburg, Germany
Battle of Bloodriver – Jandrie van Staden ,Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa
Never Again – Heather McNair – Auckland, New Zealand
BALLAD OF DEMOKRATIA – Pukhraj Neogi – Lucknow, U. P., India
AMBER – Stephen J. Cribari, Minnesota, USA
“Napalm Girl” with Boy – Frank Joussen – Germany
THE CRY OF WOMEN – Temani Nkalolang – Gaborone, Botswana
An Unknown Soldier? – Paul Barrett – Mystic Park, Victoria, Australia
SPLASH AND SILENCE – Kofie Jerry Atta – Ghana
The Silent VC – Jamie Pinnock – Colgne, Germany
HMS REPULSE & HMS PRINCE OF WALESJeremy Gadd – Sydney, Australia
Barrow – Julian Aiken – Connecticut, USA
The Martyr’s Shrine – Swati Jha – Pune, India
WAITING – Frank Murdoch, Lamma Island, Hong Kong
Lament for Aleppo – Anne Casey – Northbridge, NSW, Australia
Dissociations Of Thirty Three Degrees – Marcelo Moreira – Salvador, Brazil
To Survive Soul – Milos Simic – Kragujevac, Republic of Serbia
”The trajectory of fingerprints in blood” – Cristiane Vieira de Farias – São Paulo, Brazil
Rot – Rhiannon Brönnimann – Brussels, Belgium
Where in Hell is God Now? – Henry Spencer – Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
The Theatre Of War – D.P.G. Sheridan – Gdansk, Poland
a soldier’s legacy – Nico Volkerts – Texel, Netherlands
Breaking Glass – Richard W. Halperin – Paris, France
THE SANDS OF TIME – Dave Pugh – Burgundy, France
Channel One – Richard Hookway – Banpong, Thailand
War is but an Engagement where Good People die… – Clint Hirschfield – Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. USA
Rush Hour – Shirani Rajapakse – Maharagama, Sri Lanka
Joy At The Front – Joyce Orsini – Leghorn, Tuscany, Italy

 

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Unlikely Stories – November 10, 2018

This was posted about Chant of a Million Women in Unlikely Stories on November 10, 2018.

It’s always interesting to read what others think of my work. The reviewer mentions bad editing and superfluous elements. Must take it up with me editor. 😉

What saddens me is the reviewer assumes just because I’m Sri Lankan that all the poems are about women and men in Sri Lanka, when the examples of people I mention as well as places clearly indicate it is not. What  really surprises me though, is the misunderstanding of two of the poems mentioned. Sometimes context is important to understand the nuances and the reason some words are used, or not used, or said in a certain way. So how do you portray something that is local in a way non-locals understand while still preserving the local identity?

Read below.

On reading Shirani Rajapakse’s “Chant of a Million Women”

In Shirani Rajapakse’s Chant of a Million Women (self-published, 2017) we have poems that narrate the lives of Sri Lankan women and their relationships with men. It is at its core, a criticism of the innate sexist culture of Sri Lanka and the poems vibrate with action, gesture, and compassion, describing horrible realities. However I have to note that, sadly, there are too many faults of language, concision and sentimentality. The author, I have to say, is guilty of bad editing. Where perfect endings, lines or stanza breaks, could exist, the author adds too many superfluous elements, sometimes whole stanzas that unbalance otherwise perfect poems. The ideas and content discussed and described in the poems are incredibly moving and hit close to home to a third world native like myself, but the bad editing fails the book. Too many examples of this; in the poem “She Thought She Knew it All,” a poem about poetic identity in the said country, the failed editing surfaces. The lines “and feel the solace that someone / empathized in a world / full of no meaning” are sentimental in the expression of the emotion described and have a grammatical error, things not forgiven to poets. The emotion expressed feels childish, unedited, uncrafted, and I am left confused by the line “full of no meaning” where ‘meaningless’ could have done fine. Lines should be crafted by necessity and this is a recurring problem in the book: the author is guilty of superflux. Then the poem continues and still holds effect up to the 27th line, the perfect ending having been nailed at “No one else gave a damn,” but the author adds 5 more unnecessary lines which prolong this spirit of sentimental superflux and my negative criticism of the book. Instead of being charmed, I am left regretting.

“They rode in cars with tinted glass.
They read a different verse.
She was not counted.
But she didn’t know.
Ignorance is such bliss.”

What about the “tinted glass”? How is it relevant to the poem that “She was not counted”… or couldn’t there be a better expression, one with more poetic cadence and that also solidifies the trajectory of the poem? The last line crushes whatever effect the poem had created, and I am left wondering about its necessity and also about the author’s command of her craft. If we take the poem, “In The House at The End of The Road,” it was full of potential, but some unnecessary lines hurt it as well.

“She plucked
her breasts because
she said they didn’t fit.
She was
meant to be male, but

they had grown on their own,
large and voluminous
sticking out for all to see like buoys in the sea.
Obstinate, rude and beckoning
to all. Come see me
defy the rules.

I stand up to gravity.

They cramped her style.
She couldn’t move her arms
or bend down to touch
the ground.

So she ripped them out,
one by one.
Unlike the Amazons, they only removed one.
It was an occupational hazard.
That’s what they said.

They couldn’t aim their bows
to defend their realm.
But she had nothing to defend.
Except her annoyance at
being female.”

Some minor changes in line preserve the humor and meaning of this poem while not killing the effect and main intention on the reader.

She plucked her breasts
because they didn’t fit

they had grown on their own
large and voluminous
sticking out for all to see like buoys.
Obstinate, rude and beckoning
to all. Come see me
I stand up to gravity

They cramped her style.
She couldn’t move her arms
or bend to down to touch
the ground.

So one by one
she ripped them out
unlike the Amazons
who only removed one.
An occupational hazard
is what they said.
They couldn’t aim their bows.

But she had nothing to defend
except her annoyance
at having breasts.

Just minor editing modifications bring back an element of sharpness to the poem and preserve its humor. As we travel along with the author into places where few Americans have been, places where men feel entitled to a woman’s body, places where money and status can also make you own people, the poem “Dream of the House Maid” captures the purpose of the book beautifully. It is both a tender and direct poem that tells the tragedy of a housemaid tortured by her employers. I think lines 4-6 capture this well:

“You got much more than you bargained for,
with a salary paid in nails.

Hard as hell.”

This poem is sharp and takes the reader to a place of emotional torment. The poem following that poem, “Mutilated,” also grounds us in the abuse this sexist culture imposes on women. It is a heartbreaking portrayal of womanhood and the imagery is powerful, that of a woman’s lips sealed shut and the woman left seeing the world through “vermillion tears / in the rain, running all over.” These are two of the good poems in this book and they show the poet’s talents: “Lips, inviting, delicious pink, sealed / shut. / Words are damned, can barely trickle / out. / Sewn up tight, threads crisscross an / ugly /design like embroidery by / an unknown hand done hurriedly…” (“Mutilated”). She creates a powerful and symbolic image in the poem’s main persona, a Madonna who, instead of bearing a son who will die for others, is herself the martyr who “finds it hard / to sing sweet songs of longing…”

I am not saying that all the poems in this book are bad. Nor am I saying that the poet is bad. I am, however, saying that the book as whole is bad because the poet failed at editing too many poems that seemed like first drafts. I hope Shirani Rajapakse takes my criticism as constructive and pursues poetry. And that next time, I’ll be writing a praise instead of a criticism.

 

Darryl Wawa

Darryl Wawa is a Port-au-Prince born Haitian-American who studied Photography and Creative writing. He enjoys chocolate and good books. That said, maybe a movie is a good book. He loves to work with images and words and their pairing.

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Princess Perceptions – November 17, 2018

This review of I Exist. Therefore I Am was posted on Princess Perceptions by EverydayGoddess today. You can read it below.

Book Review: I Exist. Therefore I Am.

I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse is a collection of disturbingly moving short stories of the atrocities women in rural India confront and the hope they have for a brighter future. The author’s evocative and unforgiving style of writing is what pumps life into the characters as they walk through life fighting various battles.

Gayathri Devi was waiting to die. She had been here for a long time, but it
appeared as though death was in no hurry to come and take her away. Dressed in dirty white with her head shorn, she was one of the many widows
shunned from her family and forced to live a non-existent life.

From the very first page, the pleadings and laments of the oppressed can be heard; the shocking and immoral crimes committed made my hair stand on end. Each story was heart-wrenching, the egregious and grisly ways these women were treated for just being was horrifying. Shirani unrelentingly portrays the plights of women and the atrocities they face due to baseless religious, cultural, and tribal taboos imposed on them. These are a gigantic obstacle, and removing these iniquitous taboos is essential.

Each story highlights the atrocious and odious ways women in rural India are forced to live. In her story Death Row, Shirani portrays the slow and terrible way older widows await death when they are no longer wanted by their families. In her story Drink your Milk and go to Sleep, Shirani highlights unflinchingly the taboo against female child, the awful environment created for women if they birth a daughter.

“There are maggots inside you,” maaji said staring daggers at me.
She let her eyes rest on each one of the family sitting in the room and raised
her voice for effect.
“It’s stuffed with maggots! Her womb is full of maggots!”

Following her award winning poetry collection Chants of a Million Women, these edifying stories highlight the alarming conditions of women in rural India. The beautiful imagery, heart-wrenching truths and the endless hope that women have for a better future makes this an eye-opening read. This book is for the ones who are not afraid to ask questions and ready to dissect baseless beliefs to uncover the layers of trauma and anger that women carry everyday.

You can buy the book here.

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Featured in the Spotlight on Grab The Book – November 16, 2018

I Exist. Therefore I Am is featured in the Spotlight today on Grab The Book.

https://shiranirajapakse.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/d3ae0-grab2bthe2bbook2b2528425292bcopy.jpg?w=640

Friday, November 16, 2018

Spotlight: I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse

Greetings Book readers,
Introducing a new author Shirani Rajapakse on our blog: with her latest book: I Exist. Therefore I am.
This book is collection of nine stories about women in India. These stories portray the struggles, hardships, discrimation they face for being born in this gender. Lets get to know the book more:

 Book: I Exist. Therefore I am by Shirani Rajapakse

Blurb:
A newly married woman burns to death. A mother is forced to kill her infant daughter. A young woman with a promising future becomes a slave to a holy man. A recently widowed woman is left on the bank of a river to die. I Exist. Therefore I Am takes you on a journey into the world of women and the trauma they face for simply being.

Moving yet also disturbing, these nine stories set in India are about internal struggles, desperation, vulnerability as well as yearning for something better. It is about secrets, words that cannot be spoken, social restrictions and smiles that don’t quite reach the eyes.

In story after story, Rajapakse portrays the terrible treatment towards women as a result of religious, cultural and tribal taboos placed on them, and the suffering at the hands not just of society but of their own kind.

This is fiction that is created for readers that aren’t afraid to question society and its beliefs and tear open the wounds to heal the soul.

They describe what it means to be women, the helplessness they are confronted with and the unending hope they have for a better future. Will these women’s sacrifices make a difference or will they have been in vain?

Buy book at:

Amazon.in | Amazon.com | Books2read

 Author Shirani Rajapakse

About Author: 

Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and short story writer. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her critically acclaimed poetry collection Chant of a Million Women (self published 2017) won the 2018 Kindle Book Awards. It received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Readers’ Favorite Awards and was chosen as an “Official Selection” in the 2018 New Apple Summer eBook Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing.

I Exist. Therefore I Am is her second collection of short stories (self- published, October 2018). Close on the heels of Chant of a Million Women it takes on the theme of women and looks at what it means to be a woman in modern India.

Rajapakse’s work appears in publications around the world including, Flash:The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Litro, Silver Birch, International Times, City Journal, Writers for Calais Refugees, The Write-In, Asian Signature, Moving Worlds, Citiesplus, Deep Water Literary Journal, Mascara Literary Review, Kitaab, Lakeview Journal, Cyclamens & Swords, New Ceylon Writing, Channels, Linnet’s Wings, Spark, Berfrois, Counterpunch, Earthen Lamp Journal, Asian Cha, Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry Review, About Place Journal, Skylight 47, The Smoking Poet, New Verse News, The Occupy Poetry Project and in anthologies, Fireflies & Fairy Dust: A Fantasy Anthology (Eu-2 2018),  Flash Fiction International (Norton 2015), Ballads (Dagda 2014), Short & Sweet (Perera Hussein 2014), Poems for Freedom (River Books 2013), Voices Israel Poetry Anthology 2012, Song of Sahel (Plum Tree 2012), Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, World Healing World Peace (Inner City Press 2012 & 2014) and Every Child Is Entitled to Innocence (Plum Tree 2012).

She has a BA in English Literature (University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka) and a MA in International Relations (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India).

She interviewed, promoted and reviewed books by indie authors on The Writers Space at shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com

Connect at:

Website | AmazonFacebook | Twitter | Pininterest | Instagram | LinkedIn | Goodreads

Do buy a copy of the book, read and review it on Amazon & Goodreads. Thank you in advance.

Bye. Take care.

 

 

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Official Selection – 2018 New Apple Ebook Awards

Chant of a Million Women is judged as an Official Selection in the 2018 New Apple Summer Ebook Awards. Congrats to the winner and the other official selection.

New Apple Literary Services for Independent Authors

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New Apple Book Awards Marketing Advertising Book Reviews author resources Author Insight

2018 New Apple Summer E-Book Awards:

Select from the category list to the right to see the chosen independent eBooks:

New Apple Award

Action / Adventure
Autobiography / Biography / Memoir
Children’s
Cross Genre
Fantasy
General Fiction
Health / Medicine
Historical Fiction
Horror
Humor
Inspirational
Literary Erotica
Motivational / Self-Help
Mystery
Poetry
Psychological Suspense
Religion / Spirituality
Romance
Science Fiction
Short Story (Less than 30k Words)
Short Story Collection
Suspense / Thriller
Writing and Publishing
Young Adult Fantasy
Young Adult General Fiction
Young Adult Sci-Fi / Horror
2015 and Older
2018 New Apple Summer E-Book Awards: POETRY
Solo Medalist Winner

POETRY – SOLO MEDALIST WINNER

A Penny for Your Thoughts

by Sherrill S. Cannon

The variety of lyrical poetry forms in this collection include free verse, blank verse, haiku, & sonnets. The book suggests the spinning of a coin with “Love & Loss: Coin Toss?” and is organized into three sections: “Heads, Of Love and Friendship”, “Spinning, Of Related Emotions”, and “Tails, of Heartache and Anguish”.  In poetic terms, this book speaks of beauty, nature, sadness, and gladness.  The soothing words offer an uplifting message to readers everywhere. These heartfelt poems were compiled over many years by a former teacher and award-winning author who states. “As a teacher, I used poetry to help counsel many troubled teens and friends, and have continued this pattern throughout the years.” Feathered Quill reviews deemed it “a book of healing”.

Available Formats: eBook, Paperback, Hardcover
Publishing House: SBPRA
Author’s Social Media: twitter.com/SherrillCannon
Author’s Website: sbprabooks.com/sherrillscannon
Available for purchase:
Amazon

Official Selections (in alphabetical order by title):
Official Selection

POETRY – OFFICIAL SELECTION

Chant of a Million Women

by Shirani Rajapakse

The poems explore identity, values and women’s role in society. They also look at concepts of beauty and standards imposed on women to conform.

Available Formats: eBook, Paperback
Publishing House: Self-Pub
Author’s Social Media: twitter.com/shiraniraj
Author’s Website: shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com
Available for purchase:
Amazon

Official Selection

POETRY – OFFICIAL SELECTION

A Christian Gift

by Bozena Zawisz

“A Christian Gift” contains uplifting poetic reflections, accompanied by serene photo illustrations.

Available Formats: eBook, Paperback
Publishing House: Self-Pub
Author’s Social Media: facebook.com/BozenaZawisz
Author’s Website: bozenazawisz.com
Available for purchase:
Amazon

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Goodreads Review by Annette Spratte – November 10, 2018

A review of I Exist. Therefore I Am by Annette Spratte on Goodreads today. Read below or check it out at the link.

Annette Spratte’s Reviews > I Exist. Therefore I Am

I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse

I Exist. Therefore I Am
by     

Shirani Rajapakse (Goodreads Author)
60970846

Annette Spratte‘s review

Nov 10, 2018

This book is extremely touching. The author uses very beautiful language to describe terrible things. She depicts the situation of women in India, the deep-running scars of hatred driving people to unspeakable actions.

These stories are told without drama or any form of sensationalism. They do not judge, they do not explain, they simply state the way things are. It is this simplicity that gets under the skin.
Not an easy read, but one I recommend highly.
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2018 Winner Poetry – Kindle Book Awards

This came today. Congrats to all the semi-finalists, finalists and winners from the other categories, and thanks to the Judges and to Jeff Bennington, founder,  Kindle Book Review for organizing the prize.

Chant of a Million Women

 

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Second Edition of “Breaking News” out now

Breaking News was my first book that was published in 2011 by Vijitha Yapa Publications, a small book publisher in Sri Lanka. The book was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award in 2010 in MS.

There’s an ebook as well.

The theme of this collection is about living under the shadow of conflict and looks at both the JVP insurrection of 87-89 as well as the long drawn out conflict between the Tamil terrorist LTTE and the rest of the country.

Thanks to Hayley Faye for the cover.

Here’s the blurb

“A young girl searches for a loved one. A mother grieves for her sons. A soldier wakes up with a missing limb. A woman reveals her true nature when she blows herself up. A young boy is traumatized by the loss of his baby sister. These nine stories take you through glimpses of two civil wars and what it’s like to live under the threat of terrorism. Yet all is not dreary; there are glimpses of humor and satire as life goes on amidst pain and suffering.”

 

 

 

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Chant of a Million Women -2018 Kindle Book Award Winner

I am both thrilled and humbled that ChantofaMillionWomen won the KindleBookAwards in the #Poetry Category. Congrats to all the other winners and finalists. It feels amazing to be among such great writers.

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Chant of a Million Women is at TopShelf Magazine

Chant of a Million Women is featured in the “Spotlights” at TopShelf Magazine.

Or check it below.

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I Exist. Therefore I Am is available now

I Exist. Therefore I Am is available in paperback at Amazon or in digital form at several digital stores.  You can go straight to Amazon or use the Universal Book Link to get to the other stores. https://books2read.com/iexist

 

 

 

 

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Finalist in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards

Chant of a Million Women is a finalist in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards. Check it out below or go to the official awards page.

2018 Award Winners

Official 2018 Kindle Book Awards

The 2018 Kindle Book Awards is Sponsored by…

2018 Kindle Book Awards2018 Kindle Book Awards

 

 

 

Congrats top-20 category Semi-finalists! Listed in no particular order.

Semi-finalists: Contact jeffbennington@ymail.com to claim your Semi-finalist badge.

Horror/Suspense (Finalists & Semifinalists)

Young Adult (Finalists & Semifinalists)

Romance (Finalists & Semifinalists)

Poetry (Finalists)

Mystery/Thriller (Finalists & Semifinalists)

Non-Fiction (Finalists & Semifinalists)

Literary Fiction (Finalists & Semifinalists)

Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Finalists & Semifinalists)

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Basso Profundo – September 30, 2018

The first review of I Exist. Therefore I Am by Luke Sherwood was published in Basso Profundo. Read it below or go here to the site to read the other reviews.

“I Exist. Therefore I Am” by Shirani Rajapakse

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While reading I Exist. Therefore I Am, I had the sensation of being submerged. I felt trapped deep an endless sea, with no hope of seeing the surface. Author Shirani Rajapakse’s stories of women in modern India has the effect of burying all hope for these females, these second-class citizens. While it is an oppressing collection, it was clearly designed to be so; while its function is to expose and obliquely denounce, its variety does nothing but strengthen and reinforce its message.
Ms. Rajapakse leads off the collection with “Drink Your Milk and Go to Sleep,” and establishes right away the grisly and hopeless tenor of the series. A unfortunate woman has married into a family suffering from the superstitions typical of certain classes of Indian society. So her new family inevitably finds her culpable when she gives birth to female children. This young mother resorts to her only recourse after so many births of the wrong sex again and again. It’s shocking and horrifying.
“Shweta’s Journey” recounts a modern young woman’s descent into household servitude and enslavement at the hands of a purported religious leader. Her naïveté plunges her into this self-obliterating hell; her fear for her life keeps her there.
Even women who have passed a long, satisfying life with family and spouse have an expiration date, apparently. In “Death Row,” Ms Rajapakse recounts the slow, tortuous journey to death of many older widows whose families no longer want them. It matches the bleakness of these women’s spirits with the bleak conditions in which they are forced to live out their days.
The title story features the plaints and exhortations of developing female fetus, and are thus simply inaudible. It echos the heartache of the first story and reflects the devastated lives of so many of India’s women.
Current cultural and religious conflicts have their airing here: young carefree women who have been kidnapped and subjugated into wives by Muslim men hold no hope of ever being rescued, and scant idea of even being missed. This sad state distills the sad theme of the collection into one brief story.
There are ghastly crimes in these pages; there are hopeless laments; each tells a different aspect of the complete pulverization of the female character in India. The author has followed up her award-winning poetry collection, “Chant of a Million Women” with an alarming and sensational collection of short fiction calling attention to the plight of women in India. Pick it up; prepare to be educated and appalled.
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Are you interested in reviewing a collection of short stories?

   

I Exist. Therefore I Am is my second collection of short stories that will be published this month. #Review copies are available for anyone interested in reviewing on Amazon, Goodreads, a literary magazine or on your personal blog.

Please email me if you are a reviewer and would like an ARC (mobi or ePUB files only). Contact: shiraniraj@hotmail.com

This collection is about #women and is set in India. The stories follow the lives of women from diverse backgrounds and the treatment they receive as a result of social pressure, religious, cultural and tribal taboos placed on them and the need to conform. The stories portray the suffering women undergo not just at the hands of society but at the hands of their own kind. It is about stories of the other in society – women.

Here’s the blurb.

A newly married woman burns to death. A mother is forced to kill her infant daughter. A young woman with a promising future becomes a slave to a holy man. A recently widowed woman is left on the bank of a river to die. I Exist. Therefore I am takes you on a journey into the world of women and the trauma they face for simply being.

Moving yet also disturbing, these nine stories set in India are about internal struggles, desperation, vulnerability as well as yearning for something better. It is about secrets, words that cannot be spoken, social restrictions and smiles that don’t quite reach the eyes.

In story after story, Rajapakse portrays the terrible treatment towards women as a result of religious, cultural and tribal taboos placed on them, and the suffering at the hands not just of society but of their own kind.

This is fiction that is created for readers that aren’t afraid to question society and its beliefs and tear open the wounds to heal the soul.

They describe what it means to be women, the helplessness they are confronted with and the unending hope they have for a better future. Will these women’s sacrifices make a difference or will they have been in vain?

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Semi-Finalist in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards

Chant of a Million Women is a semi-finalist in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards.

Or check out all the other categories.

 

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Readers’ Favorite Award certificate and listing on bookawards.com

 

The award certificate just came in. The books is also listed on bookaward.com, referred to as the site for Award Winning Books by Today’s Best Authors. The site is owned and created by Readers’ Favorite and includes only Readers’ Favorite authors.

 

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Readers’ Favorite Awards 2018 – It’s Honorable Mention for Chant of a Million Women

https://storage.googleapis.com/readersfavorite-public/images/honor-shiny-web.pngHonored and thrilled that Chant of a Million Women wins Honorable Mention in the 2018 Readers’ Favorite awards under poetry general category. Thanks to everyone who helped me get here.

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Publisher’s Weekly – First Lines – August 2018

The first line from Chant of a Million Women is featured for August in Publisher’s Weekly along with five other books.

First Lines: August 2018

Our monthly look at some of the best first lines from BookLife authors

August brings books about child smugglers and murderous mothers. To submit a first line, email booklifeeditor@booklife.com.

The Tribal Case by Theresa Janson

“There is peace in not forcing something that by nature will have a force of its own.”

The Big Yank by J.P. Sexton

“I became a smuggler when I was nine.”

Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse

“They come to this place every day to touch you.”

Crossing Zero by Dale Brandon

“Danny Fagan never killed anyone on an empty stomach.”

The Bone Field by Leonard Krishtalka

“When the phone rang, Harry Przewalski was stapled to the wall.”

Suffering Ends When Awakening Begins by Jewel Hart

“Even now, more than forty years after the fact, I still have a hard time believing that my mother tried to murder my sisters and me.”

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DESIblitz – August, 3, 2018

Here’s a very interesting and thorough look at Chant of a Million Women by Daljinder Johal in DESIblitz. Or read it below.

 

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The Island – July 11, 2018

This review appeared in the Island on July 11, 2018. You can also read it below.

Poems of Dignity and Defiance

Title – ‘Chant of a Million Women’

Poetess – Shirani Rajapakse

An author publication

The chief merit of this memorable and thought-provoking collection of poems by Shirani Rajapakse consists in the fact that it is a cogent and arresting endorsement and a refreshing re-statement of the dignity of womanhood. The poetic ‘discourse’ it stimulates goes well beyond what are seen, traditionally, as women’s rights issues; although such concerns continue to be exceptionally relevant and need to be kept alive. The collection is essentially also all about the ennobling presence of the Woman in the world. This aspect of the ‘Chant of a Million Women’ imparts to the collection a timeless dimension.

The poem from which the collection derives its title sets the tone and the fundamental substance of these poems. What is particularly relevant about this poem is that it transcends the domestic plane, pertaining to the challenges faced by women, to the indignities and suffering borne by women in conflict and war world wide, over the ages. This broad context lends to the poem a topicality as well as a universal significance. The woman’s body, we are reminded, is her own; a precious part of her that must be kept inviolate and whole. It cannot be abused and belittled, among other things, by contending parties in wars, to further their respective agendas. Hence, the reference to ‘collateral’, ‘appeasement’ and ‘rewards’.

‘My body is my own.

‘Not yours to take

when it pleases you, or

use as collateral in the face

of wars fought for your greed, or zest to own,

Not give to appease the enemy, reward

the brave who sported so valiantly in the

trenches, stinking of blood and gore.’

The freshness of perspective in many of these poems prevents us from viewing them as expressive of trite themes, such as, the ‘battle of the sexes’. Instead, what we have here are portrayals of the stark socio-political realities faced by women, which have the effect of throwing their dignity and humanity into strong relief. For instance, the speaker in the poem ‘Sadness’ says of harsh words that were flung at her:

‘a piece inside smashed into

smithereens, pierced by your words

as I walked away. Forever.’

In the poem, ‘Standing my Ground’, the speaker says about her individuality and independence in an impersonal world bent excessively on material pursuits and consumerism.

‘But no one notices in the millions

surging forward that

I stand my ground, refusing to

move an inch, waiting as I am, here,…

my face lifted to the sun shining down

through diaphanous clouds flittering by,

bathing me in gold and orange….’

‘To Dance with the Wind’ is memorable for the evocative use of imagery and its deftly handled rhythm that help capture the central mood of the poem which centres on the wistful yearning of repressed women for liberation in every vital aspect of their lives. Among other things, there are striking metaphors here that are suggestive of the dehumanizing impact of formal religion:

‘hidden behind a black wall while

all she wants is to soar with the winds,

graze the clouds, turn her face to the sun,

let her curls dance, dance, dance

like a myriad hands moving out to catch

pieces of the sun..’

The ‘Chant of a Million Women’, consisting of poems written by Shirani Rajapakse over the years, and published in local and international journals, could be considered a refreshing input to local creative writing on the meaning of womanhood. Very hard to beat is the poetic sincerity and strongly felt emotion running through this collection. The collection succeeds because it provokes profound reflection on what it means, and what it has meant to be a woman in a mainly patriarchal, repressive world.

Lynn Ockersz

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Chant of a Million Women on The Diabolic Shrimp

Thanks, Josh Grant for featuring Chant of a Million Women on the Diabolic Shrimp all through the month. Check it out here.

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Magnolia Review -Vol 4, Issue 1.

Thanks to Suzanna Anderson for the review of Chant of a Million Women in this issue of Magnolia Review. Go to pages 179 for the review.

Phoenix Rising 12 X 12 Clayboard jpeg

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The Friday Influence – February 16, 2018

Jose Angel Araguz has featured Chant of a Million Women and my short essay on two of the poems in the collection. Check it out here.

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Fireflies & Fairy Dust: A Fantasy Anthology. Pre-order Now!

My flash story Things That Happen in the Night is in Fireflies and Fairy Dust: A Fantasy Anthology. Published by Eu-2 Publishing it will be launched on March 1, 2018. Now available for pre-order.

 

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A Page to Turn – January 24, 2018

Here’s another great review of Chant of a Million Women from Bobbie at A Page to Turn. The same was also posted on Amazon.

A Page to Turn Blog of Bobbie Stanley

Reading Books in a Southern State of Mind

Review | Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse

January 24, 2018

Bobbie

Rating: 4 stars

It’s hard for me to review poetry.  Prose makes it easy because grammar, flow, characters, and plots come into play.  Poetry, though, can’t be dissected quite the same way.  This book, while technically fewer pages than a lot of the ones I’ve reviewed, took significantly longer to read because it pulled me through so many experiences.  To say that I enjoyed it wouldn’t be quite accurate; each poem in this book made me thoroughly feel something, but most often those feelings were desperate, angry, and painful.  They shed light on lives and experiences I will probably never have a chance to understand through my life path.  They forced me to see things I would rather ignore and called out my typical American behavior of overlooking the hardships women face outside of this country.

There were times while reading this that I felt overwhelmingly guilty for having been born into a life that some people will never know.  I felt guilty for taking for granted the freedom that we have and for failing to use my voice when I have so much more opportunity to do so than women in more countries and societies than I can count ever will.  There were times when I felt embarrassed for the way that our society has taught people to behave.  Not all of these poems were particularly enjoyable in their experience, but every one of them sparked thought and brought up very real questions that we should all be considering.  That is the true value in this work.  It is not a light read.  It is not something you’d carry with you to the beach or enjoy over a night, relaxing vacation.  There’s nothing relaxing about this.  This is a book that sparks movement, that demands action.  If you are prepared to be dragged into a reality that most of us would prefer to ignore, this is a great way to do it.  Let these words show you the things you haven’t learned yet.  Let them make you angry.  Let them draw you out and call you to action.  Well done, Shirani.  This is a powerful collection, and I hope it calls forth the action and attention it deserves.

 

 

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Readers’ Favorite

When I wrote Chant of a Million Women I had it pegged as poetry about women. It didn’t strike me that the poems could also be classified as being about men – the type of men that put women in such terrible situations. It was a pleasant surprise to read this review by Kimberlee J Benart for Readers’ Favorite.

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Writing in a Woman’s Voice

The title poem from Chant of a Million Women is the featured poem in Writing in a Woman’s Voice, December 27, 2017.

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World Literature Today

Starting the new year in good company.

Chant of a Million Women is featured in World Literature Today’s Nota Benes for January 2018.

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Poetry International

This review appeared in Poetry International on November 25, 2017.

Micro Review: Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapaske

  • 0
  • November 25, 2017
Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapaske

 

1Chant of a Million Women by [Rajapakse, Shirani]42 Pages
Create Space, 2017
ISBN: 9789553828507
Reviewed by Jessica Wright

In her book Chant of a Million Women, Shirani Rajapaske’s poems read as tributes to women all across the spectrum – transwomen, women of color, immigrant women, and women across socioeconomic classes. She is unafraid to tackle uncomfortable or taboo topics such as female mutilation or rape, while softening them with beautiful language. For example, in the poem “Mutilated” she describes the sewn-shut labia of one woman:

Lips you yearn to kiss, mold
to your soft being. Soft, pliable rubies
hidden forever from view.

A theme across her poems is the struggle women face to overcome inequalities in a male-dominated society. Several of her poems such as “I Live in Dreams” and “Lost in Thought” are about women wanting to go beyond their current lives, to achieve more and to escape their norms. In the poem “Major Minority” she more directly addresses this topic, relating it to the “major minority” of women in the country who feel as if their voices, and votes, don’t stand a chance within the patriarchal political structure. Of the subject of abortion, she writes:

Entombed from the womb
by man-made rules,
religious decrees you twist, like you did the
bougainvillea vine outside the window, to
suit your wishes and not any
God that ever was.

You amuse yourself in a childish game,
playing God almighty to trap me.

Men in power twisting rules regarding women’s reproductive rights is something that all women, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, creed, can relate to. Touching on topics like these makes Rajapaske’s poetry universal. While her language takes the reader on a journey filled with beauty inside of the darkness of the topics.

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Winning Writers -November 2017

Chant of a Million Women is featured in the Recent Publications of Winning Writers this month.

 

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Indie Publishing News -Interview

My interview is in Issue 18 of Indie Publishing News. (November 2017.)

https://screenshots.firefox.com/ScqqtxLtKjiTcDKV/online.fliphtml5.com

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Who’s That Indie Author?

I’m the featured writer in Who’s That Indie Author? today.

Who’s That Indie Author? Shirani Rajapakse

whos-that-indie-author

Author name:  Shirani Rajapakse

Genre:  Poetry and Short Stories

Books:  Chant of a Million Women (self published August 2017) Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011)

Bio:  Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and author. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Rajapakse’s work appears in publications around the world including, Flash Magazine, Litro, Dove Tales, Mascara, Skylight 47, Berfrois, Counterpunch, Moving Worlds, Deep Water, Kitaab, New Verse News and many others.                                 

Favorite thing about being a writer:  I love the freedom to write what I want. I’ve worked in journalism and research and although they too involve telling compelling stories, they are based on fact. In fiction or poetry you can risks, creating total worlds out of mere pieces of facts. I also think it’s an effective way of telling a story that might otherwise not be told, like a narrative about a rape victim or a woman who has been murdered. In fiction we can create her world and tell it from her point of view.

Biggest challenge as an indie author:  Breaking News my first publication, was through a small press in Sri Lanka. When I decided to self publish my poetry collection Chant of a Million Women, I had to work twice or even thrice as hard on the book. Because I was doing it on my own I had to learn everything from start. It felt like going to school, trying to learn about self publishing, how to format a book, do covers (although I got someone to design it for me), and marketing and promoting. I thought writing the book was hard, but turns out that was the easy part. The biggest challenge is in marketing and promoting.

Favorite books:  Tonight No Poetry Will Serve – Adrienne Rich, Snow – Orhan Pamuk, Midnight’s Children –Salman Rushdie, An Equal Music– Vikram Seth, Stags Leap –Sharon Olds, For the Most Beautiful – Emily Hauser.

Contact Information:
Blog:   Shirani Rajapakse – Poet. Author.
Facebook:  @shiranirajapakseauthor
Twitter:  @shiraniraj

Click here to learn more about Shirani Rajapakse’s books on Amazon.

Awards/special recognition:
Winner, Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013
Finalist, Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013.
Shortlisted, Gratiaen Award for Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) (short stories)

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“Strong free verse on many topics. An experience.” – Book Review

Read the recent review of Chant of a Million Women posted on Goodreads, Amazon and on the blog of Jim Bennett. Or read it below.

Strong free verse on many topics. An experience.

five stars

This is a fine collection of some seventy-three poems. From the opening, At the Side of the Old Mandir, you will realize that Rajapakse is treating you like an adult. While there is sex in several of these poems, they are not graphic.

There are many points of view explored by Rajapakse, including what it’s like to wear a full body covering such as the Niquab (recently made illegal in the Canadian province of Quebec.) I’ve personally always considered all religions to include a strong dose of social control, and this poem, To Dance with the Wind, reinforces my prejudices.

For an example of a woman most definitely in control, turn to Colonized, from which I’ll include this teasing snippet: “You were marked. /Stamped with delicious dragon-fruit /pink. /Scandalous. //Mine. /Branded like a buffalo in the field.”

For a terrifying experience, turn to The Shower. For another, turn to The Lonely Woman. This is not for the faint of heart.

In The Decision, this: “They tasted alright to me, /sweet with a hint of sour /that is what I’ve come to expect of grapes, /and of this thing we call a relationship.”

For an introspection into another damaged relationship, turn to Inside the Old Room, which begins thus: “What would the walls say if only /they could speak? /Would they tell you of the fantasies I dream /when I am not with you?…”  and that’s just the opening.

I should mention that Rajapakse uses titles subtly, often setting the physical scene but not revealing the plot of the poem. For a rare example where she uses repetition, turn to On Campus: Just Before the Exam, which is quite frightening.

For one last favourite here, this is from The Man from Over There: “The verse about you /described you as you were. As you are. /Nothing seems to have changed. /You should have changed. /Grown wiser, better, /but you have not.”

Back to the star count and my usual boilerplate. My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try to be consistent. Rajapakse has great range in this book, writing with power and control. You will find your own favourites here, as well as those mentioned above. Five stars feels  right on. Highly recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

 

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Let’s Raise a Chant for Women across the World -Guest Blog

I’m guest blogging about my reason to write Chant of a Million Women at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Read it below and do go over to her page to comment, and also read the other guest blogs.

Guest author: Shirani Rajapakse – Chant of a Million Women

Let’s Raise a Chant for Women across the World

Have you ever felt there was something you needed to say but didn’t know how to articulate it? Maybe you felt the things you wanted to say wouldn’t be accepted by people, or they wouldn’t understand or feel awkward reading about them? It isn’t easy to speak about topics that are taboo or difficult to discuss. No one wants to address subjects that make them uncomfortable so these matters get shoved into the back of a cupboard and forgotten. But the problems don’t go away. They simmer in the background and grow bigger and darker until they consume everything. Yet no one wants to address the elephant in the room.

Chant of a Million Women is a poetry collection that addresses the very issues that people feel awkward to talk about. Published in August this year, the poems raise concerns people shy away from like abuse, discrimination and the role of patriarchy in defining and controlling women’s lives.

 

“You can’t mold me into

                 

something you want—those

rough hands trying to create

dreams that can only shatter.” (Response to a Man)

 

I believe poetry is a good way of dealing with matters that are difficult to express, taking the topics one by one and opening them out in a way that people don’t feel out of their depth. At least that’s what I hope. I’ve brought together different stories of diverse women in various places and attempted to tell their story in verse. Their stories, their sorrows with my words.

 

“You rape and torture and

target us even when small and unable

to defend ourselves against brute force.

 

You forget we have rights too.

Law enforcement men turn the other way or

tell us we deserved it for being who we are.

They hurt us more, but we stand our ground.” (You Can’t Handle It)

 

Everywhere we look women are shortchanged. Every day somewhere in the world a woman or girl is raped, killed, abused or discriminated against and no one seems to care. You’d think it was in so called ‘backward cultures’ but it is hard to look away when it happens right in your own neighborhood or to someone you know. We only think we are safe, but seeing the sheer number of instances happening worldwide, we really are far from safe.

“Everyday someone was ground in the dust.

 

The hands of the woman holding the scales

trembled with fury at the injustice,

but no one could take off the blindfold.” (Lines of Control)

 

Women’s bodies are still ‘owned’ by men whether we like it or not. For instance, in many cultures, a woman can’t terminate a pregnancy even when the pregnancy is a result of rape because patriarchy barges in, in the form of religion to tell a woman it’s wrong. Yet patriarchy doesn’t tell her how to cope with the trauma of bringing up the child of her abuser, having to see in the child the horror she experienced every day.

We haven’t really come that far in some aspects. And that’s why we need to keep shouting from the rooftops and getting together around the world to ask, nay, demand our right to be who we are meant to be, not some idea that men think we should be. We are not products or valueless objects that can be used and abused and thrown on a garbage dump.

 

“My body is my own.

Not yours to take

when it pleases you, or

use as collateral in the face      

of wars fought for your greed, or zest to own….

It’s not a product.

Not something to bargain, barter for goods

and services, share with friends,” (Chant of a Million Women)

 

As I watched the hashtag #Metoo on Twitter and repeated in almost every timeline on Facebook I realized the reason we talk about women and what we need, will never stop. It is an undeniable fact that despite the advancement we have made, despite the many accolades women have won and the barriers women keep shattering, women are and will continue to be treated less than what they deserve even in the developed world because, well, sadly one half of the world has yet to appreciate and value the other half of the world and until they do there will continue to be disharmony, discrimination and women will continue to be sidelined. We are more than our bodies. We are half the world and what keeps the world moving.

 

“I’ve got a vote, but

I can’t use it. Can’t make much of a difference.

I’m the major minority.” (Major Minority)

 

We are not defined by the color of our skin, length of our hair, the way we look, the clothes we wear or the work or places we go to. You can read more stories in verse in Chant of a Million Women.

This is the theme poem from my poetry book “Chant of a Million Women” available now at amazon.com or books2read


Author bio

Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and author. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her poetry collection Chant of a Million Women was self published in August 2017 and is nominated for a Reader’s Choice Award.

Rajapakse’s work appears in publications around the world including, Flash:The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Litro, Silver Birch, International Times, City Journal, Writers for Calais Refugees, The Write-In, Asian Signature, Moving WorldsCitiesplus, Deep Water Literary Journal, Mascara Literary ReviewKitaabLakeview Journal, Cyclamens & Swords, New Ceylon Writing, Channels, Linnet’s Wings, Spark, Berfrois, Counterpunch, Earthen Lamp Journal, Asian Cha, Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry Review, About Place Journal, Skylight 47, The Smoking PoetNew Verse News, The Occupy Poetry Project and in anthologies, Flash Fiction International (Norton 2015),Ballads (Dagda 2014), Short & Sweet (Perera Hussein 2014), Poems for Freedom (River Books 2013), Voices Israel Poetry Anthology 2012, Song of Sahel (Plum Tree 2012), Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, World Healing World Peace (Inner City Press 2012 & 2014) and Every Child Is Entitled to Innocence (Plum Tree 2012).

She has a BA in English Literature (University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka) and a MA in International Relations (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India).

She interviews, promotes and review books by indie authors on The Writers Space at shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com


Find and follow Shirani

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Chant of a Million Women

Rajapakse explores identity, values and women’s role in society through the poems in Chant of a Million Women. She also looks at the concepts of beauty and the standards imposed on women to conform. Some of the poems are hard hitting and take on subjects that are uncomfortable to talk about like rape, female gender mutilation, abuse and male dominance. She talks about power and the quiet force that keeps half the world moving even when there is no hope. The language is simple yet the thoughts and ideas are not. They rise from the depth of our very being to swirl through the pages compelling the reader to step into worlds created within the covers. There is magnificence and strength juxtaposed with violence and weakness as are other opposites such as the divine and human frailty. These poems are like a breath of fresh air, provoking, mesmerizing and entertaining. At our core is a chant, soft, like the susurrus of leaves only breezes understand. Sometimes it opens lips to sing like gurgling waters meandering from here to there, to wherever it flows, or the soft tread of footfalls on the path outside. But sometimes, it’s a roar so loud thunder stops in its tracks in awe.

“Truly the voice of millions of women can be heard throughout these pages. It belongs in every school library and the title poem, Chant of a Million Women, should be memorized by every girl (and boy) in every country, its theme, “my body is a temple” chiseled in every heart and holy place across the Earth.” Amazon review by K.M


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Authors Talk About It promotes Chant of a Million Women

Authors Talk About It is promoting Chant of a Million Women on Book of the Week, September 24, 2017 in these blogspots.

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Inside a Beautiful Mind – An Interview

Many thanks to the wonderfully talented Kade Cook for the interview on her blog Inside a Beautiful Mind posted today, September 22, 2017. Check it out at the link or read it below.

Inside A Beautiful Mind – Shirani Rajapakse

2016-23-6--15-56-15

Good Morning Everyone and happy Friday

Welcome to Inside A Beautiful Mind.

For those of you who have been here before, go grab your coffee, tea or beverage of choice and come sit with me as we get comfy and have a chat with the wonderfully talented Shirani Rajapakse.

Good Morning Shirani, thank you for hanging out with me this morning and being a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind.

So now let’s get to it and tell our readers a little bit about yourself. 

 

Hi and thank you for having me over for a chat.

I’m a poet and short story writer from Sri Lanka. I live in the suburbs of the capital, Colombo. I have worked in journalism, research and management. About 15 years ago I became a full time creative writer. It wasn’t something I had planned. It just happened. I was in between jobs and had planned to take a year off to do several things I wanted andSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA just relax before getting back to the rat race. I also thought this would be the ideal time to edit several stories as well as put down ideas I had scribbled in note books. But it didn’t seem to end as the ideas tumbled out one after the other and I kept writing short stories and poems, adding to what I already had. I realized how much I enjoyed writing and decided this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, not as a hobby, but full time.

I’ve published two books – a short story collection and a poetry book. I have also published a lot of individual pieces in literary journals and anthologies around the world.

I’m a vegetarian and a chocoholic. I love dogs and have an eight year old dog named Bambi who has become rather dependent on me since her mother died last year.

I enjoy reading anything that is well written. The genres I read these days are literary fiction, women’s fiction, contemporary romance, light mystery, fantasy and of course quite a bit of poetry.

Can you tell us about your books?

My first publication was a collection of short stories. It was called Breaking News and it was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award in 2010 and published by a small traditional publisher the following year.

This year I self published my poetry book Chant of a Million Women. I worked on it the whole of last putting together the poems that would make up the collection, deciding on what to use and the order of the poems and also getting it edited. I spent the better half of this year learning about self publishing – how to format books, do covers (although I didn’t do the cover for this one), and also market and promote the book. I published it last month, and although it’s taken longer than I thought it would to get published it was fully worth it.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I have been writing since the late 1990s. My first book is an unpublished novel and was inspired by a rather disturbing incident that took place involving a young woman. After writing this I began writing short stories and poems. I think it was like a chill out period from writing the novel. I found that I liked writing short stories and poems; the brevity of words was refreshing and I felt intrigued with the shorter forms of writing. Since there were many stories and poems piling up I felt it was time to start publishing them as collections. I decided to go with a short story collection first because I was more serious about fiction than poetry. Breaking News was publishing in 2011. I didn’t think I would write many poems or that it would become a form of writing I preferred over stories until much later. It was only after Breaking News was published and I started looking through my unpublished work that I found enough poems to make up loosely themed collections.

Chant of a Million Women is the first collection to be self published. Each of the poems were written at different times, and although I had a collection ready by the end of last year, I found myself adding three more poems a few months before I signed off on my final draft. The poems are about women in different circumstances and situations. TheyChant of a Million Women - Shirani Rajapakse are influenced by what has been happening to women down the ages and across the world, the treatment of women and children and the responses of society. They cover a gamut of topics and emotions and I hope these poems open up a dialogue to discuss issues about the treatment of women.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Everything I write about is influenced by what I see around me. The stories or poems are not all based on real life experiences but most are. Breaking News is based on incidents that took place in Sri Lanka and consists of stories written about living under the threat of war that a lot of us experienced. Getting attacked by Tamil terrorists, losing family and friends, not knowing if we would return home when we left for work or school, was normal life for us for many years. Yet despite the terror and fear we lived under there was also room to poke fun at our situation and enjoy whatever bursts of sunshine we could have. It also made us realize how transient life was and that gave us a sense of awareness about how precious it was.

Chant of a Million Women has a lot of ‘stories’ told in verse about incidents that I’ve read or heard about. It is more global in outlook than Breaking News, but there are many poems that have Sri Lanka, South Asian and even the Middle East as a backdrop. Everything is not factual but most of it is based on fact. Imagination takes over to create something that is uniquely mine.

What was your favorite parts to write and why?

In Breaking News, it was the way the stories developed. My first lines were important to me and these were the lines that started the stories for me. If I couldn’t find the right words to start the story I couldn’t write it and that became a challenge. In Chant of a Million Women all the lines mattered, not just the first lines and this meant I had to work harder at developing every poem. I had to give a lot of thought and make a bigger effort to create the poems, more than the stories. Every line had to work; every line had to be a thought or idea, or even part of an idea. There was no room for fillers or excess words. I already had many poems but I needed to add more to make up a collection. There were sometimes ‘stories’ that I wanted to write about again, with a different angle and it was interesting to see how I could do this without making it seem similar to the one already included. The challenge was to create poems that were different yet addressed the issues I wanted.

How did you come up with the titles?

Both books take the titles from a story/ poem included in the collections. I selected Breaking News as the title of the book because I thought it would be a good title since it was the first book I was publishing and it was like a news item calling emphasis to the book. Also the subject matter being such – attacks on civil society, the disruption of life and destruction of property by terrorist attack – anything happening during that time was ‘news’ and would be splashed across the newspapers. With the poetry book the obvious choice was Chant of a Million Women since the book is all about women. It details the experiences and situations women the world over face and it is also something almost all women can identify with.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I haven’t got much harsh criticism for my writing, but I’ve been told the stories in Breaking News are difficult to read because of the subject matter. I do realize it is not easy to talk about some things, but I don’t believe in shying away from issues just because it is hard to come to terms with. I think that if we can live through horror and come out of it, then it’s also important to talk about it and as a writer I know I will continue to do that, even though it may not be appreciated by many people.

Since publishing Breaking News I’ve been submitting work, mostly poetry to literary journals and anthologies and except for three instances when the editors suggested very minor changes to the work submitted, like changing a word or two or delete a couple of lines, I’ve never had to re-write or alter anything I submitted. I consider this a huge compliment as it means I have been able to create something that is near perfect. Another compliment would be the acceptance of my work by editors of literary journals the world over, as it means they like and value my work enough to include it in their publications that are read by many different people.

Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?

I don’t know if this qualifies as quirky or unique, but I tend to do my first draft in my mind. I have to see everything in my mind, like a movie. I can’t write it if it doesn’t unfold in a particular sequence and even if the desire to write it is strong, the story won’t sound good and it won’t be a success. I’ve tried that and have realized it just doesn’t work. So now I let it play inside my head before I take it down and put it in words. Although I love writing I’m a lazy writer. It takes me ages to write what’s in my mind. I’ve lost many ideas because I was lazy to put them down.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I mostly just write, although there are some times when I outline my stories in my mind. When I get inspired by either reading or seeing something I immediately see a story happening in my mind. Sometimes the story I have is not at all related to what I’ve seen or read but is merely influenced or inspired by just reading or seeing whatever it was I saw or read. I let the story flow through my mind like a short movie for a few seconds until I am comfortable with it, then I quickly write it down. It doesn’t have to be the full story or poem, but I have to write whatever comes to mind. Later I add and change things around, but that first line or idea has to be there. It’s the same with poems, although I have to write down the complete poem when I am inspired. The editing later takes care of any discrepancies etc.

 

Can you tell us about your experiences in getting your first book published?

I’ll talk about my second book Chant of a Million Women because it is the first book that is self published and this means a lot to me. The collection was put together in 2015 from poems I had written at various times. I started working on it seriously in 2016 when I began selecting the poems that I wanted from what was there, adding new poems, creating an order and getting it all edited and ready for publishing. Then I left it to learn about how to self publish. I spent the first six months of this year talking to people online and in writers groups, asking questions which later I realized were so silly but at that time felt like they were the most important, learning to format a book, design covers, making decisions about where to publish and how to market the book etc. This was probably the most intense six months of work I’d done for a long time and it felt harder than writing. I was very fortunate to meet some very nice and helpful people and I’ve made friends with quite a lot of people along the way. Writing was the easy part, publishing was hard and I think marketing and promoting the book is going to be the hardest.

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I had been collecting poems for a long time and in 2015 I started separating them into themed collections. The strongest to come out was the theme on women. But I didn’t have enough and I started adding more. Then in 2016 I had a rough draft of about 85 poems. That got edited down to 80 and then to 70 by the end of 2016. I decided to publish this and left it to start learning about self publishing. A couple of months before I started to format the book I included three more poems that I had written with the objective of submit to a journal.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I think the genre chose me. I’m more interested in literary fiction probably because that has been the genre I’ve read the most. As for writing, I never thought I’d write short stories or poems since I didn’t much like short stories and I had no idea how to write poetry. I always thought I’d be a novelist. The short stories and poems were written during breaks in writing the two full length novels that are yet unpublished. When it came to publishing I submitted the short stories and one of the novels. The publisher selected the short stories. After publishing I continued to write short stories as I felt some of the stories I had worked better as short stories than as a novel. I also began submitting poetry to journals and this resulted in turning towards writing more poems. I realized that the more I read and wrote poetry the more interested I was in writing verse and also that I was getting better at it.

Where do you get your ideas?

The ideas are all around me. They are to be found in the garden listening to the squirrels chirping in the trees, watching the sun walk across the sky every day and the conversations I have with people around the world and the news happening everywhere.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing

I grew up reading Enid Blytons and the classics like Jane Austen, the Brontes and others. I devoured books. Anything that was interesting was read and re-read. Books were like a lifeline of sorts and I preferred reading to homework. I can’t say a particular book or author influenced me, because there were many authors that I followed and many books that influenced me at the various stages of my life. I also found that a particular author or book I liked at one time in my life didn’t bring me as much joy in another time. I used to think it strange but realize that we outgrow our interests and what we find pleasure in at one time can be boring and uninteresting at another time based purely on our experiences and where we have been in life.

Growing up I read mostly white writers and it was only when I was in my twenties in University, reading for my degree in Literature that I found myself having to read non white writers or writers using Africa and Asia as their background for stories. At first I didn’t want to read them as I had got so accustomed to reading and being familiar with the type of writing of white writers. Then when I started reading I was amazed to find how much I liked the stories I read and could finally identify with the characters and the worlds they inhabited. It was like reading my own experiences and narrative.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Write whatever you want to write because you alone know the stories you want to tell. When you sit down to write let the words flow the way they want. Later, when you have finished your story or chapter go through it and make any changes. Then put it away and go do something else. Write another story, read a book, travel somewhere, do anything to forget the story you wrote. Come back and look at it objectively. Edit it as if it was someone else’s story and not yours. Be as merciless as you can, cutting down unnecessary words, adding new words to make the story stand out. Polish the lines, re construct sentences left hanging. Tighten them like you would tune a stringed instrument to get just the right notes. Put it aside again for another month or two. Let your eyes go over it again and send it to someone to read, maybe a beta reader. Edit based on the feedback you get. Keep editing until you are happy with it and know that there is nothing you can do for it anymore. But of course, writing and editing is never finished and you will always have something you want to add or change even minutes before you hit publish.

What is your favorite quote or saying?

Write with your heart. Edit with your head. Not my words but they work for me.

 Tea or coffee?

Love them both. Sometimes I’m a coffee drinker and at other times I’m a hopeless tea drinker.

Sweet or salty?

As long as it is chocolate then it’s sweet.

Would you like to share with us a passage that will give us a glimpse into the world you built?

Here are two very different poems from Chant of a Million Women.

Loneliness

 

Because I crossed over

no man’s land one day, a few steps

of nothingness between two countries

that drew borders to fence us in.

A sliver of territory

just enough for a road to run through,

a few kiosks that might make it

livable, but not

sufficient for homes

to make you feel loved, or

to put down roots.

 

No one feels

at home in no man’s land.

 

No one stops there. Not for long.

Only lonely birds swooping down infrequently

to rest awhile, taking wing as they sense

all is not quite right. Or

the occasional curious cow that wonders

if the grass is really greener

yet doesn’t venture further.

A feeling of unease she can’t quite understand;

fear of death by slaughter, slow and painful,

cold breeze carrying messages of anguish

and terror waiting on

the other side.

 

Because sometimes words

are not required to make one understand or

experience joy and grief

at the same time.

 

Because of this you left, unable

to comprehend, refused to accompany me.

Stood for an hour at the threshold until

the gates closed behind me.

You gazed as I went over

to the other country.

Past the entrance,

the men in uniform, the plumed hats,

the paperwork, the stamp of finality,

to get lost in the rest of what makes it theirs.

 

Not yours anymore.

 

Because it happened so long ago you

don’t remember the words spoken

as you watched people

stride away. Like me.

 

But I remembered your face that day

and the words you

wanted to speak,

but couldn’t,

so you let your eyes converse instead.

Because it sounded so good,

like a violin crying in an abandoned house,

like a dog howling in the lonely ruins,

like a peacock singing in a desert dream,

and I remembered.Chant of a Million Women - Shirani Rajapakse

 

Somewhere in the Middle East After One War Ended

 

Child in the classroom unable

to speak. Staring at the space in front

silent to the teachers urging.

 

Mouth refusing to shape

words that don’t come out, they died,

crumbled to dust and got lost

in the sands swirling not so very long ago.

 

What thoughts hold her back afraid

to open lips that might howl out secrets

best left hidden amidst the ruins

piled up like garbage?

 

Numb to the people, deaf

to the voices moving around, she hears

strange noises in her mind

deafening the songs

trying to rise up from a corner where

she stored them for safe keeping,

to make her smile.

 

Gunshots in the street,

 

the heavy fire of machine guns in

the dark of the night, a river

roaring through

nonstop taking with it the trees

uprooted, buildings collapsed.

 

Flares lighting up the

sky as she hid under

the bed seeing neon signs flash across

the sky through a hole in the roof

that brought in the sun during the day,

hot and burning, like the sting of the bullet

in her mother’s chest.

 

The guns are silenced for the moment,

only the distant low hum of

sporadic fire in some other town

not so far away.

 

People walk the streets unafraid, go about

their work like

nothing ever happened.

The past erased.

 

Yet the guns inside

her head continue to fire volley after volley

as she struggles to live each day.

 

Would you mind sharing with us the best way to stay in touch with you and where to learn more about your books?

Website: https://shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/shiranirajapakseauthor

Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13850404.Shirani_Rajapakse

Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/ShiraniRajapakse

Universal ebook link: https://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse

Twitter: https://twitter.com/shiraniraj

LinkdIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shiranirajapakse/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/shiranirajapakse/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/shiraniraj/

 

Alright folks, it is that time again but I would like to say a heart felt thank you to Shirani for sharing with us and spending some time in her world today. Also, I would like to say a big thank you to the lovely readers out there for joining in and taking a moment to support your Authors.
If you or any of you know of someone who would like to be a part of Inside A Beautiful Mind, please send me a message or email me, kadecook.author@gmail.com.
Enjoy your Friday folks, you are awesome and please remember to be kind to your Authors, leave a review. See you in a couple of weeks, Peace.
Featured

Featured in Indie Publishing News

Information about  Chant of a Million Women is featured in the Recently Released Books section of Indie Publishing News, Issue 16 September 2017. Go to page 28. My book blurb is also included here, but on page 20.

 

Featured

Reading from Chant of a Million Women on The Book Speaks Podcast

Big thank you to Benjamin Douglas for featuring my work on his podcast. Episode 26. Go to the link here.

or check it out below.

Episode 26: Shirani Rajapakse

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Today I have a real treat for you: I’m reading from an indie-published poetry collection, Chant of a Million Women, by Shirana Rajapakse! Have a listen to the show for two of her poems, and check out her own poignant reading of another in this video:

As always, today’s readings are presented here with the author’s permission, and do not come from an official audiobook. Come back next week for another indie author reading! You can find Shirani online in these places:

WordPress    Facebook    Twitter

Pinterest    Instagram    linkedin

goodreads    Amazon

And you can find her book, Chant of a Million Women, at the following vendors:

Amazon    Lulu    Books2Read

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