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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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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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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.

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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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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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“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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