Featured

The history of my Chant

The book launch for Chant of a Million Women concluded a little while ago. I’ll share a little bit of the history of my book.

 

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and text

Chant of a Million Women has been in the making for about five years. I never thought the poems here would be part of a collection because when I started writing poetry I had no objective of publishing collections that were theme based. My poems are on diverse topics that are as far off as the sun and the moon. I was submitting to literary journals and anthologies and it was very encouraging to have many poems published.

But as I started accumulating more poems I realized that the only way I could keep track of all the poems was to separate them into themes. I was already finding it quite tiresome to wade through folders to find poems to submit to journals. Separating them into themes and sub – themes was definitely the way to go. I found some themes had more poems while some, less. Soon sub themes were merged or changed and I had about four themes.

The strongest was about women.

I had enough for a chapbook but I didn’t want to publish this collection as a chapbook because I realized that there were more stories I needed to tell in verse; stories that were getting written down in my mind. All I needed was to get my lines organized to write them down.

By the end of 2015 I had my collection. I took the name of one of the poems as the title of the book – Chant of a Million Women – because this is not just poems about women. It is about our stories, our lives, our loves and losses. It is about the despair and heartache we face as well as the humiliation, violence at the hands of our male peers and family and friends. It is also about the strength we have within ourselves even at the most trying times and of our ability to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs.

Several incidents that took place around me influenced my thinking. The horrendous gang rape of a young girl in Delhi and the lukewarm response to the child that was raped, the vehement outcry against a Tunisian woman from Femen for exposing her body in public, young girls caught up in the war in the Middle East and most terrible of all, the attempt to stone a defenseless Sri Lankan woman working in Saudi Arabia for allegedly having an affair out of marriage, and several others became topics to explore issues of violence against women, exploitation and patriarchy.

Yet everything is not dark and dreary. There are moments of fun and amusement and also power and strength of women who not only rise up like the lotus rising from the mud, but they also play equal if not superior to the male.

It is a chant.

And now I bring it to you. Seventy three poems about, and, for women, that were influenced by women – mostly unknown women, sit within the folds of the cover.

Take them as you will. You may see your reflection in some or recognize a friend in another. They travel from history, through continents and time. They are a chant that bubbles low at times but roars at others.

 

“My body is my temple.

Enter with reverence.”

 

Advertisements
Featured

Review of Chant of a Million Women

On Basso Profundo, August 11, 2017.

 

Toward the end of Shirani Rajapakse’s plaintive and eloquent book of poetry, she has a piece called “The Poetess.” In its final lines she writes:

She walked with a spring in her step.
Her expression serious. They turned around
as they saw her pass.
She felt such pride. At last to be known.
Even if to just a few.
They did not know she had
nothing to show.

The last line surprised me, and moved me to immediate disagreement. Chant of a Million Women is certainly a notable achievement: it chronicles so many moods, in so many stories, from ancient Indian epic legends to the insurmountable challenges of every day. It consolidates and focuses our attention on the myriad ways men subjugate and objectify women, and the paltry few effective means women have to fight back. This applies particularly to cultures bound by tradition, such as one finds in India and the Middle East.

And women’s situations are so hopeless in this collection that fighting back isn’t really what it’s about. It’s about maintaining something so basic as one’s identity. So often used as a simple ornament, a status symbol, or property to be hidden away, the women in these poems lose their onetime promising selves to a male society, be it as some idealized – but definitely owned – prize, or a simple, reviled piece of furniture, or worse, a victim of violent crime.

Ms. Rajapakse places her poems in a number of milieux: traditional sexist households, dangerous, sometimes murderous, public thoroughfares, urban settings and rural. Often, no setting is specified, except the consciousness of the dispossessed woman.

A million women would indeed raise this chant. They would be fortunate were they to make it this resoundingly, with such force. The poetess distills their suffering to a specific litany, as though a bell were ringing to toll the offenses, forming a high-relief frieze of the hundreds of thousands of wives, daughters, and princesses whose stunted lives impoverish us all.

This is a distinctive, consistent collection in which the milk of human kindness has no place. Nowhere are the kind whispers of a lover or even the support of a life partner. Ms Rajapakse has consistently chosen her pieces with a eye to the plaints and sorrows of women. I salute the courage with which she lends her voice for the forgotten and uncared-for women suffering in so many places in the world. Take up Chant of a Million Women and experience its elegant phrases and its moral force.

Featured

Cover Reveal

After many days of working on it, my cover is now ready.

What are your thoughts?

Cover Image by Shirani Rajapakse

Cover Design by FayeFayeDesigns

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text

 

Featured

What’s in a Pen Name?

Some writers are confident writing under their own name while some opt for a pen name, like Mary Anne Evans who became George Eliot. There are many reasons for using pen names. Do you feel comfortable writing under your own name? Or do you think a different name would sound more exotic, more in keeping with the type of stories you tell?

I’ve never felt a need to write under a different name, mostly because my name is my identity. Although I tend to write from different perspectives and view points both fiction and poetry I wouldn’t feel comfortable using a different name. It would feel like being someone else, or like being in character. But that’s just me.

Other writers may have various considerations. It could also be quite exciting. Getting a pen name is like reinventing yourself.

Would you write under a pen name and where would you go to look for a name? What  would you consider when looking for a pen name? How do you select a pen name and where can you find names? Read this interesting article here about selecting pen names.

 

There are both artistic and practical considerations in choosing a pen name. (Image via Bigstock/Vima)

Featured

Iowa Online Writing Summer – Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays

Two courses coming up this summer.

Image may contain: text

On May 15, 2017, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will open Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction, a free massive open online course. This creative writing MOOC will focus on writing about identities, communities, and social issues in fiction and nonfiction. There is no cost to enroll; registration is completely free for all participants. No writing experience is required. This MOOC welcomes writers of all communities and identities.  

COURSE OVERVIEW

This MOOC will:

  • Encourage you to write both fiction and nonfiction
  • Encourage you to explore the intersections between these two genres
  • Encourage you to explore the intersections of individual, community, and global identities
  • Encourage you to examine the effect of current social issues on individual, community, and global identities
  • Foreground the principles of short and long-form fiction
  • Foreground the principles of three forms of nonfiction: literary journalism, memoir essay, and personal essay
  • Support your experience of creative and cultural exchange with writers around the world!
COURSE PROFESSORS

Professors Christopher Merrill and Venise Berry will lead you through this course. Christopher Merrill is Director of the International Writing Program and University of Iowa Professor of English; he has published six collections of poetry, five works of nonfiction, and many works of translation. His new work Still Life with Dogwood has just been published. Venise Berry is Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa; she is the author of four novels as well as four books on African-American representation in film.

Image may contain: text

On July 17, 2017, the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa will open Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Poetry and Plays, a free massive open online course. This creative writing MOOC will focus on writing about identities, communities, and social issues in poetry and plays. There is no cost to enroll; registration is completely free for all participants. No writing experience is required. This MOOC welcomes writers of all communities and identities.

COURSE OVERVIEW

This MOOC will:

  • Encourage you to experiment in both poetry writing and playwriting
  • Encourage you to explore the intersections between these two genres
  • Encourage you to explore the intersections of individual, community, and global identities
  • Encourage you to examine the effect of current social issues on individual, community, and global identities
  • Foreground the principles of writing poetry and plays
  • Support your experience of creative and cultural exchange with writers around the world!
COURSE PROFESSORS

Professors Christopher Merrill and Lisa Schlesinger will lead you through this course. Christopher Merrill is Director of the International Writing Program and University of Iowa Professor of English; he has published six collections of poetry, five works of nonfiction, and many works of translation. His new work Still Life with Dogwood has just been published. Lisa Schlesinger is Associate Professor at the Playwrights Workshop at the University of Iowa; her plays include Celestial Bodies, Wal-martyrs, Same Egg, Manny and Chicken, Rock Ends Ahead, The Bones of Danny Winston, and Twenty-One Positions.

 

Featured

Women Rise – Making Movie Poems

16427456_10154799948816071_7937238439155669752_n

I launched my crowdfunding campaign to make movie poems today on indiegogo. The poems selected are from my soon to be released poetry collection about women. The 5 poems selected are diverse in theme and are representative of the poetry in the collection.

Join me in bringing these poems to life by funding the campaign. There great perks on offer. Also share the information with anyone interested in funding the campaign.

 

 

 

(Photo courtesy of Warna Hettiarachchi)