This review appeared in Poetry International on November 25, 2017.
Micro Review: Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapaske
- November 25, 2017
Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapaske
Create Space, 2017
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.
Chant of a Million Women is featured in the Recent Publications of Winning Writers this month.
My interview is in Issue 18 of Indie Publishing News. (November 2017.)
I’m the featured writer in Who’s That Indie Author? today.
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.
Click here to learn more about Shirani Rajapakse’s books on Amazon.
Winner, Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013
Finalist, Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013.
Shortlisted, Gratiaen Award for Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) (short stories)
Strong free verse on many topics. An experience.
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.