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.
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
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:
And you can find her book, Chant of a Million Women, at the following vendors:
I’m so excited because my book was just nominated for the 2017 Readers Choice Awards! Please vote for it at www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting.
It is listed under the category General Fiction Book.
Here’s an excerpt of a review to give you an idea about the book.
“Overall this collection is spirited and powerful, and above all, it has an important message that is expressed so well. This is one of my favourite collections I’ve reviewed so far, and I would thoroughly recommend it.” Sam Rose, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine
Check out the review below or go to Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine to read poems by other writers in Issue 29, September 2017.
Editor’s Book Review: Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse
This month I had the joy of reading Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse, a Sri Lankan poet and fiction writer.
This poetry collection covers lots of themes, including identity, relationships, freedom, dignity, war, struggle and rape, but its main message is captured in the title poem, “Chant of a Million Women”, which opens with:
My body is a temple, not
a halfway house you enter for
temporary shelter from
the heat and dust swirling through trees.
This poem really embodies the spirit of the whole collection, giving women a voice, a reminder of our self-worth and ownership of our own bodies.
“I Live in Dreams” is a mingling of dreams, reality and longing, and a similar mix of melancholy and hope can be found throughout the collection. In particular, “Asking for It” is a powerful commentary on rape and victim-blaming culture, and “Unwanted” is short but touching, and one of my favourites. “To Dance with the Wind” has some wonderful imagery which really did make me feel like I had been picked up and taken by the wind.
Overall this collection is spirited and powerful, and above all, it has an important message that is expressed so well. This is one of my favourite collections I’ve reviewed so far, and I would thoroughly recommend it.
Chant of a Million Women is available in print from Lulu.com and Amazon, and also as an eBook at http://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse.
You can also find Shirani Rajapakse in Flash Fiction International, Mascara Literary Review, Asian Cha, Deep Water Literary Review, Dove Tales, Earthen Lamp Journal and City Journal, among others.
Several issues are discussed in Chant of a Million Women. There’s also quite a range of emotions carefully placed between the pages. In the following weeks I’ll talk about a few poems.
But I’ll start with the first poem. “At the Side of the Old Mandir” This not only sets the stage as it were to the collection but it also kind of pulls in the idea of the role of women from history to the present not being very different.
The influence for the poem was a statue of a woman at the side of a mandir (temple) in India. The old beautiful carvings on the outsides of temples depict women in many poses. Almost all of them are of women with large breasts and voluptuous hips.
I’ve traveled a lot in India and seen many interesting places. Since I like art, history and culture my travels tend to take me to places where I can find all of this in abundance and the old temples are a definite must see on my itinerary.
Viewing the statues and images I came across an interesting find. In quite a few of the images of women in the carvings in mandirs and abandoned places the breasts were darker and I used to wonder why, until one day I saw why when I turned a corner in a lonely mandir and surprised a devout follower of whatever God resided inside that mandir.
The image of that encounter I witness stayed in my mind although I wrote about it many years later.
They come to this place every day
to touch you.
Lonely men with desires unfulfilled.
Can’t afford the real thing, costs too much
these days, a glance, a caress.
They can barely afford food for the day.
You’re the best they can have;
voluptuousness in stone.
They ogle and marvel, then
gradually draw nearer.
A furtive glance in every direction to check
if anyone’s watching and a hand
lifts up to cup a breast.
Human and rock merge for a blissful moment.
An eternity passes as time
drags itself to a screeching halt.
Sighs of contentment escape.
they return to a place at a distance,
to admire and hope.
Later, moving inside they speak to God, plead
with him, cajole, sometimes demand.
Karma always questioned in times like this.
A truth hard to accept.
The reasons why never defined, lying hidden
in the cosmic ether beyond their
Your breasts are a shade darker than
the rest of your body,
colored from constant caresses of
lonesome men seeking stolen pleasures.
A slow smile playing on your lips, one arm
resting on a hip pushed out to the side,
the other raised from the elbow,
fingers encircling lotus, you stand waiting
for what might be, as they shuffle past,
like the devout, softly singing praise
of the one within.
Quietly taking in their fill they return to
homes devoid of love and desire.
Who are you,
proud woman standing nonchalantly
gazing into the distance as they walk past?
What was your fate?
Willed by the hand that chiseled
you from a large rock hewn out from
another place one sunny day eons ago.
Who was the man that yearned for you so,
he cast you in stone in remembrance
to watch over the years
and give hope to
a multitude of desperate souls?
This idea behind the incident I saw and the image of the dark breasted statues reminded me of something I saw in a telephone booth on a street in London. This was a time before the mobile phone and if you needed to make a call you’d use a public phone. I don’t know if those still exist, but one of the things that greeted you when you entered one of those phone boxes was a whole load of calling cards with photos of women, much like the statues of the women in those ancient temples. It appeared as though modern women were trying to emulate the statues which were probably carved out by men who were seeking the ideal woman and not finding that around them, they were creating images in stone.
It seemed very sad. We’d come so far yet as women we hadn’t given up the notion of pleasing others – of turning our bodies into objects of pleasure for men and it didn’t matter that we were getting exploited as well. “On a Street in London” ends the collection. Between those two poems there’s just about every emotion and situation women have faced, put down in verse.
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.
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.”