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.
I finished formatting my ebook. Yes, it’s now officially ready for release.
I thought it would be hell since poems have a different way of formatting even if they are all left aligned. I also had several poems running all over the page.
I contacted several book formatters and they gave me all kinds of responses when I sent a list of things I needed done. They all were skeptical, telling me it won’t look like it does on print. One formatter though, assured me he could do it. He even did a sample of one of the poems that has a different look with the lines all over the page. He agreed, but the funny thing was when I uploaded the book he suddenly raised his price from USD 10 to USD 200 giving me reasons that didn’t make sense for that huge price difference.
So there I was stressing out about what to do for two weeks, going up and down with formatters. Should I pay so much to get something done or should I take a chance on someone who was offering much less but cautioned me saying it might not look exactly as I want it to look?
Then a a couple of friends on Facebook assured me that,
a). it was ok if the poems in the ebook didn’t look the same as the print. Because the ereader takes on the frames and needs of the readers including font size and type that can be changed, it will never look exactly the way I want it to, and
b).book formatting was easy and there were several places offering it for free.
That made me decide to do it myself. After all, I did format the book for print and had it on PDF. What could possibly go wrong with the ePUB? I got rid of the unusual formatting for the few poems that had words crisscrossing the pages and made them all left aligned (it would have all become left aligned even if I didn’t change it).
They were right. It wasn’t hard.
I uploaded the book on D2D and after a few changes, it came out looking just the way I wanted. Wasn’t expecting that, but I’m thrilled. I’ve been playing around with the draft, making changes, but it’s done. What a relief.
Next step, uploading the PDF for POD and sending for a sample to check before pressing the publish button.
I’m going to be at the ICES Colombo next week, July 11 at 4 30 pm, for the launch of City: A Journal of South Asian Literature in English.
The launch is for the special edition of City which features Sri Lankan literature in English and in translation from Sinhala and Tamil.
If you are in this neck of the woods, join us at the ICES and meet the editor, Ajmal Kamal and the other contributors.
My short story, Strange Attraction was published in Tuesday Tales in Litro, February 14, 2017.
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)