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Shortlisted for the Rubery Book Awards 2019

I Exist. Therefore I Am is shortlisted for the Rubery Book Awards 2019.

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Here’s what they said about the book.

 

PictureI Exist. Therefore I Am Shirani Rajapakse
Nine short stories set in India, all well-written stories focusing on discrimination against women in India.  Drink Your Milk and go to Sleep is a harrowing tale of gender discrimination and infanticide. The speaker is forced to abort a series of female babies as their sex is detected in the womb, but one survives to full term, only to be murdered by the mother. The second, Shweta’s Journey, is about a woman who is duped by Swamiji, a bogus religious guru who appropriates her wealth and proceeds to govern her life. The third, A Room Full of Horrors, focuses on two female students’ attempts to pay their tuition fees in an institution that feels hopelessly, and some may say maliciously bureaucratic, presided over by the gratuitously unhelpful patriarch, Mr Singh. Other stories address women on death row, women experiencing existential crises, and women caught in the snare of convention and patriarchal expectation. At her best the author’s style is direct and the stories have real force; they seem driven by a powerful sense of frustration and outrage.  Poignant and moving, the book deals with issues that require more of a profile.

 

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Poets to Come: A Poetry Anthology

What better way to celebrate the 200th birthday of Walt Whitman than have an anthology of poems from poets that came after him. Over 200 poets are featured in Poets to Come. My poem “On a Saturday Morning” is on page 346.  This is one anthology that is definitely something you must have.

 

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Unlikely Stories – November 10, 2018

This was posted about Chant of a Million Women in Unlikely Stories on November 10, 2018.

It’s always interesting to read what others think of my work. The reviewer mentions bad editing and superfluous elements. Must take it up with me editor. 😉

What saddens me is the reviewer assumes just because I’m Sri Lankan that all the poems are about women and men in Sri Lanka, when the examples of people I mention as well as places clearly indicate it is not. What  really surprises me though, is the misunderstanding of two of the poems mentioned. Sometimes context is important to understand the nuances and the reason some words are used, or not used, or said in a certain way. So how do you portray something that is local in a way non-locals understand while still preserving the local identity?

Read below.

On reading Shirani Rajapakse’s “Chant of a Million Women”

In Shirani Rajapakse’s Chant of a Million Women (self-published, 2017) we have poems that narrate the lives of Sri Lankan women and their relationships with men. It is at its core, a criticism of the innate sexist culture of Sri Lanka and the poems vibrate with action, gesture, and compassion, describing horrible realities. However I have to note that, sadly, there are too many faults of language, concision and sentimentality. The author, I have to say, is guilty of bad editing. Where perfect endings, lines or stanza breaks, could exist, the author adds too many superfluous elements, sometimes whole stanzas that unbalance otherwise perfect poems. The ideas and content discussed and described in the poems are incredibly moving and hit close to home to a third world native like myself, but the bad editing fails the book. Too many examples of this; in the poem “She Thought She Knew it All,” a poem about poetic identity in the said country, the failed editing surfaces. The lines “and feel the solace that someone / empathized in a world / full of no meaning” are sentimental in the expression of the emotion described and have a grammatical error, things not forgiven to poets. The emotion expressed feels childish, unedited, uncrafted, and I am left confused by the line “full of no meaning” where ‘meaningless’ could have done fine. Lines should be crafted by necessity and this is a recurring problem in the book: the author is guilty of superflux. Then the poem continues and still holds effect up to the 27th line, the perfect ending having been nailed at “No one else gave a damn,” but the author adds 5 more unnecessary lines which prolong this spirit of sentimental superflux and my negative criticism of the book. Instead of being charmed, I am left regretting.

“They rode in cars with tinted glass.
They read a different verse.
She was not counted.
But she didn’t know.
Ignorance is such bliss.”

What about the “tinted glass”? How is it relevant to the poem that “She was not counted”… or couldn’t there be a better expression, one with more poetic cadence and that also solidifies the trajectory of the poem? The last line crushes whatever effect the poem had created, and I am left wondering about its necessity and also about the author’s command of her craft. If we take the poem, “In The House at The End of The Road,” it was full of potential, but some unnecessary lines hurt it as well.

“She plucked
her breasts because
she said they didn’t fit.
She was
meant to be male, but

they had grown on their own,
large and voluminous
sticking out for all to see like buoys in the sea.
Obstinate, rude and beckoning
to all. Come see me
defy the rules.

I stand up to gravity.

They cramped her style.
She couldn’t move her arms
or bend down to touch
the ground.

So she ripped them out,
one by one.
Unlike the Amazons, they only removed one.
It was an occupational hazard.
That’s what they said.

They couldn’t aim their bows
to defend their realm.
But she had nothing to defend.
Except her annoyance at
being female.”

Some minor changes in line preserve the humor and meaning of this poem while not killing the effect and main intention on the reader.

She plucked her breasts
because they didn’t fit

they had grown on their own
large and voluminous
sticking out for all to see like buoys.
Obstinate, rude and beckoning
to all. Come see me
I stand up to gravity

They cramped her style.
She couldn’t move her arms
or bend to down to touch
the ground.

So one by one
she ripped them out
unlike the Amazons
who only removed one.
An occupational hazard
is what they said.
They couldn’t aim their bows.

But she had nothing to defend
except her annoyance
at having breasts.

Just minor editing modifications bring back an element of sharpness to the poem and preserve its humor. As we travel along with the author into places where few Americans have been, places where men feel entitled to a woman’s body, places where money and status can also make you own people, the poem “Dream of the House Maid” captures the purpose of the book beautifully. It is both a tender and direct poem that tells the tragedy of a housemaid tortured by her employers. I think lines 4-6 capture this well:

“You got much more than you bargained for,
with a salary paid in nails.

Hard as hell.”

This poem is sharp and takes the reader to a place of emotional torment. The poem following that poem, “Mutilated,” also grounds us in the abuse this sexist culture imposes on women. It is a heartbreaking portrayal of womanhood and the imagery is powerful, that of a woman’s lips sealed shut and the woman left seeing the world through “vermillion tears / in the rain, running all over.” These are two of the good poems in this book and they show the poet’s talents: “Lips, inviting, delicious pink, sealed / shut. / Words are damned, can barely trickle / out. / Sewn up tight, threads crisscross an / ugly /design like embroidery by / an unknown hand done hurriedly…” (“Mutilated”). She creates a powerful and symbolic image in the poem’s main persona, a Madonna who, instead of bearing a son who will die for others, is herself the martyr who “finds it hard / to sing sweet songs of longing…”

I am not saying that all the poems in this book are bad. Nor am I saying that the poet is bad. I am, however, saying that the book as whole is bad because the poet failed at editing too many poems that seemed like first drafts. I hope Shirani Rajapakse takes my criticism as constructive and pursues poetry. And that next time, I’ll be writing a praise instead of a criticism.

 

Darryl Wawa

Darryl Wawa is a Port-au-Prince born Haitian-American who studied Photography and Creative writing. He enjoys chocolate and good books. That said, maybe a movie is a good book. He loves to work with images and words and their pairing.

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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.

A Page to Turn Blog of Bobbie Stanley

Reading Books in a Southern State of Mind

Review | Chant of a Million Women by Shirani Rajapakse

January 24, 2018

Bobbie

Rating: 4 stars

It’s hard for me to review poetry.  Prose makes it easy because grammar, flow, characters, and plots come into play.  Poetry, though, can’t be dissected quite the same way.  This book, while technically fewer pages than a lot of the ones I’ve reviewed, took significantly longer to read because it pulled me through so many experiences.  To say that I enjoyed it wouldn’t be quite accurate; each poem in this book made me thoroughly feel something, but most often those feelings were desperate, angry, and painful.  They shed light on lives and experiences I will probably never have a chance to understand through my life path.  They forced me to see things I would rather ignore and called out my typical American behavior of overlooking the hardships women face outside of this country.

There were times while reading this that I felt overwhelmingly guilty for having been born into a life that some people will never know.  I felt guilty for taking for granted the freedom that we have and for failing to use my voice when I have so much more opportunity to do so than women in more countries and societies than I can count ever will.  There were times when I felt embarrassed for the way that our society has taught people to behave.  Not all of these poems were particularly enjoyable in their experience, but every one of them sparked thought and brought up very real questions that we should all be considering.  That is the true value in this work.  It is not a light read.  It is not something you’d carry with you to the beach or enjoy over a night, relaxing vacation.  There’s nothing relaxing about this.  This is a book that sparks movement, that demands action.  If you are prepared to be dragged into a reality that most of us would prefer to ignore, this is a great way to do it.  Let these words show you the things you haven’t learned yet.  Let them make you angry.  Let them draw you out and call you to action.  Well done, Shirani.  This is a powerful collection, and I hope it calls forth the action and attention it deserves.

 

 

Launching tomorrow – Chant of a Million Women

Come join me for the virtual worldwide launch of my poetry book Chant of a Million Women. All you need is a device with an internet connection and a Facebook account. Check the times for your area. See you tomorrow. Image may contain: text

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.

On the road to self publishing – ebook formatting

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.