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The Poems in Chant

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.

Image may contain: shoes and text 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.

At the Side of the Old Mandir

 

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.

 

Satiated temporarily,

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

comprehension.

 

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,

circumambulating

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.

 

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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

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Getting Ready to Launch

Image may contain: textThe launch of my poetry book Chant of a Million Women will take place on August 22, 2017 on Facebook. Drop in to find out about the book, learn about why I wrote some of the poems, read excerpts of poems and talk poetry. Post questions and join in the discussion about issues raised in my poems and also in the work of my co-writers who will take over for short spells. There will be giveaways of cool stuff including copies of the ebook.

Joining me in hosting the launch are,
Madeleine Black (Unbroken: One Woman’s Journey to Rebuild a Life Shattered by Violence. A True Story of Survival and Hope, John Blake 2017),
Sarah Lamar King (My North Star Misled Me, CTU 2015; Melancholy’s Autograph, CTU, 2017),
Celine Leduc (poet, artist and women’s rights activist), and
Audrey Barber (poet, survivor and women & children’s rights activist).

The launch will be for one and a half hours. Wherever you are around the world log in at this time from your time zone.

0330 hrs Pacific Standard Time
0630 hrs Eastern Standard Time
1030 hrs GMT
1600 hrs Sri Lankan Time
2030 hrs Melbourne, Australia Time

See you there and bring your friends.

Chant of a Million Women is available for pre-order. For print copies go to either Lulu or Amazon. For all ebooks go to the universal link to find your favorite store.

 

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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.

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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

 

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Launch of City, in Colombo

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.

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Women Rise – Making Movie Poems

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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)