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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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Semi-Finalist in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards

Chant of a Million Women is a semi-finalist in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards.

Or check out all the other categories.

 

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DESIblitz – August, 3, 2018

Here’s a very interesting and thorough look at Chant of a Million Women by Daljinder Johal in DESIblitz. Or read it below.

 

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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.

 

 

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World Literature Today

Starting the new year in good company.

Chant of a Million Women is featured in World Literature Today’s Nota Benes for January 2018.