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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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The Front Matters

You’ve probably skipped through the first few pages of any book, or, if you may have merely glanced through them before getting to the story. Have you ever wondered what it all means and why the front matter is there for?  Susan Oleksiw has an interesting post about formatting where she discusses what should go into the front matter of a book.   Or read it below.

Front Matter

Recently I’ve come across a number of self-published books that all have the same flaw. The writers have hired editors and proofreaders, book designers and formatters, and cover designers. But they have still failed to get one part of the book right. And this is the arrangement of the front matter.

The extent of the front matter may vary; not every book needs a preface or an introduction. But the order in which the required items appear has been well established, and serves a purpose. The front matter leads us into the work by offering important clarifying detail. Arranged correctly, the front matter orients distributors, booksellers, and librarians, and provides necessary information in the expected place. They know where this information is located. Only, now it isn’t.

The front matter on too many self-published books has me flipping back and forth among the first few pages looking for the critical details (copyright, publisher, ISBN, etc.). The experience is disorienting. But learning the correct arrangement of the front matter is simple—just examine a book published by a traditional publishing house. All of them use the same setup, the one prescribed by manuals such as The Chicago Manual of Style. My copy dates from 1982. Another option is Words into Type, from Prentice-Hall.

The front matter consists of everything before the main text, which begins with Chapter 1, opening on the right-hand page. Traditionally, everything begins on the right hand page—opening chapter, section title (and following first chapter in the section), division title. After the first chapter, each chapter can begin on the recto (right-hand page), or verso (left-hand page), but the writer should be consistent about this throughout the book. Here is the standard list of front matter for a print book and its arrangement.

Half title (recto)

blank (verso) or series title or list of previous publications

Title page (recto) with title and author and occasionally the title of the foreword, along with the name and location of the publisher and date.

Copyright page (verso) with copyright notice, foreword or preface copyright notice, publisher and additional publisher’s information (if a special imprint), ISBN, Library of Congress Control Number (if known), jacket or book designer’s name, place of manufacture, edition. This is also a permissions page if the list of permissions is short enough to be placed here. If not, place a note here referring the reader to the end of the book for the list of permissions. This will also be indicated in the Contents. Some publishers put the list of previous publications here.

Dedication (recto)

blank (verso)

Contents (recto)

blank (verso)

Preface (recto)

Foreword (recto if the first page of text; if not, either recto or verso).

Introduction (recto)

Section title (recto)

Blank (verso)

Chapter 1 (recto)

Pagination doesn’t usually begin until the first page of text, be that a preface or foreword or introduction or chapter 1. But some publishers begin pagination on the Contents page. If the front matter is paginated, the choice is roman numerals. Arabic numerals begin on the first page of chapter 1. But some publishers begin the Arabic numerals on the title page.

If you’re putting together an eBook, you have more flexibility. You can omit the half title and blank pages, and combine some of the others. The Title page can include the dedication, followed by a copyright page with list of permissions. A series title can also go below the title on the first page.

The back matter in a book of fiction is the place for links to websites, other books, and teaser chapters for your next book.

The front matter is important for providing a lot of technical information, and the point is to make sure anyone looking for it can find it. This may sound confusing at first, but putting things in their expected order makes the entire publication appear more professional.

To find my books (with front matter), go to:

https://www.amazon.com/Susan-Oleksiw/e/B001JS3P7C

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SusanOleksiw

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/susan+oleksiw?_requestid=1017995

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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)

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New Ceylon Writing

“Colombo” is published in issue 6 of New Ceylon Writing. You can find it on page 27 here or read it below.

 

Colombo – by Shirani Rajapakse

 

Prescription walkers

huff and puff their way to good health,

proud of the city’s walkways,

the affluent thrusting their

jelly bellies ahead

as they valiantly attempt to compete

with young trendsetters

their ears blocked to reality,

sweating it out by

lakes and parks dressed

in designer clothes stretched taut

across wobbly frames.

They do their thing,

walking, strutting on legs

that can barely hold so much weight,

serious looks on smug faces,

while community dogs stare in amusement,

calling out to friends to come

observe the show.

 

There’s a whole generation grown up

on an unhealthy lifestyle, unable to cope,

a last bid to get their act together or

face the consequences,

sprawled on a bed with tubes sticking out

from every corner

while they gasp out in agony and plead

to every God known to man

for a second chance.

 

Yet hospitals are overcrowded.

 

They are as popular as

restaurants and watering holes.

Every minute someone’s sick, every minute

someone needs medical attention, and

every minute someone dies in

a lonely old home unable to cope, away

from families that have

no use for old flesh anymore.

 

 

 
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The Way It Is

We can’t sing certain songs
that speak of our glorious past or our
identity. We are shamed. Tunes
hummed softly to walls that sometimes listen but
don’t record words barely coherent they
brush cheeks against hard surfaces
and sigh to winds passing outside. We
can’t be proud of our
history, the long winding road
of deeds that made us who we
are, those many, many years of development,
innovation, education,
love for humanity and the land we
live in, the great strides we
took into the future that brought us
here where we are, right now. We
are ridiculed, made to feel stupid, those years
slowly erased from memory one word at a time,
dissected, analyzed and thrown away as
not being worth a cent. Our
history. My history that sleeps crammed tight
inside cupboards, imprisoned behind glass
walls in a white man’s home, forgotten, yearning to
return but held back by words agreed with
forced signatures while mothers watched
their infants balanced on swords. We
aren’t allowed to practice our beliefs, our
religion of non-violence. We
are looked down as being inferior practicing an
ancient wisdom they claim has no place
in this new world order rolling in. Everything is being
re-written to suit the white man
somewhere. We
are forced to accept the white man’s ways
and beliefs, his lifestyle, his food filled with things
that harm our bodies. We
are persuaded to sell our values, our businesses,
infrastructure, money making properties that are
made to look as disasters, failures in our
incapable hands, handed over to foreigners with
no idea of their true worth, to appease
buffoons in political power. We watch helpless as our
lands, those many tufts of earth that make up
this place we call home, nurtured with the blood of
warriors that died to save it for a future,
are torn up, lines drawn for
ownership claimed from foreign shores.
Slowly, slowly we
change, turn once again to become slaves to
whiteness this time not controlled with
guns held against us
but through agreements signed in cold climes
behind hushed doors. We
are compelled to obey the rules
follow the oil man’s religion. Shroud our
women in darkness. Our
words are twisted like vines, tied up,
strangled. Simple meanings deconstructed, what we
meant is portrayed as something negative, ugly,
best left unsaid thrown into the gutter. We
become nothing. Beaten up our
backs curved in surrender aged beyond our
years. Coerced
into submission to the white master
oil master coming in different clothes, speaking
through different tongues sliced in two, sugar
coated to please
controlling through regional bullies,
political prophets and
religious puppets, money exercising utmost
authority while debauchery reigns,
reigns, reigns and thugs party with not a care in
the world and the police cheer and the public
cry foul and no one listens for ears
hide inside potholes and words roll in the dirt
desperately waiting for the rains.

© 2016 Shirani Rajapakse