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Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje
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Handwriting (1998)

by Michael Ondaatje

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Ondaatje's poems run the gamut from ephemeral, imagistic poems that show an eastern influence to more narrative lyrical poems that are more common in contemporary poetry in the west. The former poems--which in this collection are early in the volume--tend to be stronger. Poems like "Buried" and "The Nine Sentiments" show a strong influence from his homeland of Sri Lanka, and the imagery is borrowed from the landscape of that country and from the Buddhism that is a major part of its history. While these topics remain of interest, in the later part of the volume he turns to a mode of writing that has been well established in the U.S. and Canada for years. A poem like "The Story" plays some familiar post-modern tricks on narrative and textuality, but not in a particularly new way. As I read on, I found myself wanting more poetry like what is found in the opening pages. That he moved toward a more conventional form of poetry is the biggest disappointment in the volume. ( )
  wrmjr66 | Jul 28, 2009 |
Handwriting is a set of poems that are so rich. I react to these poems viscerally -- I can smell, taste, see -- they are dark and smoky, sorrowful, sensual, full of history and pain and love and beauty. There's humour, bright and unexpected, and threads between poems where Ondaatje finds a theme and connects them across the volume; sometimes it's a phrase that finds its way into a new poem and a new interpretation, sometimes it's an expansion of a concept. They are about Sri Lanka, Ondaatje's country of birth; it hosts many of the poems, and the rest are about being absent from it. Many of them pay homage to Sri Lanka's long history and depth of culture, and others are laments for its conflicts and pain. These poems connect the reader to history and culture and human experience in a way that news reports and history books can't. ( )
  bluepixie | Jun 6, 2009 |
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Dedication
for Rosalin Perera

'For the long nights you lay awake
And watched for my unworthy sake:
For your most comfortable hand
That led me through the uneven land...'
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375705414, Paperback)

Sumptuous, steamy, downright sexy: on the blush-o-meter Ondaatje scores a 10. Those who can't get enough of his melodious prose--most notably in The English Patient, which earned him the Booker Prize in 1992--will find the same lyrical genius in his verse. In his 10th collection, Ondaatje transports us to his childhood home of Sri Lanka. With strikingly sensuous imagery, he conjures a land of bangles, cattle bells, stilt-walkers, and a 1000-year-old buddha "buried in Anuradhapura earth, / eyes half closed, hands / in the gesture of meditation... roots / like the fingers of a blind monk / spread for two hundred years over his face." As the title suggests, Handwriting is an elegiac tribute to the ancients who in "wild cursive scripts... spent all their years / writing one good book"; whose "physical yearning / became permanent" and "desire became devotional." In his Sanskrit and Tamil love poem, "The Nine Sentiments," Ondaatje not only proves most definitively that music is the key to unlocking a reader's heart, but also argues for poetry's healing powers in times of strife:
The brush of sandalwood along a collarbone
Green dark silk
A shoe left
on the cadju tree terrace
these nights when "pools are
reduced by constant plungings"
Meanwhile a man's burning heart
his palate completely dry
on the Galapitigala Road
thinking there is water in that forest
Ondaatje's final poem, "Last Ink," explains why the need to preserve human experience through art is as instinctive as the desire to die in a lover's arms. Dealing with large-scale emotions and scenes of love and war, these are poems that strike to the heart. --Martha Silano, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:24 -0400)

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A collection of poems about love, landscape, and the sweep of history, set in the poet's birthplace, Sri Lanka.

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