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The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems by…
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The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems

by Michael Ondaatje

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For years, I've adored Ondaatje's fiction, and enjoyed his poetry, albeit to a lesser extent. I've thought, repeatedly, that Ondaatje's fiction is remarkable for his poetic thought and language, while his poetry is heavier, even trodding, and a bit less poetic than I'd prefer. I've begun this work in the past, which contributed to that view. That said, reading it all the way through, I now see that his more recent work is simply beautiful, as poetic as his prose, and utterly worthwhile.

In a note in the back of the book, Ondaatje notes that this collection includes the poetry he wrote over the course of nearly 30 years--from 1963 to 1990. In the work, for better or worse, that progression shows. The beginning poems are less graceful and poetic, and narrative to the fault that they sometimes feel as if they're pieced apart fiction. The second half of the book, though, is entirely different. The works are perceptive, delivered with careful grace and beautiful language, and tackled perfectly. Those early works are worthwhile in that one gets to see Ondaatje's masterful progression as a poet, and because the narratives there Are interesting and worthwhile, whether or not they read more like poetry or prose. But, in the second half of the book, his poems are perfectly conceived poems, and worth every moment and line--poems that I'll return to for re-reading and re-exploring, which is perhaps the greatest compliment I can give to a poet.

Absolutely recommended, and in this vein, I'll briefly quote two of the poems, one verse and one prose...

from "Rock Bottom" on page 124:

No,
though I am seduced
by this light, and
frantic arguments
on the porch,
I ain't subtle
you run rings
round me

but this quietness
white dress long legs
arguing your body
away from me

and I with all the hunger
I didn't know I had

and, from "Escarpment" on page 188:

"....He turns and she freezes, laughing, with watercress in her mouth. There are not many more ways he can tell her he loves her. He shows mock outrage and yells but she cannot hear him over the sound of the stumbling creek.

He loves too, as she knows, the body of rivers. Provide him with a river or a creek and he will walk along it. Will step off and sink to his waist, the sound of water and rock encasing him in solitude. The noise around them insists on silence if they are more than five feet apart. It is only later when they sit in a pool legs against each other that they can talk..."

So, yes, with such graceful movement and imagery and language and narrative...I have no hesitancy in recommending this work to readers of poetry, or anyone, for that matter, who enjoys a short narrative in any form. And, if you don't like the beginning....keep going, as it took me too long to do. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Mar 27, 2013 |
The Cinnamon Peeler is a book of poems by Michael Ondaatje, covering a nearly 30-year period of his writing career. The poems contained here are largely pulled from two earlier collections, There’s a Trick with a Knife that I’m Learning to Do and Secular Love. While poems scattered throughout this book were interesting in a variety of ways, I tended to prefer the ones from Secular Love as they were more engaging. Overall, the themes and subjects he keeps returning to are: family, loves/lovers, friendship, writing, authors, memories of days gone by, and music. Sometimes his poetry took on a rather prose-like storytelling, other times they were much more like random words strung together and I have to confess that some of these made absolutely no sense to me. At any rate, none of his poems fit a standard type of poetry (i.e., sonnet) but were free form. Some of them really did resemble a prose (very) short story rather than a poem. Reading this book was certainly a different experience for me and one that I overall rather enjoyed, even if it took me a while to get into the flow of Ondaatje’s style.

Ondaatje could be quite funny at times in his poetry, like this bit from “7 or 8 Things I Know about Her—A Stolen Biography”: “For a while in Topeka parrots were very popular. Her father was given one in lieu of a payment and kept it with him at all times because it was the fashion. It swung above him in the law office and drove back with him in the car at night. At parties friends would bring their parrots and make them perform what they had been taught: the first line from Twelfth Night, a bit of Italian opera, cowboy songs, or a surprisingly good rendition of Russ Colombo singing ‘Prisoner of Love’. Her father’s parrot could only imitated the office typewriter, along with the ching at the end of each line.” Of course, this passage is also a good example of how prose-like his poems could be, for it sounds like it could have easily been taken from a short story or novel.

Some of my favorite poems from this collection were: “Light,” “Henri Rosseau and Friends,” “Dates,” “Sweet Like a Crow,” “Late Movies with Skyler,” “Sally Chisum/Last Words on Billy the Kid 4 a.m.,” “Pure Memory/Chris Dewdney,” “Elimination Dance,” “To a Sad Daughter,” and “7 or 8 Things I Know about Her—A Stolen Biography.”

Besides these poems, a few others had some lines that really stood out for me:
- “Take two photographs–Wallace Stevens and King Kong (Is it significant that I eat bananas as I write this?)” from “King Kong Meets Wallace Stevens”
- “My mind is pouring chaos in nets onto the page. A blind lover, don’t know what I love till I write it out. And then from Gibson’s your letter with a blurred photograph of a gull. Caught vision. The stunning white bird an unclear stir. And that is all this writing should be then. The beautiful formed things caught at the wrong moment so they are shapeless, awkward moving to the clear.” from “‘The Gate in His Head’”
- “I wanted poetry to be walnuts in their green cases but now it is the sea and we let it drown us, and we fly to it released by giant catapults of pain loneliness deceit and vanity” from “Tin Roof”
- “Along the highway only the duets and wind fill up my car. I saw the scar of the jet that Sunday trying to get you out of the sky. Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins. An A and an H, a bean and a breeze. All these twin truths / There is bright sumac, once more, this September, along the Bayview Extension / From now on no more solos / I tie you to me” – from “Breeze”

If you like poetry and don’t necessarily mind if it doesn’t follow standard rhyme or meter, this collection might just be the thing for you. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Feb 24, 2013 |
I had no idea Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, wrote poetry. I found this nice little paper back in a fabulous bookstore – The Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado. Any visit to the mile-high city must include a trip to the end of the 16th Street pedestrian mall. A free shuttle runs up and down 16th Street until the wee hours. Tattered Cover opens at 6:30 AM

These poems are not easy to read. I am about finished my second run through them, and some are still a bit difficult to grasp. Another time or two, and all will be well. I will add that the effort was more than worthwhile.

Ondaatje has constructed poems that twist and turn and surprise in every stanza, if not most lines. The poems possess a lyrical beauty that most often reveals itself on reflection. The lines seem almost to consist of stream of consciousness observations. For example, from “Uswetakeitawa,”

“The women surface
bodies the colour of shadow
wet bright cloth
the skin of a mermaid” (64).

The title seems to be a compressed sentence, “Us we take it away.” That is, we take away the images in the poem, the texture of the gleaming bodies, and the surprising language.

The author also has some funny moments. In a related collection of images, “Pure Memory/Chris Dewdney,” he writes,

“5. When he was a kid and his parents had guests and he was eventually told to get to bed he liked to embarrass them by running under a table and screaming out Don’t hit me Don’t hit me.” (73)

Not for the casual poetry reader, but certainly for anyone who seeks a challenge in the world of poetry, and most certainly for the serious student of verse. 5 stars

--Jim, 1/27/09 ( )
1 vote rmckeown | Jan 27, 2009 |
Poetry that awakes your sense of smell, your soul, your suspicion. If you have ever been in love despite yourself or come across an abandoned corpse in a ditch of a morning, these are poems to scratch at your memory. If not, they may just awaken your imagination. ( )
1 vote ElizabethPisani | Apr 19, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679779132, Paperback)

Michael Ondaatje’s new selected poems, The Cinnamon Peeler, brings together poems written between 1963 and 1990, including work from his most recent collection, Secular Love. These poems bear witness to the extraordinary gifts that have won high praise for this truly original poet and novelist.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:07 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Michael Ondaatje's new selected poems, The Cinnamon Peeler, brings together poems written between 1963 and 1990, including work from his most recent collection, Secular Love. These poems bear witness to the extraordinary gifts that have won high praise for this truly original poet and novelist. -- from publisher description.… (more)

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