Handwriting: Poems

Handwriting: Poems

by Michael Ondaatje
     
 

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"Tumultuous, vibrant, tragic and over too soon." —Newsday

Handwriting is Michael Ondaatje's first new book of poetry since The Cinnamon Peeler. The exquisite poems collected here draw on history, mythology, landscape, and personal memories to weave a rich tapestry of images that reveal the longing for—and expose the anguish over&See more details below

Overview

"Tumultuous, vibrant, tragic and over too soon." —Newsday

Handwriting is Michael Ondaatje's first new book of poetry since The Cinnamon Peeler. The exquisite poems collected here draw on history, mythology, landscape, and personal memories to weave a rich tapestry of images that reveal the longing for—and expose the anguish over—lost loves, homes, and language, as the poet contemplates scents and gestures and evokes a time when "handwriting occurred on waves, / on leaves, the scripts of smoke" and remembers a woman's "laughter with its / intake of breath. Uhh huh."

Crafted with lyrical delicacy and seductive power, Handwriting reminds us of Michael Ondaatje's stature as one of the finest poets writing today.

Editorial Reviews

Adam Kirsch
...Ondaatje...writes plainly about beautiful things. The center of gravity of the poems...[is] in the richly sensual images....[T]here is certainly beauty, and Ondaatje's delicate handling of it.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ondaatje's first book of poetry or prose since his bestselling novel The English Patient (1992) offers Western readers knowingly attractive, nostalgic views of his native Sri Lanka. The poet playfully takes to the role of translator ("Aliganaya-`the embrace/ during an intoxicated walk'/ or `sudden arousal/ while driving over speed bumps' ") in a not-quite-wry langour--a departure from the exuberance of earlier work. Generally forgoing the first person, and settling into a short, refined line, Ondaatje disappears into the role of an observer, most sucessfully in poems like "Driving with Dominic in the Southern Province We See Hints of a Circus": "The Tattered Hungarian Tent/ A man washing a trumpet/ at a roadside tap/ Children in the trees,/ one falling/ into the grip of another." At times, the self-conscious need to explain interrupts the flow of images, as when bathing women encounter "An uncaught prawn hiding by their feet/ The three folds on their stomachs/ considered a sign of beauty," and the poet's engagements with the politics and violence of Sri Lanka--"there were goon squads from all sides"--can seem forced. But the terse form seems to push the poet towards moments of lapidary beauty. Ultimately, these calmly seductive visions form a surprisingly coherent emotional autobiography, representing Ondaatje's finest work as a poet.
Library Journal
Ondaatje is undoubtedly best known for his novel, The English Patient, on which the award-winning film was based. Good as that novel was, it is still a pity that more people havent read his poetry, which is deeply evocative and suffusedbut never overburdenedwith sensuous imagery. Here he revisits his Sri Lankan heritage, re-creating the past in sparkling takes: Once we buried our libraries/ under the great medicinal trees/ which the invaders burned; And in our Book of Victories/ wherever you saw a parasol/ on the battlefield you could/ identify the king within its shadow. Buddhas abound, as do Cormorant Girls, saffron, rice, cattle bells, and, of course, water. A poem picks up one image, then starts the next few lines with another, so that images glance off the page, refusing to settle down into straightforward storytelling. The result is a sort of mosaic of feeling and light that is affecting reading. For all poetry collections.Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
From the Publisher
"Richly sensual images.... [Ondaatje] contracts the narrative to a few concrete images, giving his verse a mysterious reticence." —The New York Times Book Review

"Poems that are virtual hybrids of the contemporary and the ancient." —Boston Book Review

"Smooth poetic lines.... Another finely polished Ondaatje gem." — Time Out-New York

"Extremely beautiful." —Robert Hass, The Washington Post

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375405594
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/01/1999
Pages:
78
Product dimensions:
6.16(w) x 8.65(h) x 0.51(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

In the dry lands

every few miles, moving north,
another roadside Ganesh

Straw figures
on bamboo scaffolds
to advertise a family
of stilt-walkers

Men twenty feet high
walking over fields
crossing the thin road
with their minimal arms
and "lying legs"

A dance of tall men
with the movement of prehistoric birds
in practice before they alight

So men become gods
in the small village
of Ilukwewa

Ganesh in pink,
in yellow,
in elephant darkness
His simplest shrine
a drawing of him

lime chalk
on a grey slate

All this glory
preparing us for Anuradhapura

its night faith

A city with the lap
and spell of a river

Families below trees
around the heart of a fire

tributaries
from the small villages
of the dry zone

Circling the dagoba
in a clockwise hum and chant,
bowls of lit coal
above their heads

whispering bare feet

Our flutter and drift

in the tow of this river

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