Handwriting: Poems

Ondaatje, Michael

Published by Knopf, 1999
ISBN 10: 0375405593 / ISBN 13: 9780375405594
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Synopsis: Handwriting is Michael Ondaatje's first new book of poetry since The Cinnamon Peeler. It is a collection of exquisitely crafted poems of delicacy and power--poems about love, landscape, and the sweep of history set in the poet's first home, Sri Lanka. The falling away of culture is juxtaposed with an individual's sense of loss, grief, and remembrance, as Ondaatje weaves a rich tapestry of images--the unburial of stone Buddhas, a family of stilt-walkers crossing a field, the pattern of teeth marks on skin drawn by a monk from memory.

And, like the poets who "wrote their stories on rock and leaf / to celebrate the work of the day, / the shadow pleasures of the night," in these poems Ondaatje writes of desire and longing, the curve of a bridge against a woman's foot, the figure of a man walking through a rainstorm to a tryst. Handwriting is a poetic achievement by a writer at the height of his creative powers. In it, we are reminded once again of Michael Ondaatje's unique artistry with language and of his stature as one of the finest poets writing today.

Review: 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

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Title: Handwriting: Poems
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Very Good

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