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Handwriting: Poems Paperback – March 14, 2000

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers 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 langourAa 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 LankaA"there were goon squads from all sides"Acan 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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705410
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Ondaatje did a fabulous job with this collection of poems. It was the first of his that I ever read, and I was amazed. (I'm still amazed two weeks after I finished it.) Ondaatje has a style all his own, and I love it! The poetic language that seemed so pretentious to me in The English Patient held me spellbound.
I'm hooked.
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Format: Hardcover
At first I was annoyed with this volume of poetry. The images and the historical and litterary references employed are very specific to Sri Lanka. Without any background in Sri Lankan culture I found the poetry difficult bordering on the inaccessible.
However, as I persevered with the poetry I was slowly rewarded. It was like waking up from a dream, those first minutes in the morning when you are neither awake nor asleep, but living in a place that is somehow between the two worlds. The strenght of Ondaatje's language is such that it draws you in to the imagery and into the location he is creating and remembering. The result is not unlike a half-forgotten dream. You can almost remember that buried Buddha.
This is powerful poetry written by a sure hand. You will undoubtably benefit if you have a background knowledged of the culture and its physical and spiritual geography. Without this background it is difficult but ultimately rewarding reading.
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Format: Paperback
Beautiful, sensuous, with an occasional bite of acid. Like eating a mango on a hot summer day.
I don't like much contemporary poetry because I find it's more about provoking than evoking, more about shock value than beauty. I LOVED this volume. It is full of slow images and scents, sensual but not explicit. Ondaatje weaves Sanskrit and Tamil words and forms into the poems in such a way that you don't even care that you don't know exactly what he's talking about. "The brush of sandalwood along the collarbone/ Green dark silk/ A shoe left on the cadju tree terrace.." "The pepper vine shaken and shaken/like someone in love/Leaf patterns/saffron and panic seed/on the lower pillows/where their breath met..." What's a cadju tree? What's a panic seed? I don't know. I don't care- I see them anyway and am captured by the image, and this is what good poetry should do. I can't wait to read the next book.
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Format: Paperback
If there is a central image in these three sequences of poems it is one of burial, unearthing and renewal - of statues of the Buddha, of water, of emotions, memories, a life that counts. Ondaatje starts us on this road of memories from his childhood home of Sri Lanka with a series of historical anecdotes and detail, a different place where "We believed in the intimate life, an inner self" and "3am in temples, the hour of washing the gods" led to a God being dragged from temples "by one's own priests" to be buried while wars, treasure hunters and fifty year feuds went by, so that "roots/like the fingers of a blind monk/spread for two hundred years over his face."

In the third and most anecdotally direct, least oblique sequence the image of the dug up Buddha reappears transformed:
"In the sunless forest/of Ritagala...nine soldiers on leave/strip uniforms off/and dig a well.../In the sunless forest/crouched by a forest well/pulling what was lost out of the depth." And immediately before that anecdote, in one of the achingly simple lyrics that litter this thatch of stories and semi-parables, Ondaatje tells of "the last Sinhala word" which he lost, "the word for water" and the wet nurse "a lost almost-mother in those years/of thirsty love" who he has no photograph of, has not seen since age eleven, whose grave he can find no trace of. He now wonders who abandoned who.

Now and then the concerns of a writer surface and you realise these are the meditations of a writer returning to buried wounds and springs to be renewed: the poets who "slept, famous, in palace courtyards/then hid within forests when they were hunted/..and were killed and made more famous.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Ondaatje is a major poet. There are no two words about it. He brings his poetic vision and unique signature of lyricism again to words with his latest collection of poems, 'Handwriting'. This is Ondaatje's latest book of poetry since The Cinnamon Peeler published in 1991.
'Handwriting' contains a collection of well-crafted poems reminding us that Ondaatje is undoubtedly among one of the best living poets today.
Most of the poems of this excellent anthology are set in Sri Lanka. Some images and references crafted by Ondaatje come from Sri Lanka where he has ancestral roots. Similar to his classic novel, 'Anil's Ghost' Ondaatje demonstrates his intimate knowledge of the history, art, friends and recent events of Sri Lanka in this collection of poems.
For me, there is also a very personal appeal to the poems in this collection. As a person who grew up in Sri Lanka, I am familiar with places and historical references he brings into his works in 'Handwriting'. However, anyone without any knowledge of Sri Lanka could also understand and appreciate Ondaatje's poems as they have a universal appeal despite the fact he leaves the reader with place or location names such as Galapitigala Road, Mahaweli and Kataragama etc. Even when Ondaatje writes on specific locations or on historical facts he writes about life, love, war and death which has a universal appeal to any reader whether they have an understanding of locations, place names or historical nuances appearing here. Even if you don't have a personal knowledge of Sri Lanka's history or its culture you can still appreciate Ondaatje's poems.
Ondaatje is indeed very different to ancient poets of Sri Lanka who "wrote ...
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