Handwriting : poems

by Michael Ondaatje

Paper Book, 2000





New York : Vintage, 2000.


Handwriting 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bluepixie
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member wrmjr66
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
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"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.
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