The poems in Handwriting are memories of Sri Lanka: the rituals and traditions, history and geography, the smells and tastes and colours of his first home. Here are sunless forests, cattle-bells, stilt-walkers 'with the movement of prehistoric birds'; a Buddha buried 'so roots/like fingers of a blind monk/spread for two hundred years over his face'; 'saffron and panic seed, lotus flowers, sandalwood; a lover, who lay her fearless heart/light as a barn owl/against him all night'.
Handwriting is an elegy for lost childhood, for a culture and language lost to the turmoil of history, but it is also a glimpse of the source of the writer's delicate, erotic, mysterious imagination. By focussing on writing frankly about beautiful things, Ondaatje takes the poems beyond narrative to these simple, deeply sensual images - given to us in a language that is pared, cursive and exquisite.
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The way his novels are truly poetic, Ondaatje's thrilling poems often read like exquisite, unwritten Ondaatje novels. - Independent on Sunday
Michael Ondaatje defies the normal distinction between poet and novelist. His writing is consistently tuned to a visionary pitch -
His poems read with the same whimsical precision and authority one finds in Ondaatje's prose. He is the most sensibly ironic writer I've read in years, and the most generously disposed. Would that all worlds were this deftly attended -
The 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 -
Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka in 1943. In the 1950s he moved to England, and went to school in south London. In 1962 he emigrated to Canada, where he has lived ever since. His books include his memoir, Running in the Family, numerous collections of poetry, and five novels - including The English Patient which won the 1992 Booker Prize. Handwriting was first published in 1998 and reissued to coincide with the publication of The Cat's Table in 2011.