Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje

I had no idea Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, wrote poetry. I found this nice little paper back in a fabulous bookstore – The Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado. Any visit to the mile-high city must include a trip to the end of the 16th Street pedestrian mall. A free shuttle runs up and down 16th Street until the wee hours. Tattered Cover opens at 6:30 AM

These poems are not easy to read. I am about finished my second run through them, and some are still a bit difficult to grasp. Another time or two, and all will be well. I will add that the effort is more than worthwhile.

Ondaatje has constructed poems that twist and turn and surprise in every stanza, if not most lines. The poems possess a lyrical beauty that most often reveals itself on reflection. The lines seem almost to consist of stream of consciousness observations. For example, from “Uswetakeitawa,”

“The women surface
bodies the colour of shadow
wet bright cloth
the skin of a mermaid” (64).

The title seems to be a compressed sentence, “Us we take it away.” That is, we take away the images in the poem, the texture of the gleaming bodies, and the surprising language.

The author also has some funny moments. In a related collection of images, “Pure Memory/Chris Dewdney,” he writes,

“5. When he was a kid and his parents had guests and he was eventually told to get to bed he liked to embarrass them by running under a table and screaming out Don’t hit me Don’t hit me.” (73)

Not for the casual poetry reader, but certainly for anyone who seeks a challenge in the world of poetry, and most certainly for the serious student of verse. 5 stars

--Chiron, 1/27/09

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