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3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  544 ratings  ·  47 reviews
He takes us through the sweep of history in the island of Sri Lanka, summoning up stories of war and love, of goon squads, kings and robbers, and of two millennia of culture, to create a tapestry of images, scents and gestures - 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 - that r ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published April 11th 2000 by Vintage Canada (first published 1998)
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I've shared my admiration of this man before, but that won't stop me from saying again and again how absolutely exquisite I think he is. What strikes me about Handwriting is that it is so very personal and what impresses me is that it is even vulnerably so. It's as if he bled on the page for a while. For me, a great deal of bad contemporary poetry lacks that quality. Instead, I find most contemporary poetry is cowardly, the poet or narrator looks out rather than within, and if he or she does att ...more
Perhaps I have to be in the right mood for a book of poetry to speak to Me. Or maybe his other book of poems, The Cinnamon Peeler, was just much better than this one. I think I only "felt" or liked 3 passages in the entire book:

The women of Boralesgamuwa
uproot lotus in mid-river
skin reddened by floating pollen

Songs to celebrate the washing
of arms and bangles

The laughter when husbands are away

An uncaught prawn hiding by their feet

The three folds on their stomachs
considered a sign of beauty

They t
Beautiful, lyrical meditations and musings on war, lost civilizations and ways of life, and the erotic/romantic, as well as poems about the poet's personal past history. All intermingle in a spiritual, graceful, balanced way that propels the reader forward but leaves enough mystery for repeated readings. This made me want to learn more about Sri Lanka's history, and I found the writing to be almost painterly in its imagery, deft and subtle without ever veering into cliche or being heavy-handed, ...more
Cynthia Egbert
While I appreciate his prose better than his poetry, there is beauty in this work. It offers a glimpse into another culture with poetry, which I tend to believe is the best way to view a culture. I found it fascinating. And there were a few poems that transcended culture and touched me based my own experiences.


We lived on the medieval coast
south of the warrior kingdoms
during the ancient age of the winds
as they drove all things before them.

Monks from the both came
down our
Ondaatje is a brilliant technician. I just didn't feel much of an emotional connection to most of the poems ("The Great Tree" and "The Story" excepted).

Poetry is like that. It's so personal that, though one can identify the technical aspects that succeed or don't, it's awfully hard to predict what will have that deep emotional resonance.

Or at least, that's how I feel today.
This is a phenomenal book of poetry. I came to it skeptical, after reading a few snipes about Ondaatje's "chopped prose", and hearing him being pushed aside in that new Modern Canadian Poetry anthology from the UK. Ondaatje, though, couldn't be resisted. This is poetry both spare and luxurious, and, frankly, gorgeously romantic. From the opening poem, "A Gentleman Compares His Virtue to a Piece of Jade", we are in a world of fantastical vision and mythic history. I have to say, it took me a bit ...more
A lovely reminder for the need to keep in touch with our own human capabilities and sensuality in the wake of technology. I loved The English Patient and didn't know Ondaatje also wrote poetry. He's wonderful with both genres.
Kivrin Engle
I love this collection and each time I reread it, I feel like I am reading it for the first time ever. I sit and savor each word, like I would sit and savor each sip of a cup of strong black tea.
Ondaatje uses the symbolism of burials and of digging up the dead in returning to his native land of Sri Lanka in this fine collection of poems.

Fans of Ondaatje's novels will be familiar with the themes here--love that's lost or only a fading memory due to clashes of culture, racism, classism.

But these poems are strongest when Ondaatje digs up the past to better understand the present. He describes this horrifically in "Buried" a cycle of poems about genocide in Sri Lanka and how the monks bur
Danny Daley
This was the first thing I'd ever read by award winning writer Michael Ondaatje, and I was blown away. I read the entire collection in a single sitting, while still reflecting on the work as I read, and was captured by every word.

The collection focuses on Ondaatje's childhood, growing up in Sri Lanka; his memories of the history, traditions, smells, sights, etc. I've never been there, physically, and yet through these poems I felt that I could get a sense of the place. I loved this book.
Syringa Smyrna
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sherran Clarence
Mesmerisingly beautiful poetry. I love every single poem in this collection. Some, like Step, have stayed with me since the first reading. Collections like this can be dipped into as and when you need soul soothing, or beautiful words to elevate or collaborate with your mood. Often about grief or loss, Ondaatje's collected poems in this slim book are simple, elegant and deeply pleasurable to read and savour.
In topics ranging from love and loss, politics and religion, landscape and culture, Michael Ondaatje weaves an intricate spider's web of words. And yet, despite the richness of language and image, I had trouble connecting to many of the poems, with two notable exceptions: The Story, a fable of time and preparing for war, and Last Ink that weaves images of love and the act of writing into an intoxicating spell.
Donald Quist
I really liked this collection. There were some standout pieces, "Buried," "The Great Tree," "The Story," and "Wells" a simple poem that explores "the repeated pleasure of finite things." "The Nine Sentiments" also featured some incredible lines: "My path to this meeting was lit by lighting" / "I hold you the way astronomers draw constellations for each other in the markets of wisdom." Whoa.

True, Handwriting was not as enjoyable as The Cinnamon Peeler, but I felt the poems work together better
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"Handwriting is Michael Ondaatje's first new book of poetry since The Cinnamon Peeler. The exquisite poems collected here draw on history, mythology, landscape, and personal memories to weave a rich tapestry of images that reveal the longing for--and expose the anguish over--lost loves, homes, and language, as the poet contemplates scents and gestures and evokes a time when "handwriting occurred on waves, / on leaves, the scripts of smoke" and remembers a woman's "laughter with its / inta
House on a red cliff

There is no mirror in Mirissa

the sea is in the leaves
the waves are in the palms

old languages in the arms
of the casuarina pine

parampara, from
generation to generation

The flamboyant a grandfather planted
having lived through fire
lifts itself over the roof


the house an open net

where the night concentrates
on a breath,
on a step
a thing or gesture
we cannot be attached to

The long, the short, the difficult minutes
of night

where even in darkness
there is no horizon without
While I enjoy Ondaatje's prose, I did not enjoy this collection of poems. They were a little too full of history and province and a little too lacking in passion.
When I read "The English Patient" back in high school, I remember thinking that Ondaatje's writing was much more lyrical than most novelists', and the intensely beautiful language of these poems confirms that view. He has such a light touch, and this ideally complements his intimate subject matter. The fact that most of the poems are set in his native Sri Lanka makes them even more intriguing and adds to the airy feel of the words. While I enjoyed many of the pieces in this volume, by far my fav ...more
Lovely, Lyrical, and Lusty!

Michael Ondaaatje walks with you into his Sri Lanka where the richness there inspires the lush lingering prose that issues from his pen.

In "THE SIYABASLAKARA" he begins....

"In the 10th century, the young princess
entered a rock pool like the moon

with a blue cloud

Her sisters
who dove, lit by flares,
were lightning

Water and erotics

The path from king to rainmaking"......

It is indeed a rich and luminous landscape that he portrays.

Follow him there!

This captivating,
Tyler Jones
Undeniably well crafted poems, but they also seemed muted and less vibrant than his earlier works.
If I could actually give this book zero stars, I would. I hated it. What's the purpose of stringing together images that only a certain group of people would get? I mean, I get that poetry is for the poet and for nobody else. But why publish this atrocity, expecting people to understand. We want to be let in, I googled almost everything for some background. All I got was a poet/speaker who is unsure of himself and his ability as a poet.

I can write better than this crap. I might have an ego, but
Desmond Beddoe
The poems transport the reader to exotic places and sacred histories while evoking all the senses to share the experience.
Benjamin Karam
it is "the memory of a woman walking down stairs".
I love everything he writes.
continuing on my journey into reading poetry again. I have loved Ondaatje's novels, so this seemed a safe bet - and I was right. Lovely stuff here.

Although I am reading poetry, I do not feel able to say anything more ABOUT the poetry than "I liked it" or "eh, didn't really connect with that". Sometimes (Mary Oliver) I can say "holy crap, I LOVE THAT".

This is in the "I liked it" category, which is a good thing.
"Англійського пацієнта" люблю давно, а оце нарешті добралася ще й до віршів Ондаатьє - його автобіографічного відкриття вже не рідноі Шрі Ланки. Сподобалося: близькість політичних репресій і святинь забутих цивілізацій, посмішки закопаних біля мертвих Будд і незнайомі мови. Гарно.
as inevitably brilliant as always... eloquent, pointedly brief, inexplicably descriptive and moving... beautiful in all the ways beauty cannot rightly be expressed and in all the ways it perhaps sometimes shouldn't...
These poems give a taste, but did not completely satisfy. While this collection had a certain elegance, an archaeological/mythological scope, toothsome lines, it did not intoxicate me as some other of his work.
This is the first verse I have read by Ondaatje. It is beautiful, but I feel that there is more... Any rate, I look forward to finding more of his work and returning to this one another day.
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He was born to a Burgher family of Dutch-Tamil-Sinhalese-Portuguese origin. He moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. Ondaatje studied for a time at Bishops College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, but moved to Toronto and received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's Universit ...more
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“For the first forty days a child
is given dreams of previous lives. Journeys, winding paths,
a hundred small lessons
and then the past is erased.”
“I want to die on your chest but not yet she wrote sometime in the 13th century of our love” 14 likes
More quotes…