“A Review of ‘Samsara’, a Poetry Collection by Shirani Rajapakse” by Barbara Leonhard

To read “Samsara” by Shirani Rajapakse is to embark on a spiritual journey of past and present life reflections on suffering, decay, and death in vivid and stirring metaphors.

Because this book is written in a strong feminine voice, I couldn’t help but relate to the poetess’ emotional states, which are explored with imagery from nature as well as congested modern times. The spirit is a house of familiar attachments and a stage for the drama of daily toil and abuse, illness, death, isolation, and loneliness that the poems reveal.

The spirit comes tapping on the window as “a little leaf” (“It Happened while You were Sleeping”), calling all of us to venture into the rain to seek life’s meaning. We feel the nostalgia for the innocent lives we once had before house upon house and road upon road, and technology clogged our existence and blinded us from insight, the “white lotus blooming in a lake” (“Mind over Matter”).

Along with the speaker, the reader feels at a loss of how to take on this journey and is overwhelmed with choices and mysteries (“Gazing at the Rain from My Window”),

“Who are these 
words that want to be heard?

Are they remnants of past lives?”

The poems describe the human condition, the absurdity of safety in the houses (loves) we build. Despite the gecko’s warning, we find ourselves retreating from the one we think loves us (“Prophesy”)…

“………………in this dark room 
back in your old home with the curtains 
firmly drawn, a no entry sign to the world 
pinned to the door and wonder why it turned 
so wrong….”

Moreover, the plight of women comes through in many poems. Their roles as lovers, caregivers, and artists debased in the shadow of the patriarchy (“Prophesy”)…

“The astrologer predicted
your stars would outshine his.
You’d bring him fame,
he claimed, so what did it matter that you’d have 
to put up with all the rest?
It wasn’t your place to complain,
a woman should know 
her worth, keep quiet and bow down to
her man’s wishes, or so he said.”

This collection of poetry can be appreciated on many levels. Rajapakse depicts a woman who is overwhelmed by modern life while facing the loss of a loved one she is conversing with. The poems about the decline of her partner or lover are raw, revealing not just the decay of a life but the decay of love itself.
“Words trickle out of lips like
Birds flying across the setting sun
to get lost in the trees beyond.
Half sentences
is all you give me for now.
The mist descends behind us, cruel reminder
of cold nights, loneliness and things
that cannot be said.” (“When there is Nothing Left to Say”)
Love is “An Old Friend”, whose death is likened to the Sepalika tree that
“…succumbed many years ago.
The trunk caved in.
Devoured by termites it
couldn’t hold on….
….It resembled your
cancer ravaged body yearning
to live.”
As she scans her past, reflecting on the good days and finds herself overwhelmed by how things have turned out, she reflects on the karmic forces at play in the cycle of death and rebirth. Love becomes an angry man in the violent throes of death; he pleads to live…
“while consciousness
breaks free and scurries
out of his throat
to start the cycle all over again.”
In “The Karmic Trial”, the poetess sees us as mindless, forgetful of past lessons learned, “turning into / puppets of Prophets” despite having “a brain / and the powers to reason”.
“We turn around in circles
like wheels of a car or
the moving blades
of a fan as they spin
In the same place.”
We are caught in a cycle of “…blind faith that doesn’t / allow for inquiring or reasoning” (‘Fundamentalists”). God abandons us as we are “no longer / any use”. We are left without God when we need him the most.
Between the lines, the poetess offers remedies, such as sitting with the breath and meditating, watching “the world go by and / remain unaffected” by the ego, who makes the world go crazy with materialistic want and self-indulgence (“The I in Everything I Do”)
I highly recommend this collection of verses that invite the spirit into the mundane and explore the human condition, the samsara, or the continuous karmic cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Shirani Rajapakse explores our “suffering, decay, and death” and attachments to the material world that leave us hollow and bereaved. Although alienated, we can travel together through samsara. In “Samsara II”, the poetess says, 

“I’m bored with this life. 
Can I go home? But where is 
home? How do I get there? Which bus 
do I take? Do I fly instead, or can 
the road take me there through 
its twists and turns? And if I fall along 
the way will you lift me 
up? Give me new shoes and food 
to eat and a place to stay. Will you come 
with me, or do you stay behind? 
Alone. I could do with some company 
on my way there. To nowhere. To 
where I don’t know. For I 
cannot read a map and you can. 
It’s as simple as that.”
Finally, many of these poems are “highly commended” (erbacce-prize for poetry, 2022), and I am not surprised. You will not regret joining Shirani Rajapakse on her “Samsura”.

Barbara Leonhard

Shirani Rajapakse writes poetry and short stories. She’s the author of five books including Gods, Nukes and a whole lot of Nonsense – winner of the 2022 State Literary Awards, Sri Lanka; I Exist. Therefore I Am – winner of the 2019 State Literary Awards, Sri Lanka, shortlisted for the 2019 Rubery Book Awards, UK; and Chant of a Million Women – winner of the 2018 Kindle Book Awards, USA, Official Selection in the 2018 New Apple Summer eBook Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing, USA & Honorable Mention in the 2018Reader’s Favorite Awards, USA. Rajapakse’s work was highly commended for the 2022 erbacce-prize for poetry, UK. She also won the 2013 Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest, Hong Kong and was a finalist in the 2013 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, USA. Rajapakse’s work appears in many journals and anthologies around the world. She read for a BA in English Literature from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and has a MA in International Relations from JNU, India. You can follow Shirani on her WordPress blog. You can order Samsara on Amazon.

Featured Image: book cover Samsara

Editor: Barbara Harris Leonhard

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Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (EIF-Experiments in Fiction, 2022)

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Divider Image: by GDJ on Pixabay

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6 Comentarios Agrega el tuyo

  1. you words are penetrating and so beautifully shared Shirani»❣️

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  2. SelmaMartin dice:

    Spectacular. Wow. Thanks for this enticing review. Blessings to you both.

    Me gusta

  3. jonicaggiano dice:

    What a beautiful review, Barbara. You carry us throughout this lovely book with your words connecting us to many issues women often face. I loved the examples of the poetry you used. What beautiful writings. Sounds like an excellent read. Thank you for this excellent book review. Many blessings and hugs, Joni

    Me gusta

  4. Ingrid dice:

    This book has a stunning cover, hinting at what promises to be a rewarding read, according to your review, Barbara! Thank you for the recommendation 🙏

    Me gusta

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