"Samsara"by Shirani Rajapakse

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In Samsara, her new volume of poetry, Shirani Rajapakse demonstrates intriguing new perspectives with a deft and heartfelt diction. The poet generally chooses to illustrate a finite set of themes, and this allows her to deal with them a number of times, in a stunning variety of ways. For instance, she brings us a much wider range of visual images than in prior work, and they’re a delight: rich, vivid, and sometimes quirky. Another tool this award-winning poet uses: she anthropomorphizes certain ordinary natural phenomena, like the waving branches of a tree, the dancing of its leaves, or the simple activities of animals.

But the salient feature in Rajapakse’s poetry remains her magisterial stance regarding her themes. She treats reincarnation, love, Buddhist and Hindu faith, human relationships and spirituality, and the nature of reality, with a sure hand, and delivers her usual unflinching judgments on all. This is a very accomplished work, mature in its perspectives and starkly clear in its verdicts.

Besides these attractions, this volume has what struck me as a thesis statement. This is quite unusual in her work. In “Musing,” she writes, “I lift my eyes to the goings on in  the garden; / the noisy chatter, yet / my eyes see through this all to what hides / behind, inside spaces no one can see.” This deep peering into the known but unseen, into the hidden sense of things, recurs throughout the poems, and always illuminates a facet of a larger idea.

These pieces are a delight for those who trust contemplation and deep thinking, and in the efficacies of the written word. I liked these offerings quite a bit, as you can tell.

The title of the collection is a Sanskrit word meaning the suffering-laden cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, wherein the Earthly plane is seen as illusory, appealing overmuch to the senses, and encouraging the empty pursuit of things. The poems explore these facets a number of times; in some pieces she decries the emptiness of life, but sometimes she arrives at an elegant moment where the deeper truths are hinted at, or yearned for. And there is quite a bit here about loneliness, about humans who have become separated and now must adjust to life by themselves. Samsara indeed.

I honor Shirani—for her gift with felicitous phrases and her clear insight into the spiritual realm, among all the other features of her growing oeuvre. Among her poetical work, this is clearly her finest to date. 




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