[(review date spring 1999) In the following review, Sen offers a positive assessment of Handwriting, lauding the poetics, tone, and themes of the collection.]
Michael Ondaatje's new collection of poems, Handwriting, his first since The Cinnamon Peeler (1992), comes at a time when he has lent a whole new definition to an area of writing that resides within the undefined area of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. If we take this collection as a continuation of his memoir Running in the Family (1982), we can see the exact graph-plotting of the last fifteen years--his subtle movement and blurring of lines between different genres, in spite of respecting the integrity of each of them.
In Handwriting, as compared to Running in the Family, the writing is sparer where minimalism is enhanced by reducing the focus's measure to the precision of a razor's micron edge. There is a minimum expenditure of words, fine-tuned movement that incorporates as its primary tool suggestiveness and all that falls in that subtle space.
In the poem "The First Rule of Sinhalese Architecture" the deft use of white space, the short lines, and the absence of full-stops allow readers...