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Sweet Like a Crow

[Remember this poetry post from thirty years ago? No? Well, neither do I, nor do I remember writing this post, but apparently it was half-finished and I guess I never hit publish? I’ll write a more eloquent post with an actual argument later.]

Here’s the second poem I chose to recite, ‘Sweet Like a Crow’.

What do you think of after reading this poem? If you’re tempted to give some lofty appeal about the pointlessness of reality and the audio escapism that postmodern music offers, stop right there.

It’s about the poet’s niece’s HORRIBLE singing.

Contest that, will you? Say it ain’t obvious.

Tell me that the last two lines actually represent Sinhalese music’s natural beauty, with Bowles’s beginning quote representing Western bigotry. Tell me that Ondaatje was actually bashing Bowles for insulting his niece’s beautiful voice by saying that Bowles’s own voice was horrible!

Of course, Bowles would have been the person in ankle bracelets who walked through Ondaatje’s room, presumably for attempted murder, because there’s no other reason why you would sneak up on your sleeping archenemy.

Tell me that numerical notations mean something in the poem. Perhaps Nora is right about that. Maybe Ondaatje WAS “using this notation to convey a message – perhaps emphasize the specific amount”.

In other words, THE NUMBER?

I suppose analysis is necessary; after all, without it, we wouldn’t understand many deep, profound poems about bad singers. Poetry is cool because it’s generally short; you can be pretty confident the poet mulled over every single word’s usage (unlike in prose). That doesn’t mean every single word necessarily has a meaning, though.

I don’t think Ondaatje himself felt very enthusiastic about his poem either. His description begs analysis, too: “This is a poem I wrote for my niece in Sri Lanka, who sang us some songs in a terrible voice.”

Granted, I (nor many others) can’t write such an eloquent slew of straight repugnant ironic oxymorons…

But tell me: why are people getting tested on this poem?!

P.S. Obligatory Harry Potter fanfic of the same title. WARNING: Rated T for violence/physical abuse. Read at your own discretion.

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