When I first read the italics part of “Sweet Like a Crow,” I read it wrong and ended up thinking that they were quite musical. As I began reading it, I couldn’t help thinking “None of these noises would sound very pretty at all,” so I re-read the introduction, and I saw that it said “least musical” and the poem made much more sense. I’m not going to college, am I? Anyways . . .
I’ve always had a penchant for similes and comparisons, so this poem caught my attention. The similes Ondaatje uses in “Sweet Like a Crow” are unique – when one writes a poem dedicated to another person and the first four words are “Your voice sounds like,” one expects to hear a poem attempting to describe the beautiful intricacies of the person’s voice, not “like a scorpion being pushed/ through a glass tube” (1-2). The similes Ondaatje uses in this poem aren’t easily digested or sugar coated, they are complex and contain more elements than the poem requires. Though the poem attempts to describe a voice, a sound, and Ondaatje could simply compare the voice with other basic sounds (an off-key piano, old scratchy-sounding albums, fingernails on chalkboards, etc.), he uses similes that have very powerful visual elements as well as an aural ones. Many of his similes depend on sight to make the reader understand the jarring nature of the voice described. For example, “a typewriter on fire” might not make much of a sound, maybe some hissing and wheezing as the plastic keys and metal slowly melted, but the visualizing a typewriter on fire would be painful, the destruction of possibility for inspiration, for potential, especially for a writer like Ondaatje (17). I can’t recreate some of the sounds Ondaatje describes in his poem in my mind, but I can visualize them, such as “a dolphin reciting epic poetry to a sleepy audience” or “betel juice hitting a butterfly in mid-air” (21 and 24). Ondaatje is probably using these types of comparisons for a reason, to express that the voice cannot be fully described, that it cannot be fully comprehended by any one human mind. It might also be that I haven’t lived in all the places he has, and therefore don’t fully appreciate the sounds he describes.
I also thought that Ondaatje’s choice to use numerical notation instead of writing out the number was an interesting one, as it broke up the uniformity of his poem, and it is usually considered to be informal and inappropriate for a published work like a poem. This leads me to believe that Ondaatje is using this notation to convey a message – perhaps emphasize the specific amount of “sharks being carried on the back of a bicycle” (29) and “old ladies locked in the lavatory” (30). By doing this, he might have hoped to force people to imagine the scene in his mind, not just a vague reproduction. I noticed that he does this in another poem, “Late movies with Skylar,” so this notation might just be part of his style.
Basically, I liked the details of this poem, how just about every single line made me think of something new, something that had never really crossed my mind before.