From the moment I read the dedication at the beginning of Sree Sen’s collection of twenty poems (‘for all those taking up odd jobs to afford poetry’) I knew I would enjoy the contents of Cracked Asphalt. While I may never have moved whole countries to make life work, I have transplanted to other cities, and it is that sense of attempting to reorient yourself into a new environment that lines like ‘tiny weeds crack open / the asphalt of my journey’ capture beautifully.
This selection is a journey in itself, beginning simply with our protagonist having arrived and already dreaming of return, and as the poems progress we build more of a picture of this new life adventure. The second poem ‘frames’ captures this simply and effectively: ‘200 doors felt my knuckle’ perfectly summarises the slog of the door-to-door fundraising job, and the lines ‘my hand … can’t make the journey / from plate to mouth’ perfectly encapsulates the exhaustion of this kind of (almost) thankless job; having been there myself it had a real physical resonance.
The finer detail and emotional depth grows through the collection and I enjoyed the simplicity of description and piercing contrasts; from one kind of belonging in a ‘Mumbai apartment’ to Dublin where it is ‘easier to love’ free from expectation and constraints. The simple brief elegance of ‘pray’ and ‘love’ as two tiny emotional flashes to the longer thoughtfulness of ‘parable of the lost cause’ which travels from the mundane daily actions out to the edges of the universe.
The warmth of these poems is perhaps best summed up in the final poem ‘Kala Ghoda’ and the ‘tripwires of nostalgia’; we end with ‘bellies warm & full of rum,’ a delicious description for this enjoyable and moving collection.
Rosa Fernandez is a slam-winning poet and sometime proofreader. She also enjoys wearing silly hats.