Winner of the 2003 Akron Poetry Prize
Sharmila Voorakkara’s family poems are tough-minded, sometimes angry, often elegiac, detailing the sad fate of her father who sells vacuum cleaners door to door, or serves as a night watchman, or takes up the holy life as an ascetic with begging bowl. An uncle takes a knife to his wife’s face: “What mirror didn’t throw back the reminder / of what he could do if / he willed it?”
Don’t look here for traditional lyricism. A transvestite, some circus freaks, a man splintering windshields with a baseball bat, a howling woman insane with grief salt and pepper this collection with Voorakkara’s highly original tropes: “[B]elieve me, / in the marble cathedrals of / spring lambs / we exist, / we amplify, we can’t / be saved / from elation.” And there is elation for the reader who encounters these highly unusual poems with their unexpected enjambments, street savvy diction, and a hard look at “Dangerous joy!”
In Sharmila Voorakkara’s Fire Wheel, we meet a cast of characters not so much deranged as charged with an energy and longing of scant use to them or the world. Hapless and haunted, anguished and angry, they dance from hope to despair. Whether they are an “invalid veteran, shawled / in the blue cathode of talk shows” or a woman stranded by roadside, “hood thrown open / on a stupor of smoke as the car gives up / the ghost,” their lives are lifted up by an empathic, passionate voice that lilts and warps. Stand back, from these pages a wild and beautiful singing bursts forth.