“Greener leaves and bleeding terracotta”: Sohini Basak’s Debut


Sohini Basak, we live in the newness of small differences, (Eyewear Publishing, 2018), 97pp, £10.99.


“You learn the redundancy of flowerpots barefoot
on a rooftop, after a storm, standing amongst
greener leaves and bleeding terracotta.”

-‘Lightning Never Strikes in Straight Lines’

We live in the newness of small differences is, aptly, a collection concerned with details and differences. Sohini Basak’s debut deftly explores topics including language, nature, identity, and consciousness – while maintaining a focus on the delicate details which make each of these expansive topics digestible and intriguing. From ‘small disasters’ in the life of a silverfish, to encounters with unknown languages, readers can expect nuanced explorations of form, language and style throughout.

Basak’s collection was awarded the International Prize for Literature in 2017, and praised as an “impressive collection with a controlled voice, an attention to musicality, a beautiful execution of the craft”. The work was published in July 2018, containing a final section titled ‘And Other Stories’.

We live in the newness of small differences dedicates many of its poems to the wonders of nature. ‘Plot’, the second poem in the collection, is situated around the movements of a mongoose evaluating its surroundings. The mongoose’s movements and excavations – “she digs/ up the ghosts of flowers with her charcoal feet, renames each weed, each unloved root with her nose” are realised in careful and compelling detail. This, implies Basak, is an integral process – “here is when, if we blink, we lose the plot.”

The collection draws enjoyable parallels with human behaviour. The ways the mongoose remakes and renames her environment are mirrored across the page in ‘Sorting Winter Days’. This poem, from which the collection’s name is taken, pictures the reordering of a family house: “so we alter our rooms instead,/ we bring the dining table upstairs, chipping bits of the stairwell wall”. Throughout, the small details which make homes and houses so memorable are teased out and presented as a collage across the work. As is the reminder of the ways small changes may not fully effect the whole: “we move what we can since we cannot, or, we/ dare not change our lives entirely”.

As a collection focused on ecology, we live in the newness of small differences confronts the concerns of the future for nature, writing and literature. ‘Future Library: Some Anxieties’, ‘Future Library: A Footnote’, and ‘Future Library: An Alternative Ending’, explore the implications of time on the nature, language, literature and the narrator. The meditations on language form an entrance into one of the many dream-like states of the collection:

xerox, xylem, xylophone, phonetic, phony – it’s an alphabet of losing
sensation: first earlobe, then shin. I hide behind the cryptic but tell me,
is fitness mathematical? meanwhile, superbugs, meanwhile, planets

-‘Future Library: A Footnote’

The agile plays with language come to a climax during the final section of the work, And Other Stories. Here, experimentation with form take the narrative through cycles and dream-like states – distorting and moulding the collection’s sense of time and space.

we live in the newness of small differences is a collection which is impressive stylistically and sensually, and incredibly in-tune with modern anxieties. While precisely focusing on small details, Basak captures the deep anxieties for a future in which relationships between human beings, language and nature may be compromised irrevocably. The personal and familiar feel of the whole work gives these anxieties an arresting quality – the emotive quality of which is captured aptly by the closing lines of ‘Why Did You Stop Writing’:

I look/
at the endlessness I have been given, can’t help but wonder
if blindfolded I’d be able to pick stone from rice.

-‘Why Did You Stop Writing?’

Tash Keary is a former Foyle intern and National Poetry Day Young Producer. She co-edits The Kindling.