Safiya Sinclair, Poetry


Whiting Awards 2016

Photo: Djani Sinclair.

Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Her debut collection, Cannibal, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry for 2015, and will be published this year. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PoetryThe Kenyon ReviewBoston Review, Gulf Coast, The Gettysburg ReviewPrairie Schooner, Triquarterly, CallalooThe Iowa Review, and elsewhere. She has been awarded a writing fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Amy Clampitt Residency Award, and an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is also the recipient of a 2015 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship and was the winner of the Boston Review’s eighteenth-annual poetry contest. Sinclair received an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Virginia and is currently completing a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Southern California. 



cannibalRich and mythic, heavy with the legacy of family and history, many of Safiya Sinclair’s poems are inspired by her childhood in Jamaica; a richness and density in the imagery conveys a lush beauty and danger. There is traveling involved as you turn her pages and somehow all of the waterfalls and rivers and roads connect. Follow her sparkling, detailed phrasings and lines and you will arrive drenched in human contact. The mother in these poems recedes into myth, while the father erupts from the page, threatening disruption and disturbance. Other works capture a different life in the United States, one marked by a sense of order and withholding, which is at once reassuring and chilling. There often seems to be dialectics at play between wildness and control. Her poems reveal she is in full bougainvillea bloom.



Have I forgotten it—
wild conch-shell dialect,

black apostrophe curled
tight on my tongue?

Or how the Spanish built walls
of broken glass to keep me out

but the Doctor Bird kept chasing
and raking me in: This place

is your place, wreathed in red
Sargassum, ancient driftwood

nursed on the pensive sea.
The ramshackle altar I visited

often, packed full with fish-skull,
bright with lignum vitae plumes:

Father, I have asked so many miracles
of it. To be patient and forgiving,

to be remade for you in some
small wonder. And what a joy

to still believe in anything.
My diction now as straight

as my hair; that stranger we’ve
long stopped searching for.

But if somehow our half-sunken
hearts could answer, I would cup

my mouth in warm bowls

over the earth, and kiss the wet dirt

of home, taste Bogue-mud

and one long orange peel for skin.

I’d open my ear for sugar cane
and long stalks of gungo peas

to climb in. I’d swim the sea
still lapsing in a soldered frame,

the sea that again and again
calls out my name.

Read more work from the 2016 Whiting Award winners here.