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 Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, The Gettysburg Review, Prairie Schooner, Triquarterly, Callaloo, The 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.
Rich 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.
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