I’m in such awe of Safiya Sinclair’s debut collection Cannibal that I’ve been carrying it around everywhere I go, admiring her powerful exploration of identity as a Jamaican woman. Not only does Cannibal reflect on family and race, but the images woven in each poem are stunning. I’m so glad I found it amidst the buzz on Twitter, because it has quickly become one of my favorite collections, aside from Seam by Tarfia Faizullah.
Throughout the book, Sinclair is brave in her depiction of womanhood. In one of my favorite poems, titled “Good Hair” the speaker engages readers in a discussion about race and beauty by comparing herself to blonde haired women. It reads: “Our lives already tangled in the violence of our hair, / we learned to feel unwanted in the sea’s blue gaze,” (lines 4-5). The desire in this poem is captivating, reminding me of the character of Pecola in the novel Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Sinclair’s words are compelling, and the last lines left me breathless: “This nigger-hair my biggest malady. / So thick it holds a pencil up” (lines 28-29).
Another aspect of Cannibal that I love is the two-series poems “After the Last Astronaut Had Left Us” for their fascinating depictions of family. In the first poem, the speaker is able to paint an image of the family’s inner turmoil as the parents fight: “Saw my mother / learn to unlove my father, her bags packed // like a hermit crab, her white shell impenetrable” (lines 14-16). Along with other metaphors, both poems are rooted with space-themed images, giving Sinclair a unique way to write about family. What’s also especially emotionally gripping is the speaker’s comments about her siblings: “Back then we passed one sweaty dream back and forth / between us like a hot bowl. It could have been hope” (lines 32-33).
Through and through, this collection amazed me. As a whole, the poems come together in a complete way, and each one is stronger than the last. Sinclair does an excellent job with the series “One Hundred Amazing Facts about the Negro, with Complete Proof,” as well as the series “Notes on the State of Virginia” where the speaker examines her own otherness. The speaker’s comments about race relations in America are gut-wrenching, as is the poem “America the Beautiful:” “But every night in America my brother is a criminal. // Gunned down for his clothes when he is not being shunned / for the shadow if his face” (lines 27-29). Poetry friends, Cannibal is fierce, and you will feel its force at each line.
Buy Cannibal here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about The University of Nebraska Press: “Founded in 1941, the University of Nebraska Press is a nonprofit scholarly and general interest press that publishes 170 new and reprint titles annually under the Nebraska, Bison Books, and Potomac Books imprints, and in partnership with the Jewish Publication Society, along with 30 journals. As the largest and most diversified university press between Chicago and California, with 3,000 books in print, the University of Nebraska Press is best known for publishing works in Native studies, history, sports, anthropology and geography, American studies and cultural criticism, and creative works.”