A Female Poetry Explosion in the Caribbean
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because when new voices from faraway places call out, they want someone to listen.
By Shannon Sims
The OZY Summer Reading Series: Each week we share a specially themed book list, chosen by OZY staff.
“… I am green mountains and blue sky. / I am scratch band and steel pan …”
So goes “I Am the Virgin Islands,” a poem by Tiphanie Yanique, one of the hottest new Caribbean writers. And she’s not alone. Bounce across the 7,000-plus specks of land scattered through the Caribbean Sea, and you’ll discover a buzzing sound rising, of poets and writers striking out with new works that call attention to the female Caribbean diaspora. Although many of these women send out their missives about the homeland from cloistered, air-conditioned offices at U.S. universities, critics have remained charmed by their grit and brashness all the same. Here are some of the writers that scholars of Caribbean poetry say we should watch out for.
In my time, I was a girl who like to spree. / The whole world would open fi mi / if I shift mi hips to strain / the fabric of mi skirt, just so. — “Miss Sally on Love”
The poems of McCallum, a blue-eyed, curly-haired 43-year-old from Jamaica, often call upon childhood memories, at once innocent and sly. Her words, which play with the cadence of the Caribbean, are “strong,” says Laurence Breiner, an English professor at Boston University. Born to an Afro-Jamaican father and a Venezuelan mother, McCallum has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised near Boston, 35-year-old Moïse is a Renaissance woman. A playwright, spoken-word artist, essayist, screenwriter and actress, she channels the Haitian immigrant experience in her varied works. A former Northampton, Massachusetts, Poet Laureate, her 2014 poetry collection, Haiti Glass, offers an unblinking dive into both privilege and catastrophe, in words best read aloud in a strong voice. Haiti Glass has been recognized as a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Poetry, and the praise keeps rolling in. Last fall, Moïse told the City Lights Books blog that if her book had a sound track, it would be “of shard crunch, hoarse voices scatting, bursts of laughter like thunder, and the softest hums.”
Lauren K. Alleyne
“a sky so close the stars might be a chain-link fence you run your hands along as you amble through the night; your live and mutable body, its spark and spell and solitude.” — Difficult Fruit
Born in Trinidad and Tobago and educated at Cornell University, the 36-year-old Alleyne, currently a poet-in-residence at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, writes a very personal type of poetry about unique experiences. But within her writing, like in her collection Difficult Fruit, are common, traumatic threads. Tsitsi Jaji, assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, calls Alleyne’s poetry “wonderful work on Caribbean diasporic experience from a woman’s perspective, especially in relation to surviving sexual assault.”
The poems, short stories and fiction of 37-year-old Yanique, from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, have caught the attention of critics for their sense of history and place. The American Academy of Arts and Letters recognized her with the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award, given to an emerging writer of “considerable literary talent,” and Bookpage named her one of “14 Women to Watch in 2014.” An assistant professor of writing at the New School in New York, Yanique has drawn praise for her latest novel, Land of Love and Drowning, and its evocative portrait of her homeland.