Born in Jamaica to Afro-Jamaican and Venezuelan parents, Shara McCallum moved to the U.S. at the age of nine and is a self-described Caribbean, Jamaican, American, African-American, West Indian, woman writer. Indeed, her work is infused with multiplicity and breadth, woven of the colorful thread that zigzags its way between identity and geography and passes through the places of history, memory, and song.
Toi Derricotte has praised McCallum’s poetry for its powerful and evocative rendering of this double-consciousness, or what modern psychoanalysis might call “split subjectivity:” “McCallum’s amazing first book brings this ‘twoness’ into brilliant focus…[enabling] us to perceive the invisible spaces between—the gaps in knowledge and history, the agonizing separations and distances, the losses that can’t be spoken and, in the end, are untranslatable.” Heralded by Michael Waters as the “spiritual daughter of Derek Walcott and Lucille Clifton,” Shara McCallum is a unique voice in contemporary poetry, writing lyrical poems steeped in myth, legend, and folklore. Chase Twichell wrote of her third book: “Intimate, serious, and beautifully crafted, these poems scrutinize the griefs and beauties of familial life and memorialize them with meticulous care.”
McCallum holds a PhD. in Poetry and African-American and Caribbean Literature. Her honors include an Academy of American Poets Prize (while still a student), a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Grant, and last year a Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the author of The Water Between Us, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, Song of Thieves, This Strange Land (Alice James Books, 2011), and The Face of Water: New & Selected Poems. Her poetry and personal essays have appeared widely in journals, and have been reprinted in over twenty anthologies and translated into Spanish and Romanian. McCallum lives with her family in Pennsylvania and teaches and directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University.
Poetry Center Reading:
Somewhere a woman with my face
sits alone in a kitchen,
leading my other life, the one
I exchanged when I entered a room
never meant for me.
Copper light saturates the window.
I sit drinking tea and you enter,
carrying spring in your arms:
bouquet of fire lilies, purple bells, white stars.
Your skin browned from sun.
A thief, I snatched this world
from my other’s gaze—
round, expectant as the empty cup
in which she still swirls her spoon.
Now the Guitar Begins
1. Last Song
There is a field with no light.
Not the faint shimmer of stars,
nor the sliver of a moon.
This night, there is a man
walking guitarless in the grass,
no song in his pocket,
no tune on his tongue. Empty
your voice for him,
it will be no use.
In this field, there is a man
and not even a hint of wind
can stir the tall weeds
through which he moves.
He will lie down, smell
the earth fresh from rain.
He will listen to crickets,
a music he cannot understand.
He will close his eyes.
He will sleep.
He will not get up.
-excerpt from “Now the Guitar Begins”,
Song of Thieves
Miss Sally On Love
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.
Still, I did learn mi lesson
where love concern: if snake bite yu,
when yu see even lizard, crawling
with him belly on the ground, yu run.
Now the gal come to mi, say she fall in love
with man who have a plan fi change.
But she nuh notice him also carry gun?
And, lawd, how she nuh see
who running the show and who
keeping house same way?
From This Strange Land