May 9, 2011

New Book: This Strange Land by Shara McCallum

This Strange Land
"These are poems of ruin and rebirth, of the joys and damage a mother knows...This is a marvelous collection filled with a lovely and evocative music. Highly recommended."
 —Library Journal, starred review

“Jean Rhys could be the presiding spirit of this moving collection, which mines deep veins of loss and displacement. The personal and the political converge in new ways in these finely crafted poems, and readers should be prepared for unexpected turns and genuine surprises.”
 —Lorna Goodison

This Strange Land is a remarkably accomplished book, ranging from childhood to parenthood, Jamaica to America, in a way that feels integrated and organic. With mature hindsight, Shara McCallum revisits early experience with a piercing clarity (even in dialect, as in the wonderful 'Miss Sally' poems), exposing its undercurrents in the present. Intimate, serious, and beautifully crafted, these poems scrutinize the griefs and beauties of familial life and memorialize them with meticulous care.”
Chase Twichell

“Chinua Achebe spoke of a literature of the future in which the ‘horizon extends to include all the world.’  Shara McCallum's dazzling new work brings that oceanic sky-line close. Exploring the specifics of a marginalized culture, she challenges and deepens the idea of the universal.  She has the poet's gift to complicate your stance towards your own language and times. This Strange Land might turn out to be home after all—McCallum's creation is not just an overwhelmingly real place, but a confrontation with history, an exploration of the maelstrom of the family, and a poetics of extraordinary lyricism and urgency.”
D. Nurkse

Psalm for Kingston
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem
—Psalm 137
City of Jack Mandora—mi nuh choose none—of Anancy
    prevailing over Mongoose, Breda Rat, Puss, and Dog, Anancy
        saved by his wits in the midst of chaos and against all odds;
    of bawdy Big Boy stories told by peacock-strutting boys, hush-hush
but loud enough to be heard by anyone passing by the yard.

City of market women at Half-Way-Tree with baskets
    atop their heads or planted in front of their laps, squatting or standing
        with arms akimbo, susuing with one another, clucking
    their tongues, calling in voices of pure sugar, come dou-dou: see
 the pretty bag I have for you, then kissing their teeth when you saunter off.

City of school children in uniforms playing dandy shandy
    and brown girl in the ring—tra-la-la-la-la
        eating bun and cheese and bulla and mangoes,
    juice sticky and running down their chins, bodies arced
in laughter, mouths agape, heads thrown back.

City of old men with rheumy eyes, crouched in doorways,
    on verandahs, paring knives in hand, carving wood pipes
        or peeling sugar cane, of younger men pushing carts
    of roasted peanuts and oranges, calling out as they walk the streets
and night draws near, of coconut vendors with machetes in hand.

City where power cuts left everyone in sudden dark,
    where the kerosene lamp’s blue flame wavered on kitchen walls,
        where empty bellies could not be filled,
    where no eggs, no milk, no beef today echoed
in shantytowns, around corners, down alleyways.

City where Marley sang, Jah would never give the power to a baldhead
    while the baldheads reigned, where my parents chanted
        down Babylon—Fire! Burn! Jah! Rastafari! Selassie I!
where they paid weekly dues, saving for our passages back to Africa,
while in their beds my grandparents slept fitfully, dreaming of America.

City that lives under a long-memoried sun,
    where the gunmen of my childhood have been replaced
        by dons that rule neighbourhoods as fiefdoms, where violence
    and beauty still lie down together. City of my birth—
if I forget thee, who will I be, singing the Lord’s song in this strange land? 

Published by Alice James Books

Price: $19.95 (paperback w/ CD)

ISBN: 978-1-882295-86-9

About Shara McCallum

Shara McCallum was born in Jamaica to Afro-Jamaican and Venezuelan parents and moved to the U.S. at the age of nine. She earned a B.A. from the University of Miami, an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. in Poetry and African American and Caribbean Literature from Binghamton University in New York.

Her books of poetry include Song of Thieves (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003) and The Water Between Us (1999), winner of the 1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. Her poems have won a college prize from The Academy of American Poets, been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, and appeared in several journals, including The Antioch Review,Chelsea, The Iowa Review, and Verse. McCallum's poems have been anthologized in The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology (ed. Michael Collier, 2000) and Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century. She is the recipient of a Tennessee Individual Artist Grant in Literature and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. McCallum lives in Pennsylvania and teaches and directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. She is also on the faculty of the Stonecoast Low Residency MFA program.



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