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Safiya Sinclair

Safiya Sinclair

Safiya Sinclair

(Jamaica, 1984)
Sinclair describes her poetry as a “fevered, undulating lyric”, and that description is as provocative and evocative as her work itself. The rhythms of the Caribbean are never far off, nor are her sweltering motherland’s abundant flora, fauna and ghosts. Born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and raised in a strict Rastafarian family, she started to write poetry as a survival strategy; any writer who does not bear a deep wound or hurt would be better off in another profession, she asserts. It was only in the US, where she studied, that she realised just how deep her roots were. And her poetry became a means to translate in writing the hidden oral history of her family and her island, as passed down by her mother and aunts, to safeguard its survival, “paying tribute to the women who have woven our words and days into existence”.
Daughter entering this world a host. Father your beached animal,
your lamentations in the sand./ Mother her red bones come knocking.

Her linguistic balancing act – between the oppressor’s English and Jamaican patois – already weaponises her voice, her poems an accusation against the cruelties of a colonial patriarchal history that has yet to be fully reckoned with.

Other inspirations are Sylvia Plath, Federico García Lorca, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Gabriel García Márquez, Franz Kafka, Frida Kahlo and Wangechi Mutu. And of course Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which the figure of Caliban (an anagram of Cannibal) not only models the white Western image of the West Indies’ "wild" natives, but also her own self image as a perennial outsider: “His fevered dreaming as a slave in a stolen kingdom has also been my dreaming, his twangling instruments my own strange music.” Her language, then, is neither cauterized nor colonised, but effervesces physically from the deepest deeps.

Her debut collection, Cannibal, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2016, winning a great many prizes and nominations.
© Erik Bindervoet & Robbert-Jan Henkes

Cannibal. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2016

Literary awards
2016 Whiting Writers’ Award for Cannibal

Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Prins Bernhard cultuurfonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Gefinancierd door de Europese Unie
Elise Mathilde Fonds
Stichting Verzameling van Wijngaarden-Boot
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère