Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Her first full-length collection, Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), won the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and a 2016 Whiting Writers’ Award.
Sinclair is the recipient of a 2015 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Amy Clampitt Residency Award, an Academy of American Poets Prize, the Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, and was the winner of the 2015 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, New England Review, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, The Gettysburg Review, TriQuarterly, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere.
She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia and is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California.
Find Sinclair's poems "How to be an Interesting Woman: A Polite Guide for the Poetess" and "The Art of Unselfing" below.
How to Be an Interesting Woman:
A Polite Guide for the Poetess
Call me Mary. Call me Sophie.
Call me what you like.
I'll answer to any man who looks
at me right.
You may come to my garden
and steal hydrangeas in the night.
I'll suck your thumb
and play dumb.
I'll pretend I can make anything
grow. Rosebushes and violets
and bruises for show. I'll open
my hot mouth for an orchid
to snake out; I've been practising
this bee-sting pout. I will titter
and flutter and faint. Write hundreds
of sonnets in your name.
(Each one born fat and sunny.
Then I can claim to have made
Light pools slick in my eyelids—
I am all lashes and lips.
I have learnt how to smile, how to
talk with my hips, how to swallow
my words, how to make myself
small. I won't make a fuss.
I will coo. I will crawl.
And if you knock right,
this spine will give out—
I will crumble and weed and paw
at your feet. Unbraid and emote,
walk faceless from the brink;
if you spit, I will drink.
I will grow heavy and silent
and sick. I will strip you right down
to the bone. I will take your name.
I will take your home
and wake dark with a song
on which you finally choke;
my black hair furring thick
in the gawk of your throat.
The Art of Unselfing
The mind's black kettle hisses its wild
exigencies at every turn: The hour before the coffee
and the hour after.
Penscratch of the gone morning, woman
a pitched hysteria watching the mad-ant scramble,
her small wants devouring.
Her binge and skin-thrall.
Her old selves being shuffled off into labyrinths,
this birdless sky a longing.
Her moth-mouth rabble unfacing these
touch-and-go months under winter, torn letters
each fickle moon pecked through with doubt.
And one spoiled onion. Pale Cyclops
on her kitchen counter
now sprouting green missives,
some act of contrition; neighbor-god's vacuum
a loud rule thrown down.
Her mother now on the line saying too much.
This island is not a martyr. You tinker too much
with each gaunt memory, your youth
and its unweeding. Not everything blooms here
a private history—consider this immutable. Consider
our galloping sun, its life.
Your starved homesickness. The paper wasp kingdom
you set fire to, watched for days until it burnt a city in you.
Until a family your hands could not save
became the hurricane. How love is still unrooting you.
And how to grow a new body—to let each word be the wild rain
swallowed pure like an antidote.
Her mother at the airport saying don't come back.
Love your landlocked city. Money. Buy a coat.
And even exile can be glamorous.
Some nights she calls across the deaf ocean to no one
in particular. No answer. Her heart's double-vault
a muted hydra.
This hour a purge
of its own unselfing
She must make a home of it.
Poems are reproduced from Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair by
permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright
2016 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.