Longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2017, Safiya Sinclair’s work, Cannibal, has taken the book world by storm, with the references toward The Tempest and postcolonial identity within this text. Her poems explore Jamaican childhood and history, race relations in America (and often in particular states), womanhood, otherness, and exile, and for that it seems, fresh, feisty and fierce. There is a texture and colour to her language that is evocative and astounding.
“The word “cannibal,” the English variant of the Spanish word canibal, comes from the word caribal, a reference to the native Carib people in the West Indies, who Columbus thought ate human flesh and from whom the word “Caribbean” originated. By virtue of being Caribbean, all “West Indian” people are already, in a purely linguistic sense, born savage.”
This sets the tone for the next hundred or so pages, as the poems explore the subjects set above, and for that is an ambitious and important collection of work. She evokes a home she can no longer access and a body she finds insufferable which we see through these references to The Tempest‘s Caliban. Intense lyricism and vibrant prose impress these poems into your mind. There are high levels of mythology and woven storytelling within these poems, the female body oft a dark landscape; the female body is cannibal. Sinclair shocks her readers with her intention to wildly provoke, adding Shakespearian texture as well as the many other texts that are sitting behind so many of these poems.
Safiya Sinclair herself is a Jamaican-American, which is more than hinted at by the content of this work. She not only focuses on the body, identity is such a key part of Cannibal. Clearly much to unpack with this collection of work, it’s not always clear that I’ve done so, but that only opens the door for further readings, and deeper meaning gained. With lush and flowering imagery and much of her work seeping with rage, and a brutal self-examination, it was surprising that Sinclair’s Cannibal was not a stronger contender for the prize.
Cannibal is out now, published by Picador Books