CANNIBAL by Safiya Sinclair

March 31, 2017

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The Notable Books Council, first established in 1944 by the American Library Association, announced the 2017 selections of the Notable Books List, an annual best-of list comprised of twenty-six titles written for adult readers and published in the U.S. including literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The list was announced in January and I was delighted to see one of the two poetry winners was my favorite poet, Billy Collins. The other was a poet that I was not familiar with, Safiya Sinclair. Seemed like a good time to check out her debut book of poetry, and I’m very glad I did.

The Notable Books Committee described it as, “sharp observations on our off-kilter world will spark your emotions while engaging your mind.” Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “stunning debut collection.” And Booklist, in another starred review, said “reading (and rereading) Sinclair is an urgently necessary, absolutely unparalleled experience.”

A few other people liked it, too.

From the publisher:

Winner of the 2016 Whiting Award 
Winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (Poetry)
An American Library Association “Notable Book of the Year” 
Longlisted for the 2017 Dylan Thomas Prize 
Longlisted for the 2017 PEN Open Book Award
One of BuzzFeed’s Best Poetry Books of 2016
One of The New Yorker‘s “Books We Loved in 2016”Poets & Writers Top Ten Poetry Debut of 2016
Publishers Weekly “Most Anticipated Book of Fall 2016”

Colliding with and confronting The Tempest and postcolonial identity, the poems in Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal explore Jamaican childhood and history, race relations in America, womanhood, otherness, and exile. She evokes a home no longer accessible and a body at times uninhabitable, often mirrored by a hybrid Eve/Caliban figure. Blooming with intense lyricism and fertile imagery, these full-blooded poems are elegant, mythic, and intricately woven. Here the female body is a dark landscape; the female body is cannibal. Sinclair shocks and delights her readers with her willingness to disorient and provoke, creating a multitextured collage of beautiful and explosive poems.

Lets start at the beginning, where Sinclair explains the title:

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.”

Talk about being hooked from the beginning of a book! The poetry is exquisite; the language is so vivid and emotional and at times, shocking. I couldn’t read it in one gulp, I took my time and savored every page. I came away feeling like I learned something, which I can’t always say about poetry. The best way to see if you may like a poet is to try reading some – or listening to the poet read her own. Enjoy.

Sinclair reading “Hands”



This is where you leave me.
Filling of old salt and ponderous,

what’s left of your voice in the air.
Blue honeycreeper thrashed out

to a ragged wind, whole months
spent crawling this white beach

raked like a thumb, shucking, swallowing
the sea’s benediction, pearled oxides.

Out here I am the body invented naked,
woman emerging from cold seas, herself

the raw eel-froth met beneath her tangles,
who must believe with all her puckering

holes. What wounds the Poinciana slits
forth, what must turn red eventually.

The talon-mouths undressing. The cling-cling
bird scratching its one message; the arm

you broke reset and broke again. Caribbean.
Sky a wound I am licking, until I am drawn new

as a lamb, helpless in the chicken wire of my sex.
I let every stranger in. Watch men change faces

with the run-down sun, count fires
in the loom-holes of their pickups, lines of rot,

studying their scarred window-plagues,
nightshade my own throat closed tight

against a hard hand. Then all comes mute
in my glittering eye. All is knocked back,

slick hem-suck of the dark surf, ceramic
tiles approaching, the blur of a beard.

The white tusk of his ocean goring me.
This world unforgiving in its boundaries.

The day’s owl and its omen
slipping a bright hook

into my cheek —

Source: Poetry (December 2015)

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
touch-and-go months under winter, torn letters
                               under floorboards,
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.

Source: Poetry (December 2015)

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CANNIBAL by Safiya Sinclair. University of Nebraska Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2016). ISBN 978-0803290631. 126p.



February 18, 2017
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Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a new book of poetry and I couldn’t be happier. I got to chat with him a bit last summer at the American Library Association annual conference and he was as charming as ever.

I’ve loved his poetry for a long time, and when the Palm Beach Poetry Festival got going, he was one of the first guests of honor. To hear him read his work is just, well, fantastic, and now I hear his voice, his inflections, when I read it myself.

Here is a clip of Billy reading three of these poems on A Prairie Home Companion:

This is his twelfth book of poetry, and it made me laugh and think and cry, all the sorts of emotional response that good writing, especially good poetry, will imbue. Some of my favorites…

“Lucky Cats” begins:

It’s a law as immutable as the ones
governing bodies in motion and bodies at rest
that a cat picked up will never stay
in the place where you choose to set it down.

So true!

I have felt this sensation when traveling but have never been able to express it as succinctly and beautifully as this, from “Bashō in Ireland”:

The sensation of being homesick
for a place that is not my home
while being right in the middle of it

“Early Morning” made me laugh out loud. Another cat poem, it begins:

I don’t know which cat is responsible
for destroying my Voter Registration Card
so I decide to lecture the two of them
on the sanctity of private property,
the rules of nighttime comportment in general,
and while I’m at it, the importance
of voting to an enlightened citizenship.

“Speed Walking on August 31, 2013” was written as a memorial for the brilliant Seamus Heaney (if you haven’t read his translation of Beowulf, do yourself a favor and get it – this illustrated edition is spectacular.) That was followed by “December 1” which is a poem celebrating what would have been Billy’s mother’s birthday:

If my mother were alive,
she’d be 114 years old,
and I am guessing neither of us
would be enjoying her birthday very much.

This poem reminded me of my mother and my loss and made me cry.

turkey-vegetable-platterI sent my son the poem “Thanksgiving” because he spent this past holiday with his girlfriend’s family in Chicago and sent me a picture of this beautiful vegetable platter laid out to look like a turkey. I’d seen pictures online (like this one) but hadn’t known anyone who actually went to all that trouble, and here Billy gently poked fun. He reads it in the YouTube video above.

Poetry is such a personal thing – I will end with a poem (that Billy reads in the video) so you can decide for yourself if you want to read more. I hope you do.

On Rhyme

It’s possible that a stitch in time
might save as many as twelve or as few as three,
and I have no trouble remembering
that September has thirty days.
So do June, November, and April.

I like a cat wearing a chapeau or a trilby,
Little Jack Horner sitting on a sofa,
old men who are not from Nantucket,
and how life can seem almost unreal
when you are gently rowing a boat down a stream.

That’s why instead of recalling today
that it mostly pours in Spain,
I am going to picture the rain in Portugal,
how it falls on the hillside vineyards,
on the surface of the deep harbors

where fishing boats are swaying,
and in the narrow alleys of the cities
where three boys in tee shirts
are kicking a soccer ball in the rain,
ignoring the window-cries of their mothers.

2/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE RAIN IN PORTUGAL by Billy Collins. Random House; 1St Edition edition (October 4, 2016). ISBN 978-0679644064. 128p.


I COULD PEE ON THIS, TOO by Francesco Marciuliano

October 30, 2016
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And More Poems by More Cats

Don’t you just love when a sequel surpasses the original? I Could Pee on This was ok, I skimmed it but never felt compelled to do more with it. But I love this sequel – go figure!

This is a pretty little book of poetry along with adorable cats. What could be bad? It is divided into an introduction and four chapters: Our People, Our Home, Our Thoughts, and Our Rules.

I enjoyed this poem from “Our Rules”

High Cost of Living

I did eat
The twenty you left on the counter
And I appreciate your anger
And I appreciate your distress
But mostly I appreciate
That you forgot there were two fifties
along with it

And this one from “Our People”

You Are the Last Person

Your are the last person
I would ever want to hurt
So get your act together
And stop trying to take me off the bed

This is a great little pick me up in the middle of the day and made me laugh out loud more than once. And it’s a nice change from cute kitten videos!

This little book would make a great gift, even a stocking stuffer, for any cat lovers on your holiday gift list.


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10/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

I COULD PEE ON THIS, TOO by Francesco Marciuliano. Chronicle Books (August 16, 2016). ISBN 978-1452132945. 112p.

ON CATS by Charles Bukowski

October 29, 2016
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I’m a long time Bukowski fan, so when this series of books (On Love, On Writing) came out I was intrigued. I didn’t know Bukowski was a cat lover, but I am, so consider this a somewhat biased review.

“In my next life I want to be a cat. To sleep 20 hours a day and wait to be fed. To sit around licking my ass.”

This is a collection of essays and poetry, along with photographs of Bukowski’s cats. They’re cute, as are all cats, and make a lovely addition. I found it interesting to see this softer side of Bukowski in one collection.

“He became sentimental about cats in his old age,” Howard Sounes, on-cats-back-coverauthor of Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, told the Independent. “When he made a bit of money, he lived the suburban life with his wife Linda Lee and they had a lot of cats. He got a bit soppy about them.” (The Guardian)

Many of these poems may be about Butch Van Gogh Artaud Bukowski, a tomcat with a missing ear. He was beloved, despite his tendency to bite the oh so talented hand that fed him. But cats, especially feral cats, don’t seem to care about that. I have one of those so can sympathize, and relate.

The publisher tells us that Bukowski honors cats with this slim volume, and trust me, those are not empty words. This is a lovely little book for any cat lover or Bukowski fan, and would make a wonderful gift this holiday season.

Finally, I will leave you with this. Bustle put together 5 Insights About Cats From Charles Bukowski’s New Book, ‘On Cats’, with pictures. Enjoy!

10/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ON CATS by Charles Bukowski. Ecco (December 1, 2015).  ISBN 978-0062395993. 128p.



FELICITY by Mary Oliver

October 24, 2015
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Mary Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and this is her latest collection of love poems. It’s terrific. If you haven’t read her, this is a good place to start.

Oliver’s poems are very accessible and this is a short, non-intimidating book for poetry novices and experts alike.

Have a taste…




From “Moments”

There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.


“How Do I Love You?

How do I love you?
Oh, this way and that way.
Oh, happily. Perhaps
I may elaborate by

demonstration? Like
this, and
like this and

     no more words now


and one of my favorites, “Humility”

Poems arrive ready to begin.
Poets are only the transportation.



10/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FELICITY by Mary Oliver. Penguin Press (October 13, 2015).  ISBN 978-1594206764. 96p.




April is National Poetry Month

April 1, 2014

best cigaretteI love poetry, so it is my pleasure to remind you that April is National Poetry Month. If you would like to join in the celebration, here are thirty ways to celebrate.

One of my favorite poets is the former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He is funny and honest and often whimsical. He likes to read his own poems and has shared this album. Feel free to click on the picture to listen or download.

Penguin Classics offers a poetry app. Since its release in April 2013, Poems By Heart from Penguin Classics, the free app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, has challenged players with classic poems from master wordsmiths (including Shakespeare, Walt Whitman,  and more) all carefully selected by the experts at Penguin Classics. Downloaded over 275,000 times since its launch, players have found that Poems By Heart makes memorizing and reciting poems fun, easy, and addictive, allowing them to enjoy poems at a deeper level, learn them for life, impress their friends, and improve their minds.

With recordings you can share online and email to your friends, Poems By Heart includes new and exclusive dramatic readings and specially commissioned original art for each poem.  Using brain-training techniques to make remembering poetry easy, the resulting fast and responsive game doubles as a tool to stay mentally fit in a fun way. “Poems By Heart makes it simple to memorize timeless verses while immersing yourself in a fun interactive game,” says Penguin Classics Editorial Director Elda Rotor. “This app combines beautiful design with an experience that expands your mind’s ability to retain language.”

For more information, to view images from within the app, and watch a video about the app, please visit: Poems By Heart

Every April, Knopf celebrates National Poetry Month by sending a poem every day throughout the month. To sign up for Poem-a-Day, go to Knopf Poem-a-Day, click Newsletters on the left sidebar, then add your email address and select Knopf Poetry. 

This April, Knopf invites poetry fans to submit a photo, drawing, or other visual representation of poems that inspire them. The contest will be held on the Knopf Facebook page. The five people whose submissions get the most votes at the end of April will each receive a package of new poetry books from Knopf. Feel free to choose more than one poem and submit up to one entry per day!

Enjoy National Poetry Month. I’d love to know who your favorite poets are!