NEA Literature Fellowships

Shara McCallum

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(2011 - Poetry)

At the Hanover Museum

Lucea, Jamaica, 2000

Once many believed in a common dream
of this island, variegated skins of fruit

arrayed at market. Every mickel mek a muckle.
But the land keeps opening to loss--

flame tree seeds shaken loose from limbs,
sifted flour that will not rise into bread.

Stalks of cane grow, unaware of their irony,
scattered across this museum's grounds.

Inside, shackles affixed to cement blocks
have rusted to vermillion, almost beautiful.

Here, the sea breaking against cliffs
is a voice I might mistake for the past.

At the entrance to town, the sea wall stands.
Balanced on the edge of water and land,

children play in the surf. Fishermen,
visible in the distance,

will later bring in the day's catch:
snapper on a string, mackerel, even barracuda.

In a place where wind drags through leaves,
where dusk can rip daylight to shreds,

I emerge, remembering
how to eat sugar cane:

spit out the pulp,
before it grows reedy and bitter in your mouth.

(from This Strange Land, Alice James Books 2011, permission courtesy of Alice James Books)

Shara McCallum is the author of three collections of poetry: This Strange Land (Alice James Books, April 2011), Song of Thieves (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and The Water Between Us (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999). Her poems have been published in the U.S, the U.K, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Israel, have been reprinted in textbooks and anthologies and have been translated into Spanish and Romanian. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, she lives with her husband and two daughters in central Pennsylvania, where she teaches and directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. 

Photo by Steven Shwartzer

Author's Statement

When I received news that I had received an NEA Fellowship, I was completely taken off guard. I'm grateful beyond measure for this fellowship. For the past eight years, it has been a challenge to hold on to my writing life. While I feel thankful to have the job I do (any job, right now), between my administrative work and my teaching, and my children, there has simply not been a lot of concentrated time or the mental energy for me to write poems. Having recently finished my third book, I'm looking forward to beginning poems that go in a different direction; so this grant couldn't have arrived at a more opportune moment. It will help provide me time to read and write and funds for travel. In a less pragmatic, but equally meaningful way, the grant represents encouragement for the work itself. I am so grateful to the esteemed jury of writers who spent their time selecting the grantees and to everyone at the NEA for their valuing of poetry in this way.