2014 Featured Festival Poet: Shara McCallum

Posted on by Michele Russo, Poetry Coordinator

Photo courtesy of Bucknell University

“I’m equally interested in myth as much as I’m interested in history, both personal and public.  I also have always loved best three things, which explain why I became a poet:  song, story and metaphor.”

Have you ever wished you had a sharp tongued elder who could teach you the real rules about life? Perhaps you already have that person—a godmother or uncle or neighbor whose wise and humorous observations help us make sense of the world and laugh at ourselves at the same time.  Shara McCallum’s “Miss Sally,” a recurring character in her poems—is just that person.  Listen to McCallum read “Miss Sally on Politics” (it starts at 12:35)

This mythologized character and others (such as Tanglehair and Madwoman) appear throughout McCallum’s several books of poetry; many poems are set in her childhood home of Jamaica.  Through these poems we have the opportunity to crack through some assumptions and stereotypes we might have about life in the Caribbean—the poems delve into deepening explorations of family dynamics, women’s rights and independence, mental illness and its repercussions on family, and racial, socioeconomic and cultural divides

It is a pleasure to listen to Shara McCallum’s readings as her voice and accent embody the voice in each poem.  These persona poems  speak in many tongues and tones and do so confidently.  We never doubt the authenticity of the voice.  For example, this poem recasts the story of Odysseus’ wife Penelope and her tireless waiting for his return.

My Mother as Penelope

Lemon rinds in the dried brook bed,
fireflies failing to light —

All, like me —
suffer the occasional drought.

Outside my window,
no islands of foliage

block my view to the shore,
no river noises trickle in.

Listen, after years of waiting,
I tire of the myth I’ve become.

If I am not an ocean,
I am nothing.

If I am not a world unto itself,
I need to know it.

It is a stunning poem—we see the speaker ruminate on her role in the larger myth and question herself.  And notice how she is addressing us as readers with “Listen…”  There is authority there, but also a plea.  This speaker is quite different from Miss Sally, yet equally authentic.  Like a classic folk tale, Shara McCallum’s poems speak to us in ways beyond the “story” of the poem.  It is delightful to read a poet with the capacity to speak through such varied voices, which together weave such resonant tales and messages. We’re really looking forward to having Shara McCallum at the Festival.

Find more of Shara McCallum’s poems here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/shara-mccallum

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We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.

For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org

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