Tiny Takes | Cannibal, by Safiya Sinclair


The urgency: At once delicate and sinewy, intoxicating and lacerating, Cannibal delves into bodies and histories—female, black, Caribbean, immigrant—with an uncompromising lyric intelligence. While these poems would constitute essential reading in any era, in 2017 they feel scribed in fire. 

How I felt reading it: Like I had contracted a fever that peeled everything I saw back to its braided roots of beauty and pain.

Where I read it: In my kitchen, late at night, with the windows open to a summer storm, feeling Sinclair’s voice bring the ghosts and scars of my New England surroundings into sharper focus.

Lines that destroyed me:

From “Hands”:

How being twelve-fingered she took her father’s
fishing line to the deviation, and starved

of blood what grew savage and unwanted. Pulled
until they shriveled away, two hungry mouths
askance and blooming, reminding her

that she was still woman……….always multiplying
as life’s little nubs and dreams came bucking up
in her disjointed.

From “Notes on the State of Virginia, I”:

Where Thomas Jefferson learnt how to belittle a thing. How to own it. He created the word and wanted my mouth to know it. He wanted the whole world pulled through me on a fishing string. Where I will find my fingers in the muscle of my throat, where I will marvel at the body asking to live.

From “The Art of Unselfing”:

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.

GIF that describes this book: 


Pairs well with: poetry by Paul Celan, Sylvia Plath, and Derek Walcott; art by Walton Ford and Wangechi Mutu; beachcombing.

The final word: In her acknowledgements, Sinclair thanks artist Wangechi Mutu (whose Uterine Catarrh is featured on the cover of Cannibal), a gesture which inspired me to investigate Mutu’s work and expand my understanding of Sinclair’s project to include ekphrasis. I loved rereading Cannibal alongside Mutu’s images and tracing the ways in which Sinclair evokes Mutu’s layered textures, jarring juxtapositions, and contorted, incendiary figures.

Buy it here!



Andy Nicole Bowers studies and teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she serves as the Juniper Fellow in Poetry. Her fascinations include still lifes, illustrated anatomies, cabinets of curiosities, dioramas, and reliquaries. Her recent work has appeared in Big Big Wednesday and Structo.