cover image Madwoman


Shara McCallum. Alice James (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-938584-28-2

McCallum (The Face of Water) contemplates the complicated journey from girlhood to womanhood in this exquisite collection, questioning what it is that defines the identity of her eponymous figure. Her madwoman is neither a static nor predictable character, but a thunderous storm subject to unexpected change in severity; the madwoman is both nourished and destroyed by her memories. In the poem “Red,” McCallum views identity as an heirloom, a force that imprints on a lineage of women: “memory/ is a story I keep telling myself./ But I understand, being as you are/ from a long line of women/ who regard facts as suggestion,/ who know what it is to burn/ inside the closet of night.” To be a woman, especially a biracial woman, is accompanied by loss of control over one’s image. This is apparent in the poem “Race,” in which the constant anxiety of straddling two worlds leaves the subject isolated and dehumanized: “She’s the whitest black girl you ever saw,/ lighter than ‘flesh’ in the Crayola box.” Throughout, McCallum beautifully incorporates the patois of her native Jamaica and employs myth as a way to deal with the mistakes and hurts of the past. McCallum’s striking poems take the madwoman out of her attic so that she may walk and speak among the living. (Jan.)