Shauna Barbosa’s poems are so gorgeous and provocative as to be startling, like the sun sinking into a dark salt sea is startling, or like a deer rendered deer-less on the shoulder of a highway is startling; they move through the everyday to show us the lilt of leaving and the concentrated beauty somehow alive in that perpetual loss.
Shauna Barbosa’s poems present a world of “nothing in its right place” where “prayer won’t work” and yet where prayer and song seep like sap out of every scene and syllable. Barbosa’s use of language—spiritually dexterous, expressively idiomatic, syntactically inventive, subtly cinematic, enchantingly brazenly alert—is a new season, an alchemy all its own. I believe the poet when she proclaims that she is “drunk on provocative statements,” and when she wonders (worries), “Am I a millennial or am I dead,” and when she counsels: “Be a bird this month. Be built in speakers. When you find your honey eclipsed behind licorice lips, wisdom body yourself into a feverish chant.”
Like the songs of Billie Holiday, Barbosa’s poems are serrated and soft, percussive and susurrant, and, in a few turns, they both devastate and resurrect. In her work, there is homage to hip hop, critique of othering, prescient observations about the costs of technology on our lives, vivid portrayals of being black & female & young & wanting, and bold articulations of what it’s like to straddle multiple worlds. The speaker in these poems knows herself to be in a labyrinth of a culture in a labyrinth of a body, and so keeps trying different exit routes and altogether forges new ways of being. Hers is a poetics of exhaustion and exaltation, comeuppance and revelation, and yet we are not offered easy redemption. Instead, Barbosa’s words lock horns with all that tampers with our cosmic-corporeal outright-unassailable humanity and freedom.
Barbosa’s poems remind me that the present-day is a maelstrom of news and memory and history threading through the filaments of our bodies and minds, where all the lushness of place and ghostliness of displacement merge and diverge, generating a capricious-yet-relentless weather. She shows us that where there appears to be abundance there is also scarcity, wherein what colonialism-cum-capitalism offers as plenty is much of the same: normative figures by which to model ourselves and our dreams . . . whereas what appears to be diminutive, singular, or scant often harbors a wilderness in its pit.
Shauna Barbosa received her MFA from Bennington College, and has published poems in such journals as Virginia Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Boulevard, PANK, and The Atlas Review. She is a 2018 Disquiet International Luso-American fellow, and her poetry collection, Cape Verdean Blues, is just out from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Hers is a poetry I didn’t know I was starving for, until I read it, and it took my breath away and gave it back.