Shara McCallum is the eighteenth winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, one of the nation's most prestigious awards for a first book of poetry.
The Water Between Us is a poetic examination of cultural fragmentation, and the exile's struggle to reconcile the disparate and often conflicting influences of the homeland and the adopted country. The book also centers on other kinds of physical and emotional distances: those between mothers and daughters, those created by being of mixed racial descent, and those between colonizers and the colonized. Despite these distances, or perhaps Because of them, the poems affirm the need for a multilayered and cohesive sense of self. McCallum's language is precise and graceful. Drawing from Anancy tales, Greek myth, and biblical stories, the poems deftly alternate between American English and Jamaican patois, and between images both familiar and surreal.
“The poems in The Water Between Us work to a compelling cumulative effect. . . . McCallum’s poems investigate childhood through the speaker’s engagement in the excavation of a literal and figurative prelapsarian garden. . . The poems possess a layered allusiveness; they are both discovery and invention. This work incorporates fairy tale and myth to enlarge upon and dramatize its narrative, which is rendered in simple, clear, almost transparent language. . . . This is an arresting new voice, it sings like a ‘surf rupturing herself again and again’.”
“Shara McCallum is well launched. Her first book, The Water Between Us is beautiful, a weak word to describe such strong poems but beautiful they are, sad and happy, amusing and sobering in their telling of identity, of grief and of pride. She has chosen wisely not to footnote or explain the words peculiar to her culture. She leaves the reader to learn from the rhythm of them all that matters, to absorb them as a child would her own language that leans not on grammar but on sound. She may be young but she is far from immature.”
“McCallum’s poems are startling in their breadth of experience and language . . . [they] wrestle with her own history as well as with our accepted history, and while her answers are not always pleasant, they are never without truth stolen from lies, beauty wrenched from pain.”