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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 276, Volume 50 Number 4, March - April 2024.

Cover of Cane, Corn & Gully
Jazmine LinklaterSafiya Kamaria Kinshasa, Cane, Corn & Gully (Out-Spoken Press) £11.99
Ghosts on the Page

Cane, Corn & Gully is multifaceted and hugely ambitious, especially for a first collection. A staunchly feminist project of decolonial counterhistory, it refuses linear time and speaks various kinds of language. Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa has developed a fascinating interdisciplinary mode of research-based creative production.

I think the best word to describe this poetry is haunted. Its major work is reckoning with how the past exists in and creates the present. And at its heart is a doomed desire: to recover and hear the stories of enslaved Barbadian women. But we are all too familiar with the silences which emanate from the archives, and in her research Kinshasa ‘could not find a single word from an enslaved woman in Barbados’. Before she was a poet, however, Kinshasa was a dancer, and it was by attending to movement as a nonverbal, bodily mode of communication that the archives began to yield hidden narratives. Looking specifically for records of people moving, she ‘discovered the enslaved people were speaking, constantly’. Kinshasa is candid about how ‘the work is dangerous’, because going back over the historical accounts of slavery is to consume once more the enslaver’s narrative in the enslaver’s voice. But she was driven: ‘I was certain if I focused on the fundamental actions, I could loosen the gaze whose teeth marks can be found on my own anatomy.’ Her turn of phrase is beautiful even when navigating dreadful complexity.

Admittedly, Kinshasa’s methodology is unclear. By re-enacting enslaved people’s documented movements, she accesses ‘the discourse of their narratives’ – necessarily nonverbal and heavily ...

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