In Tanya Shirley’s She Who Sleeps With Bones, the hauntings of memory and the spiritual lead us to eloquently shaped epiphanies that turn what appear at on the surface to be simple and tidy stories into profound meditations on the human condition.
Shirley acts as a witness to the lives of those around her, yet she is a biased witness, one who has become so enmeshed in the lives of her 'characters' that gradually we become convinced that she has erased the lines that would allow us to distinguish her from the people who enter her work.
The collection is anchored by a series of spiritual poems that beautifully enact the mysteries of inner sight and clairvoyance of a poet who is a reluctant seer, who comes from a family of seers. Her reluctance arises from the toll that sight brings to the poet - the burden of feeling, and speaking the truths that haunt. And yet for all its spiritual intelligence, these are poems of earthy sensuality and celebratory humor that are fully rooted in the every day details of living, loving, fearing, laughing and hoping.
Shirley’s poems are beautifully crafted and they reveal her deft handling of syntax and musicality. She is as meticulous in her choice of words and images as she is in her honesty of emotion and risk-taking.
Ultimately, however, it is the resilience of her joy that remains with us after each poem - for all its complications, (and there are many explored here - deaths of dear friends and relatives, the anxieties of being an alien in another country, the perils of unrequited love, the importance of size in sexual play, and the premonitions of tragedy) the world is ultimately full of wonder and joy for Tanya Shirley, a joy that she manages to make sublimely contagious.
Tanya Shirley was born and lives in Jamaica. Her work has appeared in Small Axe and The Caribbean Writer and in New Caribbean Poetry: An Anthology (ed. Kei Miller, Carcanet, 2007.)