ALICE JAMES BOOKS (US) & PEEPAL TREE PRESS (UK)
“Blind Ossian IX” by Calum Colvin
Shara McCallum’s magnificent sixth book mythologizes the poet Robert Burns and his imagined Jamaican descendants through a chorus of intergenerational voices. This collection is timely and timeless as it reframes the complicated genealogies created by colonialism…These poems offer an intricate history more honest and unforgiving than the tidy myths we’re content to live with.
No Ruined Stone imagines what might have happened if Robert Burns had sailed from Scotland in 1786, as planned, to take a job on a slave plantation in Jamaica…The worlds it vividly presents beget reflections on creativity, history, slavery, race and many other issues. It is an exceptional work, a memorable achievement.
Shara McCallum brings her gorgeous poetics to a story of slavery and colonialism, challenging the historical archive’s sheer, unyielding wall by going not over or around it, but fearlessly through. In musical, evocative language, her poems imagine the what-if-that-almost-was of Scotland’s best-loved Bard, following Burns into the life he might have lived as a plantation overseer in Jamaica—then seeing his enslaved granddaughter back to Scotland to claim a life reserved for white women.
What if Robert Burns, who was set to sail to Jamaica three times to work as a so-called ‘bookkeeper’ on a plantation, had indeed travelled there? In Shara McCallum’s unsparing and tender-hearted book, Burns’ fever-dream of escape gains weirdly satisfying substance…No Ruined Stone vibrates with recovered truth. Like the returning dead, whom nothing ‘will quench or unhunger’, this work wants you, wants us, ‘to begin again’.