The speaker in Cape Verdean Blues is an oracle walking down the street. Shauna Barbosa interrogates encounters and the weight of their space. Grounded in bodily experience and the phenomenology of femininity, this collection provides a sense of Cape Verdean identity. It uniquely captures the essence of “Sodade,” as it refers to the Cape Verdean American experience, and also the nostalgia and self-reflection one navigates through relationships lived, lost, and imagined. And its layers of unusual imagery and sound hold the reader in their grip.
In her strong debut, Barbosa delves into how the nuances of identity are formed through intersecting struggles. She characterizes identity as mutable, flexible, and a means to keep the memories that shape a person. Writing of her Cape Verdean upbringing in Boston, Barbosa investigates what it means to be a woman of color and a cultural other: "While I study my aunt makes a few bucks with no English at the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square. She's sweeping like it's a Saturday morning in her Cape Verdean home." In Barbosa's poems, the act of remembering can spur self-reflection as well as a political epiphany. In "An Email Recovered from Trash," Barbosa contends with dating as a black woman: "Can you tell from my name, I'm still in search of a place to stay?" It seems that even when Barbosa wants to momentarily forget about otherness, the outside world serves as a constant reminder. Yet she finds an inner peace, writing 'My noise so liberating/ it asks to be no one.' For Barbosa, the memories that are a minefield can also become a haven; those aspects of identity that arise through conflict can serve as a source of exceptional strength.
In Cape Verdean Blues, Shauna Barbosa’s voice is oracular and shapeshifting. Candid as a family friend, but with a fortuneteller’s gravity, the poems in this debut are full of lyric innovations that cut through alleyways in the mind to achieve a numinous beauty. There’s nothing weary here. These blues are alive with wit and swagger.
Cape Verdean Blues sings its pleasures and its pains. Delighting in the possibilities of linguistic play and undeniable rhythm, Barbosa’s urgent and intoxicating poems honor the poet’s past even as they fashion and refashion a shifting, irreducibly complex, and irrepressible identity that slyly slips our hold.
These words feel like experiences. Some are personal, most are enlightening, but all connect. Connect on higher Level. A spiritual level.
This is a book harried by the wraiths of American power and culture, a book of the splitting possibilities of self and of love gone ridiculous, of the terrible and ongoing orthodoxy of the internet, of the largesse and murder committed by the ocean and by the calendar itself. And Shauna Barbosa’s jet-pilot of a speaker stays calm in the cock-pit, radioing in the damage. ‘Quiet are the dead these days, yeah?’ she asks. But by the time you reach the end of Cape Verdean Blues, dear reader, the dead aren’t quiet any longer.
Shauna Barbosa’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Lenny Letter, Virginia Quarterly Review,the Awl, Colorado Review, No Tokens Journal,the Atlas Review, PANK, and others. She received her MFA from Bennington College.