The Merchant of Feathers
Longlisted for the 2015 Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, this second collection is full of poems that have their finger on the pulse of contemporary Jamaica in all its exuberance and brokenness. She tells these stories with a winning mixture of acute observation, outrage, outrageousness, tenderness and understanding
Tanya Shirley
ISBN number
Country setting
Publication date
08 Dec 2014

“Tanya Shirley’s The Merchant of Feathers is brash, courageous, moving, and extremely funny. Hers are exuberant poems in which the poet is utterly present and entirely irresistible.”

The Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature

This second collection of poems confirms why Tanya Shirley is so much in demand for readings, presenting a poetic persona of a woman who is “sometimes dangling from high wires/ but always out in the open”. So that whilst there is no one who so wittily skewers the misogynistic, she is also honest about the complicity of women in their own acts of submission, of how “I danced flat-footed in your dense air”. 

There is joy in the energy and delights of the body but also a keen awareness of ageing and the body’s derelictions. If there is one overarching vision it is that love is “larger than the space we live in”, a love represented by the “merchant of feathers… now a woman/ selling softness in these hard times”, or the mother who tends the battered face of her son, the victim of a homophobic beating.

There is scarcely a line without some memorable phrase – the madman who chants his “lullaby of badwords”, the father who “became the water within him” – but these are much more than an assembly of sharp images; closer reading shows just how shapely and elegant these poems are.


Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley was born and lives in Jamaica. She is a graduate student and lecturer in the Department of Literatures in English at UWI, Mona. She was awarded an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, USA.
View full profile