Evie Shockley, poet and author of the new black, visited Haverford last week for a public poetry reading attended by both students and faculty. The reading was followed by a question-and-answer session and a book signing that allowed attendees to interact with the renowned poet.
Shockey’s reading, organized by the English Department, the Africana Studies Program, the Creative Writing Program, and the Weaver Fund in conjunction with the Distinguished Visitors Program, was held in Chase Auditorium. She shared six poems from the new black, the most recent of her four poetry collections, as well as six poems from a new manuscript that is still yet to be published. Many students in attendance had studied some of the new black in class, but Shockley’s unique vocal interpretations of the text, which even included some singing, gave new life to familiar works.
Asali Solomon, assistant professor of English and creative writing, introduced Shockley to the gathered crowd by describing the first time she heard her work. While Washington and Lee University, Solomon attended a panel reading at which Shockley was scheduled to appear. Though her trip to campus was cancelled due to inclement weather, she tried to read her poetry over Skype.
“I knew I was ‘Team Evie Shockley,’ but then the Skype connection failed, and I knew I would not be denied,” said Solomon. “So I began devouring her work. I invited her to campus, and it would not be a total exaggeration to say I designed a class around her visit.”
The poems that Shockley shared were defined by eccentric form, lyrical verse, and the incorporation of a sort of historical storytelling, which were manifested in her lively reading. Introducing “duck, duck, redux” from the new black, which incorporates sung snippets from nursery rhymes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and ‘This Little Piggy,” Shockley emphasized the impact of historical moments on the meaning of race, and how this consideration was central to her book.
“As I was saying to some of Professor Solomon’s students earlier, I wrote this poem in part because I was shocked by things my mother would say about race, and then I’d be shocked by things my students would say about race,” said Shockley. “And then I had nieces, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ll never know what kind of America they are going to become conscious of living in as they get older.’ ”
Her unique techniques and form were discussed during the question-and-answer session, at which many of the queries concerned her incorporation of song and cultural references in her poems.
“There’s still a kind of way that those childhood tales and poems and rhymes circulate widely enough in American culture, that I can tap in and help readers and listeners tap into where I am emotionally in the poem, because it’s an instant bridge,” she said.
Many of her poems also grapple with ethical or political questions, and Lucia Hermann ’17 asked Shockley about how she confronts such issues while turning them into the crux of a poem.
“Poems are questions” responded Shockley. “If you already know everything you think about a subject when you start writing, you might want to push to the next thing and find something you are still thinking about.”
-Michael Weber ’19
Photos by Caleb Eckert ’17.