The New Black

Evie Shockley, Wesleyan Univ., $22.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7140-3
Shockley's second book, which follows 2006's a half-red sea, uses an energetic mix of forms to channel a variety of poets' auras—from Lucille Clifton and nikki giovanni to Jayne Cortez and John Cage—in attempting to deliver the title effect. Shockley does deliver winning mesostics, Olsonian open-fieldings, verse epistles, and elliptical fragmentary stanzas as she ranges over relatively conventional first-person memories ("i was waiting on a poem when/ my grandfather pushed through the screen door"), a sad "cinder ella" tale of being carded ("her man's kiss did not revive her"), and the terse imagism of poems like "dear ink jet": "black fast. greasy lightning./ won't smear. won't rub off." Despite the title's unifying gesture, however, and Shockley's clear mastery of the history of 20th-century poetry, African-American and otherwise, the collection feels more like a grab-baggy first book than a synthetic second. An "ode to my blackness" ("you are the tunnel john henry died to carve") is preceded by '70s-style political sermonizing ("if/ i had/ a dollar for// every/ drop of/ iraqi blood spilled,// every/ woman raped,/ every life destroyed// in this war,/ i'd be/ halliburton."), before both give way to a poem about losing one's virginity while listening to Prince. A lot of The New Black feels familiar in a good way. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/21/2011
Release date: 03/01/2011
Paperback - 104 pages - 978-0-8195-7287-5
Open Ebook - 128 pages - 978-0-8195-7288-2
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