By Clarissa Richee
All of Evie Shockley’s poems exhibit a particular sharpness and a smartness that
demonstrate an awareness of not only the history of American culture at large, but its bleeding effects on the lives and individuality of black people today. As one of the first poems in her collection, the new black, “my life as china” is a poem that exemplifies beautifully that specific connection.
As a whole, the poem works as an extended metaphor, comparing the life processes of dinner china, to the larger cultural experience of African Americans. The poem begins with the importing of the material as a direct allusion to the importing of Africans to America; it then continues through the violent steps of being crushed, burned, and reformed into something new.
The china itself is personified, the alliterated “I” at the beginning of almost every line, allowing readers to identify a personal connection with the subject’s conscious persona. The narrator asserts “i was imported…i vitrified…i was domesticated.” These are statements of fact, reflections on each individual state of being. The narrator names these experiences not as someone else’s, not as an ancestor’s, but as her own.
Shockley separates each line of the poem, not by a line break, but by a double colon, signifying a steady transition from one state of being to another. Similar to its use in mathematics, the double colon also denotes a degree of cause and effect, the comparison making one state, “I was baptized in heat” like unto the next, “fed on destruction.”
In the last few lines, Shockley moves from past to present to future. While the poem begins with statements about what blacks were and how they were treated, it ends with a “therefore,” a logical deduction of how Africans made Americans will respond to this change. The poem concludes in a final assertion of will, the china doing what it was formed to do: “I will not give / I will give you what you have given me.”
Evie Shockley Week