Friday, April 29, 2011

Evie Shockley and This Douglass Poetry Discourse

When Evie Shockley wrote and published her poems "From the Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass" and "(mis)takes one to know one," both of which feature Douglass and appear in the new black, she entered a notable poetic discourse. 

In addition to contributing to the broader body of poems about ex-slaves, Evie was also making a specific entry into poetic writings about our man Fred D. 

Robert Hayden's sonnet "Frederick Douglass" is one of the more well-known poems about the leader. The entire poem is memorable, but I've always loved the lines from the piece describing "this man, this Douglass, this former slave." Something about the phrase "this Douglass" resonates.

Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote and published at least two poems about the former slave, one entitled "Frederick Douglass" and another one entitled "Douglass."

Langston Hughes has a poem "Frederick Douglass: 1817-1895," and Dudley Randall published a piece "Frederick Douglass and the Slave Breaker," which re-presents a memorable scene from Douglass's Narrative where he has a physical confrontation with an overseer.

Evie continues the tradition of poetic treatments of Douglass.  And she's not alone among a few of her contemporaries at least. Tim Seibles's poem "Douglass, a Last Letter," was published in the anthology Rainbow Darkness: An Anthology of African American Poetry (2005), where Evie's "From the Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass" also appeared.

Vievee Francis has a poem "Frederick Douglass Speaks before the Anti-Mexican War Abolitionists" in her book Blue-Tail Fly (2006). 

In the next week or so, I'll write more about Evie's individual Douglass poems. For now, I thought it was worth mentioning the company she keeps with Seibles and Francis on the one hand and on the other with her predecessors such as Dunbar, Hayden, Hughes, and Randall.

Evie's two poems are about Douglass but operate in really different ways. In "From the Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass," we get a glimpse of the former slave during his later years at a distinct moment in the past communicating with his daughter.

In "(mistakes) one to know one," we view Douglass communicating directly with Evie about Barack Obama. Creating an opportunity for Douglass to weigh in on contemporary matters is an intriguing innovation to this Douglass poetry discourse. 

Evie Shockley Addresses Thomas Jefferson
The Visual Experience of Evie Shockley's the new black

1 comment:

jward said...

Wonderful. And now I want to see what communication we are having with David Walker, Audre Lorde, Marcus Garvey, Anna Julia Cooper, and Margaret Walker.