Monday, August 22, 2011

Evie Shockley's "improper(ty) behavior"

A couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to catch Evie Shockley on WPFW's radio program "On the Margin." She was being interviewed about poetry, her book the new black, and her thoughts about various cultural issues. She read a couple of her poems as well.

Listening to her read her poem "improper(ty) behavior" reminded me that I had not yet written about that piece, though I was drawn to it early on when I read the book. Evie's poem is a ghazal--a poetic form that consists of a refrain throughout the poem. Ghazals have several other distinct features, but by now, the form also has different versions, applied by poets.

The title of Evie's poem, like those of other pieces in the book, projects multiple meanings. In this case, she signals the idea of improper behavior and with property, she suggests that something or someone is owned. The poem concentrates on instances of racial profiling, and Evie situates the idea of various challenges associated with behaving "while black" throughout the poem.

Evie Shockley references the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in her poem.
 At one point she writes "take sean bell: he got 50 bullets pumped into his car for driving while black." Next, she writes "ask henry louis gates--arrested in his own home for thriving while black," and later, she notes that "the rutgers women's players were slammed on the air for striving while black."

The phrase "while black" appears at the end of every other line throughout the poem. Evie writes about driving, thriving, high-fiving, diving, striving, reviving, and living all while black. Doing those -- while black -- is somehow viewed as improper. Or, perhaps the real point is that black people are improperly profiled while doing those things.

What fascinates me most about "improper(ty) behavior" is the idea that Evie Shockley fits issues related to race and anti-black racism into this distinct poetic form. Ghazal-ing while black, so to speak.  

No comments: