Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why Evie Shockley's Poems Require Multiple Readings

Yesterday, my crew of students and I were discussing the new black, and a question came up: "How should we read Evie Shockley's poems?" The answer we arrived at: in multiple ways.

There are all kinds of poems that require multiple readings in order to "get it." But with three of Shockley's poems -- "dependencies," "x marks the spot," and "mesostics from the american grammar book" -- though, more than one series of ideas are communicated at one time, so multiple readings are a requirement, not simply a good idea.

Those three have dual columns of words. It's possible to read one column, then a second, or left to right with both columns. The different columns or lines seem to speak to and with each other. 

In "dependencies," one column of lines on the left side of the page focus on Jefferson and the people he enslaved; lines from the Declaration of Independence run down the right side. Thus, the poem presents lines about a slaveholder and his property on the one hand, and equality and freedom on the other hand. The sentiments appear separate and at the same time together in the poem. 

My students and I have read more than 20 different African American poets this semester. Among them, Evie Shockley has provided us with the most radical view of how a black poet might arrange her words on the page. Notably, her approach to composing a poem prompts us to rethink or expand our approaches to reading.

A Notebook on the work of Evie Shockley

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