By Briana Whiteside
Evie Shockley’s illustrative poem designs are among the most compelling in relation to the 93 poets on our dataset. Even at first glance, poems from the new black such as “mesostics from the American grammar book,” “x marks the spot,” and “at the muse de l’homme” captivate readers’ attention, drawing them to closer examinations of the poem’s unusual structure and possible meaning.
In “mesostics from an american grammar book” the vertical phrase “TRAGIC MATRIARCH AT YOUR SERVICE” intersecting with the horizontal names of historical black women protagonists, black actresses, writers, character types, and singers encourages readers to dissect the poem to discover possible ways in which the women named could be related.
“x marks the spot,” the poem shaped like an x that takes up the entire page, leaves readers wondering and reflecting on the complexities surrounding the merging of the “african” and the “american,” as all of the pairing words begin with “af” or “am.” And, the poem “at the muse de l’homme,” shaped like a giant orange prompts readers to read more into the shape and its meaning.
Shockley’s out of the ordinary poem diagrams present readers with new ways of reading standard poetry. Her knowledge of African American traditions, coupled with the resistance to avoid typical and conventional ways of arranging poetry on page, allows Shockley’s the new black to stand out from the other 208 volumes, though as noted Reginald Harris is known to "play across the page" as well.
• An Introduction to 208 volumes of poetry by African American poets, 2000-2013
• A notebook on Evie Shockley
Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.