Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Evie Shockley gives reading in St. Louis

Evie Shockley reads at Pulitzer Arts in St. Louis

On Friday evening, March 3, I got a chance to catch a reading by Evie Shockley and Rae Armantrout as part of the 100 Boots Poetry Series at Pulitzer Arts here in St. Louis. I've followed and admired Shockley's work for years now, so it's always a treat to attend one of her readings. During the event, she read from her upcoming collection semiautomatic, which will be published in August by Wesleyan Press.

A little less than 24 hours prior to her reading in St. Louis, Shockley gave a reading  at the Hammer Museum at UCLA. There were no signs of jet lag though. She was in top form.

Shockley has a distinctive, subtly resonating speaking and reading voice. As a poet, she enjoys wordplay, so she regularly adjusts vocal registers and inflections depending on the subjects she's covering or feelings she's seeking to invoke during her readings.  She read several poems -- 9 or 10 perhaps -- at the reading. We got a chance to hear her hitting a range of notes. 

Between poems, Shockley mentioned her interests in "playing with" ideas and language in her poems. She observed that she thinks about the ways that the sounds of poetry might affect our bodies, our brains, our ears. She read a poem about Prince, a poem based on the police shooting death of Mark Duggan in London in 2011, a brief 'self portrait' poem, a piece merging reflections on Nina Simone and Romare Bearden's "Odyssey series," a poem in the persona of someone afraid of heights ("you'll never catch me on a ski lift, a ski slope, or a ski."), among a few other poems.

Shockley signs books and broadsides after her reading.

She also read "Philosophically Immune," which I had encountered online. The poem has a series of intriguing rhetorical questions:
is it natural to test pharmaceuticals on people who are citizens of less powerful nations, members of a devalued gender, representatives of a maligned race? ~ is it logical? ~ is it cost-effective? ~ is the nature of the relationship of american and multinational pharmaceutical corporations to african women with hiv economic or human? ~ economic or humane? ~ are african women with hiv human? ~ are african women human? ~ are africans human? ~ are american and multinational pharmaceutical corporations human? 
As I listened to Shockley posing those questions, I was somehow reminded of the repeated line from Jayne Cortez's poem "U.S./Nigerian Relations," which includes the repeated chant: "They want the oil, but they don't want the people."  Shockley's questions had me remixing Cortez's poem as a series of queries in my head: They want the oil, but not the people? They don't want the people, but they want oil? Oil is more important than people? Why don't they want the people? And so forth.

I'm looking forward to reading Shockley's semiautomatic when it's released. It's one thing to hear her reading, and then, she's always up to original and unexpected things on the actual page. Thus, you almost always need to witness both.

Evie Shockley

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