Writer Evie Shockley on Signal Hill in Cape Town, South Africa (Photo by Stéphane Robolin)
“Evie Shockley seems to step to us wearing an alluring silk gown and steel-toe guerilla boots. She possesses that rare combination of grace and subversiveness.” This is poet Terrance Hayes commenting on Evie Shockley’s most recent book the new black.
I couldn’t agree with Terrance more.
Art that tackles topics like politics, race, injustice, and identity can be hard to get right. Personally, I’ll take a quiet film like Billy Wilder’s The Apartment over a brash, hyperbolic Oliver Stone flick any day of the week. Shouting is easy, but it takes real talent and skill to mix the personal and political and end up with compelling art. (Just ask the filmmakers who worked under Hays Code for nearly 40 years).
But subtlety spiked with truth-telling has its advantages: resonance. Shockley doesn’t need to shout to get our attention. Her poems will echo through your mind long after you’ve shut the book.
Shockley is a genius of language, form, and wordplay. The poem “x marks the spot” is appropriately shaped like an X, while another poem forms an almost perfect circle. She playfully uses fonts, superscript, line breaks, and spacing. She shuns capital letters not as a gimmick, but to allow her readers’ eyes to focus on lines, instead of sentences. As Shockley told The Dead Mule, ” I like the way all-lowercase lines allow a reader’s eye to glide along, uninterrupted by visual obstacles that have nothing to do with the concerns of my poem.” Luckily her publisher, Wesleyan University Press, has accommodated her inventiveness with language. The only downside is that there are many excellent, eccentric poems whose formatting simply refuses to translate into HTML on the web.