this / that...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Evie Shockley

bio / autography
(or, 18th-century multiculturalism)

found in africa / dawned in freedom
raised in boston / rose in slavery
schooled in greek / grew in god
published in england / died in poverty

                    for phillis wheatley


The power of Shockley’s wonderful poem is its form, economy, witness ... and, above all, its yearning. Action verbs, opening both halves of each line, move together in a wonderful dance of tone and meanings. Shockley achieves the full scale of a life and the history before and after in four brief lines. This is a poem that must have drifted – over the rough field of two centuries – before a poet let it in. A model of perfection.

From the first morning I read this piece at Poetry Daily, the lines have refused to leave my head – not even for a moment. That must surely be one of the defining characteristics of great poetry.


If you want more, read Shockley’s a half-red sea (Carolina Wren Press, 2006).


Pamela said...

Sam, thanks for this post. I'm preparing a unit for my workshop on poetry that uses caesura and chasm in poetry to weave and/or splice a poem's structure. This poem will fit perfectly into the unit. (So far I have as examples for Fred Chappell's "Narcissus and Echo," Sandra McPherson's "Collapsars," and also James Galvin's wonderful "Sonnet"). I'm going to order this book today and add it to the mix. Thanks again. This is wonderful.

SarahJane said...

beautiful poem. and the title of it is wow, too.

With Hammer And Tong...The LetterShaper said...

Hi, Sam...glad I found you again...

Collin said...

Evie Shockley is one of my new favorites. Thanks for posting this here.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read Sarah and lettershaper.

And Pamela, Chappell is amazing writer isn't he-- I Am One of You Forever is one of my favorites.

Collin, Shockley is a wonderful writer. I agree.