As Black History Month began, AUP opened its doors to poet Evie Shockley, Associate Professor at Rutgers University. Shockley hosted a reading on February 5th, inviting the whole AUP community to the presentation of her new repertoire of poetry from her most recent collection: semiautomatic. The African-American poet – whose previous works include the new black and a half-red sea – is known for her focus on African American and African diaspora literature.
Reading from her collection, including the poems “my life as china” and “a lyrical ballad (or, how america reminds us of the value of family),” Shockley took the audience on an emotional journey filled with music and laughter. Commanding the crowd with her powerful voice, she forced everyone in the room to share her emotions as she flipped through the pages of her books – childhood memories, nostalgia, blues and then at last, exhilaration.
“I really enjoyed reading at AUP! The students and other audience members were so generous with their energy and attention and the questions asked after the reading were terrific” – Evie Shockley.
“I am not proud of how I husbanded your mother all those years, but marriage, too, is a peculiar institution. I could not have stayed so unequally yoked so long, without a kind of Freedom in it,” she read from “from The Lost Letters of Frederick Douglas.” The letter was a birthday wish (or a plea, or an apology) to his daughter at fifty-three and as if it wasn’t poignant enough, Shockley – through Douglas – ended with: “Perhaps I will post, rather than burn, this letter, this time. I’ve written it so often, right down to these closing lines, in which I beg you to be kinder, much kinder, to your stepmother. You two are of an age to be sisters, and of like temperament – under other circumstances, you might have found Friendship in each other.”
Shockley says she gets her inspiration comes from art (specifically poetry, novels, visual art and music) or the news, her scholarship and research and from the different ways in which language is being used around her daily. As she read from semiautomatic and her other poetry collections, the poem most people seemed to relate with was “à table” – which was inspired by a visit to her partner’s French family – “The vegetarian they love and the woman he loves.” A laugh of warm recognition from the audience broke out when, amidst the list of mouth-watering French meals, Shockley announced, “they knew we could not have food like this aux États-Unis, melon as delightful as a silk blouse against the shoulders, no wine as full and textured as sex, not possible, not to be believed of the land of pagan cuisine.” With a big applause from the crowd, she closed the poem with “I am gourmet, gourmande.”
The evening ended with questions from the crowd. Shockley admitted that yes, there is such a thing as happy poetry. It’s just not her style.