Annotated Bibliography

Evie Shockley Annotated Bibliography

Primary Sources:

Anderson, Crystal, Bertram D. Ashe, Mark Anthony Neal, Evie Shockley, and Alexander Weheliye. “These-Are-the “Breaks”: A Roundtable Discussion on Teaching the Post-Soul Aesthetic.” African American Review, Volume 41, Number 4, 2007, pp. 787-803.

This article documents an informal discussion that took place within Duke University’s John Hope Franklin Center among Evie Shockley and four fellow researchers of African American literature. The five experts discuss the benefits and challenges of developing a “post-soul aesthetic.” While each expert’s definition of the aesthetic differs, they all agree scholarship should regard racial essentialism and nationalistic separation of a singular, authoritative, isolationist Black Aesthetic as a relic of the past, a strategic response by the leaders of the Black Arts Movement against white culture in the 1960s. The five experts argue that today’s black artists should embrace a wide range of expression and reject systems of thought that constrain them solely to traditionally black forms of speech and writing, in effect, opposing the limiting boundaries of a transcendent black soul. While Evie Shockley is not the focus of the conversation in this article, her comments and those of her peers are all present many parallels to her anti-essentialist argument and calls for expansion of black aesthetics in her introduction to Renegade Poetics. -G.P.


Schwartz, Leonard. Interview with Evie Shockley. The Conversant Podcast, “Episode #233: the new black.” 7 April 2011. Transcribed by Kelly Bergeron.

This transcribed interview appears on The Conversant, an online journal hosting multimedia conversations with poets. Interviewer Leonard Schwartz discusses the recently-published the new black with Evie Shockley. When Schwartz asks how she feels about Claudia Rankine dubbing her “composer of genealogies,” Shockley explains the new black is “a work that is historical and of the present simultaneously.” She reads several poems from the book, placing them in the context of the illusion of a post-racial America, when even eras of triumph and progress always carried “the potential… to somehow go dreadfully awry.” Poems such as “my last modernist poem, #4 (or, re-re-birth of a nation)” indicate the undying presence of the past in contemporary life, a reality reflected in Shockley’s focus on constant, cyclical reminders of history in the modern black consciousness. “The idea that history “progresses” in a forward line, inevitably,” Shockley argues, “is just something that’s been disproved.” She dramatizes this constant presence of history in her reading of “from The Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass,” a poem which simulates a letter from Douglass to his daughter Rosetta, and warns of “the danger of hero worship or creating idols of our various leaders and activists and other people who do things that we admire… they are human at the same time as change-makers.” Her explanation of the new black echoes the final line of her poem “(mis)takes one to know one,” which once again assumes the voice of Frederick Douglass, whom the speaker meets in a dream. After the learning of the first black president, “the grey elder statesman” warns the speaker, “don’t mix up change with progress.” This sentiment forms the foundational argument of much of the new black, as Shockley portrays “parallels between the post-Reconstruction era and this millennial moment” and the ever-present danger of disappointment following such moments of hope. She concludes the conversation by discussing the synergy between the new black and her forthcoming theoretical work Renegade Poetics, which she worked on simultaneously. She explains her position in the context of “black aesthetics,” the “very limiting prescriptive set of terms for what black poetry is or should be” that the 1960-70 Black Arts Movement established. She expresses her desire to expand the concept of black aesthetics to accommodate artists who express themselves according to their identity, wherever that falls under a reader’s expectation of “recognizably black” or not. This source is significant because it demonstrates the connection between specific examples of Shockley’s poetry to her theories of black aesthetics. -G.P.


Shockley, Evie. Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry. Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 2011. In this much-reviewed book, Evie Shockley argues for a reformation of “the Black Aesthetic,” originally born out of the writing of the “central theorists of the BAM”, into “‘black aesthetics,’ plural: a multifarious, contingent, non-delimited, complex strategies that African American writers may use” (Shockley 2; Shockley 9). Through this reconsideration, Shockley hopes to do away with the “rigid construction” and the false dichotomy that “placed black women in the position of having to choose between race and gender as the source of their oppression” of the historical black aesthetic (2; 5). Her argument, though applicable to all African American literature, focuses on poetry and, thus, separates the poets she studies (and, by extension, her book) into two parts: the first part, “examines long poems by three African American women poets” in order to argue that they should be understood as epics. The second part, which focuses on nature poetry by African American poets, makes the point that, because it deviates from “black” topics, the ways nature poetry “engages black culture and/or matters of politics often goes unnoticed” (Shockley 16; Shockley 20). Shockley engages with black poets working in genres of poetry that are not typically part of “the Black Aesthetic” (epics and nature poetry) in order to demonstrate that her new conception of “black aesthetics” is necessary to widen black poetics. Shockley engages with well-known (expert) theorists of the BAM era black aesthetic, including Larry Neal, Houston Baker Jr. and Henry Louis Gates Jr. to provide comprehensive and vital historical context for her reader regarding the original formulation of the black aesthetic and its value. Because of its reliance on theory and use of close-reading, Shockley’s text is clearly intended for a scholarly audience and will be a valuable primary source for our scholarly project on her. -AC


Shockley, Evie. A Half-Red Sea. Durham, N.C., Carolina Wren Press, 2006.


Shockley, Evie. The New Black. Middletown, Wesleyan University Press, 2012. Project Muse,


Secondary Sources:

Booze, Elizabeth. “the new black by Evie Shockley.” The Hollins Critic. Volume 52, Number 3, June 2015. pp. 18-19.

In this 2015 review, critic Elizabeth Booze pushes back against the claim that the new black is a “reimagination of blackness in America,” arguing instead that the poetic work calls for us to think about blackness “more broadly and complexly” (18). While Booze claims “disillusionment” characterizes the book’s voice throughout, she argues this overall sentiment does not limit the scope and emotional depth of the work (18). She argues the new black challenges readers to explore blackness while calling attention to the “culture of greed, privilege, and power” that can manifest in any community that develops conscious or unconscious principles of exclusion (19). Rather than presenting a “singular re-definition of blackness,” the book’s transnational, history-spanning reach supports Shockley’s commitment to expand black aesthetics to accommodate host of identities and experiences formerly excluded by standards of literariness as well as restrictive strictures of what constitutes black poetics (18). -G.P.


Collins, Martha. “the new black, Evie Shockley.” FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Spring 2012.

In a 2012 review, Martha Collins, the Editor-at-Large for Oberlin College Press’ FIELD journal, celebrates the proliferation of contemporary black poets who have “looked back and shown us that much of African American experimental poetry is in fact rooted in the use and subversion of form.” Collins argues Evie Shockley’s the new black “exemplifies this fusion of the formal and innovative” through “innovative use of “old” forms is a stylistic counterpoint to—or outgrowth of… thematic concern.” These familiar forms Shockley employs and subverts include: sonnets, haiku, ghazals, sestinas, acrostics, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales. Another feature of the new black’s fusion is the presence of “language-driven moves” which Collins dubs “word work” or shifts from subject to subject within poems, achieved through word associations that create seamless transitions. An example of “word work” Collins identifies include the movement of the poem’s focus between subjects in “celestial,” Shockley’s celebration of the supportive friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Collins’ analysis of the playful interactions between the formal and the innovative in the new black reinforces Shockley’s argument in Renegade Poetics that neither an adherence to conventional or traditionally “white” poetic forms nor experimentation outside the traditions of the Black Arts Movement should exclude an artist from the realm of black aesthetics. -G.P.


Dugan, Olga. “RENEGADE POETICS, SOUTHSCAPES, AND THE POETRY OF HISTORY IN NATASHA TRETHEWEY’S THRALL.” The Journal of African American History, edited by Evie Shockley et al., vol. 98, no. 2, 2013, pp. 304–19. JSTOR, doi:10.5323/jafriamerhist.98.2.0304. In this dual review, Olga Dugan argues that the studies Shockley (Renegade Poetics) and Davis (Southscapes) aid Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall in its quest to exemplify “the innovative quality of contemporary African American literature shaped by and continuing to shape the moment of history about which Shockley and Davis are writing” (305). Dugan’s essay deals directly with Shockley’s theories on history and black aesthetics and engages with (and cites) several other theorists and writers, indicating that the piece is well-researched and intended for a scholarly audience.  That audience, however, is a niche audience, as Dugan does not provide comprehensive context for Thrall or the other theorists she introduces. Thus, although this essay is still valuable to our understand of the critical renderings of Shockley’s work, it is not entirely relevant. -AC


Fink, Thomas. “Questioning Modes of Renewal and Reconstruction: Evie Shockley’s The New Black.” Denver Quarterly. Volume 46. Number 4. pp. 45-49.

In this article, critic Thomas Fink examines the “narrative and imagistic (at times ekphrastic)” strategies Evie Shockley employs in the new black to depict racial and sociopolitical identity (45). Fink’s central focus is the book’s opening poem, a cautious, gently disappointed ode to the recently-inaugurated Barack Obama, entitled “my last modernist poem #4 (or, re-re-birth of a nation).” He identifies the religious motifs woven into Shockley’s allusions to Lazarus and miracles belied by ominous weather imagery lurking beneath the “symbols,” “myths” “and even the self-representations in print” surrounding black cultural leaders such as President Obama and Frederick Douglass (47, 48). Fink argues Shockley’s portrayal of Obama; “re-emphasizes both social construction and individual agency,” inviting reflection upon “the current power structure” (48). His argument echoes Shockley’s conversation with interviewer Leonard Schwartz communicating that portrayal of influential figures within black aesthetics should prompt us to evaluate how post-racial our society really is. Still, Fink remains optimistic, concluding Shockley’s work may anticipate a ““new black” concept to be realized in the future” (49). His hopeful conclusion is perhaps incompatible with Shockley’s measured pessimism. -G.P.


Katz, Ariel. Sinister Trees and Fragrant Flowers.The Ploughshares Blog, Emerson College. Accessed 17 Oct. 2017. In this article, Katz details how “nature poetry” by southern poets has shifted from the idyllic odes of the past to, in contemporary poetry, serving as a means of “remembering violence and complicating notions of personal and regional identity” (1). This generational shift, Katz argues, is complicated by the works of Evie Shockley, who straddles the line between past southern nature poetry and contemporary: “Nostalgia for the trees is as deeply felt as horror at what happened under them” (Katz 2). Katz’s argument is bolstered by her close reading of Shockley’s “where you are planted” and its contrasting of the “southern pastoral image” with the violence it foregrounds in its references to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” (Katz 2).  The presence of this essay on a university blog indicates that is most likely intended as a scholarly source for students and should be considered reliable. Katz’s essay also touches on the works of another contemporary poet, Neal Bowers, whose poetry-she claims-does similar work to Shockley’s but, this inclusion is by no means comprehensive because Katz does not provide much context for either Shockley or Bowers, or for a great connection between the two. -AC


Lamm, Kimberly. “The Poetics of Black Aesthetics.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 55, no. 1, May 2014, pp. 168–81. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/cli.2014.0004. In this review of Evie Shockley’s book Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry, Kimberly Lamb claims that Shockley’s text makes a black feminist argument that  “opens up compelling possibilities for thinking further about the relationships among gender, race, and poetic experiment” (Lamb 180). Lamm also provides an extremely in-depth summary of Shockley’s most poignant arguments, which she punctuates with quotations from Shockley herself. Lamm’s summary is valuable because it says, more blatantly than the text does, what Shockley argues. For example, Lamm states, “the problem that Renegade Poetics is trying to tackle […] [is] the assumption that poetry that signifies blackness is not as innovative, experimental, or interesting as the poetry that does not” (176). Although Shockley’s text also makes this issue clear, it is never as blatant: Lamm’s summary is less concerned with textual nuance and linguistic beauty, which makes it an extremely useful summary. Further, Kimberly Lamm is a well-known critic and Contemporary Literature is a well-respected scholarly source, indicating that Lamm’s review reliable and will be an invaluable source for understanding Shockley’s Renegade Poetics. -AC


Moore, J. Peter: review of Shockley, Evie. “Renegade poetics: Black aesthetics and formal innovation in African American poetry.” URL  → Waiting for ILL


Rambsy, II, Howard. “Catching Holy Ghosts: The Diverse Manifestations of Black Persona Poetry.” African American Review, vol. 42, no. 38. Rambsy uses Shockley’s “From the Lost Letters of Frederick Douglass” as an example of a persona poetry: “these poems are written

from the first-person perspectives of characters other than the poet-authors” (552). However, Shockley’s poem differs from typic narratives and instances of persona poetry because it “presents Douglas in a different phase of his life” (553) than typical heroic narratives. Through this example, Rambsy argues that Shockley’s poetry is remarkable for the way it presents the people she writes about as “ordinary human[s]” (554). Rambsy’s article is intended for a scholarly audience, cites its sources well, and situates Shockley’s work in a greater context of “black ritual culture” (abstract). -AC


Shockley, Evie. “Going Overboard: African American Poetic Innovation and the Middle Passage.” Contemporary Literature. Volume 52, Number 4, American Poetry, 2000-2009 Winter 2011, pp. 791-817.

In this journal article, Shockley discusses the traditions of “African American experimentation” and “poetic engagement” exemplified in Californian Douglas Kearney’s poem “Swimchant for Nigger Mer-folk (An Aquaboogie Set in Lapis)” and Trinidadian-born M. NourbeSe Philip’s work Zong! (793). She examines the symbolic dives contemporary black poets take into the wreckage of sunken slave ships to portray the transatlantic slave trade’s horrific Middle Passage. An important goal of poets who undertake such an endeavor is to piece together “the fragmentary evidence available” and “understand the captive Africans as passengers – albeit involuntary ones… rather than as “cargo” … how the ships’ logs and other official documents framed them” (794). Shockley discusses Kearney’s use of humor, anachronistic references to 1970s American culture, and legal discourse in “Swimchant” to communicate “the language that… still egregiously overdetermines the circumstances of African Americans today” (797-805). In her analysis of Philip’s Zong!, Shockley notes the characteristic of “fragmentation” present in the poetic work’s portrayal of a mass drowning of over a hundred African captives “for insurance purposes” (806). This fragmentation compliments the dissociative escape of a “fugue state,” a psychological term Philip employs to depict a violent transition to an unfamiliar place (806). Shockley identifies the “fugue state” as a symbol for “[t]he impossibility of Zong! being or generating something w/hole,” justice robbed by “a legal decision” declaring the Africans objects incomplete in their humanity (815). From her analysis of both works, Shockley concludes that “confronting the forgetting and fingering the fragments” of recorded Middle Passage atrocities may bring a kind of healing, although “the poems contend that neither the law nor the imagination can make us w/hole” (816). Shockley’s argument has particular resonance for poems in the new black such as “statistical haiku (or, how do they discount us? let me count the ways)” which illustrates the potential for sympathy and distance arising from the American tradition of viewing people of color as objects to be counted: statistics, casualties, and – not so long ago – chattel. -G.P.


Shockley, Evie. “Loaded Terms.” Boston Review. 6 December 2012.

In this web article, Shockley responds to an argument posed by fellow critic Majorie Perloff. For National Poetry Month 2012, Perloff wrote an article entitled “Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric” calling for a renewed focus upon “conceptual poetry” and experimentation with form, approaches which she believes writers have abandoned in the contemporary poetic landscape in favor of reflective, identity-centric pieces that have become conventional and predictable. In her response to Perloff, Shockley emphasizes the potential danger of dividing poetry into dichotomies, which “erase the nuances that have as much to teach us about the big picture” and “cut through the field of poetics” to “reinscribe some wide-reaching binaries that have structured “Western thought” for thousands of years.” As she demonstrates in the new black and Renegade Poetics, Shockley refuses to ascribe to the binary dividing exploration of her identity as a black woman from her interest in avant-garde experimentation. She wonders against what “conceptual poetry” is to define itself, identifying the potential for a binary as exclusive as the masculine/feminine and white/black dichotomies. Shockley’s position in this debate displays itself again and again in the new black with works such as the stream-of-consciousness catalog poem “clare’s song,” which refers to Nella Larsen’s novel Passing and bears features of both reflection on racial identity and innovative experimentation. -G.P.


Shockley, Evie. “Shifting the (Im)balance.” Boston Review. 6 June 2013.

In another web article for the Boston Review, Shockley responds to criticisms of Pulitzer-winning poet Rita Dove’s selections for the 2011 Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry. In her edition, Dove included a wider range of African-American poets than many previous 20th century anthologies. Critic Helen Vendler objects to the amount of black artists in the anthology, charging that “Rita Dove… has decided… to shift the balance introducing more black poets and giving them significant amounts of space, in some cases more space than is given to better-known authors,” repeating the often-heard concern that forcing in too many poets of color will displace the rightful figures of the canon. Equally concerned critic Majorie Perloff argues that many of Dove’s additions to the anthology display only “formulaic” free verse and “prose syntax,” displacing the truly innovative work of the time like the Objectivists. Shockley responds that “Dove’s criteria” for selecting more poems from overlooked writers of color “cannot be boiled down to a single goal of racial inclusivity” and that critics like Vendler and Perloff often attempt to discredit the inclusion of work by artists of color by setting up a false dichotomy of “strong poetry” that exhibits “difficulty” and “easy poetry” that happens to be accessible to certain communities. While Shockley is not describing her own work in this article, her argument reminds those concerned that the incorporation of poets of color into anthologies like Dove’s does not constitute a replacement of or an incompatible challenge to the poetic canon. -G.P.


Thorsson, Courtney. “Foodways in Contemporary African American Poetry: Harryette Mullen and Evie Shockley.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 57, no. 2, 2016, pp. 184–215., doi:10.3368/cl.57.2.184. In this critical essay, Courtney Thorsson reads the works Harryette Mullen and Evie Shockley through the lens of the burgeoning field of foodways. Thorsson argues that both poets, “use foodways as a formal and thematic tool for ‘risk-taking and experimentation’ to move ‘beyond what experience has shown will do the job of creating vernacular verse’ (186). Particular to reading of Shockley, she argues that Shockley’s use of foodways foregrounds “ African American identity, especially black labor, as definitional for U.S. history” through her readings of “waiting on the mayflower” and “dependencies” (204). Thorsson’s essay is published in Contemporary Literature a well-respected journal, which makes it both a reputable/reliable source but, also, solidifies it as intended for a scholarly audience. Similarly, the work was published in the summer of 2016, meaning it is a recent and cutting-edge source. It is further valuable to our particular project because it connects the works of Harryette Mullen and Evie Shockley, both of whom we are studying for our class’s Avant-garde Writers Project. -AC


Vrana, Laura. “”SOUNDTRACK FOR A GENERATIONAL SHIFT”: Music & Innovation in Evie Shockley’s the New Black.” Obsidian 41.1 (2015): 371,386,412. ProQuest. Web. 28 Oct. 2017. This critical essay focuses on several of Evie Shockley’s poems from her most recent volume of poetry, The New Black. Using these poems, Laura Vrana argues that Shockley’s innovative poetry subverts the assumption that “authentic black poetry” must be influenced by or connected to black music and/or oral traditions” (1). Shockley’s innovative juxtapositions, forms, and other experiments-Vrana argues-in poems like “bop for presidential politics, c. 2008” and “x marks the spot” refuse to be confined to one iteration of black poetics and, instead, “ask new questions of today’s politics” and of today’s theorists of black aesthetics. Vrana concludes by also arguing that “Shockley’s practices deserve our attention because the field of Black poetry could still benefit from creating more expansive definitions of the innovative” (3). Laura Vrana is a doctoral candidate for English at Pennsylvania State University and is currently working on a dissertation looking at contemporary Black women poets and the politics of publication. In her extensive bibliography for “SOUNDTRACK”, she cites other scholars looking at the work of Evie Shockley but, also works by several theorists looking at experimental writing and black poetics. -AC


Whiteside, Briana. “Black Women Poets by the Numbers: Evie Shockley and Allison Joseph.” Journal of Ethnic American Literature, vol. 4, 2014, pp. 61–74.”Black Women Poets by the Numbers” by Briana Whiteside looks at the works of Evie Shockley and Allison Joseph in statistical relation to “the works of 91 other poets who have produced volumes over the last 13 years” (61). Beyond statistically describing the gender, age, success (determined by questions like, “do they have a Wikipedia Page?” and “are they associated with a major university?”) etc. of the 91 poets, Whiteside also makes a critical argument about Shockley’s work claiming, “Shockley’s use of person aligns her with large numbers of past and contemporary poets” (67). Under this umbrella argument, however, Whitefish also makes an effort to distinguish Shockley’s work from other poets: “the visual designs of many of Evie Shockley’s poems are by far the most fascinating in relation to the vast majority of other poems in the dataset” (67). This source addresses our figure directly, provides an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to analysing poetry (statistics), and also helps us to understand where Shockley falls in relation to other contemporary American poets.  However, Whiteside does not tell us in great detail how she went about her statistical analysis, which limits us from evaluating its accuracy and potential bias. -AC


Tertiary Sources:

Very Brief Biography