“mesostics from the american grammar book”

Evie Shockley’s “mesostics from the american grammar book” expresses frustration at the forms of oppression black women have faced throughout American history. Shockley delivers her message through the mesostic, a poetic form that constructs a vertical phrase by intersecting the middle of descending horizontal lines. The epigraph at the poem’s heading quotes Anne Spencer, a poet of the New Negro Renaissance, appearing in Countee Cullen’s 1927 anthology Caroling Dusk. The full quotation reads: “I proudly love being a Negro woman; [it’s] so involved and interesting. We are the PROBLEM – the great national game of TABOO”.

Our illustrative approach to “mesostics” comes in the form of the Genius.com annotation plugin. The annotations below provide background information for the poem’s subjects, both real-life historical figures as well as characters from literature and films created by black women. Fictional or not, all women the poem references have experienced some form of tragedy tied to being treated as a national problem to be corrected. Shockley expresses a rebelliousness that is weary, yet still possesses a playful defiance beneath the frustration.

“mesostics from the american grammar book”

           doroThy dandridge

yellow maRy peazant

                  hAlle berry

              helGa crane

            marIah carey

                     Clare kendry

                                                                   maMa day

                                                                        lAni guinier


                                              zora neale huRston

                                                                      anIta hill

                                                                 ntozAke shange

                                                                     aliCe walker


                                                                                saartjie bAartman



                                                                                                       sallY hemmings

                                                                                                        nOla darling

                                                           maya angeloU

                                                                                                    harRiet jacobs


                                                                                                            joSephine baker

                                                                                                  janEt jackson

                                                                  margaret gaRner

                                                                                                                         Vanessa williams

                                                                     desiree washIngton

                                                                           sappho Clark