Acclaimed poet at SUNY's Black Poetry Day

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Oct. 14—PLATTSBURGH — Dr. Evie Shockley sweeps into town as the featured poet for Black Poetry Day, 7 p.m., Tuesday at the Krinovitz Recital Hall, Hawkins Hall, SUNY Plattsburgh.

Shockley, a professor of English at Rutgers University — New Brunswick, is on a semester leave at Princeton University for the Bain-Swiggert Lectureship in Poetry.

"They have an annual person, I believe, come in, the Tennessee native said.

"This year, it's me. I'm teaching a grad course on poetry and poetics there this semester, and we are meeting in person. This week we're reading Kamu Braithwaite. We've read Natasha Trethewey, Robin Coste Lewis, obviously some Cave Canem people."


Shockley will read from her manuscript closest to publication by Wesleyan University Press.

Her first collection, "The Gorgon Goddess," was published by Carolina Wren Press in 2001.

She is also the author of "semiautomatic" (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), winner of the Hurston/Wright Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; "the new black" (Wesleyan University Press, 2011), which also won the Hurston/Wright Award; "31 words * prose poems" (Belladonna* Books, 2007); and "a half-red sea " (Carolina Wren Press, 2006).

A Cave Canem graduate fellow, Shockley has received the Lannan Poetry Prize, the Stephen Henderson Award, and the Holmes National Poetry Prize.

Fellowships and residencies include Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, MacDowell, and Hedgebrook.

Two of her poems were displayed in the Biko 30/30 exhibit, a commemoration of the life and work of anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko, which toured South Africa in 2007.

Her poems have been translated into French, Slovenian, and Polish.

About her forthcoming book, Shockley says:

"We can say that it's a book that spans several years including once I got past that hardest part of the pandemic, I did begin to write again. I felt coming together some ideas that were only fuzzy for me up until that point."

One poem, "an inoculation against innocence," was published in an anthology of pandemic poems, "Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets respond to the Pandemic," edited by Alice Quinn.

"And in that poem, I try to address the idea of the way we were encouraged to think of ourselves as a global community, sort of suddenly because of the global nature of a pandemic," Shockley said.

"People spoke about that very optimistically in the first weeks of the pandemic. I had my skepticism, and they, of course, were borne out."

Shockley is not rejecting the idea of a global community.

"But what is inspired by that moment to think and recognize that many of my poems for the past several years have been investigating who we mean we when say we," she said.

"And obviously, there is not a single answer to that question. I wanted to think really consciously about who I meant when I said we in a poem or any other context and to think about what it takes for us to expand our we.

"What it takes for us to expand who we think of as part of our group, our community, our tribe, our arena of concern. And, the pandemic brought that home for me. So, I think the new collection is exploring that notion in poems about a variety of subjects but increasingly explore the idea of collectivity."

In selecting poems for Black Poetry Day, Shockley considers Jupiter Hammon, a preacher and commercial clerk, born enslaved on Long Island, who published a broadside, "An Evening Thought" in 1760, thus becoming the first Black poet to do so in North America.

"I'll read some poetry that focuses on the African-American tradition," she said.

"I often write about and after and to and for poets that I admire. So, I might try to pull some things together in that sense. I might read in conversation with other artists and musicians."

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WHO: Dr. Evie Shockley, featured speaker at Black Poetry Day.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19.

WHERE: Krinovitz Recital Hall, Hawkins Hall, SUNY Plattburgh.


NOTE: College COVID-19 protocols will be observed. Masks required, social distancing, limited capacity.

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