University brings speaker to Queens Campus students: Shockley

Renowned author Evie Shockley read and discussed poetry from her new book A Half Red Sea last Friday in the Honors Commons.

Originally from Nashville, Tenn., Shockley now teaches African American literature and Victorian fiction at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

While many of her poems deal with serious topics such as racism, political issues, and problems facing the contemporary global world, Shockley subtly incorporated humor into her reading. “I’m treading the line between what’s funny and not funny,” she remarked.

Poems that Shockley read included “London Bridge,” inspired by her trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, “Heart of Dakar or Tourist Trap,” inspired by President George W. Bush’s trip to Senegal about three years ago, and “Lifeline,” inspired by a flood in Mozambique a few years ago.

“I don’t draw the typical distinction between the political and personal. I feel the political issues personally,” Shockley said.
One of Shockley’s more evocative poems was “A Thousand Words,” inspired by the events that transpired at Abu Ghraib. The poem, which was literally a thousand words long, used the word “torture” repeatedly in the first and last lines, and began and ended each line in between with the word as well.
One of Shockley’s “innovating new forms” incorporated singing into her reading.

“I always want to read more poems than there is time for,” Shockley said. “These poems are connected; all of them are related to issues of how we interact with each other.”

Shockley ended by reading a poem dedicated to the people of New Orleans, but stayed afterwards to answer questions. A Half Red Sea could also be purchased after the reading.

“By the time I sit down to write, there’s usually an angle that I feel compelled by,” Shockley said when asked if there was a method to her writing. “But I can’t always anticipate where it’s going.”

Shockley also leant some words of encouragement to aspiring writers.

“If writing is in your heart, your blood, your system, you will do it. Don’t let discouragement get you down,” she said.

Shockley’s first book of poems, The Gorgon Goddess, was published in 2001. Her poetry and short fiction has also been featured in numerous journals and anthropologies.

Lee Ann Brown, an assistant professor of English in St. John’s College, introduced Shockley to the audience. Brown first met Shockley at the Carrboro Poetry Festival held in North Carolina.
Brown said that this event “is great for students taking poetry or people who have started to write poetry.” She added that Shockley “uses innovating new forms, raising poetry up to a new level.”

“The poetry was fantastic, especially her use of words and the way she intertwined lyrics” said freshman Lui Bomett. “She had a personal attachment to the poems.”

“When I don’t know what to do about an issue, I write a poem,” Shockley said.