Evie Shockley is the author of /a half-red sea/ and currently guest edits /jubilat/. She teaches African American literature and creative writing at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.
2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?
I couldn’t limit myself to one. I’d make him an annual gift of poetry, and even then there’d be more than one book included each year. Let’s say I’d start with these two: Blacks, by Gwendolyn Brooks, because she shares his connection to Chicago and because it includes about 40 years of exquisitely wrought, historically conscious, and genuinely compassionate poetry; and The Activist, by Renee Gladman, because it is one of prose poetry’s most shining contributions to the critique of the era of the Bush Administration. Both of these volumes illustrate the vital importance of language: the former by example, insofar as Brooks is a precise wizard of word selection, and the latter by depicting, as Gladman does so well, what happens when power mangles our mode of communication for the purpose of obscuring its wrongdoing and foul motives.
3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?
Right now, especially, the Delirious Hem (http://www.delirioushem.blogspot.com/), where there is an advent calendar presenting daily doses of women’s experimental/post-avant poetry. Now through Christmas Eve only!
4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?
I live my social and intellectual life surrounded by exciting young/new poets, so I find the “most” element of this hard to negotiate—there are so many voices I would promote! But one way of offering a taste of the options is to mention a few books that are hot off the presses or eagerly anticipated (i.e., forthcoming)—books I have read, have started reading, have heard read from, have heard good things about, and/or have every intention of reading soon: Open Interval, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon; The Black Automaton, Doug Kearney; Matadora, Sarah Gambito; Please, Jericho Brown; Exquisite Hearts, Cherryl Floyd-Miller; and Canticle of Idols, Raina León. (And I could double this list and still not be done with what’s new and noteworthy.)
5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?
Possibly both were in the last book of poems I’ve finished reading, Beth Ann Fennelly’s Tender Hooks. I don’t have it on hand, to name specific poems, but that’s okay, as I am recommending the book. It reads excellently well as a whole—I don’t always read poetry books from cover to cover, straight through, but I was glad I did, in this case.
7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?
The Prelude. No, really.
9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?
My junior year of high school, I wrote my term paper for American Lit on e. e. cummings. I was drawn to his work precisely for its odd combination of mystery and accuracy. The opening and closing lines of one of his (untitled) poems, in particular, have lingered with me ever since:
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
. . .
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis
It’s an anthem for abandon and excess in love. And good advice, at least 50% of the time.
10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?
Nathaniel Mackey’s ongoing serial poem “Song of the Andoumboulou” (collected in several books to date, including: Eroding Witness, School of Udhra, Whatsaid Serif, and Splay Anthem). I don’t mean to say that I can’t make heads or tails of it, because I take great pleasure in making meaning within its lines, but more that I know with certainty that it exceeds my ability to comprehend it (in the sense of grasping or conceiving of its whole significance).
13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?
For this, I’m recommending a huge and sort of glorious anthology, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handel, and Ravi Shankar. I haven’t read it straight through—it’s not that kind of party; you have to dance with whoever drags you onto the floor when you arrive—but I’ve enjoyed what I have read (and heard, at a reading for the anthology sponsored by Poets House back in October).
14. We read poems in journals and books, we hear them in readings and on audio files. Sometimes we get them in unusual ways: on buses or in subway cars. How would you like to encounter your next poem?
Anywhere but in my food.
19. If you got to choose the next U.S. Poet Laureate, who (excluding of course the obvious candidates, you and me) would it be? Of former U.S. Poet Laureates, who did such a great job that he/she should get a second term? Next election cycle, what poet should run for President? Why her or him?
What is the Laureateship awarded for?? To honor an amazing and long career in poetry? To anoint an ambassador to the U.S. from the world of poetry, someone who will bring the poetry to the people? One person who would fit the bill in both cases is Lucille Clifton, and she’d be my nominee.