Poet Spotlight: Evie Shockley


Photo credit: Stéphane Robolin and the Poetry Foundation

“It pains me to tell you of it; but I have promised to tell you the truth, and I will do it honestly, let it cost me what it may.” – “Sex Trafficking Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in the USA (or, The Nation’s Plague in Plain Sight)”

So writes Evie Shockley, a poet from Nashville, Tennessee, and the author of three books titled A Half Red Sea, The New Black, and Semiautomatic and her monograph, Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry. Shockley was recognized for her poetic efforts when she received the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for her book The New Black, as well as the Holmes National Poetry Prize, both in 2012. A few years later, in 2018, she placed as a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for the release of her most recent book, Semiautomatic

Semiautomatic recounts the experience of being black in America, police brutality, and racism, among other topics regarding the search for equality and justice. What makes this collection so unique is the unconventional attention to form and utilization of free verse. While her poems are often serious and saddening, the use of different poetic forms, such as unusual capitalization, repetition, rhyme scheme, and meter, is very playful. The writing exemplified in Semiautomatic is fierce, unabashed, and determined to make not only an impact but a concrete change in the world around her.

Another one of Shockley’s strengths is her keen eye for noticing the discrepancies and hidden nightmares of America’s operation. She often focuses her writing on topics that are considered taboo, or that are too painful to be spoken about aloud. One of the most heartwrenching and impactful pieces Shockley has published is “Sex Trafficking Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in the USA (or, The Nation’s Plague in Plain Sight).” In this poem, the issue of sex trafficking in America is analyzed. A startling comparison is made between the atrocities of past slaves, and today’s female sex trafficking victims in America. Quotations from political figures, sex trafficking victims, anti-human trafficking organization officials, and sex trafficking statistics are fluidly incorporated within her poem to aid her message. The author grapples with her own realizations about this toxic, violent underground industry simultaneously telling the story of a victim. At the culmination of the piece, Shockley self-referentially asks herself what she can do to help fight this issue, and by writing this poem, she has brought attention to this critical issue of today.

To read Evie Shockley’s “Sex Trafficking Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in the USA (or, The Nation’s Plague in Plain Sight)”, please the Poetry Foundation

Post written by Emily Bunn

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