From Publishers Weekly
Shockley's second book, which follows 2006's a half-red sea, uses an energetic mix of forms to channel a variety of poets' auras—from Lucille Clifton and nikki giovanni to Jayne Cortez and John Cage—in attempting to deliver the title effect. Shockley does deliver winning mesostics, Olsonian open-fieldings, verse epistles, and elliptical fragmentary stanzas as she ranges over relatively conventional first-person memories ("i was waiting on a poem when/ my grandfather pushed through the screen door"), a sad "cinder ella" tale of being carded ("her man's kiss did not revive her"), and the terse imagism of poems like "dear ink jet": "black fast. greasy lightning./ won't smear. won't rub off." Despite the title's unifying gesture, however, and Shockley's clear mastery of the history of 20th-century poetry, African-American and otherwise, the collection feels more like a grab-baggy first book than a synthetic second. An "ode to my blackness" ("you are the tunnel john henry died to carve") is preceded by '70s-style political sermonizing ("if/ i had/ a dollar for// every/ drop of/ iraqi blood spilled,// every/ woman raped,/ every life destroyed// in this war,/ i'd be/ halliburton."), before both give way to a poem about losing one's virginity while listening to Prince. A lot of The New Black feels familiar in a good way. (Mar.)
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Shockley takes a swinging approach to serious matters in her pirouetting poems. On the historical front, she imagines a beseeching yet barbed �lost� letter of apology and petition from Frederick Douglass to his 53-year-old daughter about his new wife, addresses the paradoxes inherent in Thomas Jefferson�s life in a complexly haunting poem about Monticello, and reveals a little-known connection between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Shockley also offers elegant, honoring elegies for black women writers felled by cancer, and reflections on the pain and achievements of Frida Kahlo. Her poetics are inventive and seductive; she�s jaunty and enraged, funny, profound, and sexy. Neatly scathing about political abominations and the grim realities many black children face, Shockley is nimble and ironic in her parsing of the new racism and attitudes toward blackness. Here, too, is a lovely portrait of her sister pregnant with twins and a lyric in praise of the distinct beauty of southern trees. Full of surprising turnabouts and shaped by a deep quest for knowledge and understanding, Shockley�s inviting and invigorating collection shimmers with positive creative energy. --Donna Seaman