Skip to content
Mode: Light
Evie Shockley

Evie Shockley is the author of several collections of poetry, including semiautomatic, a half-red sea and the new black. She has won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, the Holmes National Poetry Prize, and fellowships from Cave Canem, MacDowell, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library. She currently is an associate professor of English at Rutgers University New Brunswick.

studies in antebellum literature, ch. 5 (or, topsy-turvy)

19th-century novels paint quite the chromatic picture

of america—take the white whale, say, or the scarlet

letter—but they aren’t all tarred with the same

brush. for comic contrast some give us black humor:

national relief projected onto one dark little head,

in turn projecting, in all directions, a local choler.

# # #

antebellum lit still tinges tongues with shady tints.

our language is loaded, packing heat, a weapon

concealed only, it seems, from the blissful. who’d

say x used to be a small college town, but then ten

years ago it just grew like topsy? i’d say it grew like

kudzu, maybe. or like wildfire. not like topsy.*

* things that just grew like topsy: the middle

passage death toll. the black prison

population. the crop of negro spirituals. like

crazy. like a weed. like a motherless child.