Plenty of contemporary poets might agree, in principle, that the whole point of a past is to use it, and that the whole point of one’s culture is to live it, but very few can effectively write to that principle. One must be willing and able constantly recall, and render, the truth that the key feature of an individual mind is that its operation is always happening right now, a perpetual present.
Because of that mindfulness, there exists a true joy in watching Shockley do her thing. There’s not a trace of self-inflation in the prodigious display of skill in the new black, and there isn’t a gesture towards self-denial, either. The playful, barbed, bitter and bemused irony compressed in the very phrase—the new black, whatever it is, cannot be divided from or mistaken for the “old” black—gives Shockley an opportunity for brilliantly complex and defiant homage. As she concludes in “ode to my blackness, “without you, I would be just // a self of my former shadow”.