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The New Maroons: Redefining (the) Black Aesthetic

Renegade Poetics by Evie Shockley

Reginald Harris

  Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovations in African-American Poetry.
Evie Shockley.
University of Iowa Press, 2011.
274 pages, $39.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1609380584 (Library of Congress).
Buy at Amazon.

This carefully considered and inspiringly intelligent volume of literary criticism attempts the necessary and important work of enlarging readers' thinking concerning the meaning of 'black poetry' and 'innovative' literature. In the first half of Renegade Poetics, Shockley, an assistant professor at Rutgers University and author of two poetry collections, engages in close readings of long poems by Gwendolyn Brooks ("The Anniad" sequence from Annie Allen), Sonia Sanchez (Does Your House Have Lions?), and Harryette Mullen (Muse and Drudge), explicating how each of these works not only should be considered 'epics,' but also how they play with, subvert, and expand that form. In the second half, Shockley engages the ecological poetry of Anne Spencer, Ed Roberson, and Will Alexander. Almost functioning as a critical supplement to 2009's anthology of African-American Nature Poetry Black Nature, Shockley uses the texts of these three under-examined authors as a lens to allow their readers to see the political when it is not explicit, and 'blackness' when not obvious. "The point," she writes, "is to destabilize, to dismantle, the assumption that, if race is going to be significant to a poem by an African American, we will be able to tell at a glance . . . We must be willing to look beyond the 'recognizably black' in search of black aesthetics." Renegade Poetics also explores how the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and '70s inspired authors to explore multiple aesthetics, not a single monolithic one as BAM is often stereotyped as encouraging. "If a more expansive and fluid conception of black aesthetics leads to a correspondingly more expansive and nuances construction of the cannon of African American poetry, it will be none too soon." Renegade Poetics does an expert job of readying the field for that expansion.

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