“Senzo” is also the title of a Cape Jazz album by Abdullah Ibrahim, the anti-apartheid activist who once described improvisation as a life-preserving skill. Alluding already to ancestor in Japanese and to action in Zulu, Evie Shockley’s “senzo” soaks up another meaning: improvised poetic form. Pouring into rhymed stanzas (“rooms” in Italian), her dissonant variations (“blue notes, peppered with rust”) pay tribute to Ibrahim’s music, all while in their own way bravely “throwing shade.” Watered or not, lines here are tended “incisively,” pruned to bloom.
Evie Shockley is the author of three books of poetry: a half-red sea (Carolina Wren Press, 2005); the new black (Wesleyan, 2011), winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry; and semiautomatic (Wesleyan, 2017), which also won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the L.A. Times Book Prize. She is professor of English at Rutgers University. “senzo,” from semiautomatic (2017), is reprinted here with permission of the author and Wesleyan University Press.
Katherine Hazzard selected this poem for the Independent. She has taught writing on both coasts and lives in Wellfleet.