Featured Poet

Evie Shockley

( Highland Park, NJ )


her tin skin
– after alison saar’s compton nocturne

i want her tin skin. i want
	her militant barbie breast,
resistant, cupped, no, cocked
	in the V of her elbow. i want
my curves mountainous

and locked. i want her
	arabesque eyes, i want her
tar markings, her curlicues,
	i want her tin skin. she
is a tree, her hair a forest

of strength. i want to be
	adorned with bottles. i
want my brownness
	to cover all but the silver
edges of my tin skin. my

sculptor should have made
	me like her round-bellied
maker hewed her: with chain-
	saw in hand, roughly. cut
away from me everything

but the semblance of tender. let
	nothing but my one flexed
foot, toeing childhood, tell
	the lucky, those who know
how to look, what lies within.

compton nocturne, Weatherspoon Art Museum


Shockley’s Comments...

This poem was one that emerged fairly organically – by which I mean to say that the original draft was produced quickly and the number of revisions I felt it called for were relatively few. Mark Smith-Soto, a poet living in Greensboro, NC, was leading a free workshop focused on poems inspired by art. I had long been interested in writing ekphrastic poetry; and what really drew me to drive up to Greensboro from Winston-Salem, where I was then living, was the fact that Mark was holding the workshop in the Weatherspoon Museum on UNC-G's campus. What a great afternoon! We had the benefit of a museum curator or docent (I can't remember which) who walked and talked us through the galleries that were currently open, satisfying my nonspecialist's hunger for information on how to approach the art. Then Mark turned us loose to write a draft poem in response to one of the pieces.

The piece I chose was Alison Saar's "Compton Nocturne." I was drawn to it from the moment I saw it, or her. I was feeling incredibly vulnerable at that time, and something about the way she embodied invincibility and innocence simultaneously was very compelling to me. A stroke of luck was involved, as well, when a security guard came over to me, as I stared and mused with pen and notebook in hand, to share that he had seen a video about Alison Saar's creative process. According to him, she composed this and similar sculptures by literally going at a huge log with a chainsaw – and the assistance of her sisters and her mother, artist Bettye Saar – even at times when she was visibly pregnant! An empowering picture, to say the least.

My draft was fairly close to what's published here. The incantatory effect of the repetition in the first half of the poem felt right almost instantly. I subsequently reordered a few of the sentences in the first three stanzas, but the wording remained otherwise unchanged. The last two stanzas were a bit tougher. I had to work harder at getting the image of the pregnant Saar creating her art well-worded; I made multiple changes and went back-and-forth several times over the course of a few weeks before it worked for me. Also, I recall being unsatisfied with the first line of the final stanza, which originally read "everything / but the look of tender." The "look" in the last line came too closely behind this one for my taste. When I finally recognized that "semblance" would not only do the same connotative work as "look," but also resonate twice as well aurally, the poem was complete.

Next - Barbara Jane Reyes


Current Issue - Winter 2006