Every Atom | No. 64

Evie Shockley

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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The ending of what will come to be known, in later versions of the poem, as section 6 of “Song of Myself” has always been piercing for me. It’s hard to say that it would have the same force without the gorgeous series of metaphors for the grass that precede it. But as much as I love them and the imagination they display, I am even more moved by this articulation of . . . an idea . . . a feeling . . . a hope . . . that life is boundless, self-perpetuating, self-recycling. I love it because it does not require me to sign on to a specific religious creed, although it resonates with what some religions teach. I love it because it is not bound up in a notion of individual immortality—nor is it tied to a hierarchy that ranks human being as more valuable or important than grass being. And I love its insistence on the mystery and fortuity of death. In the ambivalences of that final phrase—it’s not “better” than we might have thought, but “luckier”—I find a kind of sublimity and power.

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Evie Shockley is the author, most recently, of *semiautomatic*, which won the 2018 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. Her poetry and scholarship have been published widely. She is Professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.


Cover Art by Brian Pals