Shadow Black


Winner of the 2019 Frontier Digital Chapbook Contest

Naima Tokunow

Read the chapbook for free here.

We are so very proud of our chapbook series with Shadow Black now our second book. As we've said before: the mission of the chapbook contest has never been to produce a collection that would need to turn a profit, but simply to identify the strongest work by an emerging poet that we could champion in its publication as a free digital chapbook.

Naima Tokunow's Shadow Black lays down a challenge before contemporary America: the black body visible. The book confronts and rants and blossoms with a singular powerful experience that transports the reader through the American apparatus of race, of loss, of perseverance.



Naima Yael Tokunow's Shadow Black is one of those rare collections that punctures its reader with singular focus and force, lingering in the body like an unseen bruise. "I do not make Shadow Blacks, but I record them. On all of our bodies," Tokunow writes. The work orbits around this figure, the poignant Shadow Black, a monster of racialized imagination—and investigates the central question: what does it mean to be seen while black in America? to "come up from the grave buzzing"? Tokunow is a poet of the body, searching every bit of flesh, soft and hard, for the reality of its history, of its wounds and its resurrections: including Charleston, including child birth, including the deaths of young black boys at the hands of police and headless girls forgotten, unclaimed.


“The poems in Shadow Black move from startling moments of subtlety to satisfying passages of rant. Naima Tokunow is also a poet of the body, and in that tradition she calls for the liberation of the black body in particular: 'It refuses. It declines. It makes its own.' I’m so glad to have these poems in my life."

Jericho Brown, Guggenheim Fellow & author of The Tradition


"Shadow Black eludes and surprises, a palimpsest against which Naima Yael Tokunow projects the difficult ontology of a lyric identity destabilized by paradigmatic forces meant to corral queerness and femaleness and the facets of a bi-racial identity. Tokunow is a limber lyric poem with a diamond-hard edge that will “…find the way to make teeth/and to open [her] mouth for them…”

Carmen Giménez Smith, Co-Director of Cantomundo & author of Be Recorder


"Shadow Black's poems are tightly wound, angled with energy against their specific and deliberate forms, often prosaic, often menacing and eager for the soft mouth of a reader. Riding on the tension between academic, prophetic, elegiac and manifesto voices, Tokunow employs language that seeks moments of penetration and surprise. To experience this collection is to experience the myriad responses, violent and hopeful, to the projection hugging so much skin in America: Shadow Black."

Josh Roark, Editor of Frontier Poetry



I am Shadow instead of girl.
The amulet for the thing,
instead of the thing itself—

the article that was my whole body.
An object that needs no specific name.
The thing that does not wish.
That one we need not ever know,

an inanimate. No muscle or tightening.
Distinct from a living. Remember,
here, thing doesn’t have sentience.

Shadow Black is thing
made to do activity. Shadow Black
is just circumstances. Just scrim.

It’s not an accident that Shadow fits
neatly underneath a shoe heel.
A thing can give reason for pity:
a poor, poor, poor.

Not to be all things—just this one
special interest. This easy
projection. Like I said, before: scrim.
It’s not by chance that you can look
right through me.

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