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Reginald Shepherd

1963–2008

Reginald Shepherd was born on April 10, 1963, in New York City and raised in tenements and housing projects in the Bronx. He received his BA from Bennington College in 1988 and MFA degrees from Brown University and the University of Iowa.

In his last year at Iowa, he received the "Discovery" Prize from the 92nd Street Y, and his first collection, Some Are Drowning (1994), was chosen by Carolyn Forché for the Associated Writing Programs' Award in Poetry. His other collections are Fata Morgana (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), winner of the Silver Medal of the 2007 Florida Book Awards; Otherhood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), a finalist for the 2004 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Wrong (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999); and Angel, Interrupted (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996).

He is also the author of Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry (Poets on Poetry Series, University of Michigan Press, 2007) and the editor of The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries (University of Iowa Press, 2004) and of Lyric Postmodernisms (Counterpath Press, 2008).

Marilyn Hacker described Shepherd as "brilliant and elegiac … a writer always conscious of the shadowy borders where myth and history—his own and Western civilization's—mingle. Those borders, classical and contemporary, are the true location of Shepherd's poems, and his newest work crosses and recrosses them, excavates their sites, finds the evidence of the poem at every stratum."

His work has been widely anthologized, and has appeared in four editions of The Best American Poetry and two Pushcart Prize anthologies. His honors and awards include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the Florida Arts Council, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

He lived in Pensacola, Florida. Shepherd died on September 10, 2008.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Fata Morgana (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007)
Otherhood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003)
Wrong (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999)
Angel, Interrupted (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996)
Some Are Drowning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994)
 

Prose
A Martian Muse: Further Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2010)
Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry (Poets on Poetry Series, University of Michigan Press, 2007)

Reginald Shepherd
Photo Credit: Robert Giard

By This Poet

6

Roman Year

Martius

The corrugated iron gates are
rolling down storefronts 
in paradise, late light flecks windows,
rain's acid fingerprints. Motes 
float between iron and glass, sink
into sanded pavements, weather's
footprints, cracked mappa mundi: silk
tea roses with a fringe of plastic fern;
grapes, apples, and bananas ripened
to painted wax: your eyes 
blinking away pollen 
in wind that says spring's coming, wait
for me. Months sometimes it takes


Aprilis

lights scrolls across an unmade bed,
we were setting out for Aries
in paper planes (white dwarf stars
bright in a wilderness of wish scatter
white feathers among me, fistfuls
of light): bees busied themselves 
with the seen, moment's 
multiple tasks, for the pollen, honey
in the blood, bees would drown
each day: from a thicket of nos
to one sepaled blossoming, all
in an afternoon

you thought of bees as summer


Maius

This heliotrope gaze has fixed me
in its sights (the turning solar year suffers
in sudden rain, grazes my cold 
with vague waves, plashing 
particles, but lightly): lightly 
take this sky, bound up in so much
loose light, light wind brushes chapped
lips. Light-footed gods break open 
day to see what it contains: body
survives light's inquisitions. 


Junius

Beside the shale pigeons a dove 
color of old brick dust, the sound 
of brick dust settling: traffic noise 
rides heat-rise off wet streets, summer 
music echoes borrowed air: light 
centrifugal, sent scattering, lost later
every day:some gold
against bright water (handfuls
scattered over lake), unnecessary, true
candleland waning to wax 
and wick, silver water shattering
like backed glass 


Quintilis

When I was in Egypt, light fell 
instead of rain, congealed to grains of sand,
pyramidal, uninterred. Uninterrupted waves 
of palms departed for shuddering oases. Why was it
I spent centuries in that mirage, caravanserai 
of the sirocco stopped, pausing at 
reflection, also called the polished sky,
and still no fall of shade? The light hung
triangular, aslant, touched the colossus
to song.


Sextilis

Wanting to understand, not wanting
to understand, worried that 
by taking thought you lose it, by not 
taking, thought. Watching him run a hand
through thin blond hair, passing 
at arm's length on a lunch hour 
street. Wondering is it good now, am I
pleasure, and which part is it that I need,
while air migrates too slowly to be seen
and noon crawls groggy over August
skin. Then thinking No, it's too 
and turning back to look at traffic.


September

Sudden storm, then sudden sun. Give me, 
I almost said: and stopped, began again 
with your voice, what gets invented by the 
I-can't-say-that-here. The afternoon of after rain
dazzles with cloudlessness and a painful green 
set casually against blue: light 
mottled by fractal leaves 
freckles your outstretched arm, 
repeating apple, apple, apple, sour 
fruit and crabgrass. A damp T-shirt 
takes on that color, nothing 
will wash it out. I wear it for weeks. 


October

doorway, flutter, moth
or leaf in flight, in fall 
foyer, stammer of wind, a patter
hovering, dust hushed or 
pressed to trembling 
glass, smut, soot, mutter 
of moth or withered stem, 
late haze, gray stutter
crumpled, crushed, 
falter, fall, a tread ...


November

williwaw, brawl in air, 
shunt or sinew of wind shear
blown off course, pewter skew
vicinity, winnow and complicit 

sky preoccupied with grizzle,
winter feed of lawns' snared
weathervane, whey-faced day
brume all afternoon of it 

(lead reticence of five o'clock)
remnant slate all paucity and drift
salt splay, slur and matte brink
snow stammers against sidewalks


December

White light seen through 
the season's double window
clouding the room reveals the roses'
week-old gift of petals bruised purple-black.
Dry paper falling on white cloth 
seconds the white room's wonder 
at cold sun flurried, crumbling stars
compacted underfoot: lattice 
of fixed clarity, wintrish eidolon
half patience, half at prayer.

Drawing from Life

Look: I am building absence 
out of this room's air, I'm reading suppositions into
summer's script snarled on a varnished floor. 
It looks like a man. That knot's his hand 
waving good-bye, that stippled stripe of grain's 
the stacked-up vertebrae of his turned back. 
Small birds (sparrows or finches, or perhaps) 
are cluttering the trees with blackened ornaments (burning
in the remnant light of August eight o'clock), and noises 
I can't hear. Chirring there, chittering. The window's closed.

I am assembling a lack of sound 
in this locked box, and dotting all the i's 
these floating motes present (my composition), I am not lonely
for the palpable world (midges I dap hands for 
and kill), shivering into darkness underwater outside glass:
what's left of light sinking from zero down to less, 
cobalt down to zaffer, deeper to purple-black 
where divers drown. The swimming landscape's 
all mistake (one world that shuts air into 
my submerged terrarium), and I am luck.

Occurrences across the Chromatic Scale

The way air is at the same time
intimate and out of reach

(a void with light inside it
turned on a wheel of wheres) 

Stars' lease on sky expires, breathes 
in leisures of sparrows, wrens

and casual trees, wet sidewalks
twittering with tattered news, old

leaves (hollow bones and branches)
wind of wish and which and boys

waiting for white kisses, rain 
of feathers, clouds saving their later 

Suppose this sunlight, day split open 
suppose these senses and the information

carried, thing and news of the thing
repeating place, location of position

Birds, for example, remembered
fluttering torn terms, congregations 

shimmer of hummingbirds 
but when does one see more than one

tumbling bright flesh (sky 
at hand) pleating afternoon, banking 

on mere atmosphere, primary
colors dividing white into 

three clean halves (red, green, 
blue-bitter berries rasp, crabapples

crush underfoot), the spectrum
says don't stop there

(smudged light a lapse of attention)
there's never enough world for you 

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