Shepherd, Reginald 1963-
SHEPHERD, Reginald 1963-
PERSONAL: Born April 10, 1963, in New York, NY; son of Goldburn and Blanche Althea (Berry) Shepherd. Ethnicity: "Black/African-American." Education: Bennington College, B.A. (literature), 1988; Brown University, M.F.A. (creative writing), 1991; University of Iowa, M.F.A. (creative writing), 1993. Hobbies and other interests: Writing, reading, listening to music.
ADDRESSES: Home—741 Cornell Ave., Pensacola, FL 32514. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Poet and educator. Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, assistant professor of English, 1995-99; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, assistant professor of English, 1999-2002.
MEMBER: Associated Writing Programs, Modern Language Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Discovery/Nation Award, 1993, for poetry writing; Associated Writing Programs award, 1993, for Some Are Drowning; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1995; Illinois Arts Council fellowship, 1998; Constance Saltonstall Foundation grant, 2000.
Some Are Drowning ("Pitt Poetry" series), University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1994.
Angel, Interrupted ("Pitt Poetry" series), University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1996.
Wrong ("Pitt Poetry" series), University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1999.
Otherhood ("Pitt Poetry" series), University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2003.
Epoch, guest poetry editor, 2000; contributor of poetry to anthologies, including The Best American Poetry, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002, The Beacon Best of 1999, and The Pushcart Prize XXIV. Fiction represented in anthologies, including Men on Men 5, Shade, Go the Way Your Blood Beats, His 3, and Contra/Diction. Contributor of essays to anthologies, including In the Life, Fighting Words, Obsessed, and Open House, and to journals, including Callaloo and Jubilat.
SIDELIGHTS: Reginald Shepherd told CA: "My poetry operates within a literary tradition and a literary language to which I owe my formation as a writer, yet which is not 'mine' (as a black gay man raised in Bronx housing projects). I wrestle with this necessary angel and rise renamed, blessed but also lamed. This language, the language of W. B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens, of T. S. Eliot and Hart Crane, has both made me possible as a writer and made being a writer an unattainable goal. It is a language to which I aspire in the very act of using and being used by it (for every writer is as much the tool of language as its wielder).
"Eliot wrote that the poet must always mistrust words, but the problem of language is foregrounded for me in ways it needn't be for writers with a more settled, if illusory, sense that language is 'theirs.' It's my intention to inscribe my presence into that language, not to subvert it but to produce a place of possibility within it. I am willing to give up none of the transformative possibilities of lyric, possibilities which have been at worse foreclosed and at best allowed to lapse in most contemporary American poetry (both the M.F.A. mainstream earnestly practicing the aesthetics of transparency, and the 'language poetry' avant-garde for whom poetry is merely a means of social and discursive critique). Nor am I willing to surrender the necessary and enabling critical-utopian distance of lyric from the society that both produces it and cannot live up to it.
"It is out of and by means of that alienation of language from its alienation in use (as Theodor Adorno put it) that I seek to build my song, its harmonies, and its dissonances. My work surrenders neither lyricism nor lucidity (in Charles Altieri's terms), exploring a liminal space of the coincidence of song and thought, enchantment and disenchantment. I wish to make Sappho and the South Bronx, the myth of Hyacinth and the homeless black men ubiquitous in the cities of the decaying American empire, AIDS, and all the beautiful, dead cultures, speak to and acknowledge one another, in order to discover what can be made of a diminished thing (to quote Robert Frost), and thereby to salvage the promise of happiness (in Theodor Adorno's words) that the lyric embodies. My aim is to rescue some portion of the drowned and drowning, including, always, myself.
"My relationship to the Western literary canon (as if there were such a single and singular thing) has always been paradoxical: there is both no place already assigned to me and more of a possibility of creating a place for me than the world at large has offered. I have been oppressed by many things in my life, but not by literature, which for me has always represented potential and not closure.
"My first book, Some Are Drowning, operates within a traditional lyric mode, laying claim to the inheritance of the Elizabethan, metaphysical, and high modernist poets, while acknowledging the tensions and ambivalences of my claim to a language both mine and not mine at all, a language in which I must create a place for myself. That book explored the intersections of what Louise Bogan called the stripped, still lyric with my own experience as a black gay man in late twentieth-century America, often refracting that meeting through the lens of classical myth.
"My second book, Angel, Interrupted, examines the collisions of personal story and national history, of person and place (specifically Chicago, a city with an exposed exoskeleton, whose workings and breakdowns display themselves to the naked eye), and of sociopolitical history and literary history. I see it as a revision of the first book, a self-conscious return to many of the same materials (desire, language as both obstacle and vehicle, the detritus of the classical world) from another angle of vision, juxtaposing them with brute social and historical fact in a kind of urban pastoral.
"My third book, Wrong, plays out these continuities and ruptures on the level of language, often through revisions or rewritings of traditional lyric scenes and figures. It is less oriented toward subject in both senses of the word, seeking to explore correspondences between the word and the world, while still seeing from the perspective of an 'I' that often pares itself down to (or expands out into) an eye. At the same time, the book moves beyond the visual to the intersections of physical sexuality and language as sensual experience.
"Otherhood brings together the materials of language and the materials of the urban physical environment which together constitute the poem. It plays with the two senses of the word 'material': subject matter and building matter, the stuff of which the physical world is built and the stuff of which the poem is built. It is a less personal volume than my first three books, exploring structures—historical, architectural, botanical, mythological, meteorological, and topographical—and the individual experiences conditioned by and implicated in these structures.
"My fifth, in progress, volume seeks to synthesize and consolidate these various approaches and modes to simultaneously deepen and widen my poetic discourse in an attempt at what Paul Celan called 'polysemy without mask.' I would like to develop a poetic language capacious enough to accommodate all the things my previous books have tried to do, to span the multiple gaps between traditional and experimental poetry, personal poetry and political poetry: a poetic language, based in the lyric which I refuse to surrender or repudiate, which, holding in balance critique and creation, can be all of these poetries by turns or even all at once. This is undoubtedly an impossible ambition, but Allen Grossman has reminded us that all poems are attempts at poetry which remains an asymptote, never attained but always to be striven for. For me, there is no point in writing if not to attempt what one has not done and perhaps cannot do."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African-American Review, fall, 2001, Shara McCallum, review of Wrong, p. 498.
Chicago Review, 1995, David Nicholls, review of Some Are Drowning, pp. 106-108.
Indiana Review, fall, 1995, Jeffrey McKenzie, review of Some Are Drowning, pp. 169-199; fall, 1997, Brian Teare, review of Angel, Interrupted, pp. 166-168; spring, 2001, Sam Witt, review of Wrong, pp. 143-144.
Lambda Book Report, May/June, 1995, Timothy Liu, "Camp Reigns over the Sublime," pp. 20-21.