Monday, June 9, 2008

Reginald Shepherd's Orpheus

I am pleased to recommend the following:

Orpheus in the Bronx Reginald Shepherd
Essays on Identity, Politics and the Freedom of Poetry

This is Shepherd's first full-length collection of essays related to poetry and the creative arts, and it brings his usual brilliance and clarity to bear on a wide variety of issues:

"A poem has never oppressed anyone, though I was once on a panel at a gay writers' conference with a black lesbian performance poet who implied that literacy was oppressive to black people, which certainly would have been news to the slave-owners who tried to keep their property from learning to read."

This is the kind of blow-off-the-cultural-cobwebs-with-a-jet-turbine writing that is rare in most books and common in Orpheus. Shepherd, whose identity is made the old-fashioned way, with original work, has a great deal to say about identity poetry based on collective defense perimeters rather than true individuality. He also discusses the nature of the urban experience and its connection to poetry, why he has chosen to write and other topics of interest to anyone who writes or reads poetry.

The book also contains exceptionally perceptive commentary on the work of Alvin Feinman, Genet, Wallace Stevens, Linda Gregg, Samuel R. Delany, Aaron Shurin, Donald Britton, Tim Dlugos, D. A. Powell and Jorie Graham. Graham is a poet whose work I have always had trouble appreciating: thanks to Shepherd, I can approach her work from a new angle that may shed more light than the old ones.

Shepherd also provides a useful mirror to what really happens in today's writing, for example:

"...much mainstream American poetry (and there is indeed a mainstream, broad, sluggish and muddy) seems never to have heard of modernism (or even, in too many cases, of Keats), retailing equally aimless examples of therapeutic self-exploration or convenient epiphanies in prosaic anecdotes not interesting or shapely enough to be short stories: what has been called the 'I look out the window and I am important (or sensitive)' school."

Buy it. Read it.



In light’s final hour
I went for a walk
In primeval forest today,
A stroll I had made many times
Watching for mythical wings

I saw phantom deer
Glance quick overhead
At shadowy forms they know
Ghostbirds in ebony train
Flying the gantlet of fate

For three seconds near dusk
In a glade found in time
I saw into the umbra
Where life breathes anew, and
Thought I saw Lincoln pass by.

A definition

What can’t be wrong can’t be science.