Friday, September 12, 2008

Remembering Reginald Shepherd


The following was posted by Edward Byrne at his Blogger blog on Friday, September 12, 2008. With his permission, I post it here now:

Yesterday, as news about the death of Reginald Shepherd spread from one literary blog to another, I spent some time revisiting his prose and poetry. When I began writing posts for “One Poet’s Notes,” I had hoped to maintain a certain degree of serious study of poetry and poetics, even while striving to write pieces readers might find engaging and entertaining. Reginald Shepherd was one of the authors of critical commentary and personal essays on a regular poetry blog whose contributions to literary discourse I admired greatly and hoped to complement with my own offerings. Indeed, an article I posted to “One Poet’s Notes” in June of 2007 about the apparent demise of Parnassus specifically cited Shepherd’s work and his presence on the Internet as one of the online critics whose blog usually contained interesting perspectives or intelligent perceptions, helping to fill “the gap created by the absence of Parnassus” and the loss of book review sections in newspapers across the country. Reginald Shepherd’s blog was among those I have bookmarked and to which I have subscribed for immediate updates. Each time I received notice at my Google Reader page of a new entry on his blog, I looked forward to reading his words. Since Shepherd also discussed every aspect of his life with honesty and openness, all of his readers were aware of this poet’s serious health problems, as well as the ongoing pain or difficult medical procedures he endured. In fact, he was so frank in confiding with his readers that I am tempted to refer to Shepherd by his first name as any friend might do. However, I never had an opportunity for the good fortune of personally meeting with him. A little more than two weeks ago, Reginald Shepherd wrote again of his continuing health battle, beginning his August 26 blog post as follows:
I am in the hospital for the fourth time in the past five months, this time for excruciating abdominal pain that turned out to be due to a partial bowel obstruction which has still not cleared up. I have had a tube down my throat and have been unable to eat for over a week. I spend most of my days trying to sleep through the pain and nausea.

In the course of the various tests to try to determine the cause of the obstruction, my surgeon found several large masses on my liver which, after a blood test and a liver biopsy, have turned out to be a fast-growing resurgence of my colon cancer. Thus I am in the hospital cancer ward for the foreseeable future, starting chemotherapy again (it had been on hold during my assorted medical crises of the past few months), before I have had time to fully recover from my recent illnesses and surgeries.
Nevertheless, Reginald Shepherd continued in the post to present a marvelous excerpt from an essay on the poetry of Alvin Feinman that had been published in his recent book of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx, released just this year by the University of Michigan Press. Shepherd characterized his commentary in the blog post as his “final tribute to my recently deceased mentor Alvin Feinman.” Sadly, that was the last post on Shepherd’s blog, and I now include reference of it to recommend it as part of my final tribute to him. Reginald Shepherd was first and foremost a poet. Besides the blog entries or numerous essays he produced, Shepherd and his work might be better appreciated through reading his five books of poetry: Fata Morgana (2007); Otherhood (2003); Wrong (1999); Angel, Interrupted (1996); and Some Are Drowning (1994). As a sample of his poetry and an invitation to further seek his writings, in which his voice continues and evidence of his remarkable life remains, I provide the following example from Fata Morgana:
HOW PEOPLE DISAPPEAR

If this world were mine, the stereo
starts, but can’t begin
to finish the phrase. I might survive
it, someone could add, but that
someone’s not here. She’s crowned
with laurel leaves, the place
where laurel leaves would be
if there were leaves, she’s not
medieval Florence, not
Blanche of Castile. Late March
keeps marching in old weather,
another slick of snow to trip
and fall into, another bank
of inconvenient fact. The sky
is made of paper and white reigns,
shredded paper pools into her afterlife,
insurance claims and hospital reports,
bills stamped “Deceased,” sign here
and here, a blank space where she
would have been. My sister
said We’ll have to find another
Mommy.

And this is how
loss looks, my life in black plastic
garbage bags, a blue polyester suit
a size too small. Mud music
as they packed her in
damp ground, it’s always raining
somewhere, in New Jersey,
while everyone was thinking about
fried chicken and potato salad,
caramel cake and lemonade.
Isn’t that a pretty dress
they put her in? She looks so
lifelike.
(Tammi Terrell
collapsed in Marvin Gaye’s arms
onstage. For two hundred points,
what was the song?) Trampled
beneath the procession, her music.

Pieces of sleep like pieces of shale
crumble through my four a.m.
(a flutter of gray that could be
rain), unable to read this thing
that calls itself the present.
She’s lost among the spaces
inside letters, moth light, moth wind,
a crumpled poem in place of love.


—Reginald Shepherd





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2 comments:

May said...

The photo at the top right of the post induces to think that the one who sadly passed away is the person pictured in it (I know it's not).

Andrew Christ said...

Thanks May, I've got Reginald's picture there now.