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Reginald Shepherd: Unforgettable Poetic Voice

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What a loss to the world when Reginald Shepherd died, so many years ago that seems like yesterday. Unique in so many ways, a genius hardly recognized it seems for his brilliant imagination, a wordsmith par excellence who also contributed profusely to prose works on literature, he was a consummate poet, both black and gay, gifted and unassuming up until literally the moment he died—and what a painful struggle—of cancer. What better way to remember him than through his legacy of fine poetry?

But before I bring some of that beauty to this blog, don’t forget his wonderful essays on poetry, such as this one about the “poetry is dead” debate. Amazing! An excerpt, with the caveat that the whole is far more satisfying:

In the perennially popular “death of poetry” discourse, there’s a consensus that people don’t read poetry because it’s too hard, too “elitist” (another word that should be expunged from the English language: it’s never descriptive, only pejorative). I’ve always thought the opposite, that most poetry isn’t hard enough, in the sense that it’s not interesting or engaging enough. It doesn’t hold the attention—you read it once or twice and you’ve used it up. The engagement I look for and too often miss is a kind of pleasure, in the words, the rhythms, the palpable texture of the poem. It’s the opposite of boredom.

Here is one of his finest poems, along with its introduction by his partner Robert Philen, who kept up his blog for awhile after he died:

Of all Reginald’s poems, “You, Therefore” is among those that seems to resonate most with people. It’s the one I’ve seen most used as part of the many online tributes to Reginald that have been put up since his death. It’s one of two poems I selected to be read at his memorial service (along with his last poem, “God-With-Us”).

I can’t say with absolute certainty that it was his favorite among his own poems, but “You, Therefore” was definitely among his favorites. From the time he wrote it, he always closed any of his many readings with this poem. Robert Philen

YOU, THEREFORE

For Robert Philen

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are
a concordance of person, number, voice,
and place, strawberries spread through your name
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,
when there was snow), you are my right,
have come to be my night (your body takes on
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep
becomes you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name

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New Villanelle in Atavic Poetry!!!!

Today my villanelle, “Dark Phoenix,” has been published in the beautiful online venue, Atavic Poetry. Each poem is accompanied by photos selected by the artistically sensitive editor. Couldn’t be happier with this. Check it out!

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Ann Stanford, an Undernoticed Poet

Ever heard of the poet Ann Stanford? This article explores her work and why she, and other fine poets, don’t get the attention they deserve.

And that was a time when there were simply fewer poets. Today there are so many poets, so many people writing poetry, so many possible venues for publishing (self-publishing, blogs, online zines, e-books, and print magazines and books) that it’s hard to rise above the masses and get noticed. Someone who remembered Ms. Stanford as a teacher wrote this article and republished some of her work. She was well-established in her lifetime, publishing in major journals and winning awards. What factors are involved in a poet’s work surviving the limits of time and collective memory?

Here is a poem of hers which speaks to the very predicament described above. We seek a life after death in the form of a work of art which people can enjoy long after we are gone. Some will achieve this and others, not so much. Is it the quality of the work, luck, connections, historical events, or a combination of factors?

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Two New Poems in Wordgathering, a Must-Read Site

Wordgathering is an online magazine that specializes in disability literature (both by disabled writers and non-disabled writers who have a connection with disability and are writing about it), and in addition to poetry and fiction, also publishes essays, reviews, and articles relevant to the subject of disability. And two of my poems, “The Circumference of Pain” and “Now”, appear in the current issue! This venue has some amazing work, as well as two interviews with two blind writers that are so good I consider them in some way, for me, life-changing. It is an issue well worth your time with a theme that may surprise you. In fact, the element of surprise is one of those great benefits of reading this webzine.

Also featured in this issue is Anna M. Evans’ anthology about living with Alzheimer’s, Forgetting Home, a collection which is reviewed in the issue., 

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Tragedy Remembered Through Sonnets

imageThe Great River Shakespeare Festival, itself an amazing event that takes place from July 25-August 3, 2014, in Winona, Minnesota, also holds a sonnet contest each year in memory of Maria W. Faust, who was an avid supporter of the Festival, of poetry and the arts in general. She died in December, 2011—— her husband then had the sonnet contest renamed in her honor, and since then the contest has taken off.

An anthology of the winning poets is also available at a very low cost. Judging by the quality of the winners, it should be an excellent anthology. This link will get you to both the contest details and information on the anthology.

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On the formal/”free” verse debate

Reading this excellent rebuttal to an article discussing the pros and cons of memorizing poetry, I am reminded of some of the absurdities in the “debate” about “free verse” vs. formal or metrical poetry.

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Much of what is written by the throngs of uncounted poets today is based on the idea that “modern” poetry does not rhyme or have a metrical or rhythmic base, but rather is “free” of such “constraints”… Others say “if it don’t rhyme, it ain’t poetry.” Somewhere in between should be a free mind able to discern that what makes a poem “work”, on the highest level, is a command and 6th sense of the language added to the ability to imaginatively create images and sense that expresses what could otherwise not be expressed.

Mastery of the language is a profound thing and cannot arbitrarily exclude the sonics of the language, the power of repetition and other devices to create a meaning greater than the sum of its parts, a “sense” that may defy logic but which nonetheless feels somehow “true.”

When I memorize a poem, it becomes a part of my thought processes in a way that doesn’t happen otherwise. This is more true of great poems than lesser poems. Also, when I have “sonnetized” free verse of mine, I found the result to be far more powerful and condensed than the original. The poetic devices of rhyme and rhythm rather than acting as constraints and this limiting the poem, acted as means of pushing me out of my preset boundaries and thus discovering new ways of looking at things, new words to more succinctly express what I was trying to get at. Quite the opposite of what many poets believe. There will always be doggerel and bad poetry. But a great deal of doggerel is actually written in the form of “free verse.”

I always put that in quotes, because the notion of “freedom” here is rather misleading. The original “modern” poets who pioneered what is known as free verse came on the heels of the dominance of “formal poetry” and so had a command of it from whih they could then break ranks and innovate. But many of today’s innumerable writers of poetry did not arise out of that tradition and are not very much aware of it, as Marly Youmans points out in her blog post linked above. So it is something of a revolution, not a reactionary movement, to write in forms to express the unique and evolving world of this moment in a language that is vital to how people speak at this very hour. Rap and spoken word poetry are all part of this revitalization which is making poetry not only more accessible, but less academically infused with ingrown staleness. Or at least, we try to get there.

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Rick Mullin’s paintings

You need to check these out. Reminds me of Van Gogh, but paints subjects here and now.

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March 20, 2014 · 5:25 am