Monday, October 13, 2008

Reginald Shepherd...

The death of Reginald Shepherd on September 10th came with tragic weight. Given his candid account of his illness, time was not on his side: Death waited in the wings (though unable to catch the winged words that had already flown). The tributes to him have been fitting and moving, though I would wish to differ from the writer who said that Reginald Shepherd was best known as a blogger and from those bloggers who praised his genius whilst admitting that they had never read his poetry. To not have seen Reginald Shepherd as a poet first and foremost is an error…to believe that his identity might be divorced from his poetry is a fallacy. True, Reginald Shepherd happily walked a tightrope with Poetry in one hand and Criticism in the other, could balance the quill and scales with consummate ease, but his love (as revealed by his poetry) was always poetry…the act of making (as he phrased it) the original that would endure rather than the transient new—he valued gold from the crucible rather than bling modernism.

In Orpheus in the Bronx (2007), Reginald Shepherd published a timely essay: “One state of the Art.” Designed as an extended version of his introduction to The Iowa Anthology (2004), this essay outlines the crossroads of modern verse, or post-modern verse, or post-post modern verse ad infinitum. This essay engages with some of the nonsense that often outraged him: the need for poethoods; the discounting of lyricism; and the mythical “school of quietude”. The essay is modern in its vision and yet it derives from older versions of poetic theorizing. The opening claim that “poetry is passion” (70) is pure Milton.

Like Reginald Shepherd, I have no liking for the anti-“school of quietude” critics and poets. Viewed from across The Pond, this appears as American arrogance: it dispenses (in its ignorance) with the whole history of UK poetry, as if contemporary poetry must spring by parthogenseis from hydra-headed American modernism. There is something curiously English about Reginald Shepherd; and I mean that in the best sense. Like Christopher Middleton, he seeks vistas, poetic and critical, and his belief in the experience of poetry rhymes fully with Middleton’s belief in "prosetic space": that poetry is original, not second-hand, is a living first-hand experience, not a re-making of the real in a virtual sphere. Shepherd and Middleton share a world view of poetry and as such never accept the “pre-cooked, processed” nature of language, a language governed by isms— a revolution made from conformism.

At the close of “One state of the Art”, Reginald Shepherd welcomes the poets who approach the self “as an open question”. Presumably, by extension, that means a poetry with an open field (as Duncan would have said) in which the self can be constructed. The poem makes the self, not the self the poem. That view is key in understanding Reginald Shepherd’s dislike of identity poetics and a methodology that places the fixed self before the flux of creation. The final words of this important essay return to Milton. The open poets stand against the “poets for whom the self” is “cynosure” and “mystification” (78). The allusion is to Milton’s divine melancholic whose lyrical blackness cancels out the frivolous “cynosure” of L’Allegro (l.80). The “mystification” of the false poet is transmuted by Milton, in Il Penseroso, to a worship of the links between word and nature—into a truly hermetic poetic placing himself/herself amidst the cosmos. Il Penseroso seeks to revive a new Orpheus for a fallen age. The poetry of Reginald Shepherd does the same. Some have wandered off the track to lament (Romantically) what Reginald Shepherd’s poetry might have been…in years to come. They would be wiser to stay and consider the immense achievement of his poetry as it exists. The poetry of Reginald Shepherd has an hermetic density…like HD’s…which will endure because it was made with Hermes’ flame; and like HD he wrote against Death, bringing creation out of disorder.

6 comments:

JD said...

Another gifted one departs! May his soul rest. This was a nice tribute, Eshu... I remember some old posts you did on Reginald...

JD

Eshuneutics said...

Hello, JD, thank you for your kind observation. Hope you are well.

AlooFar said...

May his soul rest well.

Hi Eshu.

Jee Leong Koh said...

A thoughtful and heartfelt tribute. Thanks.

Eshuneutics said...

Hello, aloofar, hope you are well and reading all those books. (Your comments never show on my email account: sorry, I never see them until I return to my blog). Thanks for reading and leaving a response.

Eshuneutics said...

Hello, Jee, I hope you are in good health and your writing goes well. Kind wishes and thanks for reading the tribute.