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- Orpheus in the Bronx
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A volume in the Poets on Poetry series, which collects critical works by contemporary poets, gathering together the articles, interviews, and book reviews by which they have articulated the poetics of a new generation.
"Orpheus in the Bronx not only extols the freedom language affords us; it embodies that freedom, enacting poetry's greatest gift---the power to recognize ourselves as something other than what we are. These bracing arguments were written by a poet who sings."
A highly acute writer, scholar, editor, and critic, Reginald Shepherd brings to his work the sensibilities of a classicist and a contemporary theorist, an inheritor of the American high modernist canon, and a poet drawing and playing on popular culture, while simultaneously venturing into formal experimentation.
In the essays collected here, Shepherd offers probing meditations unified by a "resolute defense of poetry's autonomy, and a celebration of the liberatory and utopian possibilities such autonomy offers." Among the pieces included are an eloquent autobiographical essay setting out in the frankest terms the vicissitudes of a Bronx ghetto childhood; the escape offered by books and "gifted" status preserved by maternal determination; early loss and the equivalent of exile; and the formation of the writer's vocation. With the same frankness that he brings to autobiography, Shepherd also sets out his reasons for rejecting "identity politics" in poetry as an unnecessary trammeling of literary imagination. His study of the "urban pastoral," from Baudelaire through Eliot, Crane, and Gwendolyn Brooks, to Shepherd's own work, provides a fresh view of the place of urban landscape in American poetry.
Throughout his essays—as in his poetry—Shepherd juxtaposes unabashed lyricism, historical awareness, and in-your-face contemporaneity, bristling with intelligence.
Reginald Shepherd was the editor of The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries and Lyric Postmodernisms: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetries, and the author of five books of poetry, including Otherhood, a finalist for the 2004 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Some Are Drowning, winner of the 1993 Associated Writing Programs Award in Poetry; and, most recently, Fata Morgana. He was the recipient of grants from the NEA, the Illinois Arts Council, the Saltonstall Foundation, the Florida Arts Council, and the Vogelstein Foundation, among other awards and honors.
"'Identity politics is boring,' says Reginald Shepherd in a book that also asserts his identity as a gay, African-American poet. This is no contradiction: Orpheus in the Bronx not only extols the freedom language affords us; it embodies that freedom, enacting poetry's greatest gift---the power to recognize ourselves as something other than what we are. These bracing arguments were written by a poet who sings."
"Reginald Shepherd has easily established himself as one of [the] great poets of his generation. His masterly skill has evolved and needs absolutely no qualification based on gender, race, or sexuality."
---Crab Orchard Review
". . . a rich examination of the life and mind of a bold and unflinching artist."
---S. Michael Wilson, Scott's Bookshelf
Copyright © 2007, Reginald Shepherd. All rights reserved.
Read an article about the book on The Voice
Read about the book on the Poetry Foundation website
Read about the author on Lamba Literary