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Reginald Shepherd (1963-2008)

By Emily Warn

reginald%20blog%20photo.jpg
Reginald Shepherd died earlier this evening.
We will miss you, Reginald.
Reginald Shepherd’s Blog
Reginald Shepherd’s Harriet page
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
Reprinted from Fata Morgana by Reginald Shepherd, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2007 by Reginald Shepherd.

Comments (65)

  • On September 11, 2008 at 4:53 am suzanne wrote:

    a tremendous loss
    for all of us

  • On September 11, 2008 at 8:07 am Linh Dinh wrote:

    This is very sad. Your strength, intelligence, sanity and heart will be deeply missed.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 8:22 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    The astounding thing is how he kept writing, contributing here, right up until his last days. Despite everything he was going through.
    Kent

  • On September 11, 2008 at 9:56 am Don Share wrote:

    His poems, essays, and Harriet posts give ample testimony to how talented, vibrant, and intelligent Reginald was, even under great duress. But casual readers of Harriet may not realize how funny he was, and how bemused he was by all the hubbub he so slyly enjoyed stimulating.
    I owed him a phone call which I will always regret not making, but during what turned out to be our last conversation (in which he was quizzing me thoroughly about the New American Poets) … he was making Tater Tots for lunch. He asked me whether I like them or not, and being a good Memphian, I admitted that I certainly do. Gradually, I found myself involved in a detailed discussion of the Right Way to Cook Tater Tots! (Reginald believed in the slow-cooking method, in case you’re curious.)
    I know it sounds frivolous to tell such a story on this sad day, but it’s worth remembering how for Reginald Shepherd everything mattered. He loved a challenge and in meeting many of them was that rare thing, a gentle soul who was a great fighter.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 10:10 am Mary Meriam wrote:

    I met Reginald here at Harriet. He and I both loved and worked with Alvin Feinman at Bennington. Reginald and I had similar life struggles – gay, alone, poor. We had a brief but very heartfelt correspondence, I felt like he was a brother, and we hoped to meet someday. He was very kind, and yes, that’s a good way to put it, “a gentle soul who was a great fighter.” I know the fight against liver cancer is almost impossible to win. Dear Robert, I cried when I heard the news. I’m so sorry. I hope Reginald and Alvin are already deep in conversation up there.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 10:13 am Jane wrote:

    It’s a gift to be able to share ones life in print, it’s grace to share ones death.
    In my prayers
    RIP

  • On September 11, 2008 at 10:30 am Katy Evans-Bush wrote:

    This is such sad news. And writing to the end, so recently, both here and on his opwn blog. His bravery and his commitment – even in great pain – to language and meaning, and life itself, were humbling in the best sense. Larger than life, and may his spirit remain so.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 10:37 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Goodbye, Reginald. Somehow the energy of your writing gave the illusion that this could never really happen. I will miss your thoughtful voice around these parts.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 11:00 am James M wrote:

    This is terrible news — reading his blog updates (and so recently), I didn’t even consider this possibility. He will be missed.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 11:07 am Joshua Corey wrote:

    I too am shocked to learn of Reginald’s passing, in spite of the health problems he struggled with. And I also regret never having actually met him–we were supposed to meet at the AWP convention in Austin a couple of years ago, but miscommunicated and it never happened. He had something all the more rare for his willingness to show it and subject it to bruising and incomprehension: an exquisite sensibility. I will miss his contentiousness and grace.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 11:10 am Emily Warn wrote:

    I agree, Kent, it was astounding how he kept contributing right up to the end. This past Sunday he asked us to send him all of his Harriet posts by overnight mail. He wanted to see if any might be suitable for a second collection of his essays forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press. The book will consist of all of his essays written subsequently to the completion of Orpheus in the Bronx.
    Emily

  • On September 11, 2008 at 11:15 am Kenneth Goldsmith wrote:

    This is very tragic. I was often moved by Reginald’s sharing of his condition with us with such frankness on this blog. While I knew he was very sick, I had no idea that the end was so close. Such a loss.
    Kenneth

  • On September 11, 2008 at 11:49 am Mark Doty wrote:

    Like everyone here, I’m so saddened to hear about Reginald. He’s been such a strong, forthright struggler — and so productive, in these last couple of years — that it just seemed he’d be around forever. I think it must have been a real gift to him to find so many appreciative readers for his essays, blogs and poems; his work seems to have been just flourishing. I hope that everyone who cares about Reginald’s work will help keep it visible, keep passing it on,

  • On September 11, 2008 at 12:18 pm lynne procope wrote:

    Emily,
    Thank you so much for posting this. I think we’re all trying to find the balance of celebrating Reginald’s amazing gift to us and mourning his transition. This poem of all poems was a step toward that balance.
    Lynne

  • On September 11, 2008 at 12:25 pm Sandra Simonds wrote:

    Reginald
    Thank you for adding your spirit to the poetry world. We will miss you.
    Sandra

  • On September 11, 2008 at 12:53 pm Marilyn Hacker wrote:

    Reginald was a friend, a wit, a wag, a genius, a cousin (we said a few times). The eloquence and candour of the essays he posted here, wrote elsewhere, is only surpassed by (of course) the poems. Thank you, Emily, for posting “You, Therefore” — extraordinary, heartbreaking. My thoughts are with Robert today.
    Marilyn Hacker

  • On September 11, 2008 at 12:55 pm john wrote:

    Never met him, but corresponded briefly; he was kind. I enjoyed his contributions here, enjoyed arguing with him and agreeing with him, and the news of his passing comes as a horrible shock. I’ll miss him.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 1:12 pm Jilly wrote:

    my condolences to his friends and family.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 1:21 pm Collin Kelley wrote:

    My condolences to Reginald’s friends, family and his partner, Robert.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 1:55 pm Kevin Simmonds wrote:

    Brave, brilliant, generous…and remembered.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 2:07 pm Chris Stroffoino wrote:

    Reginald, I wish I had gotten a chance to say good bye to you. It’s been a long time, and physical distance divided us….I just wanted to say you were, you ARE, great

  • On September 11, 2008 at 3:09 pm Mairead Byrne wrote:

    One of a kind. Full of wit & intellect. Incorrigible. “Encased in talent like a uniform.”
    I knew him whe he was at Cornell. He came to Thanksgiving dinner *and* Christmas dinner!
    A very surprising guy, always. Now I’m shocked.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 4:57 pm Brian Salchert wrote:

    Reginald Shepherd and Robert Philen have been in my deepest thoughts for several months.
    When I read that cells in Reginald’s liver were cancerous, I sensed his Earth-alive existence
    might soon pass; but alive he is beyond our comminglings/ and also because of them.
    [Pause.]
    The closest I ever came to Reginald was
    through a comment I posted on his blog (web log) about this poem
    (though that one may have been a different version of this poem)
    and his pleased comment in response.
    Safety and strength, Robert Philen.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 5:10 pm Rich Villar wrote:

    I would find myself in equal parts yelling at my screen, and equal parts nodding in agreement, at Mr. Shepherd’s ruminations here on Harriet. (I don’t think he would have liked it if I’d called him “Reginald” without meeting him in person.) More than anything, he made me want to love poetry as deeply as he did, and what more could any poet, any PERSON, do in service of the craft? I knew him primarily for his criticism, but the handfuls of his poems I’ve read and heard out loud absolutely took/take my breath away. Thank you, Mr. Shepherd.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 5:57 pm Michael Robbins wrote:

    Peace & poetry, Mr. Shepherd.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 6:12 pm glenn morzzini wrote:

    He had worked with me for some time in his meticulous kind manner. He had called just the other Saturday to say he had not “blown me off” that he had ben too ill to respond. He went out of his way in his kindnesses. I was readying some poems for him to give me his feedback.
    He had such courage and deceny. And now I say to him what he signed his responses off to me: peace and poetry.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 7:12 pm Michael Gushue wrote:

    So,so sorry to hear this. I only knew him from his writing, but he was amazing, open and thoughtful, and a fighter.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 7:23 pm D A Powell wrote:

    Such a gracious young man. Reginald dealt with all sorts of adversity, and yet he had about him an eternal spirit of optimism. When last we spoke, we planned to have tea at AWP in Chicago. I knew it was bravery on his part, with illness already gaining so quickly upon him. But still I wrote on my calendar “tea with Reginald,” not wanting the opportunity to pass.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 8:03 pm Amy Scattergood wrote:

    For the last 15 years, since I met Reginald and his poetry at Iowa, lines of his have eddied, disappeared and resurfaced–“Knock on the moon and the stars/ come out of clouds to guide his barque,/ knock on the stars and the door is opened/ to a temple in Ephesus where a coffined wife’s cabochon/ has navigated Neptune’s sea of asterisks and breakers,”–as he has, via emails and new books. Even as they drifted, they had a beautiful permanence. They still do.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 8:19 pm Allan Peterson wrote:

    Had he not told us, holding back nothing, about his myriad challenges and setbacks, it would not have been deduced from his writings. His last posts and essays were as keen and insightful as ever.
    Peace and Poetry as Reginald always said…

  • On September 11, 2008 at 9:29 pm Julian Bernick wrote:

    Reginald was my first, and in some ways my only friend during my first year at Iowa. There are no words to explain what a comfort, a friend and a teacher he was for me during an extremely rough time (it was a bad, bad year, mostly due to non-Iowa things.) He was so funny, so honest, so passionate about poetry and thought, language and speech. Over the years, we lost touch, perhaps because I was never as dedicated to poetry as he was (ha! and who could be?)
    But I will always remember him as a lonely broke guy who took a younger lonely broke guy under his wing because he knew he could make a difference… the world is just a smaller place without him.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 10:14 pm dorian allworthy wrote:

    “OH lonely death on lonely life – sometimes I feel my top most greatness is in my top most despair’
    Captain ahab.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 10:32 pm Brad Richard wrote:

    Reginald and I became friends several years ago, after he selected my work for a Poets & Writers award. His generosity, wit, brilliance, and deep kindness are things I’ll treasure, and it’s very moving to read so many similar testimonials here. He made me glad to be a poet, by reminding me of how important and transformative poetry is, in all its otherness.
    Reginald, I’m sure these aren’t the last words I’ll have to offer about you. I only wish you were going to hear them. And that all of us were going to have more of yours. The hurt of losing you is deep, but I’m glad you’re past pain. As others have said, peace and poetry, my friend.
    Robert, you know my thoughts and love are with you.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 10:44 pm Evie Shockley wrote:

    I knew that Reginald was going into hospice, but had indulged in the idea that it would be for a period long enough to write him at least once more, to thank him for the poems and interview in the most recent APR, as well as for the whole body of his writing and the whole spirit of his not-wholly-cooperative body. I was almost happy to see comments here addressed to him — *of course* he’s reading this blog! Certainly that would be one of the pleasures of the other side!
    So to Reginald I say: Thank you, for who you were and for what you’ve left on paper to console us. I’m sad (and also angry) that 45 years was all you had — but you certainly made the most of them!!
    To Robert — my heartfelt sympathies and wishes for you to find strength and, soon, peace.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 11:03 pm Vivek Narayanan wrote:

    It’s heartbreaking to think that he’s left, to think about how he entered my thoughts, how brightly he blazed this last year.

  • On September 11, 2008 at 11:38 pm Scott Miller wrote:

    Reginald was my mentor for six months, and I also had the privilege of introducing his faculty reading at Antioch – though I still feel it did not do justice to the man’s work. There wasn’t a topic in poetry – or in classical music – that Reginald couldn’t discuss. He challenged me to be a better writer and a better critical thinker. Sometimes his genius was infuriating – Reginald always gave me the raw truth. For a guy who claimed to dislike confrontation, he sure was good at it! Thank you, Reginald. I wish I had thought of something to say sooner.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 12:22 am Yerra Sugarman wrote:

    Dear friend, genius, luminous soul mate and one of the best minds and most gifted poets of his generation. His rare intellect was vast and without borders. He could see the whole picture with spectacular clarity, openness and great erudition. His mind was uniquely rich, his vision extraordinarily large, his wit unforgettable and his talent profound. I value all of our time together and all of our conversations. I am so lucky and honored to have known him.
    My thoughts are with Robert whose commitment to Reginald has made me understand more deeply what love is.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 2:05 am James Wagner wrote:

    His work was rare, in that it moved smoothly in thoughtful, yet tactile, arenas. His work was hard to pin down. You couldn’t call it straight narrative; it wasn’t experimental, really. But it was jagged and searching and mysterious, and strong, and unafraid of expressing emotion, though it was always well-earned.
    I never spoke with him. I never emailed him, nor he, me. I read probably only a book’s worth of his poems spread out over the years in various magazines in print and online, but I found myself strangely distracted today, and, even odder, tearful, and I don’t cry easily. So it’s a strange thing, really, to find oneself mildly crying, even if briefly, over the loss of a poet one never knew. There’s really no excuse for it, nor is there any excuse for his death.
    RIP
    James Wagner

  • On September 12, 2008 at 3:05 am Alicia (AE) wrote:

    It was an honor and education to blog with Reginald, however briefly. What a reminder that behind the “blogosphere” and the fast and furious exchanges are real human beings… Condolences to his family, friends and partner.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 3:53 am Carrie Etter wrote:

    Afternoons with magazines, I inevitably came upon at least one of Reginald’s poems and always stopped for it, always knew I’d be glad for it. I’ll miss that invigorating presence.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 7:57 am Ann Townsend wrote:

    Travel safely, Reginald. My sympathy and condolences to Robert, and to his family of friends.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 8:38 am Mairead Byrne wrote:

    He adored poetry.
    When he came to dinner suddenly many bottles of pills were on the table. He wasn’t the least reverent about them. He was candid. The pills went down & the outrageous bemused comments bubbled up.
    I was in awe of the hugeness of his decisions & judgements. What would have seemed like crippling losses to me, unimaginable even, just seemed part & parcel of his lightness, even though he was portly. He needed health insurance but was *certainly* bigger than his job.
    Robert, I don’t think we have met. I was very happy for Reginald when he found you, & read many loving references to you in the years since then, right up to his last published words. Please accept my deep sympathy for your loss, & poetry’s.
    Mairead

  • On September 12, 2008 at 9:02 am Daisy Fried wrote:

    Rest in peace, Reginald.
    Daisy

  • On September 12, 2008 at 9:11 am Pris Campbell wrote:

    Fly with the stars.
    Pris

  • On September 12, 2008 at 9:39 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    A gracious reader and poetic correspondent.
    In peace,

  • On September 12, 2008 at 10:04 am Joan Houlihan wrote:

    I’m devastated. We met seven years ago and built a lasting friendship, one that I so needed and was so honored to have. I’m moved to read that he touched so many people in the same way, with his brilliance, kindness, honesty and incredible generosity. We were all lucky to have him here, this beautiful man, however briefly. Thank you, Reginald.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 10:27 am Russell Ragsdale wrote:

    A voice animated by the peaceful power of intelligence is quiet today. Sadly we pull the covers close and morn a world that has suddenly grown too tightly near but a good deal less warm.
    Reginald IS in peace and poetry

  • On September 12, 2008 at 10:44 am Tim Lilburn wrote:

    His erudition was such a treasure. What a genrous mind.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 12:10 pm Alan Contreras wrote:

    I corresponded with Reginald for several years and last year arranged for him to speak at the University of Oregon. Unfortunately his illness intervened, so we never met. I feel the absence of that meeting as a great weight today. For some reason I kept almost every e-mail we sent back and forth. I think I will assemble them as a whole and read through them in order to feel his unique light wash over me again. Seldom have I encountered such a pure, shining intelligence. Seldom, too, a person less ready to depart, which makes his loss seem unjust.
    One of the more recent entries on my Oregon Review blog was a short review of his Orpheus in the Bronx. I’m glad he saw that.
    If Pitt or some other publisher contemplates a collected works (and what works they are!), count me in as an underwriter.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 1:05 pm Carolyn Matthews wrote:

    Reginald
    Who on my Stonecoast graduation night
    danced on a cane like James Brown
    like a Dancin’ Machine
    winding up all that motion
    into another brilliance
    Who did not like to be called “Reggie”
    you were the dark genius
    the dissonant light
    seated at the head of the table
    on the very first row of a reading
    in the middle of an ocean
    you were the crescendo
    How can we not hear
    you sleep?

  • On September 12, 2008 at 1:21 pm Lucia wrote:

    Reginald’s intellect humbled me. The fact that it could emanate from a body in such extremity is doubly humbling. Amidst all the ephemera of cyberspace, he wrote criticism that matters. His loss turns me back to his books, his beautiful, durable gifts to the world.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 1:40 pm Craig Morgan Teicher wrote:

    I hope Reginald knew how much he will be missed. I only knew him a little bit–we corresponded a little about each others poems, met at a couple of AWPs, and then he wrote a review for me of Mark Doty’s last book for PW. It seems clear to me that, for him, poetry was a lifeline in a way it is for very few of us. Thinking of him reminds me of how lucky I feel to have poetry in my life. Somehow, too, his death seems like such a surprise, even though it wasn’t. He was one of the presences in the poetry community that one felt would simply always be there. Again, I hope he knew how powerful his absence would be.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 2:04 pm edward mycue wrote:

    Sad news indeed. edward mycue

  • On September 12, 2008 at 3:52 pm Ruben Quesada wrote:

    this is heartbreaking. very sad news. may he rest in peace.

  • On September 12, 2008 at 8:06 pm Corey Spaley wrote:

    Damn. Though I didn’t know him personally, he seemed to be great man and a great poet.

  • On September 13, 2008 at 10:14 am Anonymous wrote:

    The last time I saw Reginald was at the AWP in NYC this past February and we, like so many here, made future plans for getting together, for debate, for exchanging work, etc. Fittingly, our last correspondence was via the the virtual world of email…From now on, the even more virtual world of writings passing one another…
    Tyrone

  • On September 13, 2008 at 11:02 am Robert Montoya wrote:

    Reginald was both my MFA mentor and good friend–he never failed to push me intellectually, changing the way I think about, not only literature, but life in general. Though his life was far too short, he made more out of his time than most people who have the opportunity to live twice as long. His passion was unceasing, and his love for literature, music, and people was unending.
    I will miss you, my friend. Terribly. Much love to Robert Philen (who Reginald always called “my Robert”).

  • On September 13, 2008 at 12:17 pm Jasper wrote:

    I miss him.
    http://jasperbernes.blogspot.com/2008/09/reginald-shepherd-1963-2008.html

  • On September 13, 2008 at 5:00 pm rick campbell wrote:

    I had the good fortune to spend many days and evenings with Reginald. I’ve been bear hugged by him, shared meals with him (which were always adventurous) and talked to of him many things. It’s not enough though, There should have been more of everything.
    Rick Campbell

  • On September 13, 2008 at 10:00 pm James Hoch wrote:

    What an utterly prepared mind he brought to the world of American poetry. What a spacious and prepared mind. He took his role here, and his role as poet-critic in such a positively unique level of seriousness. I am sad to know of his passing, but happy to have listened so closely to his speech.

  • On September 14, 2008 at 11:54 am Susan Rich wrote:

    I knew Reginald only through his blog. I was taken with such a strong mind and heart speaking to me through the medium not usually transmitting something as powerful as his words. Close to the same time as Reginald’s death, another poet, Martin Blackman, also died of the same disease. Martin was my friend and former student. I keep picturing them together waiting for their flight to whatever comes next…

  • On September 14, 2008 at 8:42 pm Boyd Nielson wrote:

    This is indeed a loss. And what courage to write from beginning to end.

  • On September 15, 2008 at 12:17 pm Philip Memmer wrote:

    Such sad news. Reggie was the first poet ever to read at the Downtown Writer’s Center here in Syracuse, and was tremendous on any number of levels. He’ll be deeply missed.

  • On September 15, 2008 at 8:04 pm cathy park hong wrote:

    I am deeply saddened by the news of his death. I didn’t know him personally but I always admired his uncompromising intellect and ferocious talent from afar. He will be remembered.

  • On September 19, 2008 at 12:10 am Jeffrey Daniels wrote:

    A great poet. Shepherd and Mills, Chicago will miss you.


Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, September 11th, 2008 by Emily Warn.