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This review is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

VERY RIGHTLY WRONG REGINALD SHEPHERD, Wrong (University of Pittsburgh Press) $12.95

This is Reginald Shepherd's third collection since 1994. He is black and homosexual, and was brought up in an impoverished area of New York City. He has garnered many prizes and is an assistant professor at Cornell University. The Pitt series which publishes him has established itself as one of the places to watch for new talent (editors at the larger houses such as Norton no longer take many risks). Given some of these facts and the state of poetry in the U.S. one would expect a certain type of work from Shepherd: heavily autobiographical, an indignant or elegiac treatment of ethnic background and sexual orientation in period style free verse. But the poems gracefully refuse this stereotype and while autobiography plays an important role, it does so in unexpected ways.

On a formal level, however, the work is undistinguished, and his stanzaic patterns seem somewhat arbitrary. Perhaps connected with this is the impression that the poems have little integrity of their own and blend one into the other; exacerbating this is the uniformity of tone and atmosphere. This is not a criticism: the atmosphere and tone are new and original. In his exemplars and his practice, he represents something of a new strain in American poetry: strongly wedded to lyricism, yet refusing the voicings and techniques of the previous generation of poets in this tradition. For instance, W.H. Auden had a crucial influence on the generation of Hecht, Merrill, Wilbur and even Rich. So when Shepherd ...


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