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by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog


after Jean Valentine

What will I call you
when you are gone?
How will I know your name?
Little star, reflection
on the Sea of Galilee,
a lantern in the wood, half-hid,
reflecting on what can’t be
touched, be known?
And the sheen of milk
across the sky, the galaxy poured out
like me, true sky, false dawn,
and a young woman’s nipple,
star of milk, star of a
nursing child’s mouth, my
child, my lord, whoever
you may be today, tonight
which will not end, a cup
passed to me, from which I may
or may not drink, half-empty
star, still asleep by now?
And your small body, Emmanuel,
how small my heart
to fit inside yours)
lie there, pearled, asleep…
How I want to believe.
(a pearl, an irritant).

Note on "God-With-Us:" This was the last poem Reginald wrote. He wrote it while in the hospital, about two weeks before he died. It was read at his memorial service by his longtime friend Jocelyn Emerson. Robert Philen

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Robert Duncan and Me

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

I have always had a fondness for verbal extravagance in poetry, for rhetorical splendor and a fine excess. One should be suspicious of such excess to a certain extent (Eliot wrote that a poet should always be suspicious of language), lest it descend into mere self-indulgence. But ours is, in French novelist Nathalie Sarraute’s phrase, an age of suspicion, in which intensity of feeling and expression is an embarrassment, at best an admission of lack of discipline and self-control, at worst an invalidation of whatever one may have to say. “You’re being so emotional,” people say, as if to feel strongly cancels out the worth of one’s thoughts, arguments, or positions.

As Lani Guinier, Clinton’s failed nominee for attorney general, said in a 1994 interview in the magazine Vibe, “if you show too much emotion of whatever kind, that then defines you forever, and you don’t have the opportunity to present yourself in any nuanced or multifaceted way.” It sometimes seems that to express emotion, let alone passion, is to be marked as de trop by definition. Emotion is only allowed vicarious (and stereotyped) emotional expression by means of music, movies, and television, which offer up reified, commodified (and sterilized) versions of feeling. As Roland Barthes, as quoted in the Financial Times, of all places, once said, “What the public wants is not passion but the appearance of passion.”

Robert Duncan is a passionate poet and a poet of passion, verbal, emotional, and intellectual. His work is sometimes dismissed as sentimental. Critic M.L. Rosenthal so dismissed the opening lines of “A Sequence of Poems for H.D.’s 73rd Birthday,” from Roots and Branches [Rosenthal mis-cites the poem’s title], in his 1967 book The New Poets:

The young Japanese son was in love with a servant boy.
To be in love! Dont you remember how the whole world is governed
by a fact that embraces
everything that happens?

The passage goes in this vein for several more lines, concluding with “And youth in love with youth!” before veering off in a more mystical direction. Rosenthal’s discussion, in which “I will not say that such a passage is an imposition on the heterosexual reader” (as if homosexual readers have not been imposed upon for centuries), and in which he denigrates the passage’s emotional exuberance as a “girlish outcry,” has more than a whiff of homophobia—the expression of homosexual passion or desire is by definition “too much,” “excessive.” Rosenthal is more approving when Duncan writes of the pain and shame of homosexual desire, as in “Sonnet 1”:

Now there is a Love of which Dante does not speak unkindly,
Tho it grieves his heart to think upon men
who lust after men and run.

Sometimes Duncan’s poetry is sentimental. That is to say, sometimes the excess feels gross rather than fine, willful rather than felt, like a performance. As Wallace Stevens noted, sentimentality is not a surplus of feeling but a failure of feeling. But that is not Duncan at his best.

I am impressed by the unabashed and unembarrassed lyrical and emotional exuberance of Duncan’s poetry, the utter absence of irony or defensive self-consciousness. Not that Duncan is unself-consciousness (far from it), but self-awareness is not used as a shield or a weapon. As poet Brian Teare writes in his essay “A Drama of Truth”, “it’s Duncan’s lack of irony about his vocation, as well as [about] the possibilities and functions of both imagination and language, that makes him most vulnerable to our postmodern distrust.” On his web log, The Rest Is Noise, music critic Alex Ross writes in similar terms about Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini that, “despite his popularity, [Puccini] creates discomfort in this hyper-stylized, ironic age, because he deals in direct emotion, [and] avoids ideology and moralism.”

Long ago an undergraduate poetry professor told us not to let irony become a pet, which too many poets these days have done: that is, when they haven’t in fact become irony’s pets. Irony is too often used as an evasion, a way to disclaim responsibility for one’s statements and one’s feelings, or even for pretending one doesn’t have feelings, which can be so disruptive, even disturbing, so messy and uncool. As Louise Glück has written from a more generous-minded viewpoint, “Too often distaste for sentiment, anxiety at the limitations of the self, create contempt for feeling, as though feeling were what was left over after the great work of the mind was finished” (“Foreword” to Frail-Craft by Jessica Fisher, xv).

While Eliot wrote that “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion,” he also pointed out that “only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things” (Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, 43). Too many younger American poets want not just to escape from emotions but to have none. Flippancy and sarcasm can be a way of dealing with emotional pain, of distancing it and making it easier to handle, in the way that one dons protective gear to handle volatile materials. They’re very popular in American poetry today. But there are more challenging and interesting ways to engage emotion while avoiding sentimentality. Being cool doesn’t leave much room for depth or exploration, for risk or for surprising oneself. As Marianne Moore writes in her essay “Idiosyncrasy and Technique,” “We are suffering from too much sarcasm, I feel. Any touch of unfeigned gusto in our smart press is accompanied by an arch word implying, ‘Now to me, of course, this is a bit asinine.’... Blessed is the man who does not sit in the seat of the scoffer.” Irony and sarcasm aren’t the same thing, though they’re often confused. Irony always takes what it addresses seriously.

In Duncan’s poetry, one affected not so much by the feeling per se (anyone can feel, or almost anyone), but by the willingness to be seen to feel, the open performance of feeling (the poem, after all, is not a person—it feels nothing, though at its best it embodies and enacts emotion and thought and their interactions), a feeling that may appear excessive or inappropriate from a less sympathetic point of view. But Duncan, at his best, makes his excesses artful, his inappropriateness movingly defiant rather than embarrassing, as it so easily could be.

When I wrote “You, Therefore,” which I reproduce below, and which is included in my book Fata Morgana, I was reading a great deal of early Duncan, specifically The Years as Catches: First Poems (1939-1946), published in 1966 by Oyez and now out of print, and The First Decade: Selected Poems 1940-1950, published by Fulcrum Press in 1968 and now also out of print. Duncan always remains open to the immediacy of the moment of composition—“I sought to liberate in language natural powers of the poem itself…in the excitement of the music, I was transported beyond the model into the presence of the poetic intention itself”—even if that transport sometimes leads him astray, into what could be considered poetic error: “It is all wrong my intelligence protests, but it is a commanding confession of my true state.”

The “crisis of truth and permission” of which Duncan writes is one with which I have struggled all my life as a writer, though I have usually taken care (perhaps too much care) not to let permission permit error. But nonetheless, reading these early poems of Duncan’s gave me a permission, allowed me (in poet John Gallaher’s phrase) to write “You, Therefore,” a more open, less careful, and less guarded poem than I usually allowed myself:

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

That, and the security of a real-life interlocutor to my words, the knowledge that I was no longer speaking to and into an absence, or at best a phantom presence I had myself to conjure up. I was no longer writing simulacra of feelings I imagined having about men I’d never met or men who never existed, mourning lost loves I’d never had. This real presence provides the possibility of the poetic projection of male homoeroticism as a mode of transcendence and even salvation in the company of a beloved other rather than of abjection and self-abnegation before unattainable figures of a real but too highly figured, and always blocked, desire.

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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Speech After Long Silence

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

My recent extended absence from this blog, and from the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog, has been due to severe illness (the worst of my life, including my colon cancer) and a long hospital stay.

The short version: I was in the hospital for over a month, and almost died during the first week. According to my infectious disease doctor, by the odds, and given everything that was happening to me at once, I should be dead.

The long version: Around April 14 I suffered a perforation of my small intestine which filled my abdominal cavity with unfriendly bacteria and led to a bad case of peritonitis, an inflammation of the intestinal tract. No one knows why or even exactly when the perforation occurred, so no one knows whether it might happen again, let alone how to keep it from recurring. The bacteria spread to my circulatory system, and I developed a nearly fatal case of septicemia, blood poisoning. I had three surgeries to clean out my abdomen over the course of ten days, including a resectioning that removed part of my small intestine (in addition to the portion of my colon that was removed in November along with my tumor) because it was irreparably infected. I was so swollen and distended that I couldn’t be fully closed up after the first two procedures, because the internal pressure would have been too great. Before the first operation, my blood pressure collapsed (to something like 40 over 20), I had a heart attack, and my kidneys briefly stopped functioning; immediately after the second procedure, as I was coming out of anesthesia, I had a seizure. For quite a while I was on a ventilator, because I couldn’t breathe on my own. The surgeon also discovered a bone fragment in my liver, probably the cause of some of my pain in that region.

I was unconscious or semi-conscious at most for all of this, so I have no memory of these events. I only know they happened because Robert (and my doctors) told me about them. Indeed, Robert knows more about what happened to me than I do, since he was there, while I wasn’t, at least not in any meaningful sense. I remember waking up at one point while Robert, who came to see me every day for as long as they would let him stay, was with me in the intensive care unit, and asking how long I’d been there. “Two weeks,” he replied.

That I could have died and not even known I was dying, not known that anything was happening at all, is terrifying to me, even more than the (quite terrifying in itself) knowledge that I almost died itself. There’s an element of adding primal insult to injury in the thought that my own death wouldn’t even be part of my experience, as if it weren’t mine at all.

For me, writing all this down has the dual and perhaps contradictory effect of simultaneously bringing these events closer and keeping them at a distance; it serves both to internalize and to externalize what happened to me. Writing something down, achieving the mental distance to give it shape and form, is a way to gain control over experience, rather than be overwhelmed by it. But I didn’t experience these things at the time; my knowledge of them is all after the fact. So writing this is also a way of making these experiences mine, of internalizing these events so that they become part of my experience. It makes them simultaneously more real (more mine) and less real (less crushing).

Illness is in general not interesting, though it is painful, time-consuming, and overwhelming, capable of taking over one's life. But some of the mind’s ways of coping with the body’s utter helplessness are fascinating. I was very heavily sedated for the first two weeks or so of my hospital stay, largely for my own protection—so that I wouldn’t, for example, try to rip the breathing tube out of my throat. (My wrists were in restraints for the same reason.) One strong effect of the sedation was to produce very vivid and often frightening hallucinations. At first, the hallucinations were distinct from reality, and I was often aware that I was in an hallucination. One involved playing a game based on the Disney animated series Kim Possible, about a high school cheerleader who also saves the world on a regular basis. I was on a high-speed train whose tracks were the ceiling tracks to which the hospital curtains were attached. If I could finish the game successfully, I would be able to escape the hallucination and get back to reality. But of course I couldn’t, so I was trapped. I had another hallucination that I was in the car with Robert (I could sense his presence but I couldn’t see or hear him—I spent a lot of time in my hallucinations looking for him, knowing that he was somewhere just out of reach), going from restaurant to restaurant all over town to compare their food, except that the windows were completely opaque and the car never moved. I was just stuck there, knowing that there was a world outside the car, but unable to reach it, though I could place orders for food I’d never get to eat or even see.

As I became more conscious, the hallucinations began to merge with the reality of my immersion in the intensive care unit. This was a bad thing, as the lines between hallucination and reality became more and more blurred, and I could never figure out whether something was real or a delusion. I became convinced that, as in some horror movie in which an autopsy is performed on a man who is paralyzed but still alive, the hospital and its staff were trying to kill me. Robert tells me that they would ask if I wanted any pain medicine (I was in constant agony) and I would shake my head in wide-eyed terror, fearing what they might inject me with. He’d then ask me and I’d nod yes. (I trusted him.) That they gave me the shots despite my refusals further convinced me of their evil intentions. When the nurse took out the breathing tube on which I’d been dependent, I accused her of trying to kill me. When she denied trying to suffocate me, I cried out (with a strength that apparently surprised everyone) “You lie!” When Robert pointed out fifteen minutes or so later that I was still alive, I considered the situation, and then replied, “Sometimes it takes a while to die.”

For much of this time I couldn’t even talk, because of the breathing tube down my throat (at times I was partially paralyzed, doubtless by all the sedation). Even when the breathing tube was taken out, I could only manage a few whispered, labored words before being overwhelmed by exhaustion. I got a clipboard and some paper from the nurses and would try to write messages like “Don’t kill me” and “I can speak,” but they just came out as scrawls and scribbles, because my limbs were so weak and atrophied.

As the days went by and I became more lucid, I would test my delusions to see whether I had gotten back to reality. I became more fully aware of Robert during his visits, which was a great relief—as I wrote above, I spent a lot of my time while unconscious searching for him. (Robert tells me that even when I was unconscious I would sometimes wake for a few seconds, and if he was there I would touch and even grab him, to make sure that he was real. Sometimes I almost choked him.) I remember one day in particular during which I felt a great sense of relief—“Okay, this is actually real”—until something happened (I can’t remember what) and I realized, “Oh no, I’m still in a delusion.” When the random patterns on the acoustic ceiling tiles stopped looking as if someone had covered the tiles with every possible word or phrase (in several languages) that began with the letter “I” (including every pop song title imaginable), then I knew I had finally returned to reality, though prior to that day there were several occasions on which I wanted to point out to Robert how clever how clever whoever had created that ceiling palimpsest was.

That, though, only takes me to about three weeks into my hospital stay, the rest of which was taken up with recovery and rehabilitation. And though I am finally at home, the road to wellness is long and winding. I have a large open wound along the entire length of my abdomen (it makes my colon surgery scar look like a little scratch), covered by a substantial dressing that must be changed by a registered nurse three times a week (a delicate and uncomfortable procedure). The wound is drained by a vacuum pump that is my newest and most indispensible fashion accessory; this must be detached and reattached each time the dressing is changed, and must provide an airtight seal. (The wound is apparently healing well—the nurses who’ve changed the dressing keep saying how “nice” it is.) And given the extent and intensity of my infections, I will be receiving daily intravenous antibiotic infusions into the foreseeable future—as of now, the medication has no stop date. Thanks to home health care, these are things that can be tended to in my own home. Thanks to a modicum of health insurance coverage, these are essentials to which I can actually (though just barely) afford access.

There is always the pain: dull, sharp, throbbing, stabbing, gradually building or suddenly overwhelming, ranging from the persistently uncomfortable to the excruciating. One day a physical therapist asked me, “Do you have pain?” I had to explain that the question isn’t whether I have pain, but how much pain, what kind of pain, and where. Even with the various painkillers I’ve been on continuously since my admission to the hospital, painkillers I’m now in the process of trying to wean myself from, since they’re addictive and also cause constipation of epic proportions, I’ve yet to have a day free of pain. It’s only recently that I’ve had any extended respites from pain. But though the pain subsides, it never entirely goes away. There is also the exhaustion brought on by the simplest household tasks, like walking from one room to another, due to the atrophying of my limbs after a month of lying in a very uncomfortable hospital bed. I spent a substantial amount of my time and energy in the hospital learning how to sit up again, how to stand again, how to walk again, regained skills which I now practice many times a day just going from one room to another in my house.

I don’t know how to end this piece, especially given that the story hasn’t ended—I don’t know how things will turn out, though I’m told that I’m healing well. Perhaps that optimistic note is the best place to stop.

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We have a big announcement to make.

We're moving!

As you may or may not know, our current address includes the indicator of "Suite B1". And yes, "B" stands for basement. (But to be fair, this isn't the dark, spider-filled basement that nightmares are made of...as far as basements go, this one is pretty suite ;) We've enjoyed our time here, and we like the location. But it's time to go.

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Someplace warm or on a beach?

Someplace right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the CLE?

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Recent Publications of Reginald Shepherd's Work

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

I suppose I should have publicized these a bit earlier, but I don't always have it completely together lately. In any case, there have been a number of publications of Reginald's poetry and essays since his death last fall.

Five of Reginald's poems are anthologized in American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry, edited by Cole Swensen and David St. John. The poems included are: "Direction of Fall," "A Parking Lot Just Outside the Ruins of Babylon," "The Tendency of Dropped Objects to Fall," "Turandot," and "You Also, Nightingale."

"My Mother Dated Otis Redding" was published in Volume 7/2008 of Margie: The American Journal of Poetry.

"The Invisible Diva," an essay on Kate Bush, was included in the essay collection My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women who Inspire Them, edited by Michael Montlack.

Several biographical essays about gay poets have been published in LGBTQ America Today: An Encyclopedia. Reginald's essay entries include those on Donald Britton, Hart Crane, Tim Dlugos, Timothy Liu, Carl Phillips, D. A. Powell, Brian Teare, and Mark Wunderlich.

The Fascination of What's Difficult

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

The question of difficulty is one with which I wrestle constantly. I want to communicate in my poems—I can’t imagine writing without the desire to reach someone (nor could Paul Celan, a very “difficult” poet)--but at the same time I don't want to pander, and I don't want to do or say things in the conventional or expected ways. No one should set out to write difficult poetry (that’s just to provoke), any more than one should set out to write easy poetry (that’s just to pander). One should follow the lead and the needs of the poem at hand.

I don't think that any good poet intends to be difficult (or that any good poet intends to be "easy"), but I also think that difficulty is sometimes both unavoidable and necessary when one is trying to get at something complex, to say something that doesn't already have an already available vocabulary (it's usually a bad thing when something does have that conveniently at-hand language), or just when one tries to approach something in a unique and distinctive way, which good poems always try to do. T.S. Eliot said that genuine poetry can communicate before it's understood, and that's certainly been my experience. If one feels the poem, the conviction of its language and its emotions, as I felt “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” when I first read it, that can lead to understanding—at least, that's the only reason one would want to understand it, the only reason one would care. It's like the experience of listening to music: we don't necessarily "understand" it, but we immerse ourselves in it and it affects us.

Much of what people say about "accessibility" is very condescending, as if "ordinary people" (whoever they are—certainly not us) are incapable of grasping or appreciating something complex, as if they're too dumb to connect with anything that has any nuance. I don’t think that poetry should be difficult, but I do think that it should be as complex as the world is. Poetry should live up to, enrich and illuminate the world, not simplify or flatten it out, which too many poems of all camps do (and probably always have—despite the perennial narratives of cultural decline, good poetry, real poetry, is a rare thing and always has been).

These days there is too often a cultural leveling, in which the notion of "equality" means that everything must be "equivalent," and all cultural products must appeal to the lowest common denominator—which is also highly patronizing, assuming that "the masses" can neither be interested in nor understand anything complex or challenging. This kind of thinking seems to function largely to displace desires for equality and democracy from the social realm to the aesthetic: a bracketing not everyone can afford. I have heard people assert that writing complex poetry is equivalent to writing in Chaucerian English (as if complexity were something obsolete which we must move past), and that difficult poetry is "unfair to the mental capacities of non-poets." Such condescending attitudes would discourage anyone from trying to read poetry—no one wants to be looked down upon.

The popularity of crossword puzzles, sudoku, video and computer games, and even convoluted television programs like 24 and The Sopranos indicates that people do in fact enjoy mental challenges. But, when people think about poetry (which is not often), and when they think of it as other than Hallmark card verse, there is the assumption that poetry is more difficult than other things (though many television commercials are more difficult to "read" than most poems), that only egghead intellectuals can enjoy or understand it, and that it has no "relevance" to "real life." That "relevance" (or "life," for that matter) could be a much broader category than simple and immediate identification is rarely considered.

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One of the Lesser Epics

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

As those who have been reading this blog know, near-fatal illness, a hospital stay of over a month, and a long and ongoing recovery process have kept me from blogging for quite a while. Although I intend to post here as I am able and have things of interest to say, things will be quiet here for a while, since I see no point in a day-to-day journal of my recovery. (As I've written before, for me at least, being sick, while it can be miserable, painful, exhausting, and draining, is usually not very interesting.)

In the meanwhile, I am posting for the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog again, and my musings, such as they are, can be found there throughout the summer. Given my current financial state and my mounting medical expenses, that venue takes priority, as it pays.

I want to thank everyone who has directly or through this blog expressed their concern, support, and good wishes for my health and my recovery. Crises can either bring out the best in people or the worst; I've been very lucky in that mine has brought out the best in people near and far. Your support, knowing that there are people I've never even met in person, who care about my welfare and my well-being, has meant a great deal to me. I haven't the time or the energy to respond to everyone individually, but I want you to know how much this outpouring of support has meant to me. So thank you, thank you all.

I'm closing with a poem included in my most recent book, Fata Morgana, from which this post takes its title. I feel as if for the past two months at least, and probably the past year or so, I've been on some kind of minor-level (to the universe, not to me) odyssey, destination as yet unknown. But the love of my darling Robert and the support of friends near, far, and wide have made the journey much easier.


Love doesn’t need this yellowed sodium lamp
humming on the roadside winter’s five o’clock
to find the way when I am clambering myself
out of the garish hells which I’ve domesticated,
assorted underworlds in which I’ve domiciled
my monopolies of suffering, memory’s
scares and stall tactics: love finds the way by smell
or sound of you, touch of an index finger
on your freckled forearm, remembering skin,
every quirk of asphalt, tarmac, macadam
leads back to you, the light as it came upon us
all afterthought. I’ve given every person
place and thing your name, you answer to them
willingly. Then we become the sunlight
(we’ve come from that far away), scattered
so widely, as easily dispersed.
Surely someone will be saved.

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Minjung Seo - Bowdoin Music Festival

Minjung Seo - Bowdoin Music Festival

Bowdoin Music Festival

Pianist Minjung Seo has earned critical acclaim as a collaborative pianist and chamber musicians as well as a soloist. She was praised as “…a fine touch and great sensitivity” by Chatham Star Tribune and “brilliant” by New & Record. As a recipient of the Samuel Sanders Collaborative Pianists Award, Seo has participated as a pianist and coach in multiple performances at the …

What's in a Name? Part One

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

Steven Burt’s January post "all-name team" on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog, and the posts I did in February here on this blog on gay poetry post identity politics, have had me musing about identity, social and personal, and about the role names play in producing identity. I’ve been thinking about names, what they are and what they do. As Burt points out, poetry is a kind of naming, and naming is in turn a kind of poetry. In poems, names are like magic talismans that contain and convey the essence of the thing named. So when two things are given the same name, then they are or become the same. And when the name changes, then the thing named changes.

The thought of changing names and things, in turn, has me thinking of my own name (everything makes me think of me), the changes it has undergone over the course of my life, and a couple of people with whom I share that name, whom I’m quite sure are not the same, as me or as each other. But when I look myself up, there they are. And when I look up the wrong spelling of my name, some other version of me, there I am anyway, as if I were two people who’ve led the same life, or at least who’ve published the same things in the same places. As Steve Burt points out, “Titles, names, labels ask questions, and raise possibilities.” So who are the possible me’s my name makes possible?


I was born Reginald Berry on the morning of April 10, 1963. Berry was my unmarried mother’s last name; like the protagonist of Diana Ross and the Supremes’ “Love Child,” I started my life in an old, cold, rundown tenement slum, burdened by the stigma of illegitimacy, which for me was the same as poverty. The birth certificate I am always losing documenting the birth of “Reginald Shepherd” was issued in 1968, after my mother had sued my deadbeat Barbadian father to prove that he was indeed my father. What we got out of that I never understood, since he almost never paid the meager thirty-five dollars a week in child support as ordered by the court.

I sometimes wonder if who I am changed when I ceased to be Reginald Berry (I was five) and became Reginald Shepherd: indeed, when I ceased ever to have been Reginald Berry. Reginald Berry was erased, as if he had never been, and his place was taken by Reginald Shepherd, as if I had always been him and he had always been me, except that Reginald Shepherd came into existence at the age of five, having completely bypassed birth and infancy, not to mention the terrible twos and threes.

I was enmeshed in the social services network at a very early age (as everyone in her family always said, my mother knew how to work the system), and to this day I am in the Social Security Administration records as Reginald Berry Shepherd, a name I have never legally had or even gone by, a name that has never been mine. They remember all the pasts, and conflate them into one.

Would my life have been different if I had remained Reginald Berry, if Reginald Berry had not been erased as if he had never existed? At the least, people would have much less occasion to misspell my name, and who knows what effect that confidence that I would be correctly spelled could have had on my self-esteem?

My mother (who went from being Blanche Berry to being Blanche Graham—my stepfather’s name—without ever having been Blanche Shepherd) always told me that my name meant “Great King” in Celtic. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (whose only authority is that of its author, Douglas Harper), my name derives from Old High German and means “ruling with power.” According to Dictionary.com Unabridged (which bases its claim to authority on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary), it derives from an Old English word meaning “counsel and rule.” I believe that it’s related to the name of the Celtic goddess Rigantona, whose name means “Great Queen.” Someone in college told me that my name was the ablative form of the Latin rex, “king,” meaning something like “of the.” Perhaps I was the king’s favorite shepherd or, in my previous life, his favorite fruit. My younger half sister is named Regina (my mother had a plan); her name unambiguously means “Queen.” I confess to being a bit jealous of her name’s indisputable authority.

But despite the grandeurs of my first name, I have felt a little deprived that I don’t have a middle name. My mother had one, later my abusive Jamaican stepfather had one, and still later my younger half-sister had one. I settled on “Alexander” as an appropriate middle name: Alexander the Great was a famous king and conqueror, and the initials “RAS” spelled out the Amharic word for “prince.” (The late Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was known was Ras Tafari Makonnen, “Prince Tafari Makonnen,” before his ascension to the throne. Hence the group name Rastafarian, though this quasi-religion has never had any connection with Ethiopia.) But I never had my name legally changed, and as I got older I lost interest in the matter.

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by robert @ Sports Breaking News

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Iman Shumpert replaced LeBron James in the Cleveland Cavaliers' starting lineup instead of J.R. Smith.

What is page title?

by Maqsood Rahman @ Level Ten Solutons

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As you may be aware, WRIS moved to a new office space a few months ago. We stayed in the same city...our main office is still based out of Solon, OH.

What you may not be aware of, though, is that in addition to our Solon location, we have WRIS designers and developers based out of Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Washington, D.C.; Portland, OR; Orlando, FL; Charleston, SC; and Atlanta, GA.

So yeah, we’re all over the place.

And you know what else is all over the place? Our clients. Here’s a visual of some of the cities where we currently have clients:



As you can see, we’re crossing the Atlantic and it’s great!

We make sure that all of our clients, no matter where they are, receive the same first-class customer service that we pride ourselves on delivering. No, we aren’t jumping on a flight every other day (although we DO schedule visits as needed). We are taking advantage of virtual technology and it’s allowing us to conduct business as usual.

Obviously, because we are in the development business our work is online. Clients have instant access to their project in a development environment from anywhere they have internet access. In addition, we use an online project management tool that keeps track of all correspondence and project-related information in one easy-to-use portal. Clients can be updated and monitor progress 24/7.

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When it’s not possible to be in the same physical location for a meeting, we take advantage of tools like Google Hangouts. It allows you to conference in on audio and/or video, so it feels like you’re right there. You can even do a screen share, letting all participants see what you’re seeing and watch what you’re doing.

Our own internal ticket system allows all of our clients to submit support requests 24/7, with alerts being sent to the entire support team. That’s always been in place. But now we’ve added another level with the use of Jira. This ticketing system allows for tracking of all of the intricate details and complex layers involved with web and software development. Team members can track progress, upload screenshots, and even comment back and forth all within the same ticket.

So wherever you are, if we provide a service you need, we can deliver.


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Whitmore, Bergsma sweep World Cup Qualifier sprints.

by robert @ Sports Breaking News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Mitch Whitmore won both 500-meter races at the U.S. Long Track World Cup Qualifiers on Friday.

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Wallace Stevens and Otherness

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

In his very interesting and deeply flawed essay “Stevens Without Epistemology” (in Gelpi), Gerald Bruns attempts (and, finally, fails) to read Stevens against the grain, in Walter Benjamin’s phrase. Bruns attempts to read Stevens “deconstructively,” attentive to the rifts and fissures in his discourse. I have undertaken to do the same for Bruns, while preserving a sense of the value of his intervention.

Most of Stevens’ critics have read him from within the ideology of the text, sharing its foundational assumptions: i.e., the posing of questions of epistemology as its fundamental problematic. They have engaged in what Theodor Adorno calls immanent critique. The question Bruns poses is “What happens to our reading of Stevens’ poetry when the problem of how the mind links up with reality [i.e., epistemology] is no longer of any concern to us?” (24). Bruns is quite careful (sometimes to the point of condescending to the reader) to situate Stevens’ work within an intellectual framework. At times, he seems more interested in the framework, and in particular in debates with Geoffrey Hartman and Jacques Derrida, than in Stevens’ work. This is hardly rare among literary critics.

Bruns defines “the ‘epistemological turn’ in Western thinking’” (24), initiated by René Descartes, as the point when “questions about nature, reality, or the world began to be reformulated as questions about...Mind or Spirit” rather than about Being (24). The linguistic turn, seemingly simultaneous with the incipience of the twentieth century, and implicitly identifiable with the unmentioned Ludwig Wittgenstein, in turn reformulated these questions about mind into questions about language. Finally (but at no specified point), “there came a time when questions about language (and also therefore questions about mind and reality) began to be reformulated as questions about social practice” (24). This was the hermeneutical turn, concerned “with the historical and dialogical nature of understanding” (25).

Both the vagueness of Bruns’ periodization and its absences strike me as rather odd. Wouldn’t Karl Marx be rather crucial to any account of a soi disant “hermeneutic turn,” if such a “turn” is indeed a matter of attendance to “social practice?” And wouldn’t this hermeneutic turn predate the “linguistic turn,” which can be seen as a reaction against the hermeneutic turn as so defined? (I don’t think this is an idiosyncratic view of logical positivism, for example.) After all, in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Marx did write that while philosophers have traditionally attempted to interpret the world, whereas our true duty is to change it.

This absence reveals a certain anxiety of influence on Bruns’ part, in its implicit insistence on the priority and originality of his discourse. He makes an explicit claim to be doing what has not been done before, and his implicit positioning of himself as a pioneer of the new, original, “hermeneutic turn” seems crucial to that claim. Nor is the erasure of Marxism and the specificity of “social practice” it stands in for irrelevant to the emptied-out, idealist categories of “otherness” Bruns deploys. Bruns claims a social and even potentially political engagement that his conceptual apparatus rules out from the start.

Bruns contends that Stevens cannot be accurately read in terms of the linguistic turn, because “language [as just another mental product] just didn’t have much reality for Stevens” (25). To the extent that this is true, this is a source of Stevens’ indifference to problematics of form and of the poetic tradition. For Stevens “language” and “mind” are finally interchangeable terms. Bruns further asserts that Stevens has generally been read in idealist (i.e., epistemological) terms, and that he shall read him in hermeneutical terms, in terms not of the mind’s relation to reality but of the problem of other people: a problem not “of knowledge or of language...but of dialogue” (26), of people in society. This is a problem, Bruns asserts, that Stevens does not explicitly address. If we look at “Owl’s Clover,” an argument with the socialist view of the place and function of art, but also at shorter poems like “Mozart, 1935,” which judges Mozart and his music, “that lucid souvenir of the past,” to be inadequate to the fear, pain, and sorrow of the present moment (the moment of the Depression and gathering war clouds in Europe)—"We may return to Mozart./He was young and we, we are old,” but now the poet must play the present—it is clear that Bruns underestimates (privileging his critical knowledge over Stevens’ self-knowledge) the degree to which Stevens addresses, directly and indirectly, the problem of “people in society.”

Stevens’ poetry, as Bruns characterizes it, is that of the spectator, seeing or constructing something in order to make it intelligible and therefore his (the spectator is always male in Stevens’ poetry) own. It is a peopled poetry, but “people in Stevens’ poetry never answer back” (26). Bruns sees much of Stevens' poetry’s problematic as issuing from the attempt to silence or assimilate other voices when they do emerge, often from night or darkness: this is, not coincidentally, the ideological realm connoted as that of women and of “the coons and the snakes” of Italian-invaded Ethiopia, on whose side Stevens said himself to be against the Italians. It is the attempt “to keep...otherness from happening” (27), by converting dialogue into private meditation and “people into pure emotion” (29), or by denying a human source to a voice, e.g., the cry (a common index of otherness in Stevens, according to Bruns [35]) in “The Course of a Particular” that is not finally a “human cry,” that “concerns [or rather, need concern] no one at all.” “For Stevens, success in experience means hearing no one’s voice but your own. One can then enter into a new world without any loss of self-possession” (27-28). But Bruns, in making “otherness” completely abstract, formal, indeed, epistemological, repeats the same error of which he accuses Stevens, succumbing to the terms of Stevens’ discourse in the same way he accuses others of doing, and making that discourse more simplistic and univocal than it is.

Bruns very interestingly, and very problematically, characterizes Stevens as a European poet by Mikhail Bakhtin’s definition of poetry as a monological discourse (as against the heteroglossia of the novel), in contrast to much of Williams’, Pound’s, and Eliot’s work, which is more polyvocal. If Bruns means this as more than a technical observation (Pound, Williams, and Eliot incorporate quotations and employ linguistic montage, Stevens generally does not, though “Sunday Morning” is a kind of dialogue between the young woman in her peignoir and the poem’s narrator), it is simply wrong. Bruns seems to think that, because The Cantos or Paterson or The Waste Land contain quotations, other voices exist autonomously in these works, not subsumed by Pound’s or Williams’ master discourse. Bakhtin links heteroglossia and dialogue (not just several voices, but voices in discourse with one another), whereas clearly The Cantos, as a foremost example, incorporates all the cited voices into Pound’s monologue, the “victory of one reigning language (dialect) over the other” (to cite Bruns’ quotation of Bakhtin). Both The Waste Land and Paterson have a greater sense of dialogue, the interplay of voices and discourses, than do The Cantos (The Waste Land, at least, has no anchored or consistent viewpoint “I” at all), but it is the dialogue of a play whose shape and outcome have already been determined.

Given Stevens’ biographical position as, with Marianne Moore, one of the only two “stay at homes” among the major American modernists (even New Jersey-wedded Williams studied medicine in Germany), it’s odd that Bruns asserts that he “does not, it appears [to whom?], compose American texts” (34). Perhaps Stevens’ position as one of the only non-exiles, and his seemingly comfortable identification with America as it was rather as it should or could be (in contrast to his friend Williams, who also spent most of his life in America, and wrote that “the pure products of America go crazy” because of the distortions and injustices of American life), made the articulation of a rhetorical “Americanness” less of an issue for him. What would the definition of an “American text” be, and who has the authority to hand down such a definition?

Bruns proposes, as have several other commentators, most notably Hugh Kenner, that Stevens is the closest thing in English to Mallarmé, a poet whose texts “repress the phenomenon of voice in favor of” writing (34). This is an intriguing and suggestive characterization, but while Mallarmé represses “voice” into the (written) word, Stevens privileges voice (the singing voice and the crying voice), both thematically and formally. Mallarmé’s “writerliness” is very much a matter of his being the most syntactical of poets, an involvement with syntax as a constitutive and productive force that Stevens does not share. Stevens tends instead to supply given syntactical structures, those of oratory or of philosophical discourse, for example, with unexpected contents, maintaining what Mutlu Blasing calls the “gestures” of meaningful discourse. That many of those unexpected words are French or French-derived, that Stevens’ vocabulary is heavily Francophilic—in short, that, for Stevens, “French and English constitute a single language”—does not mean his poetry is “French” in Bruns’ sense. To appropriate Paul De Man’s dichotomy, Stevens is a poet of rhetoric, not of semiology (which De Man equates with grammar).

Nor does Stevens share Mallarmé’s conviction that poems are made up of words and not ideas, for to Stevens poetry is defined as the supreme fiction, not the supreme language. As he writes in his “Adagia,” “Poetry and materia poetica are interchangeable terms.” While Mallarmé seeks to dissolve content into form, much of Stevens’ appeal to the criticism industry resides in the foregrounding of conceptual content, of the “ideas” Mallarmé scorned or at least subordinated, in his poetry. Mallarmé is a poet inspired and tormented by the difference between words and the Word, books (which have all been read, alas) and the Book. For Stevens, to whom language and being are mutualities, their relationship “a consistent proportion of analogies” (Blasing 206), this is not an issue. As Stevens writes in “Adagia,” “Poetry is a poetic conception, however expressed. A poem is poetry expressed in words.” But he goes to write that “in a poem there is a poetry of words. Obviously, a poem may consist of several poetries.” If analogous figures to Mallarmé in American poetry are required (I’m not certain they are, at least not if one’s concern is “American texts”), I would nominate, in the nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson, and in the twentieth, Louis Zukofsky, both poets who write word by word, who foreground the written nature of their discourse, and for whom both syntax and the relationship of logic and Logos are central concerns.

To return to Bruns’ argument, for Bakhtin “The poet is a poet insofar as he accepts the idea of a unitary and singular language and a unitary, monologically sealed-off utterance” (The Dialogic Imagination, quoted 31). The poem, unlike the novel, is univocal. “The world of poetry, no matter how many contradictions and insoluble conflicts the poet develops within it, is always illumined by one unitary and indisputable discourse. Contradictions, conflicts, and doubts remain in the subject, in thoughts, in living experience—in short, in the subject matter—but they do not enter the language itself. In poetry, even discourse about doubts must be cast in a discourse that cannot be doubted” (op. cit., quoted 31-32). Taking this not as prescription, but as a description of a particular poetic mode, Bruns asserts that “[s]ound in such a text [the ideal type of which would be the Book to which Mallarmé’s texts aspire] aspires not to the illusion of someone speaking but to the formal conditions of music” (34). Here Bruns alludes to Walter Pater’s famous formulation that all art aspires to the condition of music, an art whose form and whose content are indissoluble and which is thus impervious to interpretation, an aesthetic ding an sich.

Bruns thus reads sound in Stevens’ poetry, which is frequently foregrounded (though to a much greater degree in the early work than in the late, a distinction of which Bruns would do well to take greater note), as a strategy by which Stevens “plays out...the drama of the fear and repression of alien voices.” One presumes that Bruns means by this that the insistence on the noise his own voice can make is a means for Stevens to drown out other (or Other) voices thematically present or implied. This would explain why Stevens’s most exoticist poems are often his most sonically insistent. Content is sublimated into form: a potentially threatening otherness is emptied out and rendered harmless by being translated into the glamour of an “exotic” language. Aestheticization is thus a mode of the appropriation of alterity, a repression or erasure in which epistemological readings collude.

This paranoiac drama of repression and appropriation is, in Bruns’ words, Stevens’ “strange, difficult way of being an American poet” (35). This is so because, as should be apparent from the discussion of Bakhtin above, for Bruns American poetry is characterized by heteroglossia. Thus much of Stevens’ interest is that “he is a poet troubled by the sort of poetry he is not writing and perhaps can’t bring himself to think of as poetic—the poetry of the other.” which might disturb the “monumental slumber” of a European tradition Bruns, tellingly, describes as “ours” (35). As some version of Tonto once said to the Lone Ranger, What you mean “we,” white man? Bruns does not give Stevens enough credit for being aware of what he is not writing, for deliberately and consciously not writing in certain modes or of certain contents, and for explicitly staging and dramatizing (perhaps I should write, thematizing) that awareness and that exclusion in many of his poems.

The question of who is or is not a properly “American” poet, of the definition of “American poetry” (and what and who gets to be included or excluded under that rubric), like the rhetorical jousting among Hugh Kenner, Marjorie Perloff, and Harold Bloom over whether the modern period in poetry is “the Pound Era” or “the Age of Stevens,” is wholly imaginary, a “problem” of critics and their will to taxonomy (one of the expressions of the critical will to power), not of poets or of poems. It is produced by the critic’s insistence on his or her own capacity to classify and account for the poem or the body or work, his or her “object,” and to thus assimilate this “object’s” discourse into his or her own, to silence the poets he or she purports to explain to themselves. And given Bruns’s insistence on the absence of a founding authority for American poetic discourse, there can be no other but a “strange” and “difficult” way of being an American poet.

I would have liked to see more specificity on Bruns’ part about the “othernesses” silenced in Stevens’ work, which are in Bruns’ text wholly abstract. In the words of John Carlos Rowe, “The slippage from the ‘otherness’ of what is repressed in ordinary acts of communication to the ‘other’ obscures the specificity of actual social ‘others.’ The very generality of the ‘other’ suggests a totalizing system likely to disregard differences of race, gender, class, culture, and history” (191). By choosing as his two main examples “Evening Refrain” and “The Course of a Particular,” poems in which the “othernesses” erased or silenced are non-human, and by these choices making otherness epistemological, not social, Bruns' discussion of “otherness,” again by some strange mimicry of the drama of fear and repression he describes in Stevens, erases the actual “others” in Stevens’ work. These others tend to be women (Bruns obliquely notes this in his discussion of “Apostrophe to Vincentine” [28], in which Vincentine steadily transforms from a purely imaginary figure into a real human presence that the poet must then transform back into “heavenly, heavenly Vincentine,” as if warding off the woman, without incorporating the fact into his argument) and exoticized racial others, usually black people.

An example would be the “nigger mystics” of “Prelude to Objects,” representatives of “the guerilla I” who “should change/Foolscap for wigs,” abandoning poetry for academic scholarship. This is an ambivalent presentation, in which the “nigger mystics” are noble savages, both primitive in the negative sense and primal in the way that poetry, “patting more nonsense foamed/From the sea,” is primal. The apparent recommendation of “Academies/As of a tragic science” seems ironic, since the poem concludes by saying “We are conceived in your [that is, the poet’s] conceits. Thus the “nigger mystics” are both denigrated by their description and presented as poetic ideals.

In a poem like “The Virgin Carrying a Lantern.” the two threatening othernesses that must be neutralized are (rather economically) combined into the “negress,” the black female other implicitly compared to a bear (emphasizing her animal nature), “who supposes/Things false and wrong” about the lantern (the light of wisdom?) carried by the implicitly white female other, who is split off and enshrined as the eponymous (and unthreatening) virgin. The poem enacts a version of the Madonna/whore dichotomy, in which the white woman, while a “beauty,” represents light and purity, while the black woman is filled “with heat so strong” by the lantern, her sexuality presumably having overcome her, in contrast to the virgin who walks only “as a farewell duty” before “her pious egress.”

Cornel West has noted that the discourse of postmodernism (a construction I adopt precisely because it conflates “postmodernist discourse” and “discourse about postmodernism” and thus leaves open the amorphous status of the entity “postmodernism”) “highlight[s] notions of difference, marginality, and otherness in such a way that it further marginalizes actual people of difference and otherness,” most particularly black people and women of all races (“Black Culture and Postmodernism.” in Kruger and Mariani 91-92). Bruns’ essay is very much part of that discourse of postmodernism, a repetition of the same (in)difference. Bruns tentatively approaches a social or even political reading, but stops far short. He translates his “hermeneutic” (read “political”) reading into exactly the “formalist,” “epistemological” terms he criticizes in others. The anxiety in the face of alterity Bruns diagnoses in Stevens is an anxiety equally at work in his own discourse, if not more. Stevens at least admits those others into his poems, however problematic and even contradictory his treatment of them. Bruns simply erases them altogether.

Works Cited

Blasing, Mutlu Konek. American Poetry: The Rhetoric of Its Forms. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

Gelpi, Albert, Ed. Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modernism. Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Kruger, Barbara, and Phil Marian, Eds. Remaking History: Dia Art Foundation Discussions in Contemporary Culture No. 4. Seattle, WA: Bay Press, 1989.

Rowe, John Carlos. “Postmodernist Studies.” In Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn, eds., Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies. New York: The Modern Language Association, 1992.

Stevens, Wallace. Complete Poetry and Prose. New York: Library of America, 1997.

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Cody Wyoming SEO = Search Engine Optimization, basically it is being able to rank on the top of ANY search engine for a given search that a potential client is looking for. The higher you are ranked in ANY search … Continue reading 

Freedom of the Press

by @ WRIS Web Services

WordPress, that is.

If you are online in any capacity, chances are you’ve at least heard of WordPress. It’s a development language that is used to create websites and blogs. It’s open source, and it’s generally affordable. But just like everything, it has its pros and cons.


WordPress is not hard to find. Just about any developer can work with it...even if it’s not their primary development language. You can even build a WordPress site on your own, and many do. But while building your own website may seem appealing, the resulting website may not be able to say the same. Creating a website can be overwhelming, so whether you decide to start the process yourself before seeking assistance or you opt to work with a developer from the beginning, those resources shouldn’t be hard to find. Which also comes in handy if you already have a WordPress site but need some help with it.

Open Source

What does this mean exactly? Well, when a development language is classified as open source, it basically means that enhancements and improvements can be created and contributed by developers everywhere. Someone may find themselves with a need, design a solution to it, and then decide to share it with the rest of the WordPress community. This saves someone else from having to come up with a solution to the same problem. They just search to see if something (specifically a plugin, see below) already exists, download it, install it, and wa-la! Problem solved. The confusion arises when there are several solutions for the same issue. Which one is best? Which will work for you? You might end up installing an enhancement only to find it doesn’t do what you thought it would. A developer with experience can help pinpoint the solution that will be best for you.


What are these? Think of them as additions to your core website. Need a tool to help you create tables easily on your pages? Search for a plugin. Want to be able to display a real-time stock ticker? Search for a plugin. Want to integrate with an ecommerce partner? Plugin. Just about anything you can imagine can be achieved with a plugin. This saves time if you hit the mark with the first one you try, but can be a real pain if you have several misses along the way. (See above re: how a developer with experience can help with this.)


If it fits your needs, WordPress is definitely more affordable than custom development. It can be a viable solution for smaller companies, or even bigger companies that don’t need a supersized, complex website. After all, it doesn’t need to be written from scratch. It has solutions to new problems available almost every day, often for little to no cost. And it’s readily available. Of course, not every problem can be solved with a plugin. Plus, because it is a language meant to be universally appealing, there are a lot of features you will never use but will still have to wade through because they are part of the package. It can be confusing. Which is why working with a developer can help you streamline the tools you need so that you end up with a site that functions the way you need it to function.


It makes sense that if you are not creating something from scratch (custom development), you are not only going to see cost-savings but time-savings as well. The time to create a WordPress site is generally weeks vs. months, so if time is of the essence, WordPress might be a good fit for you.

Is WordPress right for you? Let us help you figure that out and you’ll be on your way to a fresh site in no time.

3 Best Practice for Voice Search SEO

by Maqsood Rahman @ Level Ten Solutons

Smartphones and smart home devices that utilize “voice-first” digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant are becoming an integral part of our lives. In 2015, 1.7 million voice-first devices were shipped. In 2016, that number increased to 6.5 million devices. VoiceLabs predicts that...

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Best Seo Emblem Wyoming

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Best Seo Emblem Wyoming SEO = Search Engine Optimization, basically it is being able to rank on the top of ANY search engine for a given search that a potential client is looking for. The higher you are ranked in … Continue reading 

Back to Basics

by @ WRIS Web Services

Today, creating a successful website is a skill in its own right. Not only do you need a great graphic design, you also have to consider usability, speed, mobile-friendliness, optimization, analytics, functionality...the list goes on and on. But at its core, a website serves a purpose for an audience. The purpose may vary, as will the audience, but the ultimate goal remains the same. Provide that audience with a successful online experience. And sometimes it’s easy to overlook some of the most basic requirements needed to do that.

Talk to your Audience.

Who do you want to visit your site? Whoever that is, you need to know them. Understand why they are coming to your site and then provide them with that in the appropriate manner. Are they students or senior citizens? Are they tech-savvy or still using a flip-phone? Will they be coming to your site familiar with what you do or will you be their introduction? Don’t alienate them from the homepage with an award-winning design that’s not a winner for your audience. Instead, make sure they feel welcome and eager to delve deeper into your site. It’s important for you to like your site, of course, but more important for your customers to like it.

Be Honest.

Okay, so you’re probably not going to outright lie to your customers on purpose. But sometimes a marketing effort can go awry if your audience feels like you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes. There’s a fine line between tooting your own horn and being blatantly arrogant. Promote your accomplishments and the things you do well, but don’t overstate your case. Display your products but either use your own images or find some that are realistic. And don’t make promises you can’t keep. Honesty really is the best policy.

Tell your Story.

Content Marketing is important. Keywords are important. Text optimized for search engines is important. But the most important purpose of the content of your site is to provide your site visitors with information. So while yes, you should do what you can to make sure your content is search engine friendly, you also want it to be interesting and readable.

Use your Analytics.

Assuming you’ve done all of the above and launched your site, you now have one important step left to do: Don’t sit back and relax. Analytics are meant to be used, so use them! If the numbers indicate people are leaving your site too quickly, or never making it past the homepage, pay attention! And don’t be overwhelmed, if you’d rather not deal with statistics like this (or just aren’t comfortable doing it), hire a professional who can decipher the information and help you take the right next-steps.

Keep Changing.

Websites are not a ‘one and done’ deal. You can’t launch a site and expect an overnight improvement in sales or calls. Your site will constantly be evolving and growing and changing and that’s normal. Just when you think you have it ‘perfect’, you’ll find something else you want to add or change or improve. But that’s what will help you keep your site interesting and effective, and your audience will appreciate it.

On Alvin Feinman’s “True Night”

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

I am in the hospital for the fourth time in the past five months, this time for excruciating abdominal pain that turned out to be due to a partial bowel obstruction which has still not cleared up. I have had a tube down my throat and have been unable to eat for over a week. I spend most of my days trying to sleep through the pain and nausea.

In the course of the various tests to try to determine the cause of the obstruction, my surgeon found several large masses on my liver which, after a blood test and a liver biopsy, have turned out to be a fast-growing resurgence of my colon cancer. Thus I am in the hospital cancer ward for the foreseeable future, starting chemotherapy again (it had been on hold during my assorted medical crises of the past few months), before I have had time to fully recover from my recent illnesses and surgeries.

Despite all this, and to remind myself that I am not a bundle of symptoms and sicknesses, I am posting (or rather, having my darling Robert post) this final tribute to my recently deceased mentor Alvin Feinman, a discussion of his poem “True Night.” This is an excerpt from a piece on Feinman’s work in general that is included in the anthology Dark Horses, edited by Kevin Prufer and Joy Katz, and in my essay collection Orpheus in the Bronx.

True Night

So it is midnight, and all
The angels of ordinary day gone,
The abiding absence between day and day
Come like true and only rain
Comes instant, eternal, again:

As though an air had opened without sound
In which all things are sanctified,
In which they are at prayer—
The drunken man in his stupor,
The madman’s lucid shrinking circle;

As though all things shone perfectly,
Perfected in self-discrepancy:
The widow wedded to her grief,
The hangman haloed in remorse—
I should not rearrange a leaf,

No more than wish to lighten stones
Or still the sea where it still roars—
Here every grief requires its grief,
Here every longing thing is lit
Like darkness at an altar.

As long as truest night is long,
Let no discordant wing
Corrupt these sorrows into song.

“True Night” is a lovely example of what Bloom calls “a central sensibility seeking imaginative truth without resorting to any of the available evasions of consciousness,” whose temptations are both acknowledged and refused The poem opens at midnight, “The abiding absence between day and day,” a present absence which is both instant (and an instant) and eternal, because it is no given day and no single time, but rather the moment between dates. This no-time is all times, both everlasting and utterly ephemeral. It is (or rather, it is “As though”—what we know is not the thing itself, but only its appearance, our own knowing of it) an air which has opened soundlessly, an air which we take into ourselves with every breath. Particularly within the precincts of a poem, the phrase “an air” in conjunction with the evocation of sound calls up a pun on the Renaissance sense of an “air” as a song. Here, it is a song without sound; it was Keats who wrote that unheard melodies are sweetest, and this soundless air is sweeter than any song one could ever hear.

Here in this time which is no time, the polarity of identity and difference is suspended, and opposites meet. Things are beside themselves, at peace with their own restlessness and discontent, their own failure to be identical with themselves: they are “Perfected in self- discrepancy,” like the off-rhyme of the words “perfectly” and “discrepancy.” All wrongs are posed in the perfection of a still-life, no less wrong but now transfigured into necessity and equipoise: “Here every grief requires its grief.” The poet’s task is both to capture this momentless moment and to leave it undisturbed, to touch its untouchability into art without marring or altering it. The line “I should not rearrange a leaf” can be read either as “I wouldn’t rearrange a leaf even if I could, all is perfect as it is” or as “I should abandon any desire to rearrange a leaf, to insert my own will into the seen/scene.” For this poem, paradise is paradox, where longing (the source of suffering, according to the Buddha) is illumination, and to be lit is to be like darkness “at an altar,” at prayer, prayed to, or both.

The poem’s last stanza insists that no discordant wing (shattering the harmony of the soundless air) should be allowed to corrupt the sorrows the poem presents into song, at least “As long as truest night is long.” That is to say, this admonition holds both forever and only for the most fleeting of (non-) moments. And yet the poem itself, unavoidably, is a song (“lyric,” after all, comes from “lyre”), voiced and heard. The poem both “mystically” asserts a paradoxical concord (echoing and amplifying Stevens’s avowal that “The imperfect is our paradise”) and takes a potentially ironic stance toward it: the poem is both entranced and undeluded.

The inescapable paradox of “True Night,” the truth that it both embodies and struggles against in the name of truth, is that the poem’s discordant wing has corrupted the scene into song: it is helpless not to do so, for otherwise there would be no poem. But the poem has also acknowledged and honored the difference between scene and song: it has reminded us that is remains is however much mind and music might wish it otherwise, however much metaphor and song might wish to translate being into seeming.

What is a seo Company Byron Township, Michigan

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Search Engine Optimization Burlington Wyoming

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Reginald Shepherd, 1963 - 2008

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

As most readers of this blog are probably by now aware, Reginald Shepherd died September 10 after a fight against cancer.

Reginald was my partner, my best friend, my constant companion, my lover, my confidante, and much else besides. I don't know what I'll do without him for the rest of my life. I do plan to occasionally post material about Reginald here, along with writings from his files.

The following is a short piece about Reginald I wrote for his memorial service, which was held yesterday. Robert Philen

Reginald Shepherd, 1963 - 2008

Reginald Shepherd was born April 10, 1963 in New York City and passed away September 10, 2008 in Pensacola, surrounded by people whom he loved and who loved him.

Reginald was the son of Blanche Berry, who was originally from Macon, Georgia. He grew up in Bronx, New York, along with a sister, Regina Graham. He moved to Macon and lived with his aunt, Mildred Swint, after the death of his mother when he was fifteen.

Reginald earned a B.A. degree from Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, and M.F.A. degrees in Creative Writing from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He taught literature and creative writing, most recently at Antioch University and earlier at the University of West Florida, Cornell University, and Northern Illinois University, and he was remarkably dedicated to his students and the craft of writing.

Reginald was a magnificent writer. He published five books of poetry (Some Are Drowning; Angel, Interrupted; Wrong; Otherhood; and Fata Morgana) and a book of essays (Orpheus in the Bronx), and he edited two poetry anthologies (The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries and Lyric Postmodernisms). He recently completed a sixth book of poetry and a second volume of essays that will be published posthumously. Among many awards for his writing, he most recently earned a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008 and won the 2007 silver medal for poetry in the Florida Book Awards.

Reginald met his partner, Robert Philen, in December, 1999 in Ithaca, New York, and ever since, their relationship has grown, based in conversation, compassion, sharing, friendship, passion, and profound love. The two have lived in Pensacola since July, 2001.

Over the past year, Reginald faced tremendous adversity and continuous pain from a series of illnesses related to cancer, but he faced it all with profound strength and courage, tenacity, love of life – and gentleness, dignity, and innocence. He fought long and hard against the illness, but as one nurse who worked with him toward the end put it, “He remained a gentleman to the end.”

Any of us who knew Reginald are devastated and heartbroken at this loss, and we will miss his unique combination of verve and vivacity, wit and intelligence, tenacity and strength, gentleness, empathy, and sweetness, generosity and innocence. We will also, despite our profound sadness, remain ennobled, happy, and blessed by the time we spent with him.

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Defining "Post-Avant-Garde" Poetry

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

This is a considerably revised and expanded version of a piece that I originally posted on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog, where it incited a quite extensive and vociferous response. I hope that the discussion here, should there be any, will be more calm and reasonable.

I appreciate the attention (including reasoned and productive disagreement) the original piece received from Robert Archambeau, Christian Bök, Joshua Corey, John Gallaher, and Paul Hoover, not to mention the two citations on the Chronicle of Higher Education web site. This revision has benefited from their thoughtful discussions.


The phrase "post-avant poetry," which was either coined seriously by Ron Silliman or parodically by Joan Houlihan, is bandied about quite a bit in the online poetry world. (I’ve never seen the phrase in print, an indication of how separate the two realms often are, though many people participate in both.) It’s used with the assumption that "we all know what that is," but the term is rarely defined. Here follows my attempt to pin down a term much-mentioned but seldom specified, with the caveat that Stephen Burt makes in a postscript to his essay on what he calls “The Elliptical Poets”: “People who follow the arts like to talk about schools; often they prefer talking about schools and trends to talking about individual poets and their poems” (48). I hope that this too-broad discussion is not taken as a substitute for discussing actual poets and actual poems.

"Post-avant" (as in, "post-avant-garde"—insider groups love shorthand) poets can be described as writers who, at their best, have imbibed the lessons of the modernists and their successors in what might be called the experimental or avant-garde stream of American poets, including the Objectivists (especially Oppen and Zukofsky), what have been called the New American Poetries, particularly the Projectivist/Black Mountain School and the New York School(s), from Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan to John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, and the Language poets (including such poets and polemicists as Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman), without feeling the need (as so many other poetic formations have) to pledge allegiance to a particular group identity (the poetry world is full of fence-building and turf wars) or a particular mode of proceeding artistically. As poet Elizabeth Willis writes in her artist’s statement in my anthology Lyric Postmodernisms, “part of what’s so interesting about the current moment is its refusal of an overtly oedipal relation to literary traditions on either the right or the left, and a willingness to construct and invent not only new kinds of poetry but new ways of reading.”

These poets don’t form a movement, let alone a school, but something more like a set of tendencies. As Stephen Burt writes, “Whether a school exists, or where its boundaries lie, seem…questions both less profound, and less durable, than the questions we ask about each poet and about individual poems. At the same time individual poems may respond to their historical moment and invoke their stylistic [formal, and thematic] affinities with other poems” (50).

Poet and editor Rebecca Wolff writes of the work in her journal Fence, a home of the post-avant (along with such journals as Boston Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, New American Writing, Verse, and Volt, and such publishers as Ahsahta Press, the University of California Press, the late lamented University of Georgia Press Contemporary Poetry Series, and Wesleyan University Press), such writing “intentionally blurs the distinction between 'difficulty' and 'accessibility,' preferring instead to address a continuum of utterance.” Though many of these poets have projects and even systems (the book, as distinct from or even opposed to the individual poem, is important in much of their work), there aren’t a lot of programs. There’s much prose writing and thinking about poetry, and there are many, many blogs (this is a very wired “generation,” and much sense of post-avant poetic community is produced online), but not many manifestoes. (Flarf, which poet Kasey Mohammad has defined as “intentionally bad poetry that involves Google search text results,” a deliberate anti-poetry based on what Dan Hoy has called “poetics of awfulness as a style,” is probably not “post-avant,” but I don’t understand it well enough to discuss it.) And no doubt I’ve missed a lot—there’s a lot to miss.

In his 1997 article “The New Modernism” (reprinted in his essay collection Fables of Representation), poet and editor Paul Hoover writes that “Compositional complexity and a renewed emphasis on abstraction are the cornerstones of the new modernism. It has some of the difficulty of modernism but little of its commitment to history and myth. [RS: I would disagree with this. I would say that it has a different relationship to history and myth, not relying upon them as sources of authority but as fields of what Foucault called the archaeology of knowledge.] In its love of the fragment, mosaic organization, broken sequences, and appropriation, the new modernism also resembles the old. What differs is the gender and ethnicity of the poets involved” (138). That is to say, the new modernism is much more diverse in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity (though not necessarily of class) than the old modernism ever was or wanted to be. Hoover’s category of “the new modernism” is much more broad than my notion of the “post-avant-garde,” as he traces out two branches. The first branch includes “poets like Ann Lauterbach, Marjorie Welish, Michael Palmer, Jorie Graham, Rosmarie Waldrop, Nathaniel Mackey, Donald Revell, and Bob Perelman [RS: this seems an odd assemblage to me, at least in terms of professed and apparent poetic lineages] whose work contains figured abstraction and, at times, sustained lyrical argument and are influenced by the romantic lineage of postmodernism including Ashbery and Duncan.” The second branch includes “poets like Lyn Hejinian, Susan Howe, Bruce Andrews, Ron Silliman, and Charles Bernstein whose origins are in Gertrude Stein, objectivism, and Charles Olson and employ a more discontinuous compositional program” (139). I would call this a distinction between romantic and anti-romantic Modernist lineages, between a lyric postmodernist mode and an anti-lyrical postmodernist mode. I would place most of the poets I consider as “post-avant garde” within the former lineage and mode, however much they query and sometimes explode (from the inside) romanticism and lyricism.

Poet and critic Stephen Burt’s invention of a school of so-called Elliptical poetry, including such diverse poets as Lucie Brock-Broido, Forrest Gander, August Kleinzahler, Thylias Moss, Karen Volkman, and C.D. Wright, has been much talked-about, including in a symposium in the journal American Letters and Commentary. Burt writes in his 1999 essay “The Elliptical Poets” that “Elliptical Poets are always hinting, punning, or swerving away from a never-quite-unfolded backstory; they are easier to process in parts than in wholes. They believe provisionally in identities (in one or more “I” per poem), but they suspect the I’s they invoke: they admire disjunction and confrontation, but they know how [a] little can go a long way. Elliptics seek the authority of the rebellious; they want to challenge their readers, violate decorum, surprise or explode assumptions about what belongs in a poem, or what matters in life, and to do so while meeting traditional lyric goals. Their favorite attitudes are desperately extravagant, or tough-guy terse, or defiantly childish: they don't believe in, or seek, a judicious tone” (41). Burt goes on to write that “All [Elliptical poets] want to convey both metaphysical challenge and recognizable, seen or tasted, detail. Ellipticism rejects: poems written in order to demonstrate theories; prettiness as its own end; slogans; mysticism; straight-up narrative; and extended abstraction. [RS: Contrarily, I would say that one distinguishing feature of post-avant-garde poetry is its interest and even its investment in exploring abstraction as a mode and a theme, something that Paul Hoover touches on in the passage quoted above.] Ellipticals are uneasy about (less often, hostile to) inherited elites and privileges, but they are not populists, and won't write down to, or connect the dots for, their readers; their difficulty conveys respect.” (This last assertion is echoed and complicated by Rebecca Wolff’s comment noted above.)

Burt’s Ellipticist poets seem to have in common only a set of surface effects: they all write flashy poems. Indeed, many of them have queried if not rejected their assigned membership in this school. Cole Swensen, for example, asserts in “Elliptical Poetry: A Response,” that Burt “is listing traits that have been present in various innovative writing communities for decades and attributing them to a very narrow, and relatively both conservative and recent, group of writers” (American Letters and Commentary 11, 1999, 66).

And I am not sure what makes these specifically “elliptical.” My Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “elliptical” as “a : of, relating to, or marked by ellipsis or an ellipsis [in turn defined as ‘a: the omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete, or b: a sudden leap from one topic to another’]; b (1): of, relating to, or marked by extreme economy of speech or writing (2): of or relating to deliberate obscurity (as of literary or conversational style)” As Burt describes his “Ellipticist” poets, none of these definitions seems particularly to apply, at least no more than they would to any number of poets from John Donne to Emily Dickinson to John Berryman to Ann Lauterbach (whom he does not mention).

In “Shearing Away,” an earlier version of his essay that appeared in the Spring 1998 issue of the British journal Poetry Review, Burt admits to having made up this soi-disant “school.” Later, in clarifying what he means by “school,” he writes that “Ellipticism counts as a school of a movement in the way that ‘metaphysical poetry’ or ‘confessional poetry’ count as movements, not in the way that ‘language writing’ or the Black Arts Movement or New Formalism (each of which had manifestos) count as movements; the so-called [by Burt himself] Ellipticals (like the so-called metaphysicals) need not have signed a manifesto, or appeared in one place at one time, in order to share the aesthetic goals I have described” (49). I would say that they share at most aesthetic tendencies and styles, rather than goals, which are always difficult to decipher in any case.

As Cole Swensen points out, “Historically, a school is based is based on more than observable surface similarities….Sometimes, in fact, the members of a given group have differed widely in their works’ appearances, approaches, and other immediate aspects, and have based their affinity instead on much broader aesthetic issues, as well as, at times, shared social and political convictions and some degree of shared experience. As the term has been used throughout the century, a school is a spontaneous and accidental situation that laces people together as it laces art into individual lives….using the term at this point in history does imply those extra-textual affinities, which I’m not sure are appropriate here” (op. cit. 65). Swensen also points out the ways in which Burt’s map seems “if not to construct, then at least to arrange [the] territory before it sets out to guide us through it” (ibid.): it draws factional lines in advance through a future that hasn’t yet arrived.

In a recent review of Matthea Harvey’s new book Modern Life, critic David Orr concurs with Burt’s description, but he frames it in pejorative terms. Orr writes that Harvey works in “a variation on the trendiest contemporary style, which relies heavily on disconnected phrases, abrupt syntactical shifts, attention-begging titles (‘The Gem Is on Page Sixty-Four’), quirky diction (‘orangery,’ ‘aigrettes’), flickering italics, oddball openings (‘The scent of pig is faint tonight’) and a tone ranging from daffy to plangent—basically, two scoops of John Ashbery and a sprinkling of Gertrude Stein. It’s not hard to write acceptable poetry in this mode.” While this description is true of many writers (any mode has its better and its worse practitioners, and mediocrity is the norm in any field of endeavor), I don’t find it fair as an overall evaluation. In fact, Orr’s review of Harvey’s work is quite positive. As he points out, “if it’s relatively easy to write passable poetry in the style du jour, it’s never easy to write good poetry in any style,” which seems to me much more to the point.

Some of these writers have been called “third way” writers by Ron Silliman, who has written that “Younger poets today I think have more of an opportunity of learning from all worlds without having to sign up & pick sides. And that in turn will itself impact how writing gets done, going forward.” However, Silliman distinguishes what he calls “third way” writing (among whose practitioners he numbers Forrest Gander, Jorie Graham, Robert Hass [RS: I can't see Hass's avant-garde inclinations], and Ann Lauterbach, as well as the much younger Graham Foust), which exemplifies “a post-militant American poetics,” from “post-avant” writing, saying that “third way” poetry is dependent on the dichotomy between what he calls post-avant poetry and what he pejoratively calls “School of Quietude” poetry: “the Third Way has always struck me as predicated upon the existence of the other two.” This indicates that he still maintains a distinction between vanguardist and rear-guardist contemporary American poetry, one that I believe no longer applies.

Critic and poet Calvin Bedient, whom Joshua Corey has called “one of the most passionate advocates of a return to lyric modernism in contemporary poetry,” has briefly referred to this kind of poetry as “soft” avant-garde, as distinct from the hard (and didactic) kind still associated with (what remains of) Language writing. I have called some of their work, after Wittgenstein, “lyrical investigations” in the introduction to my new anthology Lyric Postmodernisms: An Anthology of Contemporary Innovative Poetries, to which I will devote a later post. (You didn’t think I’d let an opportunity for self-promotion slip by, did you?)

Post-avant writers tend to eschew the standard and standardized autobiographical or pseudo-autobiographical anecdote which predominates in what’s called (usually pejoratively) “mainstream” poetry. Indeed, they frequently problematize and question the notions of self and of personal experience. But they don’t just discard the self as some kind of ideological illusion. As well, they tend to avoid or at least seriously complicate narrative, often breaking story down into its component parts. They incorporate fracture and disjunction without enthroning it as a ruling principle (poet Cynthia Cruz calls much of this work “the broken lyric”). They are interested in exploring, interrogating, and sometimes exploding language, identity, and society, without giving up on the pleasures, challenges, and resources of the traditional lyric. Their work combines the lyric’s creative impulse with the critical project of Language poetry, engaging the dialectic of what critic Charles Altieri calls lyricism and lucidity and what, earlier, W.H. Auden called enchantment and disenchantment without settling on one side or the other.

In Stephen Burt's words, they are “trying to figure out how to incorporate both lyric and non- (if not anti-) lyric impulses, and trying…to put modernist fragmentation together with Romantic expectations about voice and form,” and without any preconceptions about what forms such a potential synthesis might take. Theirs is a magpie-like eclecticism, that draws from whatever materials, traditions and techniques are of interest and of use, however seemingly incompatible, however ideologically opposed historically. They don't try to destroy the past for the sake of the future, or trumpet teleological notions of artistic "progress" or "advance," though they are fascinated with the processes of poetic construction. As poet Robert Archambeau has recently written, “The post-avant seems to have very little interest in making grand claims of any kind: not only does it eschew a sense of heroic poetic progress, but it eschews big political or spiritual claims.” Perhaps this is a reflection of the postmodern rejection or at least suspicion of grand narratives and transcendental signifiers.


This cross-fertilization has been happening in American poetry for a long time, but there are many people on various “sides” who either don’t see it or vehemently oppose it, perhaps because it undermines their own carefully constructed identity formations (which many of them conceive of as having been forged under fire). Hardcore avant-gardistes, as well as hardcore defenders of a narrow and reified “tradition,” are at this point both ideologically and aesthetically backward: they’re still fighting the poetry cold wars. But as editor Christopher Beach writes in the introduction to Artifice and Indeterminacy, his “anthology of new poetics,” “any such unqualified agenda of poetic and institutional identification [as Donald M. Allen proclaimed when he pronounced that all the poets included in The New American Poetry shared ‘a total rejection of all those qualities typical of academic verse’] would seem inappropriate and somewhat naïve; we have seen the blurring of such clear distinctions as those between ‘academic’ and ‘non-academic’ schools of poetry, between institutional structures and avant-garde communities, between insiders and outsiders” (vii).

The avant-garde isn’t the advance guard anymore, and hasn’t been for a while. The armies have been disbanded, though many of the officers have yet to inform themselves of the fact. There are, of course, many people who haven’t yet passed through the avant-garde and never will. (It would be nice if some of those people would at least read Eliot. But then, it would be nice if some of those people would read Keats.) But once you have passed through that avant-garde door, there is no forward march, no destination or telos, just an open field. In the somewhat exaggerated words of philosopher and art critic Arthur C. Danto, “there are to be no next things. The time for next things is past. [RS: nice paradox.] It [is] like coming to the end of the world with no more continents to discover. One must now begin to make habitable the only continents that there are” (The State of the Art 217). Visual artist turned poet Kenneth Goldsmith, who might or might not accept a characterization as a “post-avant” poet, writes in his post "The End of History" on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog that “Language Poetry put the period on the end of the modernist sentence. If you're playing an innovative game, after Language Poetry, there’s no more deconstructive work to do. That project has finished. The next step then becomes a reconstructive project that sees language as a whole again--moving information--but, like certain strains of postmodernism, acknowledges the cracks in the newly reformed linguistic vessel.”

Only because of the backwardness of literature in comparison to music and visual art can self-appointed avant-gardistes still feel themselves in the forefront of artistic morality. In other areas of artistic endeavor, the idea of vanguard art, art in step with the progress of history, and the conviction that some artistic practices are more correct, even more virtuous, has been rather thoroughly abandoned. Goldsmith wryly notes that “I often use [William S. Burroughs collaborator] Brion Gysin’s quote from 1959 that poetry is 50 years behind painting.” As philosopher and literary theorist Daniel Barbiero writes of “the willingness of contemporary poets to use a spectrum of devices without undue prejudice” (87) in Telling It Slant, an anthology of “avant-garde poetics of the 1990s”: “To anyone who has followed the visual arts during the past two decades or so, or academic music in the decade prior to that, the notion of an avant-garde [RS: however or even whether one would define such a thing at this historical juncture] without agonism will not seem very strange” (ibid.). Arthur C. Danto (as I have indicated above), in such books as After the End of Art, Beyond the Brillo Box, and The State of the Art, and music critic Alex Ross, in his brilliant book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, both make this point about, respectively, visual art and music. Ross’s book includes a wonderful 1992 quote from composer John Cage, whose avant-garde credentials are impeccable: “We live in a time I think not of mainstream, but of many streams, or even, if you insist upon a river of time, that we have come to a delta, maybe even beyond delta to an ocean which is going back to the skies” (341). This image of a spatial expanse rather than a road leading to a definite future destination, even if one not known in advance, echoes Danto’s geographical metaphor in my preceding paragraph.

Obviously, experimentation and innovation will and should continue, in the sense of trying something out to see what happens, of engaging in poetic endeavors without knowing or attempting to predetermine the outcome. Poetry is always at least in part a foray into the unknown, a project of finding out what happens in the process of participating in its happening. But the sense of a forward march, of a correct path to the future and a virtuous method by which to reach to that future, is gone, or at least no longer valid. To what destination are the arts, is poetry, marching at this very late date?

My partner Robert Philen, a cultural anthropologist who maintains a brilliant and wide-ranging blog, tells me that the same phenomenon is occurring in the social sciences where, for example, the dichotomies between quantitative and qualitative research are breaking down.


As Joshua Clover writes in “Poem, “We lie down in categories/And wake up in concepts” (The Totality for Kids 6) So it’s important to remember that the poets I have described are very diverse and individually distinctive. That’s what makes their work interesting and worth discussing. But their work broadly and variously shares common characteristics that make it a significant area of contemporary poetic activity. There are doubtless many “post-avant” poets who would not recognize themselves in this description. Some would even vehemently reject my description (practitioners of flarf might do so), and some wouldn’t consider themselves “post-avant” at all. Paul Hoover points out that slam, spoken word, and performance poetry constitutes an almost entirely separate world from that of print poetry, aesthetically, conceptually, and materially, with its own networks and institutions. Given that particularity, I don’t attempt to discuss it here.

Some established poets whose work maps out or creates this third space are Michael Anania, Paul Auster (though I don’t know if he still writes poetry), Bruce Beasley, Martine Bellen, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lucie Brock-Broido, Killarney Clary, Gillian Conoley, Carolyn Forché, Kathleen Fraser, Alice Fulton, Forrest Gander, C.S. Giscombe, Peter Gizzi, Jorie Graham, Brenda Hillman, Claudia Keelan, Ann Lauterbach, Timothy Liu, Jane Miller, Michael Palmer, Suzanne Paola, John Peck, Dennis Phillips, Bin Ramke, Stephen Ratcliffe, Donald Revell, Martha Ronk, Peter Sacks, Aaron Shurin, Carol Snow, Susan Stewart, Cole Swensen, Rosmarie Waldrop, Marjorie Welish, Elizabeth Willis, and C.D. Wright. Many of these writers are included in Lyric Postmodernisms: An Anthology of Contemporary Innovative Poetries, edited by moi and just out from Counterpath Press, with generous blurbs from Charles Altieri and Marjorie Perloff.

Some “emerging” or less-established poets who work in this space are Christopher Arigo, Dan Beachy-Quick, Jasper Bernes, Laynie Browne, Brigitte Byrd, Julie Carr, Jeff Clark, Joshua Clover, Joshua Corey, Cynthia Cruz, Jocelyn Emerson, Amy England, Lisa Fishman, Graham Foust, John Gallaher, Michele Glazer, Noah Eli Gordon, Matthea Harvey, Brian Henry, Joan Houlihan, Christine Hume, Catherine Imbriglio, Julie Kalendek, Joanna Klink, Joshua Kryah, Joseph Lease, Malinda Markham, Mark McMorris, Rusty Morrison, Jenny Mueller, Laura Mullen, Amy Newman, Geoffrey Nutter, Geoffrey G. O’Brien, Tracy Philpot, D.A. Powell, Heather Ramsdell, Rebecca Reynolds, Brenda Shaughnessy, ‘Annah Sobelman, Brian Teare, Karen Volkman, G.C. Waldrep, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Tyrone Williams, Sam Witt, Andrew Zawacki, and Rachel Zucker. Many of these writers are included in my Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries, published by the University of Iowa Press in 2004.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, or even a list of all the poets whose work I enjoy who write “that kind of poetry” (as Joan Houlihan writes that editors refer to it), but just the starting point for a discussion of a phenomenon much mentioned but rarely defined or described, one that Joshua Corey proposes as “the new American mainstream, retaining whatever oppositional force it still possesses only through institutional memory—though it still stands strongly enough as a bulwark against the laziness and anti-intellectualism of the genuine mainstream of American cultural life.”


The stormy reception the original version of this piece received at the Poetry Foundation web site indicates that there are many people who believe (or act as if they believe) that we still live in the stultified and stultifying poetic culture of the Nineteen Fifties (in which there was still more going on than people choose to remember or credit), and cultivate a sense of themselves as rebels against a monolithic literary orthodoxy that no longer exists, if it ever really did. As intellectual historian Peter Gay points out in his book Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, if the bourgeois audience had really been as monolithically or rigidly philistine as they were and have since been portrayed as being, then modernism would never have become successful, let alone institutionalized.

Many maintain this sense of themselves as marginalized outsiders, if not downright victims, no matter how comfortably ensconced they are within what Louis Althusser (a highly problematic thinker who nonetheless produced some useful ideas) called the ideological state apparatus of higher education, or just within the literary world in general. (It also needs reminding that, closely entwined as they are in the current American situation, academia and the literary world are not identical.) As the wonderful poet Michael Anania once said to me, if you continue to cultivate a sense of grievance and victimization once you become successful (or if you were never an outsider to begin with, as is the case with many people who identify themselves as transgressors and subversives), then you just become a jerk. (He used a stronger word, but I’m trying to be polite.)

I close with a quote from poet Brenda Hillman’s essay “On Song, Lyric, and Strings,” about the nature, place, and role of the lyric in today’s “post”-everything world, from which I also quote in my introduction to Lyric Postmodernisms):

“Current aesthetic quarrels and conversations between poets are real enough, and the aesthetically abstract or non-referential lyric poetry may have a different readership from poetry that announces its purposes in more narrative styles, but these issues should concern poets far less than keeping poetry alive in a culture of appalling greed, a culture that doesn't read much of anything, a culture that does business as usual in a time of Enron and retributionist wars.”

Would that more people could keep these wise words in mind.

Works Cited

Beach, Christopher, ed. Artifice and Indeterminacy: An Anthology of New Poetics. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998.

Burt, Stephen. “The Elliptical Poets.” Reprinted in Jerry Harp and Jan Weismiller, eds., A Poetry Criticism Reader. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006.

Danto, Arthur C. The State of the Art. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1987.

Hoover, Paul. Fables of Representation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Ross, Alex. The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.

Wallace, Mark, and Steven Marks, eds. Telling It Slant: Avant-Garde Poetics of the 1990s. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

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Two Posts on Creativity, Quality, and Taste

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

Cultural anthropologist (and my much-loved partner) Robert Philen has two recent posts on his always fascinating blog that I think will be of particular interest to readers of this blog.

The first, "A Democracy of Creation and Taste (But Not Quality)," he points out that while "In much of the world today, there is something like a democracy of creative expression, where most everyone can say what they want about whatever, even if some people are better able to have their voices heard and are more influential," at the same time, though "There’s no single way to evaluate the quality of art...art and other instances of creative expression do have objective qualities – meaning that they are objects in the world with empirical qualities"--qualities that can be analyzed, evaluated, and judged.

In other words, the democratization of creativity is not equivalent to a democratization or leveling of judgments of artistic quality: as Robert writes, "the fact that there’s no single way to evaluate the relative quality of works of art, doesn’t mean that all creative expression is the equal of every other." The aesthetic world is not flat.

Robert's second and more recent post of interest is called "In the Long Run Our Culture Has Good Taste," in which he points out that "People often have the impression that pop culture and the arts used to be better. This impression comes from the fact that in the long term, we actually have good taste, and this skews our memory of the past." We are very aware of the ephemeral dreck (my phrase, not his) of our own time, but that of the past has fallen away, and all that remains or tends to be remembered are the high points--Frank Sinatra's soulful ballads, not his duet with a talking dog.

As he points out, and this is a way in which the two posts are directly related, "Objects of creative expression (and I would include scholarly expression as much as art here) that maintain the interest of many for very long, though highly various, tend to have objective qualities that reward repeated reflection and rumination (i.e. they’re actually at least somewhat profound) and that are not overly determined by the moment of their creation, allowing them to communicate across temporal contexts."

I encourage everyone to read these stimulating and insightful pieces.

Reginald and the Muses

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

by Robert Philen

In the few months since Reginald’s death, I’ve revisited and reread most all of his writing, poetry and prose, a time or two, mostly as a way of coping with his loss and staying in touch with his ideas, though also because in my capacity as his literary executor, I’ve also been collecting together and editing a variety of his works for publication. One piece I’ve recently returned to is his short essay, “Taking Dictation from a Martian Muse,” in which he treats the notion of poetry as derived from the muses in a variety of guises, though focusing especially on Jack Spicer’s notion of poetry as dictation.

Reginald was largely skeptical of the idea of poetry as dictation or as derived from Muses or as transmissions from the ghost radio:

“Interesting and even inspiring though Spicer’s notion of dictation is, with its promise of escaping what he calls "the big lie of the personal," I wonder if it’s not simply the mirror image of romantic inspiration. Instead of coming from deep within one, from one’s soul or innermost self, the poem comes from outside one, from the Martians or the spooks. In either case, the poet is passive, and abdicates thought and responsibility...Spicer’s Martians seem to be the Muses dressed up in space suits, another way to preserve the romantic (small “r”) notion of the poet as a specially inspired individual with access to the transcendent…”

This is not at all to say that Reginald rejected the notion of poetry as inspired through something like a muse (whether one thinks of that in terms of Martians dictating, ghost radios, the workings of the subconscious mind, or possession by muses):

“I like the idea of poetry as dictation, because writing does feel like that sometimes. I’ve had at least one poem that was literally dictated to me—I woke up and the poem was reciting itself in my head, though I had to come up with my own ending. Don't we all? In that sense Spicer conveys what it often feels like to do poetry.”

I’d say it’s more that Reginald felt that while muses may be involved in the process of writing poetry, they are not sufficient, for the poem requires the active working by the poet upon potentially poetic material, wherever that may have come from:

“The poem, when it is at its best, when we are at our best, is a kind of agon between the poet and the language, and the poet has to bring all his or her resources to bear, or it’s not a real struggle at all, just a performance.”

Reginald’s penultimate poem (if it may be called that – more on that below) is a good example of the relation between muses and poetry, both in the sense of its writing being clearly of something other than his fully conscious, cogent mind, and in the sense that it’s obviously not fully formed poetry.

As many who knew him or follow his writing know, in mid-April last year, several months before he did die in September, Reginald almost died as a result of a perforated intestine, followed by massive abdominal infection and blood poisoning. He was unconscious for ten days in the Intensive Care Unit, with a ventilator down his throat, alongside many other tubes, lines, and pieces of equipment. Even when he regained consciousness, he was completely unable to talk until the ventilator tube was removed, and barely able to talk after that because of lack of strength. For a few days after regaining consciousness and having the ventilator tube removed, he had frequent hallucinations (the result of both the sedatives he had been on and his sickness) and slipped easily in and out of fully cogent consciousness even when I don’t think he was hallucinating.

During the period of a few days during which he was in and out of consciousness but was largely unable to talk, Reginald communicated to me or to his ICU nurses by writing on a clipboard. Much of this writing is completely illegible, as he didn’t have good motor control in his arms at that point. Much of what is legible is lacking in cogency (he was frequently hallucinating at the time, after all). Most of what is legible and cogent is fairly prosaic – parts of simple conversations I remember having with him (or that he had with one of the nurses), such as a short list of food items (grapes, juice, peeled apples, plums, jello) he wanted after I had asked him if there was anything he wanted me to bring him.

But a few weeks ago, while looking through those papers (I hadn’t looked through them much before, because they were too painful), I encountered this, written sometime the day after he regained consciousness, but when he was still frequently suffering powerful hallucinations and was only fully cogent for short moments:

for month and years [,the?] […etary?] [fruits?]
and [to end?] her [battle?] many of other
[toward?] [b.. the?] [history?]
[into ...?]
the single step and [lags?] distance
every [curve follows, linking to above word]
between [L..mbe..g?] and

a palmful of Persian peaches

the world is[s] a work of wish and

human circumstance

this history of being rusted, being burned
rusting, being burned

the [alval?] [bag ?] of of years burned up ,not down

burned off [to?] the for night

The first part in particular is virtually impossible to decipher as a result of the quality of the handwriting, which improves over the course of the page – as if gaining strength and confidence as he wrote. (I would like to acknowledge the help of Brad Richard in attempts to fully decipher the text, to the extent that Reginald’s handwritten page can be deciphered.) Nonetheless, as fragmentary as the text is, as indecipherable as parts of it unfortunately are, the form and elements of a poem are there on the page, and if this isn’t dictation from a muse, I’m not sure what would be.

Overall, it’s clear from his body of work that Reginald was extraordinarily sensitive to potential poetic material. Some of the material of his poetry consisted of linguistic “found objects,” his noticing poetic uses of language whether they occurred in casual conversations or on roadside signs, but most of his material came to him as though from the muses, with the important notation that he constantly took note of poetic material that occurred to him, such that he was constantly jotting things down in one little notebook or another. Maybe that’s all that having a muse is – being attentive to powerful language as it occurs, or maybe Reginald was taking dictation from Martians, channeling transmissions from the ghost radio, or being periodically possessed by Muses. In any case, that was only the start. Regardless of the source of poetic material, he still had to engage in attentive work to create poems. In the process of creating his art, there really were multiple and largely distinct facets to Reginald Shepherd as poet – the medium channeling inspiration and/or careful observer of language (in some cases he had whole lines and more “dictated” from somewhere that he had to write down quickly or lose them forever; in other cases [and more with those linguistic “found objects”] he was more like a particularly astute detective of language), and the artisan or craftsman who skillfully transformed raw poetic material into finished poetry.

In any case, it’s difficult to figure out what to do with this penultimate poem of his (and as literary executor, it is something I have to figure out). It’s tempting to call it a poetic fragment and leave it as is, though with the caveat that this is a fragment in a different sense from textual fragments like Petronius’ Satyricon, a completed text of which only fragments remain, whereas these are fragments of potentiality, artifacts of a poem never made, and it’s precisely for that reason that I don’t think Reginald would ultimately want the fragment left as is. It’s also tempting to me to suppress it as an unfinished work (too late for that now, I suppose), but I don’t think Reginald would want that either. There were works of his that he had chosen not to publish. He had a file titled “Poems not suitable for publication.” Most of the poems in this file are quite good, just poems he didn’t consider his best and/or poems he intended to go back and work more with if he had time, such that it was really the case that he considered them poems not suitable for publication yet. Still, he didn’t want those poems suppressed (something I know because I asked him about this specifically and explicitly on several occasions) – only not published until such point as there was no possibility of his working on them more. This “poem,” written under such extraordinary circumstances, is more fragmentary than those other poems (which actually aren’t fragmentary at all), but I don’t think he’d want it suppressed, and in any case, I find it impossible to suppress lines like “a palmful of Persian peaches,” (hence part of the motivation for this post). Finally, it’s tempting to work these fragments, engage in the agon between poet and language – a prospect I find daunting to say the least, though at least in this case, there is a legible and coherent core to the fragmentary text that with only minor editing and excision (rather than addition coming from me rather than Reginald) functions as a poem in its own right. Something like:

A palmful of Persian peaches,
the world is a work of wish and
human circumstance,
this history of being rusted, being burned
rusting, being burned
years burned up ,not down
burned off to the night

I’m not sure what Reginald would have ultimately done with his fragmentary text, given the chance, but I am confident of what his approach would have been – to have recognized it as materia from the Muses that he would have further agonized with to create a poem.

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Narcissus as Narcissus

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

I take my title from Allen Tate's well-known essay discussing his poem "Ode to the Confederate Dead," in which he professes himself to be far from an expert on the poem just because he happened to have written it. As I'm sure it was for him, my use of this title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since there's always something self-regarding about publicly discussing one's own work. But I hope that there may be something of interest and even use in my discussion beyond mere amour propre. My work, after all, is not me, nor are the ideas which inform that work. I hope that the discussion is at least true to the work.

My poetry operates within a literary tradition and a literary language to which I owe my formation as a writer, yet which is not “mine” (as a black gay man raised in Bronx housing projects): I wrestle with this necessary angel and rise renamed, blessed but also lamed. This language, the language of Yeats and Stevens, Eliot and Hart Crane, has both made me possible as a writer and made being a writer an asymptote. It is a language to which I aspire in the act of writing it and being written by it (every writer is as much the tool of language as its wielder). Thus my relationship to my own language (simultaneously mine and not mine at all) is ambivalent, constantly haunted by the questions, “Can I truly speak this language? Can this language speak through me?” Eliot wrote that the poet must always mistrust words, but the problem of language is foregrounded for me in ways it needn’t be for writers with a more settled, if illusory, sense that language is “theirs.”

It’s my intention to inscribe my presence into that language and that tradition, not to “subvert” it but to produce a place of possibility within it. I wish to make Sappho and the South Bronx, the myth of Hyacinth and the homeless black men ubiquitous in the cities of the decaying American empire, AIDS and all the beautiful, dead cultures, speak to and acknowledge one another, in order to discover what, if anything, can be made of a diminished thing (in Robert Frost’s phrase).

I am constantly working toward a poetic mode in which the lyric (a lyric I wish neither to destroy nor to consign to the trash heap of history) confronts its others, both the historical experience of abjection it has traditionally erased and the abjection of language itself that lyric “mastery” attempts to alibi and cover over. I am willing to give up none of the transformative possibilities of lyric, possibilities which have been at worst foreclosed (as pretention, presumption, or prevarication) and at best permitted to lapse in most contemporary American poetry, both the MFA mainstream practicing, ever-unobtrusively, the aesthetics of transparency, sincerity, and personal authenticity, and the Language poets so busy exposing the lying babble of media-speak that they forget the positive, creative possibilities of poetry. Nor am I willing to surrender the necessary and enabling critical-utopian distance of lyric from the society that both produces it and repudiates it, that cannot live up to its own promises. On this uncertain ground, lyric communes with the social text, while historical circumstance is refracted through the redemptive lens of a revised lyricism.

My work surrenders neither lyricism nor lucidity (in critic Charles Altieri’s terms), charting a liminal space of the coincidence of song and thought, enchantment and disenchantment, the somatic and the cerebral. I hope to uncouple what Russell Berman has called the proximity of form and domination, and thereby to salvage what Adorno (following Stendhal) called the promise of happiness (promesse du bonheur) that the lyric has embodied historically and in my own life.

In the tension or dialectic between enchantment and disenchantment, Language poetry falls squarely on the side of disenchantment. It is a negative project of unmasking, unveiling, and undoing. Language poetry is wholly critical, exposing the ideological mystifications and fracture lines of discourse. But I have not given up on poetry as a practice of creation and not just critique, on the productive possibilities of enchantment and lyricism. Thus my commitment to the lyric and the traditional resources it deploys and makes available to the poet. Both Michael Palmer and Ann Lauterbach have said that their commitment to the lyric, to the possibilities of lyricism and enchantment, prevents them from being Language poets, however experimental and interrogatory their work remains.

My relationship to the Western literary canon (which is no single and singular thing) has always been paradoxical: there is both no place already assigned me and more of a possibility of creating a place for myself than the world at large has offered. I have been oppressed by many things in my life, but not by literature, which represents and enacts potential rather than closure. It’s been the fashion for some time to see literature as a social symptom, to think that social conditions and social identity completely determine the nature and value of a piece of writing. But art’s utopian potential lies exactly in the degree to which it exceeds social determinations and definitions, bringing together the strange and the familiar, combining otherness and brotherhood.

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That Time Your Website Redesign Didn't Go As Planned

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If your website has been around for any length of time, you’ve probably gone through a redesign or at least a round of significant updates. Hopefully, each time has been a great success and you’ve never looked back. But for the rest of us there’s likely been at least one time when we thought...OMG, what have we done?

It might have been obvious right from the start. The moment the new site was launched it became crystal clear that not every change was for the better. Or, it might have taken a while for the reality to set in….maybe customer feedback wasn’t as positive as you’d hoped, or maybe the proof was in the analytics and your site’s performance started to tank.

Whatever the case, if you find yourself in that situation, you know you have to do something. But what? Ideally, whoever you partnered with on your redesign will work with you to help you feel comfortable with the state of your website. Maybe you can work together to come up with a solution.

But what if they can’t or won’t? Believe it or not, it is possible to salvage a redesign gone wrong if you have the right web development partner.

First step is to identify the problem. Is it just the look and feel of the site that isn’t working? Did it look good in development but now in the real world it’s just not a good fit for your company? If so, some simple graphic changes might do the trick. A color change here, a font change there, an additional image there, you might be surprised what these types of updates can do. Or, maybe the look is fine but somehow it wasn't built in a responsive format. Believe it or not, many sites can be retro-fitted as mobile-friendly while still retaining the integrity of the branding.

Maybe it’s not the look and feel, though. Maybe it’s the overall flow of the site that your customers are finding cumbersome. Did you move things around in a way your customers don’t appreciate? Has it become too difficult to navigate your site? Again, you might be able to fix things with just a few changes. Renaming navigation, combining unnecessary clicks, even just changing the position of a link might make all the difference. You just need to think about how your customers use the site and go from there. A web development partner can help you make sure your site’s usability meets your customers’ needs.

But maybe it’s not the front-end of the site at all. Maybe your customers love it but the content management system is not as easy and straightforward as promised. If you can’t maintain your site and make updates easily, you’ll just end up frustrated with a site that slowly becomes stagnant. Hopefully, your site is built on a platform that is conducive to back-end updates and additions and allows a good web developer the opportunity to give you what you need.

Whatever the reason for the dissatisfaction, if there’s a way to fix it without starting over, a good web development team will help you do that. So find one. In the end, you might decide that it doesn’t make sense to try to fix it because it’s just too broken. Does this mean you have to start from scratch? Yes and no.

Every website is different and functionality can range from the most basic to the most complex. If it makes sense, you can take advantage of a design template that can be modified to your branding. Leverage a development platform providing functionality that is customizable but not custom, and including a content management system that can be as robust or simplistic as you need. Yes, this means another redesign project, but not necessarily the same redesign budget.

So if your redesign did not go as planned, don’t throw in the towel but do take action. The sooner you admit defeat, find a web development partner, and get on the road to recovery, the sooner you’ll find you and your site on victory lane.

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by admin @ Shaw Hardwood Flooring

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In Memoriam Alvin Feinman, 1929-2008

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

I am still in the hospital, awaiting surgery on an abdominal fistula that refuses to heal on its own—quite the contrary—but it’s very important to me to have Robert post this piece.

In Memoriam Alvin Feinman, 1929-2008


The wonderful poet, teacher and friend Alvin Feinman died a few days ago after a long struggle with emphysema and Parkinson’s disease. Alvin was one of the most important people in my poetic life, and I would like to pay him some small homage here.

Alvin Feinman was born in 1929 and raised in New York City. Though he has been named by Harold Bloom as part of the essential canon of Western literature—Bloom has written that “The best of his poems stand with the most achieved work of his generation”—Feinman is not included in any of the standard anthologies of modern or modern American poetry, not even Cary Nelson’s recent Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, which explicitly aims at recovering and rediscovering neglected writers. Nor is he listed in the purportedly comprehensive Contemporary Authors reference series.

Though always committed to poetry (including, in his words, “even doggerel narratives in early childhood”), he had originally decided on philosophy as a career, and did graduate work at Yale to that end, until he realized that the dominant analytical school excluded all the important philosophical questions. It was in poetry that those unanswerable questions, questions of knowledge, perception, and the relation between being and appearance, could properly be addressed. As Feinman somewhat jocularly told me, “I was, even philosophically, convinced that, as I liked to put it, if according to Aristotle, ‘Poetry is more philosophical than history,’ so is it more philosophical than philosophy. The work I’d have had to do in philosophy would be to lay out the grounds for privileging poetry—which indeed our era has been more or less doing—vide Heidegger, Rorty, Derrida, etc.”

Feinman’s first book, Preambles and Other Poems, was published by Oxford University Press in 1964 to praise from such figures as Allen Tate, Conrad Aiken, Geoffrey Hartman, and Bloom. (Bloom’s discussion of this volume in his book The Ringers in the Tower: Studies in Romantic Tradition is the only extended treatment of Feinman’s work of which I am aware.) Now out of print, it was reissued with a handful of additional poems by Princeton University Press as Poems in 1990; that volume is also out of print. Feinman’s lack of a wider reputation is partly due to the unabashed difficulty of his poems, though as Harold Bloom writes, “their difficulty is their necessity” (The Ringers in the Tower, 315). But, given the popularity of other “difficult” poets, his neglect is mostly due to his distaste for the rituals of literary self-promotion.

Alvin Feinman is a true visionary poet, heir to Stevens and Crane in the modern line and, further back, to Blake, Wordsworth, and Shelley, poets who invented human consciousness as a subject matter for poetry. In Harold Bloom’s description, “the central vision in [Preambles] is of the mind, ceaselessly an activity, engaged in the suffering process of working apart all things that are joined by it” (op. cit., 315). Bloom calls this “a tragedy of the mind, victim to its own intent, which is to make by separations” (op. cit., 316).

Feinman’s poems demand much of the reader (at times resisting the intelligence almost successfully, as Stevens said that the poem should), but they offer many rewards in return, including dazzling imagery (light and the work light does is omnipresent) and dense, rich verbal music. Eliot wrote that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood, and Feinman’s poems do so amply.

John Hollander has written that Feinman’s poetry explores the indefinable boundary between the visual and the visionary. In one of the blurbs for Preambles, Conrad Aiken wrote that Feinman’s was “true metaphysical poetry.” His poems constitute an epistemological and phenomenological investigation of the world, a probing of the surfaces of things that moves from seeing to seeing-into to seeing-through to the other side of appearances, exposing the luminous interior of the material world. As Bloom has written, the “opposition between the imaginative self and reality seems as central to these poems as it was to Stevens’ and as grandly articulated.”


Alvin Feinman is also the only person in my writing life whom I could truly call a mentor. I have had professors from whom I’ve learned, who have taught me valuable things about my work (sometimes intentionally, sometimes inadvertently or even against their will). But few were truly formative, and fewer still were both consistent and constructive in their attention. For one thing, he was the first professor to understand what my poems were trying to do, even though they didn’t always succeed.

Alvin, with whom I did my undergraduate creative writing thesis at Bennington College, never did anything for me but help me write better poems. He never did anything to me but make me see that however pleased I was with something I’d written, it could always be better, had to be better if I were to call myself a poet. For Alvin, to be a poet was always an aspiration, not something that one could claim to be. I think if I’d have asked him he would have said, “I would like to be a poet.”

Alvin expected everything of poetry, his own and others’. As he once said to me, “Poetry is always close kin to the impossible, isn’t it?” There was no point in reading a poem unless it was great, and no point in writing a poem unless it (not you: it) aspired to greatness. He was especially alert to the occasions when a poem failed to live up to its own possibilities, when it fell away into the mundane from therevelations it proposed. Usually the poem failed by settling for the merely personal. For Alvin, one’s interest in oneself had no place in poetry, and in his poems one will find not face but mask. But it’s a mask more alive than the great mass of mere faces.

Alvin also helped me learn the difference between whether something was done well and whether it needed to be done at all. He warned against the dangers of what he called “fluency über alles,” of writing something because you can or because you want to. What you want has no place in poetry: only what the poem wants matters. He once said of a poem of mine that he saw little in it but my desire to write a poem, and he saw accurately. But Alvin also taught me to listen more carefully, to look more closely, to be more aware of the poem’s intentions. He was an exacting reader, and his is an example I am constantly trying to live up to.


I love all of Alvin’s poems, but this one in particular, the first poem of his I ever read, is one of my favorites.

November Sunday Morning

And the light, a wakened heyday of air
Tuned low and clear and wide,
A radiance now that would emblaze
And veil the most golden horn
Or any entering of a sudden clearing
To a standing, astonished, revealed…

That the actual streets I loitered in
Lay lit like fields, or narrow channels
About to open to a burning river;
All brick and window vivid and calm
As though composed in a rigid water
No random traffic would dispel…

As now through the park, and across
The chill nailed colors of the roofs,
And on near trees stripped bare,
Corrected in the scant remaining leaf
To their severe essential elegance,
Light is the all-exacting good,

That dry, forever virile stream
That wipes each thing to what it is,
The whole, collage and stone, cleansed
To its proper pastoral…
I sit
And smoke, and linger out desire.

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What's in a Name? Part Two

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

Now that I am once again out of the hospital and able to sleep in my own bed without being wakened several times a night to be weighed or have my vital signs taken, I have the opportunity to think about other things every once in a while, or at least to return to thoughts over which I've been mulling for a while. Thus I present part two of my musings on names and naming.

The name Reginald has very different connotations for white people and for black people. For white people, the name sounds very English, and my Anglo accent, though one that I can’t hear, often makes them inquire as to whether I am English, or perhaps West Indian. I just reply that I got my accent from my Barbadian father (whom I met once) and my Jamaican stepfather (who abused my mother and me). But almost the only people in America nowadays with the name Reginald are black. It’s become an almost quintessentially black name, like Antoine (often spelled Antwan, or Antuan) or Leroy/Leroi (“the king”).

Mine is one of a set of categories of black names. There are the names that white Americans don’t use anymore, like Cedric or Tyrone, names that have been handed over to black people (though in the hospital I did have a white physical therapist named Tyrus—but then, the South has always been a bit backward). There are also names like Reginald, Maurice, or Roderick (this last one is on the edge) which have become predominantly black names but aren’t yet perceived so by white people. There are the made-up names, like Materia, Tawanna (a cousin of mine—she was meant to be named after the Mexican border city), or Chicalaundra (pronounced “Shalandra”). There are the Frenchified names, like LaQuan or LeVante or LeBron or LaToya (also LeToya), or the (male) driver of the Greyhound bus I used to take to work when I lived in Chicago, LaHarry. I remember joking once with a black friend that you can make any name black just by adding “La” or “Le” to it; then I realized it was true. (“De” will also work, as in DeWayne, DeMarcus or, my favorite, Da’Sean, pronounced “DAY-Shawn”—the apostrophe makes all the difference.) Then there are the faux-African names, like Kechia/Keshia/Keisha, Kena (another cousin of mine), Kima, and Kwame (this last a genuineWest African name appropriated by black Americans). There is an overlap between Frenchified black names and faux-African names, as in Lakeisha or Deshondra, and between the made-up names and the faux-African names, like Tawanna or Kima or Ebony/Eboni. There are also the Arab names, like Jamal and Malik, Omar and Raheem/Raheim. I’ve always found black Americans' tendency to give their children Muslim names odd, since Muslim Arabs were major slave traders for over a thousand years. A category which seems to have dwindled are names taken from words of rank and position, so that a white person calling a black person by (usually) his first name would still have to show respect, even if the act was meant disrespectfully. The singer Prince a/k/a “Symbol Thing” (born Prince Rogers Nelson) and poet Major Jackson would be examples. Mine is also an example of such a name, since, as I wrote earlier, my mother always told me that it meant “Great King.”

When I was a kid, and up until my mid-twenties, I went by “Reggie.” The only other two Reggies I knew of in my childhood were the baseball player Reggie Jackson and the Archie comic books laughingstock rich bad boy Reggie Mantle. He once went into an office and, unsatisfied by the secretary’s refusal to be impressed by him, announced “Someday my name will be a household word,” to which her response was, “Like dirt?”

A few months before my twenty-fifth birthday, I decided that I was too old to be called “Reggie.” That was a child’s name, and it was time for me to put aside childish things. Since then I have gone by my full name, though people still insist on calling me “Reggie” and “Reg.” But even when I went by Reggie, already a shortened version of my name, many people insisted on calling me “Reg." Besides the obvious fact that it wasn’t my name (if I wanted to be called Reg, I would introduce myself that way), as my oldest friend Merav’s mother put it, “Reg” has the air of a hale fellow well met, a football player perhaps, and that's never been me or anyone I wanted to be. I've never understood why people would need to nick a nickname, anyway. Some people still call me Reg, and I always correct them, except for my editor at the University of Pittsburgh Press, Ed Ochester. He has loyally published me for many years, so if he wanted to call me “Joe,” that would be alright with me.

Comments on “Kinds of Camouflage”

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog


For Robert Philen

1. Déjeuner, with Herbs

Then I am sitting naked on damp grass
(it rained in my yesterday)
while two white gentlemen
in black frock coats share lunch
around me, passing chèvre, cold andouille,
and baguettes, passing bon mots
in French, in someone’s nineteenth century,
my muddled impression of one. I can’t
understand a word. There must be
a picnic basket somewhere, lined with
a red and white checked cloth,
some visual cliché, although
I know the cloth’s pale blue, pale echo
of a sky that isn’t there. They hardly
notice me (two men now passing apples, and
a bottle of medium quality red wine), or no,
I exaggerate, they don’t see me
at all, my body naked to the breeze
too cold for noon although it may
be May; my skin responds
in kind and gets no answer, a situation
I am used to. Browned warmth of my flesh
tones is quickly cooling, and the day
is downcast, overcast: the basket’s
been tipped over, grapes, peaches,
and some fruit I can’t make out
spill over, shadowing green. I hate poems
about food. I am a painting
by now, varnish smudged and darkening
in storage, and getting hungry fast.

2. Field Guide

Above the highway we drove home
between two hills of snow (from one
classical town to another), a bird
you couldn’t recognize at first
when I asked, What is that?.
Something trailing confused you,
threw you off track, a streamer,
scrap of dragon kite, festoon or
crimson plume. Oh, it’s a red-tailed
hawk, with something caught
I can’t make out. Dinner, anyway
A piece of will defeated
in the wind, some little life’s
fluttered surrender. Perhaps
a red squirrel, rare color
around here (you told me
that), I could have thought
but didn’t. The hawk
won’t be hungry for long, we’re almost
home. It will be again.

“Kinds of Camouflage” has long been one of my favorite poems – by Reginald or anyone. The poem appears in Reginald’s most recent poetry collection, Fata Morgana, published last year, though it was written quite a while earlier, about a year or so after I first met and fell in love with Reginald, sometime during the winter of 2000 – 2001, or perhaps as late as early spring 2001. (I can place its writing in time because Part 2, in addition to being evocative poetry, is a pretty straight description of something we saw and a conversation we had while driving between Syracuse and Ithaca, New York, and that is the possible time range in which we might have made that drive with snow on the ground.)

Here I offer, paralleling the structure of the poem, two commentaries, distinct from one another, but related. Robert Philen


One of the most striking things about Reginald’s poetry is the strength and power of his images.

His images are typically straightforward and clear. In reading his poetry, I’m often reminded of the clarity of imagery in some of the poems of one of Reginald’s favorite modern poets, Williams – the red wheelbarrow (upon which so much depends) beside the white chickens, or “This is just to say”’s plums so cold and so delicious, to reference two famous examples.

Reginald’s imagery is also typically highly evocative. In Part 1 of “Kinds of Camouflage,” there is of course the reference to and evocation of Manet’s painting, but also a sense of the fear of exposure of nakedness (literal and figurative), fear of lack of interest in that nakedness exposed, and perhaps also a bit of a sense of the pomposity in which others are clothed (literally and figuratively).

But as Reginald was often quick to point out, in writing, speaking, or conversation, there are no images in poetry, barring some examples of concrete poetry. An important part the workings of his poetry was the tension between imagery and the fact of the poem as comprised of words.

This tension is often made explicit through calling attention to the “wordiness” of imagery. In Part 1 here, following imagery of food with “I hate poems about food,” followed by a new fiction and image, “I am a painting by now…” Similarly, in “You, Therefore” (posted below, and also published in Fata Morgana), it is made explicit that “you” and imagery of “you” are not the same, though with the ambiguity immediately reintroduced through the use of further imagery in presenting the reality of “you:” “…if I say to you ‘To You I Say,’ you have not been / set to music… you are / a concordance of person, number, voice, / and place, strawberries spread through your name…” Also, in “Kinds of Camouflage,” we encounter the ambiguity of straightforward images misperceived or unperceived (camouflaged), except because marked as camouflaged.


Among other things, Reginald was a poet of landscape and nature, though clearly not in any of the stereotypical sorts of ways.

Again, one (though only one) of the important components of most of his poetry is his striking imagery. This is one of the things that gives his corpus of work a cohesiveness, a style of its own. At the same time, the poems he wrote in different periods, and perhaps more importantly in different places, tend to have their distinct flavors. They’re all markedly “Reginald Shepherd” poems, but his Chicago poems have a different feel from his upstate New York poems from his Pensacola poems.

Much of his imagery he created or drew from subjective or interpersonal experiences or from encountering the poetry and art of others. Part 1 of “Kinds of Camouflage” uses such imagery, and taken in isolation could have been written by Reginald in any of the places he lived. Much of his imagery, though, was drawn from his physical surroundings. In Part 2 of the poem, the imagery is drawn from an incident in upstate New York. He would have emphasized, and I emphasize now, that once placed in the poem, the imagery takes on an existence independent of the occurrence, not at all dependent on the occurrence (which in this particular instance happened to have actually happened), but the imagery did have its initial inspiration in that event and place.

What I’m trying to get across here is really the simple point that he drew great inspiration from and responded to his surroundings. His Chicago poems are often full of the imagery of Lake Michigan, the waterfront, and the industrial trappings of that city – imagery largely absent from later poems. (Other waterfronts are present – but not that one.) I find it virtually impossible to imagine (aside from the fact that I know it was written in Ithaca, NY) Part 2 of “Kinds of Camouflage” having been written in Chicago. It’s possible something somewhat similar could have been written in Pensacola, though without the snow, without the classical towns, without the musing of hypothetical suppositions about whether the hawk’s dinner could have been a red squirrel, i.e. he might have written a poem in Pensacola involving a red-tailed hawk, but the total set of images bears distinct markings as one of his upstate New York poems.

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The Dialectic of Expression and Construction

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

A dichotomy is commonly made between aesthetic expression and aesthetic construction, in which the two terms are set in opposition as ways of proceeding in art. One is either exploring the possibilities of one’s medium or one is expressing one’s emotional and psychological state. One is either following formal necessities or emotional necessities. I find this dichotomy to be false. As I am noticing more and more, musicians seem to be far ahead of writers in breaking down such false oppositions.

The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera contains an excellent chapter by musicologist Alan Street on Schoenberg and Berg, who along with Webern comprised what has been called the Second Viennese School in music (the first being that of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert—a loosely defined “school” indeed), that talks very intelligently about the dialectic of construction and expression, pointing out that in the best twentieth century operas (from Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Berg’s Wozzeck onward) the two have worked together, expression through construction, construction through expression: “Schoenberg was at pains to emphasize the impossibility of distinguishing between artistic acts of spontaneous expression and deliberate construction” (89). Street quotes fellow musicologist Douglas Jarman’s description of “the seemingly paradoxical fusion of technical calculation and emotional spontaneity that gives Berg’s music its particular fascination” (94-95).

Much contemporary American poetry is stuck setting the two against one another, and tends (probably in reaction to the still-prevalent aesthetic of personal authenticity) to privilege construction over expression. Again, I feel that in other areas of artistic endeavor this dichotomy has been put to rest, at least among practitioners. (Though self-appointed music critics are still fond of dismissing or denigrating Webern’s—nonexistent—“snarling dissonance” on the basis of an utter ignorance of his crystalline work.). For that matter, I think of Charles Olson and Robert Creeley’s complementary statements on the relationship of form and content—each is only an extension of the other.

For example, Christian Bök is clearly a very intelligent and talented writer, but when I read his book Eunoia, I see all construction and no expression: it’s a clever idea, but it doesn’t go any further than that. If Bök were to attempt to do something more with the technique of using only one vowel per section, that would be more interesting and engaging. But as it is, the book is not only a one-trick pony, but its trick has been done before, by Georges Perec and Harry Mathews and the Oulipo school in general. I’m reminded of another quote from Alan Street's chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera, again about Schoenberg and his circle: “for a group of composers compelled, like so many of their creative contemporaries, to withdraw from the commitment to a consensual form of expression, linguistic reinvention of the medium was never allowed to become the abstract end in itself that subsequent theoretical codification might suppose” (86). They never fell into the trap of valorizing technique for its own sake.

In the words of Pierre Boulez, a doyen of the musical avant-garde, “You are not modern—you are merely expressing yourself according to the coordinates of your time, and that’s not being modern, that’s being what you are” (quoted in Arnold Whittall, Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century, 9).

What's in a Name? Part Three

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

Because I am not devoid of pride, and because I always want to know whether I’m being talked about and what people are saying if I am, I periodically look myself up online or, as they say, “google” myself. (Perhaps “Google” should be capitalized, since it is a trademark.) The only other Reginald Shepherd who comes up is an aged and very Caucasian Canadian painter, a self-described “poetic realist” who seems well-known in his native Newfoundland and in neighboring Nova Scotia, but nowhere else as far as I can tell, even in Canada. I think of myself as a kind of poetic realist as well, in life and in my poetry, so perhaps our kinship is more than name deep.

Years ago, when I lived in Chicago, another, decidedly less savory Reginald Shepherd popped up when I searched myself. An apparent career criminal (all that came up were his various arrests), he was something of an evil doppelganger. I once was almost denied an apartment because there was a record of my arrest for “criminal shoplifting” (I always wondered what legal shoplifting was) in 1991, two years before I moved to Chicago. And once I received a letter from a social service agency that some woman had named me as the father of her child. I had to call and explain that the last time I had been in the vicinity of a woman’s vagina was the morning I was born. One of the other Reginald Shepherd’s old addresses even appeared on my credit report, an error (among others) I had to call and write in order to rectify. My criminal double has either settled down into legal respectability or died (either is equally likely), as he hasn’t shown up in my web searches for several years. I would like to think that he has seen the error of his ways and now become a law-abiding citizen, but I have no great desire to inquire further.

When I look up the most common misspelling of my name, Reginald Shepard, which people sometimes insist upon even when they’re publishing or paying me, no matter how many times I sign and print the correct spelling of my name, besides finding various references to my misspelled self (I try to correct them when I can), I also find references to a death row inmate in Florida by that name. I don’t know what his crime was, but I imagine that it was probably murder. I find it a little disturbing to once again have a criminal doppelganger living (though who knows for how long) in the same state. At least there are two crucial letters separating my name from his, his fate from mine. But still…

On the New American Poetry

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

The question of what a tradition is and who is entitled to lay claim to it is quite alive these days. Many contemporary poets trace their literary ancestry back to what have come to be called the New American Poetries, after Donald M. Allen’s influential anthology The New American Poetry. Furthermore, those who claim this legacy often assert a) that the very diverse poets gathered under the rubric “New American Poetries” were political and/or social revolutionaries and b) that they shared a program of total or near-total negation.

I thought that it would be illuminating to go back to Donald M. Allen’s seminal anthology to see what was actually there. Looking through the poems and the author’s statements, though many of them manifest a strong will to transformation, the forms in which this transformation is imagined rarely correspond to political impulses, and often imagine politics as another shackle that must be broken or transcended. The rebellions which many (though hardly all) of these poets engaged or hoped for were often explicitly anti-political, as utopianism often is. In his essay “Buddhism and the Coming Revolution” (reprinted in Donald Allen and Warren Tallman’s anthology The Poetics of the New American Poetry, an assemblage of prose statements published by Grove Press in 1973), Gary Snyder writes that “The belief in a serene and generous fulfillment of natural loving desires destroys ideologies which blind, maim, and repress—and points the way to a kind of community which would amaze ‘moralists’ and transform armies of men who are fighters because they cannot be lovers” (393).

While we talk about “New American Poetries” in the plural, for Allen the new American poetry was singular, though he did divide his assembled poets into five groupings, four semi-geographic and one a catchall of “younger writers who have been associated with and in some cases influenced by the leading writers of the preceding groups, but who have evolved their own original styles and new conceptions of poetry” (xiii). He admitted that his groupings were “occasionally arbitrary and for the most part more historical than actual” and that they were for the convenience of the reader as much as a reflection of any reality other than that of geographical milieu (ibid.).

Allen was not modest in his claims for the poets in his book: “Following the practice and precepts of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, [the new poetry] has built on their achievements and gone on to evolve new conceptions of the poem. These poets have already created their own tradition [an interesting feat], their own press, and their own public. They are our avant-garde, the true continuers of the modern movement in American poetry” (xi). All forty-four poets included constitute the new American poetry. If you’re not in it, you’re not in it. One the one hand, the Nineteen Fifties literary scene was rather exclusive and exclusionary, though it did find its way to giving Gwendolyn Brooks the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. On the other hand, avant-gardes traditionally define themselves by what they push away much more than by what they accept or include. (Many members of various artistic groupings hated one another and despised one another’s work. But together they all hated something else more.)

Peter Gay makes this point in Modernism: The Lure of Heresy: “Like the avant-garde clusters that came after [them]—much, in fact, like the Impressionists—the Pre-Raphaelites were united more by what they detested than what they valued” (83). But it’s important to remember that no one in this anthology called him or herself “a New American Poet,” just as no one (at the time) called himself an Impressionist or a Fauvist or a Cubist. That was a label imposed by their inclusion in this volume. To a large degree, the book produced the phenomenon it claimed to document.

Taken as a whole, the New Americans didn’t share a poetics, let alone a politics. Like most avant-gardes, they were united only by various personal affiliations (what Goethe called elective affinities) and by their opposition to what in the Nineteen Fifties could legitimately be called by Charles Bernstein’s pejorative phrase “official verse culture.” These days, the ostensible “inside” is much more diverse, open, and porous. It’s what they were against that brought them together, not what they were for: as Allen writes in his introduction, this poetry “has shown one common characteristic: a total rejection of all those qualities typical of academic verse” (xi). This was at a time when such a phrase as “academic verse” had some descriptive and not just pejorative content.

The phrase “New American Poetries” was at least in part a marketing strategy. All artistic groupings try to publicize themselves, including by means of oppositionality. That’s one of the reasons artists get together in groups. Certainly both the Dadaists and the Surrealists engaged in such artistic publicity, as did Ezra Pound on behalf of what we now call Anglo-American Modernism. Donald M. Allen assembled an anthology with an incredibly diverse array of writers who were by and large not being read by the wider poetry audience. He (and Grove Press, the publisher, who were taking a chance on such a book) needed some hook to draw in readers, to expose these writers to a wider audience. The New American Poetry (again, singular: if you want it, this is the place to get it) was that hook. There's nothing inherently cynical or sinister in that.

As Ann Lauterbach writes, “This is the main function of being identified with a group or school, to draw critical attention that individual poets, not affiliated with a movement or group, cannot easily attract. ‘New York School’ or ‘Language Poetry’ are given brand-name status, commodifying and homogenizing, so that critics (and poets) can make general identifications and totalizing critiques without having to actually contend with the specific differences among and between so-called members of the group” (“Misquotations from Reality,” Diacritics, 26:3-4, Fall/Winter 1996). A group identity, however tenuous or even illusory, will always get more attention than the individual writer, though of course no group could exist without the individuals that constitute it, and ultimately we only care about literary groups because we care about the writers in them (phenomena like Dada or Italian Futurism may be exceptions, in which we care more about the ideas than about the individual practitioners). But group identities and affiliations can become limitations for writers, who frequently break away from them as they develop (and as they establish their individual reputations).


Some of the poets gathered by Allen did indeed seek to transform society. Some sought to transform consciousness. Some sought to transform writing as a practice. Most just sought to write poems that felt more genuine to them than the products of the poetic orthodoxies of the 1950s. Robert Creeley, for one example, was almost purely concerned with the lyric notation of the moment-to-moment movements of his mind, emotions, and sensibilities. As he wrote in the preface to For Love: Poems 1950-1960, “Not more, say, to live than what there is, to live. I want the poem as close to this fact as I can bring it; or it me” (cited in Rosenthal, The New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II, 147). This implies a notion of a life more authentic or at least more awake than the one most people live, but has no necessarily political valence: various mystical disciplines of attention have the same goal.

John Ashbery was, after all, a Yale Younger Poet (and Frank O’Hara almost was, in the same year), and the revolution which interested him was what Julia Kristeva calls a revolution in poetic language largely inherited from such forebears as Raymond Roussel and Gertrude Stein, what he calls in the title of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard “other traditions” (including Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Laura Riding, John Brooks Wheelwright, and David Schubert). It’s important to note that Ashbery has cited such canonical figures as W.H. Auden and Wallace Stevens as among the poets who most shaped his poetic idiom.

The “Statements on Poetics” at the end of the anthology give a sense of the poets’ interests and motivations. Very few refer to politics, though several refer in rather large and general terms to society and the world at large, and many refer to consciousness in various ways. Ferlinghetti writes that “I am put down by Beat natives who say that I cannot be beat and ‘committed’ at the same time.” He’s scathing about the disengagement of his fellow Beats, with the exception of “that Abominable Snowman of modern poetry, Allen Ginsberg”: “the ‘non-commitment’ of the artist is itself a suicidal and deluded variation of…nihilism” (413). That Ferlinghetti found it necessary to say this indicates that social transformation or even social intervention was not an agenda item for many of his fellow “New American” poets. In his essay “The New Modernism,” Paul Hoover points out that “the style of [Ferlinghetti’s] poetry is virtually mainstream in its transparent use of language and narrative tendency” (Fables of Representation 142): another refutation of the commonly assumed conjunction between “progressive” aesthetics and “progressive” politics.

Michael McClure, for example, writes in “From a Journal” that “The prime purpose of my writing is liberation. (Self-liberation first & hopefully that of the reader.)” (423). In his 1961 essay “Revolt,” McClure clarifies this statement: “There is no political revolt. All revolt is person and is against interior attitudes and images or against exterior bindings of Society that constrict and cause pain.
“(A ‘political’ revolution is a revolt of men against a lovestructure that has gone bad. Men join in a common urge to free themselves.)” (Poetics of the New American Poetry 437).

Charles Olson’s project of transformation was to reconnect man with his primal being, to forge or reforge a truer relationship with nature: as he writes in “Projective Verse,” “the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence” (395). In The New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II, a crucial text in the academic legitimization of “the New American Poetry,” critic M.L. Rosenthal points out that “The activist Marxian perspective implicit in the [French-language] Mao quotations is somewhat modulated by Olson throughout ‘The Kingfisher’ toward a more purely qualitative notion of dialectical process and change [“What does not change / is the will to change”]. Yet he too is programmatic, though not politically so. His attempt is to isolate and resurrect primal values that have been driven out of sight by the alienating force of European civilization” (Rosenthal 164).

The project of bringing modern man back into congruence with his natural roots was Gary Snyder’s as well, on the most visceral and immediate level: “poets don’t sing about society, they sing about nature—even if the closest they ever get to nature is their lady’s queynt. Class-structured society is a kind of mass ego. To transcend the ego is to go beyond society as well” (“Poetry and the Primitive,” Poetics of the New American Poetry 399). As he wrote in his anthology artist’s statement, “the rhythms of my poems follow the rhythm of the physical work I’m doing and life I’m leading at any given time” (420). His poetry is deeply informed by Native American cultures and folklore, anthropology, his studies of Zen Buddhism, and his use of mind-altering drugs like peyote (a psychotropic specifically tied to Native American cultures). As Snyder writes, “At the root of where our civilization goes wrong, is the mistaken belief that nature is something less than authentic, that nature is not as alive as man is, or as intelligent, that in a sense it is dead.” Snyder’s Buddhist revolution is hardly one that Marx would have recognized.

Frank O’Hara explicitly rejects any social role for his work. “I don’t think about fame or posterity (as Keats so grandly and genuinely did), nor do I care about clarifying experiences for anyone or bettering (other than accidentally) anyone’s state or social relation, nor am I for any particular technical development in the American language simply because I find it necessary. What is happening to me, allowing for lies and exaggerations which I try to avoid, goes into my poems. I don’t think my experiences are clarified or made beautiful for myself or anyone else, they are just there in whatever form I can find them” (419).

John Wieners writes in “From a Journal” that “A poem does not have to be a major thing. Or a statement?...Poems…are my salvation alone. The reader can do with them what he likes” (425). He goes on to write that “poetry even tho it does deal with language is no more holy act than, say shitting. Discharge” (426). Though not holy, shitting is, of course, absolutely necessary, so while Wieners seeks to demystify poetry (arguing against the Romantic/romantic cult of art and of the artist), he doesn’t trivialize it either. It’s one of life’s necessities, just not a higher level than anything else.

Robert Duncan, like the Suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich (who, though a supporter of the Russian Revolution, was eventually forced by the Soviet authorities to abandon abstraction in favor of Socialist Realism), was not a negationist but a visionary, seeking higher spiritual truths in and through his work, the hermetic/Gnostic knowledge. Though he wrote poems against the Vietnam War, in which he took up the role of a Biblical prophet, revealing the eternal laws of virtue “against the works of unworthy men, unfeeling judgments, and cruel deeds,” his was a spiritual, not a political, denunciation. Duncan’s friendship with Denise Levertov was destroyed by what he saw as her sullying of her exalted poet’s role with political involvement: “Years of our rapport [were wrecked by] War and the Scars upon the land.” In a review of The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov (Stanford University Press, 2003), David Shaddock writes that “Duncan’s argument with [Levertov] was that the poet can’t serve two masters—a poetry of political commitment yokes the imagination to a priori truths and concerns, thus limiting the power of the imagination” (“Opening the Gates of the Imagination: The Duncan/Levertov Letters,” Poetry Flash, 296/297, Winter/Spring 2006, 25)

But even Levertov writes in her artist’s statement that “I do not believe that a violent imitation of the horrors of our time is the concern of poetry. Horrors are taken for granted. Disorder is ordinary. People in general take more and more ‘in their stride’—hides grow thicker. I long for poems of an inner harmony in utter contrast to the chaos in which they exist. Insofar as poetry has a social function it is to awaken sleepers by other means than shock” (412).

Levertov changed her position later, seeking to become a poet of witness, and writing in her essay “Poetry, Prophecy, and Survival” that the poet’s role was to make the horrors of her time graspable by the human mind: “The intellect by itself may point out the source of suffering; but the imagination illuminates it; by that light it becomes more comprehensible” (New & Selected Essays 145). As Anne Day Dewey writes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, “Whereas Levertov moved toward a romantic voice and a commonly understood language as the vehicles of protest poetry, Creeley and Duncan continued to maintain that political critiques and poetic originality emerged only from experimental poetry that challenged the norms of syntax and poetic form.” But Day Dewey also points out that Levertov never lost her focus on the individual imagination as the source of political change. In this regard, she was not so far from Duncan as their rather bitter break might indicate.

The transformations that Duncan sought were first of all spiritual and intellectual and only incidentally social. As he wrote late in his life, only the imagination knows. Aaron Shurin, a protégé of both Duncan and Levertov, with a background in both the 1960s anti-war movement and the 1970s gay liberation movement, has tried to merge the two, along with sexual and linguistic transformation.

Allen Ginsberg, who is practically identified with the Nineteen-Sixties counter-culture(s), writes in “A Word for the Politicians” in his “Notes for Howl and Other Poems” that “my poetry is Angelical Ravings, & has nothing to do with dull materialistic vagaries about who should shoot who. The secrets of individual imagination—which are transconceptual & nonverbal—I mean unconditioned Spirit—are not for sale to this consciousness, are of no use to this world, except perhaps to make it shut its trap & listen to the music of the Spheres” (417). Not much use to political or social revolutionaries.

In the Vancouver Lectures, Jack Spicer explicitly dismisses the idea of a political poetry, in similar terms to those used by George Oppen some years later: “you can start out with an idea that you want to write about how terrible it is that President Johnson is an asshole [RS: ah, those were the days] and you can come up with a good poem. But it will just be by chance and will undoubtedly not just say that President Johnson is an asshole and will really have a different meaning than you started with. I mean, if you want to write a letter to the editor then it seems to me the thing to do is write a letter to the editor. It doesn’t seem to me that poetry is for that” (The Poetics of the New American Poetry 231).


That many of the New Americans were gay (Ashbery, Robin Blaser, James Broughton, Duncan, Edward Field, Ginsberg, O’Hara, Peter Orlovsky, James Schuyler, Spicer, Wieners, Jonathan Williams) is not incidental to their quest to find new ways of saying and, by implication (stronger in some than in others) new ways of moving through the world. But those projects were not necessarily or even often conceived of in political or even social terms.

Whatever the New Americans’ interest in social transformation, and whatever forms that interest took, it doesn’t seem to have extended to gender, at least not when it came to poetry. Only four of the forty-four poets in The New American Poetry are women, and only two of those, Barbara Guest and Denise Levertov, are even heard of now, though Robert Duncan was quite fond of Helen Adam’s romantic ballads. I’m told that it was only at his insistence that she was included at all. That can be seen as commentary on the book's gender politics. But I also wonder what other women were writing and publishing in that mode at the time. The only one I can think of is Diane di Prima, whose first book was published in 1958. Joanne Kyger's first book wasn't published until 1965, and Anne Waldman's (who was only fifteen in 1960, when the anthology came out) not until 1968.

I don't think that Allen deliberately excluded women poets. The paucity of potential female contributors says much about the sexism of the “progressive” or bohemian countercultures, especially the Beats. Interestingly, the “conservative” anthology against which The New American Poetry is often counterposed, Donald Hall, Robert Pack, and Louis Simpson’s New Poets of England and America, published in 1957, does a bit better, with seven female contributors out of fifty-one total.

LeRoi Jones, the one black poet in the Allen anthology (the omission of Bob Kaufman, a founding editor, along with Ginsberg and others, of the journal Beatitude, and credited with coining “Beat,” is curious, though it may be related to Kaufman’s aversion to writing his poems down, let alone publishing them), concerns himself in his artistic statement with “How You Sound??,” “our particular grasp on, say a. Melican speech, b. Poetries of the world, c. Our selves (which is attitudes, logics, theories, jumbles of our lives, & all that), d. And the final… The Totality Of Mind: Spiritual…God?? (or you name it): Social (zeitgeist): or Heideggerian umwelt” (424). Similarly, in his copious writings on jazz, Jones insisted on the importance of the musical experience itself, on the need to just listen. Jones later broke with his Beat/New York School milieu and became Amiri Baraka because he felt that there was no room for the political work he came to decide that he needed to do on behalf of black people, especially poor black people. While his poetry suffered, as did his thinking (more anti-Semitism), Baraka did help establish and build black community institutions in Harlem and especially in his native Newark. But neither his poems nor his statement in The New American Poetry are politically oriented.

With all of its variety, most of the work included in The New American Poetry does not strike me as particularly radical, experimental, or avant-garde aesthetically, though it was definitely unconventional for the 1950s. Fine poet though he is, there is nothing even particularly challenging about, say, Edward Field’s work. But let us assume that it was indeed “avant-garde.”

Joshua Corey insists “that to be avant-garde is a political position before it is an aesthetic one: that it assumes a negative, outsider's stance toward aesthetic establishments and institutions.” This is only true in such a general sense as to be meaningless: all new artistic movements begin outside established practices. That does not mean that, like Peter Bürger’s historical avant-garde (a project he defines as having failed), almost none have sought to destroy or undermine art as an institution. The history of art is that of the incorporation of such schools and movements into established artistic practices and institutions. But there’s no reason to designate this aesthetic outsiderhood, which is usually both situational and chosen, as “political.” Such usage drains the word of content.

It’s a mistake to believe that “progressive” artistic practices equal progressive politics, or that Bohemian or avant-garde opposition to mainstream society need have any positive or even political content. In Modern Places, Modern Times, Peter Conrad notes that “The left has no monopoly of change; there are right-wing revolutionaries as well" (383). To be anti-bourgeois is not to be anti-capitalist or pro-democracy. And as Peter Gay points out in Modernism, “there is no automatic link between political views and artistic talent.” Certainly an artist’s aesthetics don’t derive in any direct way from his political opinions or social position. Marx recognized this when he acknowledged that Balzac’s reactionary, monarchist views did not impede his novels’ clear presentation and analysis of social relations in late nineteenth century France.

The notion that “progressive” art and progressive politics go hand in hand is belied by the examples of F. T. Marinetti and the Italian futurists, whose appetite for destruction led them to call war “the world’s only hygiene,” redefined in a 1915 manifesto as “Futurism intensified”—most of those who survived World War I became Fascists; the Nobel Prize winning Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun, author of Hunger, who published a eulogy for Hitler days after his death; the German expressionist writers Gottfried Benn and Ernst Jünger and the German expressionist painter Emil Nolde, whose embrace of the Nazis was not reciprocated—they destroyed his paintings as degenerate art, and in 1941 forbade him to paint at all; Cubist (and Jewish) writer Gertrude Stein, who quite publicly and in print supported Marshall Pétain and the Vichy regime; the anti-Semitic novelist and Vichy collaborator Louis-Ferdinand Céline, author of Journey to the End of the Night; T.S. Eliot, who in After Strange Gods pronounced that “reasons of race and religion combine to make large numbers of free-thinking Jews undesirable” in the ideal society; and Ezra Pound, sacred cow and sacred monster of the self-appointed avant-garde, who broadcast on Radio Rome during World War II—during one of his broadcasts he said that it was a shame that the Axis bombers couldn’t see the black American soldiers at night. If we were to judge works of art by their creators’ political positions, much would be ruled out of bounds.

Negation for its own sake leads to nothing (as Billy Preston sang, nothing from nothing leaves nothing), except, historically, to Fascism and Nazism (not the bogeywords people love to bandy about, but the real historical phenomena), or just to sheer nihilism. Self-proclaimed leftists, for example, often forget that critical theorist Theodor Adorno’s relentless negativity was in the service of a positive goal, a freer and more just society, the antithesis of the world in which we now live. Beat poet Michael McClure, in his essay “Revolt” from which I have quoted earlier, writes on rebellion and negation for their own sake that “In society there is a revolt-of-revolt, a hysteria, often more visible (though perhaps not more present) than true revolt. It is nihilistic and dissipative. The man caught up by revolt-by-revolt is either weak in genetic spirit or dominated by circumstance. He makes a hysterical or passionate attempt to take ANY other path than the one laid for him by society” (432). This is as true today as it was then.

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You, Therefore

by noreply@blogger.com (Reginald Shepherd) @ Reginald Shepherd's Blog

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


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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