From Publishers Weekly
With their vivid, busy surfaces and in-your-face attitudes about sex, sexuality, illness and race, Shepherd's poems won attention right away: Some Are Drowning (1994) established him as someone whom other young poets watch closely. This long book of short poems is Shepherd's third collection in five years (following Angel, Interrupted) and seems to work toward a looser style; most of the new work preserves the spontaneous, rapid feel of the old, but this collection is much less selective and compressed. Shepherd's remarkable powers of invention nevertheless carry the reader through most poems, few of which are without a startling phrase or image: "you// could have been anyone, and you were/ willingly, half-smiling in the half-light/ under a flowering tree that will never bear/ fruit. Mock orange, mock plum, parahelion,/ pareselene: it's true, nature loves to hide// itself." There are, however, many moments of crashing bathos: "Another Unclassical Eclogue" declares, "The song's gone out of me./ You never heard the words"; in "The Beautiful," "an eloquence of liquid light/ seeps out of bloated lips the clumsy gods/ have broken into"; and in a poem addressed to a mirror, "You/ whom I have lied to, you to whom I've told/ the truth." Such lines mark the collection, at best, as a transitional one, albeit one incorporating Shepherd's recurring subjects--mythological figures, landscapes from Chicago and Cornell, "technicolor sex"--as well as allusions to Latin pastoral, Russian modernism, Anglo-Saxon, Stevens and Mallarm?. Yet lines like "Men who have paid/ their brilliant bodies for soul's desire, a night/ or hour, fifteen minutes of skin ..." are wonderfully moving, and a few love poems near the volume's end are quiet triumphs. (Dec.)
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These poems tread between subtle forms and raw power, never compromising but holding the two together in a difficult tension. Wrong continues the work of Shepard’s previous two books, the AWP prize -winning Some Are Drowning, and Angel, Interrupted , but it pushes the possibilities of a constricting and potentially poisonous history even further toward the margin of liberation. These poems are never still, always ravished by the mouth of the moment, until they almost stand in a body that is somehow dying and surving at the same time.
“Shepherd's third book differs from the others in its close attention to the impulses toward aggression inherent in desire. . . . Shepherd struggles particularly with his search for illumination, and many of his poems are characterized by a photographer's or painter's eye for detail and visual pattern. Through what he seeks to see, Shepherd questions the 'wrongness' of what so captivates him as a writer.”