Spotlight: Reginald Shepherd

In honor of National Poetry Month, I’d like to highlight one of the poets currently on my mind: Reginald Shepherd.

His poem “My Mother Was No White Dove” plays extensively with sound and images, which is probably the reason it drew me in. Immediately, the first line seems to be a statement continuing from the title: “no dove at all, coo-rooing through the dusk.” We begin with a very simple but captivating image, a contrast of colors –the white of the dove and the dark of dusk. Out of all the images, though, the one that I find most enthralling is at the start of the second stanza: “My mother was a murder of crows/ stilled, black plumage gleaming/among black branches.” These images imply a realistic view of the speaker’s mother, viewing her as a dimensional, imperfect human being rather than the saintly, pure perspective taken by a child looking up to their hero. The speaker even goes far enough to refer to her as an “obscure bruise across the sky.”

Not only does Shepherd use images to pull readers in, but also a mastery of assonance, consonance, rhyme, and alliteration –not in a sing-song way, though. The final stanza serves as a good example of a non-musical rhyme that is working very well: “was never snow, no kind/ of bird, pigeon or crow.” The second stanza repeats “b” sounds with two iterations of “black,” the second of which is immediately followed by “branches.” The third stanza sees alliteration in “flight of feathers,” along with the juxtaposition between two lines harboring the words “perch” and “purchase.” Shepherd, here, makes these techniques of sound feel natural, despite their musical qualities.

Reginald Shepherd

The majority of the poems written by Shepherd that I have read incorporate these techniques and create a style that I greatly enjoy. I hope that, by sharing it with you this month, I have led you to a poet you will enjoy as well. Happy April!

2 Replies to “Spotlight: Reginald Shepherd”

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll definitely take a look! The poem you shared really plays with contrasts: light and dark, loud noises and quiet, etc. The bird imagery, especially, is really fresh and jarring.

  2. There is so much happening in this poem! In addition to the attention to sound that pulls this piece together, a seamless give and take between birds, the sky, and the speaker’s mother is created. I am convinced that these three concepts always belonged together, the craft is so smooth. I like that you point out that the mother is viewed as imperfect. Though this is true, I think that the attention to describing and exploring the mother gives the poem a really tender, loving tone – more effective than if she had been elevated to the status of an angel (which would have been easy in poem about a lost loved one and birds and sky, but is tastefully absent). Thanks for sharing this!

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