cover image Some Are Drowning

Some Are Drowning

Reginald Shepherd. University of Pittsburgh Press, $25 (76pp) ISBN 978-0-8229-3867-5

Like the Greek myth of Tantalus, whose punishment in Hades was to suffer from thirst while standing in the midst of a lake, Shepherd's first book is, well, tantalizing: his edgy, refined voice seems entirely at ease while swinging between versions of Greek myths, bitter love poems, and explorations into what it means to filter white Western history through a black heritage. This last subject informs Shepherd's best writing. In ``Slaves'' a white sailor on a sinking slave ship is mockingly eulogized, with chilling effect. Shepherd fathoms such themes without letting potential bathos interrupt the poetry-or, as a narrator puts it, ``When shall I be like the swallow, singing the rape of my voice, but singing past the rape, something my own to sing?'' This seemingly offhand question resounds through many poems, not always in Shepherd's favor. For example, he often couches poems in Greek mythology, either thematically or metaphorically, when they might be more interesting left to their own devices. At other times, lines like ``Desires wide as burning rain forests in Brazil'' counter an otherwise clean use of simile. But these are minor grievances in a promising first collection. (Oct.)