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Liquid Flesh: New & Selected Poems by Brenda Shaughnessy

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Spanning twenty years and five collections, Brenda Shaughnessy’s Liquid Flesh: New & Selected Poems introduces new readers to one of America’s most audacious and thrilling poets. Since debuting with the sexy swagger of 1999’s Interior with Sudden Joy, Shaughnessy has honed a poetic voice rich with contradictions: her poems are simultaneously tricky and blindingly honest, sensual and grief-stricken, coy and utterly self-possessed. She is a moralist with a profound sense of play, taking the patriarchy and the malevolent powers-that-be to task, as in her seminal poem ‘I’m Over the Moon’: ‘I don't like what the moon is supposed to do./ Confuse me, ovulate me,// spoon-feed me longing. A kind of ancient / date-rape drug. So I'll howl at you, moon,// I'm angry. I'll take back the night.’

Shaughnessy is omnivorous and fearless, even as she stares down her terrors, whether the blaze, fizzle, or explosion of wild love between women, or the unquenchable pain of a son’s birth injury. She celebrates, too, revealing in the pleasures and powers of the body and the transcendence of art. Her poems dance wildly to the sizzling music of the English language, awake to every syllable: ‘Artless// is my heart. A stranger/ berry there never was,/ tartless.// Gone sour in the sun,/ in the sunroom or moonroof,/ roofless.’ These poems are also, at times, laugh-out-loud funny – ‘like having a bad boyfriend in a good band’ – though there is always wisdom beyond the punchline.

Beginning with the youthful love lyrics of Interior with Sudden Joy, and opening onto the wily reckonings of Human Dark with Sugar, the unsparingly fierce mother-love and parallel worlds of Our Andromeda, the reverb-soaked coming of age and coming to consciousness of So Much Synth, the dark sci-fi prophecy of The Octopus Museum, before new poems that pay homage to women artists and their pathbreaking art, Liquid Flesh collects an unprecedented body of work unlike anything else in contemporary poetry.

‘The resonance of Shaughnessy’s poems is that of someone speaking out of an ecstasy and into an ecstasy, momentarily pausing to let us in on the fun, the pain.’ – Richard Howard, Boston Review

 ‘Shaughnessy can write the kind of line that is confusing in its beauty, whose beauty exceeds its sense, [lines] that can be read and reread without exhausting their potential meaning.’  Elisa Gabbert, The New York Times Book Review, on The Octopus Room

‘A dynamic poet… Shaughnessy is a natural at making poetry do what it does best – illuminate and translate the inscrutable language of our feelings and experiences back to us with perfect expression.’ – Lisa Butts, The Northwest Review of Books, on So Much Synth

‘Love is the fierce engine of this beautiful and necessary book of poems. Love is the high stakes, the whip of its power and grief and possibility for repair. Brenda Shaughnessy has brought her full self to bear in Our Andromeda, and the result is a book that should be read now because it is a collection whose song will endure.’ – Victoria Redel, New York Times Book Review

 

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