"A heady, infectious celebration."—The New Yorker
"Shaughnessy's voice is smart, sexy, self-aware, hip . . . consistently wry, and ever savvy."—Harvard Review
Brenda Shaughnessy's heartrending third collection explores dark subjects—trauma, childbirth, loss of faith—and stark questions: What is the use of pain and grief? Is there another dimension in which our suffering might be transformed? Can we change ourselves? Yearning for new gods, new worlds, and new rules, she imagines a parallel existence in the galaxy of Andromeda.
From "Our Andromeda":
Cal, faster than the lightest light,
so much faster than love,
and our Andromeda, that dream,
I can feel it living in us like we
are its home. Like it remembers us
from its own childhood.
Oh, maybe, Cal, we are home,
if God will let us live here,
with Andromeda inside us,
doesn't it seem we belong?
Now and then, will you help me belong
here, in this place where you became
my child, and I your mother
out of some instant of mystery
of crash and matter . . .
Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan and grew up in Southern California. She is the author of Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), winner of the James Laughlin Award and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Interior with Sudden Joy (FSG, 1999). Shaughnessy’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Harper's, The Nation, The Rumpus, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son and daughter.
This third collection from Shaughnessy (Human Dark with Sugar) is a fierce, angry, and at times wrathful book, full of anguished suffering in media res. The profound difficulties of dealing with a disabled child are not so much reflected upon by a parent as lived and registered in a poet's language. Indeed, the torment strains against the conventions of line and stanza, brusquely resisting music and pretensions to sincerity ("I'm such a fraud/ I can't even convince you/ of my fraudulence"). In her work, Shaughnessy has often punished herself for selfishness and even ambition, but here, life has dealt her a brutal hand, and in this ultimately brave record the poet emerges with a surprising gift. Like war poetry, this volume is about survival. Part 1, Liquid Flesh, works familiar Shaughnessy terrain tough lyrics about self. Double Life, part 2, finds the poet in a relative and nearly banal peacetime, venting at such things as Fox News and duplicity in relationships; a sequence called Arcana follows, poems based on the Tarot ("The Hanged Man," "The Fool," etc.), in which the poet barely controls an anger that is beginning to rage; part 4, Family Trip, distracts with memories of the bitter struggles for identity within family ("I wish I had more sisters,/ enough to fight with "); all of which culminates in the explosive title sequence, Our Andromeda, which settles scores, lays waste to early selves not to mention medical practitioners and the birthing mother herself and, in the long closing poem, by turns harrowing, mean, and fatalistic is, suddenly, transformative. In these last pages, against all expectations, the poet has conjured an alternate galaxy in which doctors are competent, insurance companies humane, God exists ("a God for me after all"), and the boy Cal has an "even fight" and a mother's love. Another Brooklyn poet, Marianne Moore, defined poetry as "imaginary gardens, with real toads in them." In Our Andromeda, Shaughnessy has imagined a universe, and in it, real love moves, quick with life.