"Shaughnessy's particular genius . . . is utterly poetic, but essayistic in scope."—The New Yorker
"Brenda Shaughnessy's work is a good place to start for any passionate woman feeling daunted by poetry." —Cosmopolitan
"Shaughnessy's voice is smart, sexy, self-aware, hip . . . consistently wry, and ever savvy."—Harvard Review
Subversions of idiom and cliché punctuate Shaughnessy's fourth collection as she approaches middle age and revisits the memories, romances, and music of adolescence. So Much Synth is a brave and ferocious collection composed of equal parts femininity, pain, pleasure, and synthesizer. While Shaughnessy tenderly winces at her youthful excesses, we humbly catch glimpses of our own.
From "Never Ever":
Late is a synonym for dead which is a euphemism
for ever. Ever is a double-edged word,
at once itself and its own opposite: always
and always some other time.
In the category of cleave, then. To cut and to cling to,
Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan and grew up in Southern California. She is the author of three books of poetry, including Human Dark with Sugar, winner of the James Laughlin Award and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Our Andromeda, which was a New York Times Book Review "100 Notable Books of 2013." She is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Shaughnessy (Our Andromeda) finds ever new ways to rend the heart in this biting and poignant anthropological study of girlhood and adolescence. The opening poem, "I Have a Time Machine," sets the tone for the four-part collection, simmering in the obsessive nature of regrets and paths not taken. Her lush snapshots of youth portray triumph, anger, and agony, the poet unashamed to explore the abscesses of adolescence. "Dress Form," a first-person confessional of self-esteem and body issues, pinpoints the rationale behind such self-inflicted wounds: "Like I learned: no dress could ever be// beautiful or best if it had me in it." Shaughnessy uses language in a way that honors the power of imagery. This depiction of girlhood is not meant to serve as a unifier of personal experiences, but as the nuanced experience of growing up as a woman of color in a world dominated by white men. This is apparent in powerhouse poems such as "Gay Pride Weekend, S.F., 1992" and "Is There Something I Should Know?" The latter, a long poem that forms the collection's fierce core, is a sweeping love letter to the poet's young daughter as well as a powerful indictment of rape culture and the white and/or male gaze. "This is not a book anyone wants to read," Shaughnessy writes, but that couldn't be further from the truth.