INTERIOR WITH SUDDEN JOY by Brenda Shaughnessy


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Despite bursts of clarity, Shaughnessy’s debut brings to mind the great and difficult voluptuaries of modern verse: like Hart Crane, she invents words for their trilling sonorities (’spifflicated,” “cravesty,” ’slimsy—); like John Ashberry, she feigns a childlike voice that surreally joins odd words into a diction of her own creation. Striking, unyielding, the poems in this first by the New York City—based poet burst with the ripe images of female sexuality, with her homoerotic kinkiness, and her admitted non-sense—all rendered aslant, as she defines “writing” in one poem: “The juice knife has its art cut, and ran.” Shaughnessy stretches her verses so tight they threaten everywhere to snap, and meaning bounces off them like off a trampoline. Many of these intense poems address a lover, sometimes gone, in a voice tortured with anger and lust—the sort of love/hate that animates the great work of Sappho and Catullus, from whom Shaughnessy also learns the language of invective and despair. “Rise,” a seemingly harmless bit celebrating a lover’s return, ends with a real kicker: the threat of poison; in “Parallax, ” after dismissing men, she begs her lover to seek with her a permanent ’suckhole.” Her slang is original, often sexy: in the title poem, she speaks of her “hussy spot,” and elsewhere locates “the strumpet muscle,” the heart. The few times Shaughnessy makes conventional sense, her verse disappoints: on finding her Japanese mother’s diary, she sympathizes with her imprisonment within English; in “Panopticon,” the poet, on the World Trade Center viewing deck, watches her bedroom window where her roommate borrows her vibrator. There’s lots of stink, and a voracious appetite, in these weird poems, with their often impenetrable diction, and uncommon sense. Strictly for the author’s co-synsethesiaists.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-17712-0
Page count: 80pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999