Human Dark with Sugar

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Overview

“Brenda Shaughnessy’s poems bristle with imperatives: ‘confuse me, spoon-feed me, stop the madness, decide.’ There are more direct orders in her first few pages than in six weeks of boot camp...Only Shaughnessy’s kidding. Or she is and she isn’t. If you just want to boss people around, you’re a control freak, but if you can joke about it, then your bossiness is leavened by a yeast that’s all too infrequent in contemporary poetry, that of humor.”—New York Times

“Shaughnessy’s voice is smart, sexy, self-aware, hip ...

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Human Dark with Sugar

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Overview

“Brenda Shaughnessy’s poems bristle with imperatives: ‘confuse me, spoon-feed me, stop the madness, decide.’ There are more direct orders in her first few pages than in six weeks of boot camp...Only Shaughnessy’s kidding. Or she is and she isn’t. If you just want to boss people around, you’re a control freak, but if you can joke about it, then your bossiness is leavened by a yeast that’s all too infrequent in contemporary poetry, that of humor.”—New York Times

“Shaughnessy’s voice is smart, sexy, self-aware, hip . . . consistently wry, and ever savvy.”—Harvard Review

“Brenda Shaughnessy . . . writes like the love-child of Mina Loy and Frank O’Hara.”—Exquisite Corpse

"In its worried acceptance of contradiction, its absolute refusal of sentimentality and its acute awareness of time's 'scarce infinity,' this is a brilliant, beautiful and essential continuation of the metaphysical verse tradition."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

Human Dark with Sugar is both wonderfully inventive (studded with the strangenesses of ‘snownovas’ and ‘flukeprints’) and emotionally precise. Her ‘I’ is madly multidexterous—urgent, comic, mischievous—and the result is a new topography of the debates between heart and head.”—Matthea Harvey, a judge for the Laughlin Award

"Seriously playful, sexy, sharp-edged, and absolutely commanding throughout....Here you'll meet an 'I' boldly ready to take on the world and just itching to give 'You' some smart directives. So listen up."—Library Journal

In her second book, winner of the prestigious James Laughlin Award, Brenda Shaughnessy taps into themes that have inspired era after era of poets. Love. Sex. Pain. The heavens. The loss of time. The weird miracle of perception. Part confessional, part New York School, and part just plain lover of the English language, Shaughnessy distills the big questions into sharp rhythms and alluring lyrics. “You’re a tool, moon. / Now, noon. There’s a hero.”

Master of diverse dictions, she dwells here on quirky words, mouthfuls of consonance and assonance—anodyne, astrolabe, alizarin—then catches her readers up short with a string of powerful monosyllables. “I’ll take / a year of that. Just give it back to me.” In addition to its verbal play, Human Dark With Sugar demonstrates the poet’s ease in a variety of genres, from “Three Sorries” (in which the speaker concludes, “I’m not sorry. Not sorry at all”), to a sequence of prose poems on a lover’s body, to the discussion of a disturbing dream. In this caffeine jolt of a book, Shaughnessy confirms her status as a poet of intoxicating lines, pointed, poignant comments on love, and compelling abstract images —not the least of which is human dark with sugar.

Brenda Shaughnessy was raised in California and is an MFA graduate of Columbia University. She is the poetry editor for Tin House and has taught at several colleges, including Eugene Lang College and Princeton University. She lives in Brooklyn.

Winner of the 2007 James Laughlin Award

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Editorial Reviews

David Kirby
Brenda Shaughnessy's poems bristle with imperatives: confuse me, spoon-feed me, stop the madness, decide. There are more direct orders in her first few pages than in six weeks of boot camp. Only Shaughnessy's kidding. Or she is and she isn't. If you just want to boss people around, you're a control freak, but if you can joke about it, then your bossiness is leavened by a yeast that's all too infrequent in contemporary poetry, that of humor. A wisecrack here and there can give life to a deadly serious agenda; a little wit adds dimension to a topic limited by its own darkness. And there isn't a single poem in Human Dark With Sugar that isn't funny…As I read Shaughnessy's poems, I can't help hearing not only her poetic ancestors but Abbott and Costello as well: not the film bumblers being chased by Frankenstein but the double-talkers whose "Who's on First?" routine is often imitated, never duplicated. People are funny. Words are funnier. And poems, when they're at their smartest and best-made, are funniest of all.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

The poems in Shaughnessy's acclaimed debut, Interior with Sudden Joy(1999), earned her comparisons to Sylvia Plath for their sexual frankness, tight-to-bursting compression and musical invention. Her second collection, winner of the Academy of American Poets' James Laughlin Award, brings a greater emotional bandwidth and stylistic suppleness to the task of unmasking "the hoax of boundlessness" in life and in love, "making and making to replace the dreaming at last." The book's three sections contain nine, 11 and 10 poems, respectively, and that off-kilter triangulation-from the terse, not-quite-tongue-in-cheek self-dismissal of the first heading, "Anodyne," to the suggestion of galactic exploration and recording in the last, "Astrolabe"-proves the right three-cornered lens for looking into the darkest corners of human relationships, including their embodiment: "honeyed, self-twinned, fearless,/ a wineskin emptying/ into a singing stranger." Most are in the second person, who is sometimes the speaker and sometime not; most often, the addressee is a love or lover, who changes, and who is exhorted, berated, courted, rejected, fucked, accepted, lectured, soothed, teased and, always, loved: "I am yours. I am still I." In its worried acceptance of contradiction, its absolute refusal of sentimentality and its acute awareness of time's "scarce infinity," this is a brilliant, beautiful and essential continuation of the metaphysical verse tradition. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Seriously playful, sexy, sharp-edged, and absolutely commanding throughout, Shaughnessy's second collection-a James Laughlin Award winner-manages to take apart the world as we know it and put it back together in strikingly insightful ways. Here you'll meet an "I" boldly ready to take on the world and just itching to give "You" some smart directives. So listen up. (LJ3/15/08)


—Barbara Hoffert
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556592768
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2008
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 744,423
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Brenda Shaughnessy's first book of poems, Interior with Sudden Joy (FSG, 1999) was nominated for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award and the Norma Farber First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Bomb, Conjunctions, McSweeney's, The New Yorker, The Paris Review and elsewhere. She is poetry editor at Tin House magazine and lives in Brooklyn.

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Table of Contents

Anodyne

I'm Over the Moon 5

Magic Turns to Math and Back 7

Why Is the Color of Snow? 9

Parthenogenesis 11

Life as Selected Solids 13

Old Bed 15

Spring in Space: A Lecture 17

Three Summers Mark Only Two Years 20

One Love Story, Eight Takes 21

Ambrosia

I'm Perfect at Feelings 27

Breasted Landscape 29

Sorry, T. 31

Drift 33

Three Sorries 34

Replaceable until You're Not 37

You Too, Not Just Me 42

Straight's the New Gay 44

Vagile 45

This Loved Body 47

Me in Paradise 53

Astrolabe

Embarrassment 57

A Poet's Poem 61

First Date and Still Very, Very Lonely 62

No Such Thing as One Bee 64

Moth Death on the Windowsill 66

Don't Be So Small, Poet 68

Dancing in My Room Alone 71

Fathometer 73

Magician 75

A Brown Age 76

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good Work

    This is an awesome collection to have in one's own library.

    Everyone should own this work, along with Ohio Blue Tips by Jeanne E. Clark, The Photos In The Closet by Daniel E. Lopez, and works by Alison Townsend.

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