Interior with Sudden Joy


The Next Illogical Step In Love Poetry

"The next illogical step

in love poetry

The most inscrutable beautiful names in this world

always do sound like diseases.

It is ...

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The Next Illogical Step In Love Poetry

"The next illogical step

in love poetry

The most inscrutable beautiful names in this world

always do sound like diseases.

It is because they are engorged.

G., I am a fool.

What we feel in the solar plexus wrecks us.

Halfway squatting on a crate where feeling happened.


—from "Dear Gonglya,"

At once hyper-contemporary and archaic, erotic, indecorous, and extravagant like nobody else, Brenda Shaughnessy seeks outrageous avenues of access to the heart, "This strumpet muscle under your breast describing / you minutely, Volupt, volupt."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Brenda Shaughnessy is only 29 years old, but American literature has been preparing her arrival for a long time. It began to do so when Emily Dickinson gave license to the writing of dense ecstasies of wit. It furnished Shaughnessy's Interior with the cracking music of Plath and the cracked eloquence of Berryman. She has learned from John Ashbery a good-natured surrealism mysteriously precise in its rendering of inner states. Interior With Sudden Joy is surely one of the most impressive debut collections of recent years, and it arrives in the world with one hell of a pedigree. Who says America is a country without tradition?

Not that Shaughnessy is not an original. It's just that, like all fine work, hers has an aura of inevitability about it, and we wonder, reading this collection, what we did without it. Doing without, however, is Shaughnessy's great subject: I mean that she often writes of longing, a longing whose contours are taken from metaphysics and whose texture — sweet, slick, and gritty — comes from sex. Shaughnessy again and again describes rising, swelling, blisters, fever — the self fraying at the borders, extending out of itself toward its object. In "Project for a Fainting," she characterizes love as "a tendency towards fever. To break. To soil."

That "to soil" is interesting, and it sets Shaughnessy delightfully apart from many older Romantic and romantic poets. Desire is often associated in the great Romantic tradition — especially as exemplified by Shelley Shelley and Yeats — with a kind of Platonism, a love of theidealas against our daily world of dirt and infractions. But Shaughnessy agrees with Wallace Stevens Wallace Stevens that "the imperfect is our paradise." "Voluptuary" is a poem in celebration of "loving wrong," and goes, in part, like this:

If you haven't known the true faulty
pleasure of half-beauty, the sublime uncomely
dreamt without vision two hot marble arches
round your vague orca trumpet of a thigh,

then why would you love me? And how does
fever break without liquid, without spilling?&

Blister, wizen. It's worth it and it's night.
Who wants pretty, when pretty is plain
and the heart is gnarled and the fullsacked
forest of being lost is home?

This craggy sound and liquid sense assort very well with the spilling-sharp quality of lust. The trouble with lust is usually our inability to sustain it. But in Shaughnessy's work, one blister has no sooner "wizened" — what a word, so eccentric and correct — than another crops up. Lust seems Shaughnessy's primary disposition, lust not only of a sexual kind, but lust after landscape, memory, knowledge.

As always, the great passion of Eros is for recombination, otherwise known as creation. Hence Shaughnessy's improvisatory, neologistic impulse. Her poems promiscuously, playfully breed new senses of things, and we glimpse as much in her love of portmanteau coinages: "Sleptember," "Arachnolesence," "Epithalament." The last of these is particularly revealing: the epithalamium, or marriage-hymn, is combined with the lament. Desire is mixed with regret. For all her "sudden joy," the poet is well-versed in the "strict empire of phantom pain" and experiences not only love but also "contempt for all that is mere fever / and sweat, strain and maculate...." Still, she describes herself and her lover as "absolute gourmands of the ugliest meal." One is reminded of Woody Allen's joke about the meal of life: "Such terrible food!" complains one diner. "And such small portions!" complains another.

But Shaughnessy's impulse is not plaint but praise — and praise in our world means celebration of the slipping, the flawed, the smeared. "Perfection is the campsite for those who have stopped half-way," writes Shaughnessy, who is clearly intent on going, herself, all the way. Poetry has declined in our long modern time into a elegiac fixity, but the original vocation of the poet, the writer of odes, was praise. Brenda Shaughnessy is a very young poet, edgy, hip, and eager, but no one should fail to notice how ancient is the task her verse so successfully performs.

Benjamin Kunkel

From the Publisher
"I've not encountered a first book of poems this dazzling and bemused since day one. Shaughnessy's work is larkish, unseemly, and riddled with joy. These poems are not plainspoken, but luminous, impenitent, promiscuous. A brilliant sack of silk and ink and willfulness. What a pleasure to have such truths told sexy, seamless, slant."—Lucie Brock-Broido

"Freedom of verse, freedom of love, certainly, but Brenda Shaughnessy has employed those old liberations for new exploits: hers is an imagination free to pass through all the locked chambers of association—and, in its delight in doing so, grants the poet freedom to find herself. As she says, in the unmistakeable accents of Primavera: 'I live to leave, but I never either . . . / Come, let us miss / another wintertime.'"—Richard Howard

"Edgy and erotic, characterized by bravado and odd beauty . . . A dazzling first book."—Laura Rosenthal, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Interior with Sudden Joy is a quirky, voluptuous thing. It's filled with unexpected, and sometimes opaque, imagery. And it constantly surprises with its tendency to merge harsh and smooth rhythms and sounds . . . An intriguing debut for a gifted young writer."—Jennifer Poyen, San Diego Union-Tribune

"A heady, infectious celebration of the range and peculiarity of erotic life."--The New Yorker

Library Journal
Another remarkable debut, Shaughnessy's collection is summed up neatly by its title. She's focused, certainly, writing packed, demanding "interior" verse that she nevertheless hospitably invites you to enter: "Let this one clear square of thought be just/ like a room you could come in to." But throughout, the poems are sunlit with her boundless energy, with her passion, determination, and, yes, joy, which simply radiates off the page. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Albert Mobilo
Shaughnessy hardly produces a single dull line... Rough and lyrical, her music is part r&b, part madrigal... Shaughnessy snags the high notes of these emotional commonplaces and airs them out in a full-throated language that both croons and scrapes.
The Voice Literary Supplement
Kirkus Reviews
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 avoracious appetite, in these weird poems, with their often impenetrable diction, and uncommon sense. Strictly for the author's co-synsethesiaists.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374526986
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Brenda Shaughnessy was raised in California and is a graduate of Columbia University's writing program. She lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Still Life, with Gloxinia

I will make something of you both pigment
and insecticide. Something natural,
even red, like serviceberries.
Which a cloister of young Benedictine
nuns, in exile and drought,
found and brilliantly crushed
into a blessed moxie wine.
With terrible pride, with gloxinia,
the slipper-shaped flower, served
it bitter and staining in the chalice.
By evening chapel, habits thrown up
and still, their insides found all blue,
as suspected. I am cold now and I cannot
paint or move you.

Letter to the Crevice Novice

I wanted nothing. I am not a stray mule
& gaudy caravan pulling a big skirt,
open legs, a head of wire.

I want singers to shear your eye from the flocking
of my city of superior grammar & wincing.
To keep you blind, my alabaster scourge.

It must be a Love, this crackpot of heart,
my sterling & cashmere & no money.
You my fat bad fricassee, cough of a candle.

Through snow, my little weather, you are gone
through the cravesty turnstile
to my other kind of homemaking.

I've always been home outside.
Night likes me. Vampiring I would have killed
all I loved & kept all our lives

for centuries, crypt-crock. Love was death
enough. How deep is the Mariana Trench?
For the crevice novice, anything more

than six feet is bottomfeeding. Deeper
than that, the proxy eros is tricking us
good:tight No-love-you's in a tongue

thicker than water. Bluer too.

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Table of Contents

Still Life, with Gloxinia 3
Letter to the Crevice Novice 4
Fetish: The Historical Orphan 6
Lure, Lapse 8
Jouissance 9
Vapor through Various Satins 11
Afterlife, Her Empty Dress 13
What's Uncanny 15
Transpassional 16
Swell 17
Dear Gonglya 18
You're Not Home, It's Probably Better 20
Rise 21
Fortune 22
Glossary 24
Middle 29
Your One Good Dress 30
Your Name on It 32
Simulacra 33
Rosarium 34
Lacquer 35
Epithalament 36
Thirteenth Summer 38
Starting Here and Going Back 39
Parallax 40
Cinema Poisoning 42
Postfeminism 43
Wrongbodied 45
Arachnolescence 46
The Question and Its Mark 48
Project for a Fainting 51
Perfect Ending 53
The Lamp Garden 54
Ten Jennies 59
Calling Her Home 60
Musee 62
You Love, You Wonder 64
Voluptuary 66
Mistress Formika 68
Panopticon 70
Ever 72
Sleptember 73
Illumine 76
Interior with Sudden Joy 79
Acknowledgments 83
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