Spanning twenty years and five collections, Brenda Shaughnessy’s Liquid Flesh: New & Selected Poems introduces new readers to one of America’s most audacious and thrilling poets. Since debuting with the sexy swagger of 1999’s Interior with Sudden Joy, Shaughnessy has honed a poetic voice rich with contradictions: her poems are simultaneously tricky and blindingly honest, sensual and grief-stricken, coy and utterly self-possessed. She is a moralist with a profound sense of play, taking the patriarchy and the malevolent powers-that-be to task, as in her seminal poem ‘I’m Over the Moon’: ‘I don't like what the moon is supposed to do./ Confuse me, ovulate me,// spoon-feed me longing. A kind of ancient / date-rape drug. So I'll howl at you, moon,// I'm angry. I'll take back the night.’
Shaughnessy is omnivorous and fearless, even as she stares down her terrors, whether the blaze, fizzle, or explosion of wild love between women, or the unquenchable pain of a son’s birth injury. She celebrates, too, revelling in the pleasures and powers of the body and the transcendence of art. Her poems dance wildly to the sizzling music of the English language, awake to every syllable: ‘Artless// is my heart. A stranger/ berry there never was,/ tartless.// Gone sour in the sun,/ in the sunroom or moonroof,/ roofless.’ These poems are also, at times, laugh-out-loud funny – ‘like having a bad boyfriend in a good band’ – though there is always wisdom beyond the punchline.
Beginning with the youthful love lyrics of Interior with Sudden Joy, and opening onto the wily reckonings of Human Dark with Sugar, the unsparingly fierce mother-love and parallel worlds of Our Andromeda, the reverb-soaked coming of age and coming to consciousness of So Much Synth, the dark sci-fi prophecy of The Octopus Museum, before new poems that pay homage to women artists and their pathbreaking art, Liquid Flesh collects an unprecedented body of work unlike anything else in contemporary poetry.
‘This collection showcases Okinawan-Irish American poet Brenda Shaughnessy as one of contemporary poetry’s most original and important voices… This rich, vivid book is a worthy testament to a poet who knows how to render the endlessly varied encounters of bodily life.’ – Rebecca Tamás, The Guardian (Best recent poetry round-up)
‘Liquid Flesh: New & Selected Poems is a terrific and substantial introduction to Shaughnessy’s world – sensual, subversive, forever dancing around a series of hyper-aware ludic questions…’ – Martina Evans, The Irish Times
'Brenda Shaughnessy's Liquid Flesh - a dazzling career retrospective - spans twenty-two years, five collections, and a selection of new works... Shaughnessy maintains a slick and relentless wit, her works bursting with colour, life and contradiction.' - Kate Simpson, The Poetry Review
‘There has always been an element of the surreal in Brenda Shaughnessy’s poetry; a sense of the surreal that has run from the early poems in this Selected through to the post-apocalyptic world that forms the heart of her 2019 collection The Octopus Museum... Shaughnessy is adept at capturing the surreal tumbling together of sensualities.’ – Ian People, The High Window, on Liquid Flesh: New & Selected Poems
'Fans of Shaughnessy's free-flowing delight in associative language and often long-form style will find plenty to get to grips with here... to sum up what I like about Shaughnessy's work: you couldn't make it up.' - Julian Bishop, The Alchemy Spoon, on on Liquid Flesh
'The wit, the puns, the oblique presentation of many of these poems, make it hard to pin down the poet hiding behind sophisticated artistry and lively persiflage... It’s as if the good old US ‘confessional’ poet, in the style of (say) Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds, is in transition, and both styles of expression are needed to express her fertile intelligence and shifting ideas.' - Dilys Wood, ARTEMISpoetry, on Liquid Flesh
‘The resonance of Shaughnessy’s poems is that of someone speaking out of an ecstasy and into an ecstasy, momentarily pausing to let us in on the fun, the pain.’ – Richard Howard, Boston Review
‘Shaughnessy can write the kind of line that is confusing in its beauty, whose beauty exceeds its sense, [lines] that can be read and reread without exhausting their potential meaning.’ – Elisa Gabbert, The New York Times Book Review, on The Octopus Room
‘A dynamic poet… Shaughnessy is a natural at making poetry do what it does best – illuminate and translate the inscrutable language of our feelings and experiences back to us with perfect expression.’ – Lisa Butts, The Northwest Review of Books, on So Much Synth
‘Love is the fierce engine of this beautiful and necessary book of poems. Love is the high stakes, the whip of its power and grief and possibility for repair. Brenda Shaughnessy has brought her full self to bear in Our Andromeda, and the result is a book that should be read now because it is a collection whose song will endure.’ – Victoria Redel, New York Times Book Review
At this launch reading at Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts in October 2022, Brenda Shaughnessy read poems from Liquid Flesh and spoke about her work with Bloodaxe Books editor Neil Astley.
Ireland & EU: Click here to order from Books Upstairs in Dublin