Brenda Shaughnessy is one of America’s most audacious and thrilling poets. In Tanya she weaves a tapestry of literary heritage and intimate reflection as she pays tribute to women artists and mentors, and circles the mysteries of friendship, love, art, and loss.
In this powerful gathering of poems about her own “influencers” – as well as poems on Surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim and the young choreographer Lauren Lovette – Shaughnessy remembers the women who set her on her artistic path.
In the title poem, she explores the eternal quality of an intense touchstone relationship with Tanya, about whom she writes, 'Everyone’s not you to me… Worth loving once, why not now?' We all have our own Tanya, and in this book we meet friends, mentors, sisters, lovers, who inhabit a verse classroom where Shaughnessy’s passion for literature – forged in her own formative studies, as in the poem 'Coursework' – is our teacher.
In flowing stair-step tercets, Shaughnessy leads us down into her generative core, exposing moments of spiritual and intellectual awakening, her love of art and the written word, and her sense of the life force itself, which is ignited by the conversation – across time and space – with other women.
Tanya is her sixth collection, her first since Liquid Flesh: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2022), which introduced her work to readers in the UK.
'Juicy models of lyrical reasoning, [Shaughnessy’s poems] bring together wordplay and rhetoric… The poems have a fertile restlessness. They don’t settle into epiphanies but continue layering, swerving, branching, reconsidering… Her vibrant dives into the possibilities of [the self] invest it with multitudes… In the Shaughnessy multiverse, everything contains everything else, or has that capacity… Femaleness and iterations of feminism provide a framework for Tanya. The collection can be seen in part as a version of midlife stock-taking, via odes to women artists, mentors, lovers, frenemies and former selves… Shaughnessy [traces] her own derivation and education through myriad mothers, stretching definitions of “mother” to include frictions, crushes, heartbreaks and inspirations that became part of her DNA… Chief among the new book’s many subjects are love, absence and loss: how to live with or without them… [Shaughnessy] writes about love as being “timelessness itself”. This is a book in which the poet’s ability “to imagine and to wonder / fiercely” never flags.' – Amy Gerstler, New York Times
“A probing, richly rendered collection of poems… a reflection on women artists as friends, mentors, and influencers…Shaughnessy relentlessly sifts and shifts through our image making, seeking clarity while recognising that life is "not a straight story or a jagged line". Meanwhile, she celebrates the eponymous Tanya, wanting to ‘repair the path between us'. A remarkable book achieving all its ambitions.' – Library Journal (starred review)
‘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
‘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), on Liquid Flesh
At this launch reading at Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts in October 2022, Brenda Shaughnessy read poems from Liquid Flesh: New & Selected Poems and spoke about her work with Bloodaxe Books editor Neil Astley.
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