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October 19, 2007The New School, Tishman AuditoriumFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan, in 1970 and grew up in Southern California. She received her BA in literature and women's studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and she earned an MFA at Columbia University.

She is the author of Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Interior with Sudden Joy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999), which was nominated for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, a Lambda Literary Award, and the Norma Farber First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Bomb, Boston Review, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, and elsewhere.

About her work, the poet Richard Howard writes: "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."

Shaughnessy is the recipient of a Bunting Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and a Japan/U.S. Friendship Commission Artist Fellowship. She is the poetry editor at Tin House magazine and currently teaches creative writing at Princeton University and Eugene Lang College at The New School.

I'm Over the Moon

Brenda Shaughnessy, 1970
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. Using me to
swoon at your questionable light,

you had me chasing you,
the world's worst lover, over and over

hoping for a mirror, a whisper, insight.
But you disappear for nights on end

with all my erotic mysteries
and my entire unconscious mind.

How long do I try to get water from a stone?
It's like having a bad boyfriend in a good band.

Better off alone. I'm going to write hard
and fast into you moon, face-fucking.

Something you wouldn't understand.
You with no swampy sexual

promise but what we glue onto you.
That's not real. You have no begging

cunt. No panties ripped off and the crotch
sucked. No lacerating spasms

sending electrical sparks through the toes.
Stars have those.

What do you have? You're a tool, moon.
Now, noon. There's a hero.

The obvious sun, no bulls hit, the enemy
of poets and lovers, sleepers and creatures.

But my lovers have never been able to read
my mind. I've had to learn to be direct.

It's hard to learn that, hard to do.
The sun is worth ten of you.

You don't hold a candle
to that complexity, that solid craze.

Like an animal carcass on the road at night,
picked at by crows,

haunting walkers and drivers. Your face
regularly sliced up by the moving

frames of car windows. Your light is drawn,
quartered, your dreams are stolen.

You change shape and turn away,
letting night solve all night's problems alone.

From Human Dark with Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy. Published by Copper Canyon Press, 2008. Copyright © Brenda Shaughnessy. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

From Human Dark with Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy. Published by Copper Canyon Press, 2008. Copyright © Brenda Shaughnessy. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

Brenda Shaughnessy

Brenda Shaughnessy

Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan, in 1970 and grew up in Southern California.

by this poet

poem
        —after Richard Brautigan's "A Candlelion Poem"

What began as wildfire ends up
on a candle wick. In reverse,
it is contained,

a lion head in a hunter's den.
Big Game.

Bigger than one I played
with matches and twigs and glass
in the shade.

When I was young, there was no sun
and I was afraid.

Now, in
poem
Let's ask a poet with no way of knowing.
Someone who can give us an answer,
another duplicity to help double the world.

What kind of poetry is all question, anyway?
Each question leads to an iceburn,
a snownova, a single bed spinning in space.

Poet, Decide! I am lonely with questions.
What is snow? What isn't
poem
Oh, to be ready for it, unfucked, ever-fucked.
To have only one critical eye that never
divides a flaw from its lesson.

To play without shame. To be a woman
who feels only the pleasure of being used
and who reanimates the user's

anguished release in a land
for the future to relish, to buy
new tights for, to