Poet Of The Week

Brenda Shaughnessy

     September 30–October 6, 2013

Brenda Shaughnessy is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). Her other books are Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), winner of the James Laughlin Award, and Interior with Sudden Joy (FSG, 1999). Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Paris Review and elsewhere. She is a 2013 Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and Assistant Professor of English and in the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Newark. She lives in Carroll Gardens with her husband, son and daughter.

It Never Happened

 
Let’s just imagine that you are magical,

that no light would flicker and no battery

die and no lover or wife or other can claim

you while you are with me. Let’s imagine

that you shiver and shudder and eat

my lamb and my rice pudding and drink

the wine and the whiskey and the cognac

and the elderflower never taking your

eyes off me. Let’s imagine that I am also

magical and can cook lamb and rice

pudding and pour many drinks without

ever taking my hands off you. Let’s imagine

you are unable to control yourself when

we are together, that we are all thumbs

and soft mouths and terrible fingers

and eyes of moon and eyes of sea and that

we smell beautiful to each other for no

reason. Let’s imagine you drove to my

house and your headlights did not flicker

and your battery did not die and you

were able to control the car and so

are not on the side of the road, not dead

or hurt but not anymore on your way

to my house either, calling your lover

or wife or other to come pick you up

and bring you home instead of coming

here, where there is no lamb, after all,

and no more wine, either, after all

this waiting, imagining you’re magical,

imagining what you’d say to her: “um,

I was on the other side of town to pick

up some wine for dinner” or “I was

meeting old buddy Tom for a drink, he’s

just in town the one evening. Might

be home late.” But you were never

coming over, never even invited. As if

I’d ever be so clever. In fact I was just

imagining you’re magical when you called,

roadside, nearby, a blown battery for

no reason, for a ride home to your lover

or wife or other. You were on your way

home to her where she was preparing lamb

and rice pudding and when I dropped you

off you invited me in and I said no, not

taking my hands off the wheel, though

I wanted to imagine that your eyes flickered

and shivered and you said you couldn’t

control yourself, couldn’t take your eyes

off me, that I smelled like beautiful wine,

like elderflower, like pussywillow,

that you called me lamb and kissed me,

knowing that this very last part is the story’s

only true part, in which you touched

and kissed me with your wheel of fingers,

your terrible lying mouth.

 
–From Our Andromeda, Copper Canyon Press, 2013.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I was having fun with unreliable narration, wishful thinking, “coulda woulda shoulda,” sexual fantasy and dream states. I find it so liberating that you can make anything happen in a poem, finding a life you’d never dare (or want) to live out for reals.

What are you working on right now?

Feminist essays.

What’s a good day for you?

A day in which each different (often radically so) aspect of my life gets good attention: I connect deeply with my kids (that can span just a few minutes of cuddles or hours of caretaking); I get some time alone to take a walk or zone out; I have the kind of epic conversation with Craig that we are known (amongst ourselves) to have, or even a mini-one, or a Homeland episode in a pinch; I interact in some way with a student or a new poet I’m hoping to support or encourage; I get a chance to read something not on a screen; and I get something practical done for our family. Each of these events can take all day or just a couple minutes, but getting all of these particular elements into one day makes me feel happy, productive, part of the world.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn?

Williamsburg 2002-2005, Carroll Gardens since 2005.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good bad or in between.

Many of my “defining Brooklyn experiences” are familiar to many of us: how locals are indifferent until you’ve got a big pregnant belly and then suddenly everyone’s super friendly and interested, with the questions and the big gregarious smiles. Seeing the “green lady” or the beautiful elderly woman with the bichon-frise–their twin shocks of bright white hair; running out “real fast” to the bodega for milk and ending up waiting behind 10-12 lottery-ticket purchasers; the schadenfreude at the closing of PJ Hanley’s; the love-hate relationship with Calexico and any of the Area stores; catching a cab on Clinton Street and getting into Manhattan in 6 minutes flat on the BBT.

Favorite Brooklyn poet?

Right now it’s Matthea Harvey. I heard her new poems at a recent reading and they were stratospheric.

Favorite Brooklyn Bookstore?

BookCourt.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

The little studio space Craig and I rent on the Columbia Waterfront. While much reading and writing happens there, a lot of work, relaxing and dreaming happens too. It’s our sweet safe lovely little nest-away-from-home. Although we also practically live at Abilene, where Nikki, Megan, Lindsay & Elaine always make our rather unwieldy family feel so welcome.

Last awesome book/poem(s) you read?

This is kind of weird because Craig’s my spouse, but his new chap, Ambivalence and other Conundrums, from Omnidawn is downright brilliant. Mark Wunderlich’s third collection The Earth Avails is coming out in 2014 and given the poems I’ve seen & heard, it’s going to be a knockout. Cynthia Cruz’s forthcoming Wunderkammer is completely glorious. I am also blown away by the new poems of Monica D’Avila McClure, Ana Božičević, Lisa Ciccarello, Mark Bibbins and Natalie Diaz.

Why Brooklyn?

There are many complicated reasons why my family lives here, why it would be problematic to live elsewhere. But the simple reason why is we are happy where we are.