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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.

Big Game

Brenda Shaughnessy, 1970
        —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 grownhood, I call the ghost
to my fragile table, my fleshy supper,
my tiny flame.

Not just any old, but THE ghost,
the last one I will be,

the future me,
finally the sharpest knife
in the drawer.

The pride is proud.
The crowd is loud, like garbage dumping

or how a brown bag ripping
sounds like a shout
that tells the town the house

is burning down.
Drowns out some small folded breath

of otherlife: O that of a lioness licking her cubs to sleep in a dream of
savage gold.

O that roaring, not yet and yet
and not yet dead.

So many fires start in my head.

Copyright © 2012 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2012 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Used with permission of the author.

Brenda Shaughnessy

Brenda Shaughnessy

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

by this poet

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
poem
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