MORE MADNESS FROM THE NORTH BRACKET: GIOIA V. SHAUGHNESSY

Brenda Shaughnessy is thrilled to be in Dove’s anthology—and Scarriet’s 2012 Tournament

Dana Gioia is not in Dove’s anthology.  Gioia’s essay, “Can Poetry Matter?” (1991) is better known than his poems.

PITY THE BEAUTIFUL

Pity the beautiful,
the dolls, and the dishes,
the babes with big daddies
granting their wishes.

Pity the pretty boys,
the hunks, and Apollos,
the golden lads whom
success always follows.

The hotties, the knock-outs,
the tens out of ten,
the drop-dead gorgeous,
the great leading men.

Pity the faded,
the bloated, the blowsy,
the paunchy Adonis
whose luck’s gone lousy.

Pity the gods,
no longer divine.
Pity the night
the stars lose their shine.

This poem reminds us of the poet Heine—how the German’s lyric sweetness supports bitter irony.  Nice job, Mr. Gioia!

Brenda Shaughnessy (b. 1970) is the youngest poet in Dove’s 20th century poetry anthology.

She has two poems reprinted by Dove.  She’s banking on the following poem to advance her to the next round:

POSTFEMINISM

There are two kinds of people, soldiers and women,
as Virginia Woolf said. Both for decoration only.

Now that is too kind. It’s technical: virgins and wolves.
We have choices now. Two little girls walk into a bar,

one orders a shirley temple. Shirley Temple’s pimp
comes over and says you won’t be sorry. She’s a fine

piece of work but she don’t come cheap. Myself, I’m
in less fear of predators than of walking around

in my mother’s body. That’s sneaky, that’s more
than naked. Let’s even it up: you go on fuming in your

gray room. I am voracious alone. Blank and loose,
metallic lingerie. And rare black-tipped cigarettes

in a handsome basket case. Which of us weaves
the world together with a quicker blur of armed

seduction: your war-on-thugs, my body stockings.
Ascetic or carnivore. Men will crack your glaze

even if you leave them before morning. Pigs
ride the sirens in packs. Ah, flesh, technoflesh,

there are two kinds of people. Hot with mixed
light, drunk with insult. You and me.

This must be that new genre, Creative Non-fiction. 

The poet begins by quoting Virginia Woolf and then launches into a rumination on the roles of men and women, or “virgins and wolves,” in terms of power relations. 

The implication, surely, is that there can be virgin wolves and wolfish virgins, but Shaughnessy chooses not to anchor her poem in a narrative; she gives us a series of witty observations that are never quite fully explained—if they were, her poem might be mistaken for an essay.  But we’re not sure about this—or any number of things she’s apparently trying to say. 

There’s no doubt she’s thoughtful on the subject of nature and gender, but the fruit of the poem itself seems a little unripe.  The point at the end is a grand one: “You and me” are finally the “two kinds of people,” but how she arrives at this seems tenuous, at best.  The material seems to handle her, not the other way around; the ‘non-fiction’ part appears to slam her poem to the ground.  How many poets succumb to this?  I’ll make my poem interesting with charged things written in essays and newspapers, or discussed with anxiety in bedrooms.  The non-fiction rides the poem. It always feels like an act of desperation.  The poet is rarely in control.  It’s the Muse’s punishment.

Gioia 78, Shaughnessy 66

16 Comments

  1. noochinator said,

    April 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    There’s truly no doubt
    Ms. Shaughnessy’s devoted —
    But I wondered, “What drug
    Was she on when she wrote it?”

  2. David said,

    April 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Like many of Modernism’s minor imitators, Ms. Shaugnessy should turn to essay writing and stop producing these ugly creative hybrids.

    Gioia and Wilbur are a breath of fresh poetic air.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 6, 2012 at 11:27 pm

      I didn’t think we’d see you on Easter weekend, David.

  3. David said,

    April 6, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    What I find missing in Shaughnessy
    Is that old-fashioned Melancholy
    That makes all Poetry new
    And gives bitter Irony a lovely hue.

  4. April 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    If you want your portrait
    Where the immortals’ are hung,
    You’ve got to be a killer
    When you are young.

    After you’ve acquired
    Notoriety and gold,
    You’ll be said to have mellowed
    When you are old.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    April 6, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Martini. check. Cigarette. check. Hat. check. Raincoat. check. Song about “my baby.” check.

    Now do you get it, Shaughnessy?

    LOL

  6. Julie said,

    April 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    “The material seems to handle her, not the other way around” is interesting. I feel like the speaker is getting handled–which adds to the disjointed, never-wholly-intimate hope/no hope desolation in this poem. To explain that (essay-style, in the “attempt at understanding”) would be to advance understanding of a relationship that seems lovely and frightening in the moment in which it was captured. A relationship, which, through the second person, is fraught with tentativeness of emotion and further exploration— because there are two kinds of people, quite divided, “you and me.”

  7. thomasbrady said,

    April 30, 2012 at 2:50 am

    So you are saying ‘the material handling her’ is part of the point, because of the “disjointed” nature of what’s happening in the poem.

    I suppose that’s true…and “you and me” are divided, yes.

    But I think we finally need clarity (I do think that’s what the poet was aiming for…the duality of ‘soldiers and women’ stated outright, etc) when any subject is by nature confusing…contrariwise, if the subject is by nature simple, then the artist is allowed to make it more complex…

    Nothing is more complex than love between the sexes…nothing more complex than the poet’s “you and me…” but the poem doesn’t relieve the desire to understand—even if that understanding is artistic license…

  8. Julie said,

    April 30, 2012 at 5:35 am

    The material handles the speaker (and the poet still directs it–the cadence is so intentional). We do need clarity–that’s the urge on which the speaker relies–but here, the poet has asked us to search for it–in the binaries that don’t quite “compute.” And if I understand context, it’s not love between “the sexes”; it’s love woman-to-woman, which she conveys is still affected (disconsolately) by pervasive US-style masculinity. In short, this poem grows every time I read it…

  9. Julie said,

    April 30, 2012 at 5:45 am

    …and, correct me if I’m wrong… Isn’t Creative Nonfiction usually prose or genre-specific (lists, photo-essays, etc.) Poetry can do whatever it wants (another heavy expectation on the poet).

  10. thomasbrady said,

    April 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I don’t think the term “Creative Non-Fiction” has been defined very well…it’s supposed to be something other than journalism or the essay, but let’s face it…’creative fiction’ is an essay and this poem begins like an essay and ends with a kind of dramatic dialogue:

    “There are two kinds of people, soldiers and women, as Virginia Woolf said…”

    It ends up being a loose, short essay, to be sure, but one can read it that way throughout.

    Perhaps all this doesn’t matter: who cares if we call something poem or fiction or non-fiction?

    Does it matter if “There are two kinds of people, soldiers and women” is being said to a reader, or to some “you” with a special relationship to the poet? It all depends on how ‘real’ the “you” with a special relationship to the poet is to the reader. And, in this case, I don’t think the “you” as a person is very well developed. I pretty much read it as a pronoun in that final “you and me.” It’s not a realized character. I, frankly, didn’t get the ‘woman-to-woman’ aspect. But that doesn’t mean the “you and me” didn’t have an affect on me. It did. I liked it.

    I don’t see how it helps, in any kind of presentation, in any kind of writing, to drop hints, instead of coming out and saying what you mean—unless it’s part of the action that someone needs to be deceived. But what justifying action is there in which the reader needs to be deceived? You can have very sophisticated presentations, but if you as the reader, or viewer, don’t know what’s going on, you are going to get annoyed; why shouldn’t you? If you are sitting there watching Masterpiece Theater and you note how the dialogue is more subtle than a typical Hollywood movie, you could find this satisfying, but that’s different from not understanding the dialogue at all—in which the “Masterpiece” would elude you…

    “Pigs ride the sirens in packs.” I’m a little mystified by this one, but I assume it’s an ‘anti-romantic’ statement meaning the rarefied connection between traditional men and their sirens is disqualified because there’s an excess of piggish men attaching themselves to their so-called sirens. I may be wrong on this—but when a poet drops hints like this, all bets are off.

  11. February 22, 2014 at 4:01 pm

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  12. February 24, 2014 at 2:15 pm

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    • noochinator said,

      February 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      Yes, Scarriet is known for inducing tears of contentment!

      • thomasbrady said,

        February 25, 2014 at 12:46 pm

        Yes, the psycho-poetic release. A new scientific term, thanks to Scarriet.


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