What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October 8, 2012 Issue

Dan Chiasson, in his review of Brenda Shaughnessy’s new poetry collection Our Andromeda, in this week’s issue of the magazine, quotes several lines from Shaughnessy’s poem “Artless,” and says:

A rationed vocabulary, an imagination thinned by worry and obligation, a new consciousness of death (the “smoke/in the old smokehouse”), and, most of all, this strange antique music, like a dreamed stanza of Robert Herrick: these elements create the subsistence beauty of “Artless” and much of Shaughnessy’s new work.

That “subsistence beauty” is inspired! As a result of reading Chiasson’s review (titled "The Cild In Time"), I went back to "Artless" – it appears in the August 8, 2011 New Yorker – and took a close look at it. It is ingeniously structured: seventeen brief three-line stanzas, each line no more than four or five words in length, each stanza ending with a word containing “less” (e.g., “tartless,” roofless,” “bless,” “meatless”). In this intriguing poem, Shaughnessy professes artlessness (“No poetry. Plain”) as her aesthetic, but she does so in such an artful way that she undercuts her message. Her words are plain, but they’re also beautifully arranged and patterned. No poem worth the name is truly “artless.” What Shaughnessy means, I think, is a sublime of pared-down language (“less/substance, more rind”). Chiasson’s “subsistence beauty” describes it brilliantly.  

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