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.