Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Brenda Shaughnessy, _So Much Synth_

I NEED TO just accept the fact that Shaughnessy won't be writing any more books like Interior with Sudden Joy, the left-field weirdness of which I fell in love with back in 2000 or so. She looks a bit askance at the volume herself, to judge from glancing references to her younger selves in Our Andromeda, and she is doing worthwhile work, so...I need to just suck it up.

I have practice with this sort of adjustment. I was--am--in love with REM's Murmur, yet however much I kept hoping for Murmur II, they moved on to speak richly to millions with "The One I Love," "Losing My Religion," "Everybody Hurts," and so on, and it was simply churlish of me to pine for another "Moral Kiosk" or "9-9." (Pine I did, however.) If Shaughnessy, like Messieurs Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe, wishes to mature artistically, embrace a wider audience, and communicate in a more accessible way, well…I will just have to deal.

There is lots to enjoy in So Much Synth, even so. A poem about making mix tapes, for instance, one of the great rites of the 1980s--a lost art, I would even say, because even though people can now swap playlists on Spotify, how much time, manual dexterity, and anguished calculation go into making a playlist? Not comparable, really.

And speaking of REM, one of the poems is even a kind of eighties mix tape itself, leaning heavily on MTV hits (Duran Duran, Missing Persons, and the Eurythmics rather than Gun Club, Sonic Youth, and the Replacements).

And then there is the "Everybody Hurts" of the book: "Is There Something I Should Know," a longer poem (28 pages) in unrhymed couplets about puberty, middle school, Judy Blume, and Duran Duran (as alluded to in the title). By neither age nor gender am I at the heart of this poem's target, but I could not put it down, and while some passages are predictable, it hit home even for me. If it somehow gets out to a wider audience, it's going to become a classic.

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