Human Dark with Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 4 Critic Reviews



“Brenda Shaughnessy’s poems bristle with imperatives: ‘confuse me, spoon-feed me, stop the madness, decide.’ There are more direct orders in her first few pages than in six weeks of boot camp...Only Shaughnessy’s kidding. Or she is and she isn’t. If you just want to boss people around, you’re a control freak, but if you can joke about it, then your bossiness is leavened by a yeast that’s all too infrequent in contemporary poetry, that of humor.”—New York Times

“Shaughnessy’s voice is smart, sexy, self-aware, hip . . . consistently wry, and ever savvy.”—Harvard Review

“Brenda Shaughnessy . . . writes like the love-child of Mina Loy and Frank O’Hara.”—Exquisite Corpse

"In its worried acceptance of contradiction, its absolute refusal of sentimentality and its acute awareness of time's 'scarce infinity,' this is a brilliant, beautiful and essential continuation of the metaphysical verse tradition."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

Human Dark with Sugar is both wonderfully inventive (studded with the strangenesses of ‘snownovas’ and ‘flukeprints’) and emotionally precise. Her ‘I’ is madly multidexterous—urgent, comic, mischievous—and the result is a new topography of the debates between heart and head.”—Matthea Harvey, a judge for the Laughlin Award

"Seriously playful, sexy, sharp-edged, and absolutely commanding throughout....Here you'll meet an 'I' boldly ready to take on the world and just itching to give 'You' some smart directives. So listen up."—Library Journal

In her second book, winner of the prestigious James Laughlin Award, Brenda Shaughnessy taps into themes that have inspired era after era of poets. Love. Sex. Pain. The heavens. The loss of time. The weird miracle of perception. Part confessional, part New York School, and part just plain lover of the English language, Shaughnessy distills the big questions into sharp rhythms and alluring lyrics. “You’re a tool, moon. / Now, noon. There’s a hero.”

Master of diverse dictions, she dwells here on quirky words, mouthfuls of consonance and assonance—anodyne, astrolabe, alizarin—then catches her readers up short with a string of powerful monosyllables. “I’ll take / a year of that. Just give it back to me.” In addition to its verbal play, Human Dark With Sugar demonstrates the poet’s ease in a variety of genres, from “Three Sorries” (in which the speaker concludes, “I’m not sorry. Not sorry at all”), to a sequence of prose poems on a lover’s body, to the discussion of a disturbing dream. In this caffeine jolt of a book, Shaughnessy confirms her status as a poet of intoxicating lines, pointed, poignant comments on love, and compelling abstract images —not the least of which is human dark with sugar.

Brenda Shaughnessy was raised in California and is an MFA graduate of Columbia University. She is the poetry editor for Tin House and has taught at several colleges, including Eugene Lang College and Princeton University. She lives in Brooklyn.


About Brenda Shaughnessy

See more books from this Author
Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan and grew up in Southern California. She is the author of Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), winner of the James Laughlin Award and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Interior with Sudden Joy (FSG, 1999). Shaughnessy’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Harper's, The Nation, The Rumpus, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers University, Newark, and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son and daughter.
Published April 1, 2008 by Copper Canyon Press. 90 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Human Dark with Sugar

The New York Times

See more reviews from this publication

About three pages into this book, I remembered a joke: “Knock-knock!” “Who’s there?” “Control Freak — now you say, ‘Control Freak who?’ ” Brenda Shaughnessy’s poems bristle with imperatives: confuse me, spoon-feed me, stop the madness, decide.

Oct 24 2008 | Read Full Review of Human Dark with Sugar

Publishers Weekly

See more reviews from this publication

Her second collection, winner of the Academy of American Poets’ James Laughlin Award, brings a greater emotional bandwidth and stylistic suppleness to the task of unmasking “the hoax of boundlessness” in life and in love, “making and making to replace the dreaming at last.” The book’s three secti...

Mar 17 2008 | Read Full Review of Human Dark with Sugar

ForeWord Reviews

as Shaughnessy insists, stories without sex “never get picked out to read in bed.” Her sometimes nervous, sometimes exuberant eroticism connects distantly to the early surrealists, but more directly to contemporary female poets like Mary Ruefle, Larissa Szporluk, and others who have—however belat...

Apr 14 2008 | Read Full Review of Human Dark with Sugar

The Paris Review

To my mind, a brave poem is one that risks seeming stupid or grandiose or frivolous, that nods in recognition at various poems that came before, then sweeps past, racing toward the thing it came to say.

Nov 03 2011 | Read Full Review of Human Dark with Sugar

Rate this book!

Add Review