“once this way’s gone”

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These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.

1 of 100: The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaughnessy (2019, Penguin Random House)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • I resisted purchasing and reading this collection when it first came out because I was angry with myself: I’d been too slow with *my* obsession with the octopus to have a manuscript of my own. Literary envy is a terrible — and embarrassing — affliction! As you can see, I got over it and discovered that my own fascination with the octopus doesn’t resemble Shaunessy’s at all. Here’s what she had to say about her crush on the octopus (an interview published at the Poetry Foundation).
  • I was a big fan of Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton, 2012) and generally love apocalyptic stories/series, with special affection for the mythology they create. The Octopus Museum checked that box, and I enjoyed the peek inside Shaunessy’s portrayal of the dire world we could be marching toward.

Lines I want to remember:

  • “All paradise is performance for people / who pay.”
  • “And there will be no other way to be, once this way’s gone.”

What others have said:

  • The New York Times: “Brenda Shaughnessy’s fifth collection of poems posits an apocalyptic future that looks a lot like now, an extension of our current dystopia in which food, water, housing and medical care are scarce or too expensive to access.” / “A poem provides less context for a thought than does an essay; it makes room for the idea in isolation.”
  • Harvard Review Online: “It presents ‘five exhibition spaces’ put together to chronicle a diminished and curtailed species, one possibly nearing extinction. Each poem is thus one of the relics gathered by cephalopods, the new reigning life-form, now that humans are no longer in control.

Where some of the poems from The Octopus Museum live online:

Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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