cover image The Octopus Museum

The Octopus Museum

Brenda Shaughnessy. Knopf, , $23 ISBN 978-0-525-65565-7

In her fifth collection, Shaughnessy (So Much Synth), who is married to PW’s director of special editorial projects, imagines a dystopian future in which octopuses reign, while humans receive their just deserts for centuries of environmental devastation. This new ruling class is dubbed the COO (Cephalopod Octopoid Overlords), and enforces strict rations (“farm-fresh slowpoke foam” and “Soapish fish braised in its own frothing broth”). Shaughnessy’s conceptual work is clever as always, but even more extraordinary is her talent for crafting musical, expressive lines that triumph in their complexity and grace: “Once a wild tentacled screaming creature every inch a kissed lip of a beloved place/ a true and relentless mind, all heart if heart is a dumb hope of reusable pump.” In the politically charged poem “Are Women People,” the COO sifts through cultural and legal detritus to determine who was and was not given status of personhood: “Children are, at the very least, future people, but anything could happen. They could be female, and a good half of them do end up as such.” Suffused with a melancholic nostalgia for what once was and what might have been, the poet turns to her inability to protect her childrens’ innocence, saying of her daughter “I hope she can learn to like lizard blood and shoelace chewing gum, because that’s what’s coming.” With an unparalleled ear for language, Shaughnessy excels at making the tragic transcendent. (Mar.)