Whether one values poetic complexity on the level of single words and tropes, emotional range, physical metaphysics, transcendent relational immanence, lyric ‘spots of time,’ a precise suggestiveness that allows for differing interpretations, or strong persona and theatrical intrigue, Danielle Pafunda’s Beshrew does far more in less than 50 15-line sonnets than Shakespeare could in 145. Tense and hilarious enough to allow great gravitas with the power to conjure visceral responses beyond ‘critical appreciation,’ Beshrew packs as much drama as Shakespeare’s poetic tragic-comedies while rendering his sonnets stiff, and disembodied by comparison. In Beshrew, the groaning heart is no mere metaphor, pun on “deer” or abstract seat of emotion, but felt through the ‘painscape’ of body, and the physicality of animals, more than the more ‘comely’—if alienating—forms of intellect Pafunda is conversant with enough to masterfully subvert, as if from within. Lust clashes with and embraces affection, in noir light, while the undetected fucks a detective to provide a report on “intelligence failure”  and leave patriarchal ‘love’ conventions in a heap of “broken bodies/in gutter crud, failed refuse.” 
I love the way this book resists paraphrase, or even summary. Every time I return to the poem of which I wrenched a line out of context, another word pops out of the poem to change the weight of the words. As Irene Cooper has remarked: “Through repeated readings of Beshrew, I feel like I’m approaching a new and irresistible mystery each time, whose outcome I cannot foresee.” Or, as Pafunda herself puts it in a self-referential passage:
I will make sure you can’t
find this book. I will burn this book
every time you pick it up. This book
is catching fire imagining your hand
on its bare spine. My spine is catching fire.
I drop to the ground’s deepest curvature.
You cannot keep ahead of this.
Each pulse does as much damage
as the hard frequency of cells mismatched
At the core of this book is an “I” and “you” dynamic. On an ethical/ affective level of character and plot, the “I” is introduced in the 4th poem:
I’m a carbon slug swaddled in sour sheets
What time of day is it? I don’t go into work
anymore, I don’t go get the children from school.
This blinking faucet of regret compounds me. 
This feeling, presumably analogous to the murdered body with which the book begins, leads her to seek for causes:
Who filled a bag of flies and burst it over
the heads of a thousand schoolgirls? 
The next poem implies that these insects may be words in a toxic book by a male author [not necessarily Shakespeare]. With the entrance of the disembodied/book/author/‘you,’ the plot heats up as Pafunda inverts the phrase, “I can read you like a book,” to read a book as if its author could be a lover, trying to suck the lover out of a book barren enough to be reduced to data points. Is the book to blame for murdering the body? In one sense, you could say Beshrew itself is a book review. Is talking back to [or beshrewing] this destructive book the only way she can heal herself from this lassitude?
As the speaker characterizes the act of reading and writing as a hostage exchange , Pafunda shows various aesthetic/ethical contrasts between the [author of] the book whose spurious morally ‘superior’ disembodiment makes the speaker literally puke, and gag, and wretch, and her own more embodied relationship to writing:
Where you’ve tucked your pen in your notes,
I tuck my fingernail, burned and cursed and
shut my eyes tight 
Locating this logocentric book in the “afterdeath of perfection”  or a “past-dead pleasure camp” , she judges the book by what it doesn’t say:
Through the page, I travel back to the page’s
inception. I enter your hand hovering, your hot face
where something bolts in the dark and your dark
chest arcing with jumpstart. 
Throughout, Pafunda uses ‘any means necessary’—including playing both the S&B role, as well as the B&D role, to shake the interlocutor [reader, writer] out of the “pleasure proof male body” , as if feminism—insofar as it’s trying to change men’s toxicity—can be as much about heating the blood of the too cold as it is cooling the blood of the too hot:
Where, like a dream where the affect
suddenly balloons and warps, will I hinge
our two bodies? 
This may seem like a sexy come on early in the book, but 17 sonnets later, the speaker realizes the futility of such endeavour:
What I cannot do is press
my fingers into the equator that divides your body
from flight and longing. I cannot press
my skin well enough to yours to transfer. 
And when it comes to longing, is it possible words can yet be an adequate, if temporary, substitute, for that transfer? Is the speaker’s body, too, divided from flight and longing? Early in the book, she writes:
My wet, red, clairvoyant longing answers
all the equations with your DNA, your fingerprints— 
In context, this line comes after another ethical contrast between the speaker and interlocutor:
It’s your raw mouth raw
against my bare-faced disaster every ticking
hellscape deteriorating until the rich fucking
wealth of hate, malice, government, law,
the sovereign citizen, dread, wretched power
recombines this particular fetish for your
As the interpersonal and the more abstract political clash here, the speaker could be ‘code-switching’ as it were, speaking the male-ist language of political violence & injustice [“my blood turns/ the color of a nuclear sunset.”] because that’s the only language he understands, even if he thinks he opposes it [see also the poems on 25 and 46].
Perhaps this is why the speaker says, “don’t think you know me” , “I prepare myself a place you enter/ and resign myself an exit.”  and “This face is not/ mine, it’s the face I wear when I go looking for you/and I want you to think I’m home, a good woman.” . The author thus has plausible deniability when considering intentions and authenticity, but a healthy skepticism towards the word “good,” with “Eyes igniting every stitch of reticence,/ every decent posture you are so inclined/are so good,…” . At least Shakespeare knew lust by daylight, not this interlocutor: “No scuzz, sentimental scrawl, betrayal/ of heart by hand. Not you.”  She interrogates whether this ‘good’ person actually stirs good feelings: “When they put us on trial for/obstruction of good feeling, will you hold my/hand?” Then she finds herself answering this question about the future by judging his actions in the past: “Where were you the night I took my life,/stripped it from my skull like a face?” 
The book and its author are clearly not up for the task of loving. In the final third section, the speaker gradually extricates herself from this destructive relationship in an act of self-assertion, judgment and spell-breaking lament that the male “you” can probably only understand as “revenge,” but the speaker’s persona is much more complex and varied than the Shakespearean heroines who “speak daggers” [“There’s a stiletto in my throat/that no one’s thought to frisk for.” 41].
Perhaps this could be one of those stilettos:
There are many people dead on the inside
who’d like to cum on my face, my husband tells me. 
Or if that doesn’t work for you at this time and place, how about?
You can pull a soiled rag
from your pocket & shove it
deep in my throat & on it
I’ll taste all the other women
You’ve gagged, the people
Of color, the Jews, the queers,
The itty-bitty babies. 
And by the end of this poem, the relationship between “you” as writer, and speaker as puking reader has reversed as she becomes the unmoved mover:
against the bedpost of a narrative
you’re puking out in a very
warm cavern, deep under
the shipyard, deep under
my stationary hull. 
But though there could be triumph in removing the gag and frisking stilettos, the catharsis only allows the speaker “to pivot, but I don’t feel any better.” 
If all this sounds too harsh on the poor male, certainly it’s no worse than centuries of degrading love poems by men. And I wonder—is even writing the most positive review possible—especially if one is, say, a man writing about a book by a woman—, an act of erasure, of gagging, of rape? of arranging “for these rectangular suits to watch me?”  How to show how Pafunda’s book is able to flip the script on suits of traditional patriarchy cultural authority, including the ‘philosopher kings’ of the 21st Century technocracy, who fancy themselves “more surveilling than surveilled” and try to reduce the speaker to data points?
The “prayer-book shaped,” Beshrew ends with an evocation of Philomel, whose removal of the gag allowed her a power that goes beyond what traditional Euro-male ‘rationalist’ mindset reduces to the ‘human.’ And this doesn’t really ‘give away the ending’—the mystery of heart and body, or patience and page-turner, unsolved, but perhaps it is the elegant braggadocio of Beshrew’s intimate painscape, “in the millisecond you create for the evacuation/ of reason”, that gives it its affective power beyond the critical intelligence.