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Sean O’Brien, The Beautiful Librarians – review

O’Brien is a highly accomplished writer, but to my ear a surprising number of the poems in The Beautiful Librarians are undermined by weakness in what should be the animating interplay of syntax and metre. The title poem is just one of them. It’s full of fine phrases and nuances of implication, but for me it falls apart because of the way the syntactical impetus seems to collapse at the end of line after line, even as the sentence struggles on. In other cases, there are problems with the material itself. The political gestures in particular can seem tired and … Continue Reading

Rhythm and syntax: my problem with “The Beautiful Librarians”

You can read both Sean O’Brien’s “The Beautiful Librarians” and Carol Rumens’ enthusiastic commentary in The Guardian by clicking here.

It’s a poem that falls curiously dead for me. It’s not that it lacks beauty and vigour of phrasing, that I don’t see the subtleties of thought and implication that Rumens describes, or that I’m out of sympathy with its attitudes and feelings. If I let my eyes drift over it, letting odd phrases come into focus in a fragmentary way, I feel a kind of prickling of incipient pleasure and excitement. As soon as I actually read it, … Continue Reading