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Sean O’Brien, It Says Here – review

I’d like to start by quoting the fine short poem ‘Names’ from O’Brien’s new book It Says Here. If just saying it aloud enchants you as much as it does me then this is a book you should buy:

Ravenspur, Ravensrodd, Ravenser Odd,
Salt-heavy bells heard only by God.

Drink to the lost and the longshore drift:
When there is nothing the names will be left.

It’s reminiscent of Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Merlin’ in its particular elegiac feeling and tune, but the names it refers to aren’t literary in the way those in Hill’s poem are (‘Arthur, Elaine, Mordred, they are all … Continue Reading

Sean O’Brien’s Embark – review

In Embark, Sean O’Brien deftly shifts between registers and tones to present and think about the world in different ways. In his elegies, melancholy recollection is expressed in a way that combines elegance with conversational intimacy. Other poems are more obviously highly wrought, like ‘Of the Angel’ with its archaic-sounding title. This describes a boy at a Remembrance Day ceremonial –

The poor mad angel boy of twelve
With the unblinking gold-green stare
And the frightening permanent smile

That should be love but cannot be
Is brought by his mother to join the crowd.

That opening already trembles between the mundane and … Continue Reading

Sean O’Brien, Impasse for Jules Maigret – review



Click on the title Impasse for Jules Maigret for a link to my review, with thanks to Michael Bartholomew-Biggs and the London Grip where it appears.

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