Fatigue and anger, vitamins, of being born at some remove from Sunday, leaving any world untouched, I guess I sing. But many other things show up. The safety of the ports, large gulls improperly inland, that rip within a point of sale; and lunch beforehand where we wondered whether forms detach from prior eras reappear as Morris Louis veils or if an accident is king of how museum shadows thicken into middle distances. Wrong to think of day as falling up and out of bed
— from "Metropole"
GEOFFREY G. O'BRIEN'S TWO PREVIOUS BOOKS, The Gun and Flags Project and Green and Gray, have raised the bar in contemporary poetry with their sui generis fusion of political conscientiousness and formal mastery. O'Brien writes with a supreme music and a targeted lock on the materials of daily life, the hefty minutiae of our collective subjective experience; reading him, we soon find that the boundaries have dissolved between prescription medicine, American imperialism, fabricated dreams, and the workweek calendar. Call it an existentialism of enjambment: Why shouldn't poetry contain as many simultaneous disjunct realities as a web browser with multiple open tabs, comprising everything from BBC Breaking News to a Gchat with a friend to an insurance bill to translations of Schubert's Lieder?
O'Brien's third and latest volume, Metropole, is a work radically engaged with our polysemous, vacuous age, a work where redigested news reports emerge from an archly constructed musicality. He is acutely sensitive to the void underlying our rhetorical fabrics (pleasing, horrifying, autobiographical, topical). Often the poems in Metropole feel so vibrantly tense because you can't uncover how much O'Brien has determined the poem, or how much it has determined him. The radioactive, steely language of Metropole appears to be contained, and an ever-cooling intellectual temperature prevails. More than the poem feels about to buckle from such understated torque and meticulous restraint: Isn't it our whole society that's at this constant breaking point? (Exeunt pursued by hurricanes, terrorist attacks, economic collapses, the next Cheney-Palinesque "tell-all.")
In O'Brien's hands, the American lyric receives a dry, mischievous reassembly; mundanity must testify as itself (though the Court of Public Opinion is thankfully never in session). Everydayness becomes the imagination's detour towards something like an authentic, integrated way to be awake, to be alive in our time, using the very language that has been so smudged by lawyers, politicians and ad-men. But how to make it sing? Here's one way:
a kind of slashed leaf or wheel
added to the litany,
one of those things you start off
without and over the week restore
— from "Folie A Deux"
Poetry being our closest and most ambitious ally within our indifferent, chaotic and — yes — seductive Disinformation Age, it takes something as artful and intelligent as Metropole to restore us.
— Adam J. Fitzgerald
ADAM J. FITZGERALD: How long have you been w...