Once

Meghan O'Rourke, Author
Meghan O’Rourke. Norton, $24.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-393-08062-9
Paperback - 89 pages - 978-0-393-34394-6
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Expect a big rollout for O’Rourke’s second collection of verse, her first since her memoir about her mother’s death from cancer, The Long Goodbye, won massive national prominence earlier this year. Most of the new poems touch on the memoir’s territory, outlining and answering scenes from the poet’s family life, some long ago (at a lake house; with boisterous aunts) or all too recently. O’Rourke’s judgments and memories obtain the concise finality that only poetry can provide: early snow descends on “frozen fresh-bloomed flowers./ They creaked and cried,/ wild colts, being broken.” Another poem remembers her mother’s last days: “A week ago she climbed the stairs/ to bed, one step at a time,/ pausing on the landing,/ offering up her cheek and that old ‘good night’: ‘I love you to death.’ ” Such scenes, drawn directly from memories, dominate parts one and three of this three-part book. Part two may seem less personal, or more original: a corpse speaks in “Churchyard” (“I was a person// once, I believe. I lived in a house”) and two sequences, “My Life as a Subject” and “My Life as a Ruler,” give voice to opposing parts of the self. O’Rourke, who writes for Slate, the New York Times Book Review, and the New Yorker, has done serious work with her serious subjects: many readers who know her from her prose should find, not consolation, but stark understanding. (Oct.)
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