cover image Metropole


Geoffrey G. O'Brien. Univ. of California, $21.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-520-26887-6

This third collection of ambitious and highly self-conscious poems by O'Brien (Green and Gray) insists that mass culture and commerce have drained words of their meanings, while the poems are simultaneously unwilling to let those meanings go. Short and longer lyrics%E2%80%94ranging from a quarter page to several pages, mostly set in unbroken columns%E2%80%94flaunt self-mocking titles like "Poem with No Good Lines" and "To Be Read in Either Direction"; the former is actually a very long collection of pretty good lines, though no two of them seem to be from the same poem ("Her neck in profile and the top of the head/ The most fluent and honest I've felt in a year") while the latter narrates "a certain struggle one might have" with oneself, which indeed has no beginning or end. Taken together, these poems trap the reader in a tense argument with language and the self, which feels "a combination of things,/ essentially all of them, gone." The short poems form a prelude to the long title piece that makes up the book's final third, a sprawling, disjunctive meditation on contemporary urban and Internet-inflected life, in which, "Seen from above the private life looks like a dot." If O'Brien's poems are becoming increasingly resistant to, if not combative with, their readers, their rewards are also growing richer for readers willing to engage in the poems' arguments. (Mar.)