cover image Experience in Groups

Experience in Groups

Geoffrey G. O’Brien. Wave, $18 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-940696-66-9

O’Brien follows People on Sunday with his take on the collective experience of various phenomena and the traumas associated with modern surveillance and the carceral state: “How a war feels when it’s been going on/ Forever.” Reflections on incarceration branch from the concrete into the mental, “where thinking feels too much// Like responding to silent commands.” In the long title poem, O’Brien touches on other technologies that purport to mediate collectivity, particularly social media: “Of hours that refuse to slow/ Or stop, become space, begin/ Reading at a rally, get thrown out,/ Check themselves, record the whole/ Experience, post-it, cross-/ Post it, like it themselves, delete it,/ Take it back, apologize,/ Suspend the account.” Throughout, O’Brien touches on the most pressing questions and dilemmas of being human in this time and place with welcome playfulness, for example, situating “tower” and “Guadalajara” as an off-rhyme, explicitly noting the juxtaposition within “the rhyme of laws and loss,” and doubling up negatives, as in “not here but not/ Not.” In so doing, O’Brien produces many bizarre and beautiful linguistic combinations that shed light on peculiarly American anxieties of the 21st century: “we know what’s happening/ But not what will, the heart of a crowd/ Is everywhere.” (Apr.)