Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Scarsdale - Dan O'Brien (CB Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Scarsdale.  Dan O'Brien.  CB Editions.  London, England.  2014.

Back in October of 2013 Today's book of poetry was happy to look at Dan O'Brien's first book of poetry War Reporter.  We loved it.  You can see that here:

We weren't alone.  War Reporter won the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collections Prize and was shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

O'Brien is best known as a playwright, but his second volume of poetry, Scarsdale, will tilt those scales in the poetry direction.

The first thing you notice about O'Brien's poetry is the confidence of the speakers voice.  Scarsdale is a family history, right of passage, coming of age collection.

Blue Nun

How sophisticated, brave
we thought they both were to drink
Blue Nun. While my mother cooked
joylessly, and the old man
watched the news. Considering
her mother would beat her when blind drunk,
and his mother had been trying
to join his father in death
for years, once stepping our of bed
into a shattered ankle, drunk. You must stay
away, they'd warn us. They stayed away,
too. Except those rare evenings
when for mysterious reasons
she'd park outside the pricey
wine store downtown, to purchase
her bottle of Blue Nun -- what I like
to imagine they first tasted
in somebody's basement
in high school, or the evening
of their so-called elopement
upstate somewhere. She'd sip
over the bubbling gray ground meat
in the crowded pan. Her eyes wet
with some kind of inward, chastised
release. And sometimes he'd bring his
next glass to the table
and tell such funny stories!
that she'd watch him with both fear
and pleasure: here was man
she hardly knew.


There are poems of sons and fathers and mothers and booze, they are about the journey towards manhood, the struggle to find, know, and follow a path.

O'Brien is exacting when crafting these freeze frames of family function and dis.

His tyrant father pounds a straight rod of frustration down O'Brien's back at every turn.  Life is revealed as it honestly unfolds, dramas of domesticity, generally with much duress.  But there is poetry to it all as O'Brien's mother intones in the poem "Pay Phone":
          "One day you will remember
when you were brave and suffered,
and you will find yourself longing
to be this way again."

The Worm

Alone in the boat
with you, rowing out
on the lake. Take
the Styrofoam cup
and with my fingers
dig through the fecal
loam. For night crawlers,
blood suckers. His cold
striated, mucoid
skin, pink bulbous band
like a prepuce. You
show me how to hold
the naked, the tangling
thread, then push the barbed
hook through. Once, then, twice
till the bait's a balled
crucifix of dirt. Don't
be a faggot,
you say as you cast
your line out. I drop
the live worm between
my bare knees, puncture
its middle, watch its
tail flipping blind. Ooze
spotting the wood grain
green. Then casting out
the loose loop, I see
my poor worm sinking
beneath the rhythmic
lozenges of light. Such grace
when the hook comes back
clean. One time I left
the worms on their hooks
and smiled when I saw
you searching the house
for the source of all
that smell of death.


These poems are simple but never simplistic, direct as darts from a knowing hand.

Today's book of poetry thinks Dan O'Brien's second book of poetry, Scarsdale will confirm the incandescent promise of his first, War Reporter.

My Mother

Water in the bowl after
the flowers have been lifted out.


There is a gentle nature to O'Brien's hard and harsh voice, an eloquent survivor of the battle to become more than a son, to become a man.  Equally important, a man of understanding and compassion.

Dan O'Brien

Dan O’Brien, author War Reporter (CBe 2013; winner of the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize for a first collection of poetry) is an American playwright and poet living in Los Angeles. His play The Body of an American, derived from the same material as War Reporter, won the Horton Foote Prize and the inaugural Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama, and had its European premiere in London in 2014.

‘Dan O’Brien’s poems are powerful and stripped down, but they expand in the mind long after they’ve been read. As in War Reporter, O’Brien captures the reflective gentleness that exists amid the damage of experience, and survives it.’
– Patrick McGuinness

‘Dan O’Brien’s direct and sometimes stark but never simplistic poems explore the difficult complexities of boyhood, and growing up, and growing older. The painful loveliness of O’Brien’s language reveals the confusions and aspirations of the self, and the self among others, and the perilous world beyond the self.’
– Lawrence Raab

‘Dan O’Brien has found what Frost once called “the sound of sense”, has caught the language of people, stripped that language to its bare bones, rattled those bones in ways that make a wrenching but beautiful music. Moving through his American childhood into adulthood, through a wide world shattered by broken people, he finds redemption everywhere and it’s a gift to his readers. O’Brien supplies the satisfactions of a rare imagination at work, a poet who has taken risks, exposing his deep anxieties, finding himself again and again.’
– Jay Parini

Dan O'Brien
reads "Fern Hill" a poem by Dylan Thomas
Video courtesy of:  Cossack Review


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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