BOOKS / Contemporary Poets: 16 Sean O'Brien

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The Independent Culture
Sean O'Brien's books include The Frighteners and The Indoor Park, low-keyed, sepia-toned collections which seethed with anger against Thatcher's Britain. Born in 1952 and brought up in Hull, he has been influenced by two of that town's luminaries (Philip Larkin and Douglas Dunn) and, further afield, by W H Auden, Peter Porter and John Ashbery. His latest collection is HMS Glasshouse (published by Bloodaxe Books, 1991) and he has recently taken up the post of Northern Arts Literary Fellow in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.


Trewartha, Gerald, Felix, Windy,

I see you ascending the stairs

From the Main Hall to heaven,

A place which I now understand

Is the school's upper floor, only bigger;

Ascending through clouds

In the era of pre-dustless chalk

To that rarefied zone

Where even if is absolute.

As the organist stumbles

Once more through the last verse

Of Lord Receive Us With Thy Blessing,

You go with the rags of your gowns still about you,

Stacks of North and Hillard in your arms,

Making for your far-off rooms

To wipe the board and start again

With the verb for I carry,

The noun meaning table.

I go to every room at once

And I still cannot listen,

Remember or scan, and the table's

Still strapped to my back.

When you ask me again what the subject might be

In this sentence, I still cannot answer -

O'Brien, it's not the full stop -

And still make the foolish suggestion

That sirs, in a sense, there is none,

Phenomenologically speaking, that is.

When the stare you award me

Takes longer than Rome did

To flower and vanish, I notice

The bells are not working in heaven today.

(Photograph omitted)