To the River
Author: Michael O'Brien
Publisher: Flood Editions (2017)
"Very few significant American poets called as little attention to themselves in their lifetimes as Michael O'Brien, who died last November at the age of 77. Much as with Lorine Niedecker—whose 'silences', he wrote, 'derive from an intellectual conviction that art, like science, demands total concentration on the object of attention'—his poetry was all about paying attention, in his case to the smallest, most fleeting details in the world at hand. The world in nearly all of O'Brien's city poetry is Manhattan: the Upper West Side during his years at Columbia; Chelsea, where he lived for decades; the financial district, where he had an office job; and Midtown, where he spent the last decade or so of his working life. These city poems are cinematic, in a flickery, stroboscopic manner that uses unlikely juxtapositions to capture something of the speed and density of urban life . . . The shorter nature poetry conveys the sense of words emerging from silence and disappearing back into it. Many of them, particularly those written after 2007, have a spectral quality. Delicacy of observation, oblique precision and subtlety of movement, word by word, syllable by syllable, are the hallmarks of these poems."