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Early Autumn – the title derives from a plaintive jazz ballad with lyrics by Johnny Mercer – is framed by two long poems dealing with different aspects of loss. “Elegy for My Brother” – dedicated to the memory of the musician and visual artist Joel O’Brien – is both a confrontation with the physical process of dying and, in its second part, a description of the afterlife that subsists in memory, dream, and art. The book’s final poem, “The Ruins of a Long Gallery Illuminated Through a Hole in Its Vault,” is the expansive account, framed as an unbroken sentence, of a single moment: in looking at an 18th-Century painting of an ancient ruin, a kind of condensed world history is set in motion, moving through layers of experience and fantasy to come face to face with the recent catastrophe of the September 11 attack in the form of wreckage outside the poet’s window in New York.
‘Geoffrey O’Brien is one of our most important poets. When I read his poems, some of the distinguished predecessors that come to mind are Cendrars and Follain, Williams and Creeley – the latter paid a wonderful homage in this collection. Among the many gems here is ‘Elegy for My Brother,’ which is one of the finest poems by an American poet in the last decade and one of the most powerful elegies I’ve read. True to his vision, expansive in his explorations, O’Brien has from the first been taking us on an amazing and revelatory journey; in this, perhaps his very best book, he offers up wisdom, delight, and the rare poetic certainty that an imagination which replenishes and transfigures its world so powerfully will always be capable of renewing us.’ —Nicholas Christopher
‘Together with everything else you expect from a poem today, you get such a wonderful and rare gift: a story that you can read as such as if the poem were a novel in micrograms... O’Brien is hands down the most elegant poet writing today.’ —Nathaniel Tarn