Sean Oâ€™Brien is a poet, critic, playwright, broadcaster, anthologist and editor. He grew up in Hull and now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.
Shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize for Poetry 2011. November is Sean O'Brien's first collection since his widely celebrated The Drowned Book, the only book of poetry to have won both the Forward and T. S. Eliot prizes. November is haunted by the missing, the missed, the vanished, the uncounted, and the uncountable lost: lost sleep, connections, muses, books, the ghosts and gardens of childhood. Ultimately, these lead the poet to contemplate the most troubling absences: O'Brien's elegies for his parents and friends form the heart of this book, and are the source of its pervasive note of depart. Elsewhere as if a French window stood open to an English room the islands, canals, railway stations and undergrounds of O'Brien's landscape are swept by a strikingly Gallic air. This new note lends O'Brien's recent poems a reinvigorated sense of the imaginative possible: November shows O'Brien at the height of his powers, with his intellect and imagination as gratifyingly restless as ever.
Winner of the T S Eliot Prize for Poetry 2007.The poet Peter Porter, who chaired the judging panel of WN Herbert and Sujata Bhatt, called O'Brien "a major artist" and described The Drowned Book as "fierce, funny and deeply melancholy".
'He's one of the best players I've ever played with. As a forward, I'd say he's the best.' Johnny Sexton Sean O'Brien does not come from a traditional rugby background. He grew up on a farm in Tullow, far from the rugby hotbeds of Limerick and Cork or the fee-paying schools of Dublin. But as he made his way up through the ranks, it soon became clear that he was a very special player and a very special personality. Now, Sean O'Brien tells the remarkable and unlikely story of his rise to the highest levels of world rugby, and of a decade of success with Leinster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions.
It Says Here is Sean O'Brien's follow-up to his celebrated collection Europa, and has a vision as rich and wide-ranging as its predecessor. Set against shorter, ruthlessly focused pieces - vicious and scabrous political sketches and satires charting the growth of extremism and the disintegration of democracy - are meditations on the imaginative life, dream and remembrance, time and recurrence. There are elegies for friends and fellow poets; paranoiac, brooding pastorals; other poems lay bare the maddening trials of a historically literate mind as it attempts to navigate a world gone post-content, post-intellectual, and at times post-memory. At the centre of the book is the long poem Hammersmith, a shadowy, cinematic dream-vision of England during and since the Second World War. Here, O'Brien charts a psychogeographic journey through the English countryside and the haunted precincts of London, mapping a labyrinth of love, madness and lost history. The result is a stirring, illuminating document of a time of immense societal flux and upheaval by one of our finest poets and most insightful cultural commentators. 'In both technical mastery and his belief in the seriousness of the poetic art, O'Brien is WH Auden's true inheritor.' Irish Times
Sean O'Brien's stories are all lit with the unmistakable hue of the Victorian gothic: from the rantings of a deranged psychiatric patient, to the apparition of demons swarming into a remote, rural railway station; solemn oaths are broken and need atoning for; minor transgressions are met with outlandish curses. Often we join O'Brien's protagonists attempting to take time out from their troubles, but removing themselves from their normal lives only lets the supernatural in, and before they know it personal demons find very literal ones to conspire with.
Europa, Sean O'Brien's ninth collection of poems, is a timely and necessary book. Europe is not a place we can choose to leave: it is also a shared heritage and an age-old state of being, a place where our common dreams, visions and nightmares recur and mutate. In placing our present crises in the context of an imaginative past, O'Brien show how our futures will be determined by what we choose to understand of our own European identity - as well as what we remember and forget of our shared history. Europa is a magisterial, grave and lyric work from one of the finest poets of the age: it shows not just a Europe haunted by disaster and the threat of apocalypse, but an England where the shadows lengthen and multiply even in its most familiar and domestic corners. Europa, the poet reminds us, shapes the fate of everyone in these islands - even those of us who insist that they live elsewhere.
Stephen Maxwell has just retired from a lifetime spent teaching history at his alma mater. As he writes the official history of Blake's, a minor public school steeped in military tradition, he also reveals how, forty years ago, a secret conflict dating from the Second World War re-enacted itself among staff and pupils, when fascism once more made its presence felt in the school and the city, with violent and nightmarish results.
The seventies. Summer. Four students in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. Two young American women, one hell-bent on destruction. Alcohol, LSD, sex, jealousy, infidelity and poetry. At the end of the summer, one of the four students will be dead, and another will be destroyed by his inability to let go of past memories, guilt and bitterness. 'A cracker' Evening Standard 'Chills to the bone' Independent on Sunday 'Rich and powerful' Daily Mail 'Afterlife positively throbs with loss ...It's a deeply absorbing novel that lingers in the mind like the ghosts it so ardently evokes' Claire Kilroy Irish Times 'A richly rewarding portrait of friendships under siege, full of vibrant characters and atmospheres that linger in the mind and the heart' Sunday Telegraph
Each poem in Sean O'Brien's superb new collection opens on a wholly different room, vista or landscape, each drawn with the poet's increasingly refined sense of tone, history and rhetorical assurance. The Beautiful Librarians is a stock-taking of sorts, and a celebration of those unsung but central figures in our culture, often overlooked by both capital and official account. Here we find infantrymen, wrestlers, old lushes in the hotel bar - but none more heroic than the librarians of the title, those silent and silencing guardians of literature and knowledge who, the poet reminds us, also had lives of their own to be celebrated. Elsewhere we find a 12-bar blues sung by Ovid, a hymn to a grey rose, a writing course from hell, and a very French exercise in waiting. A book of terrific variety of theme and form, The Beautiful Librarians is another bravura performance from the most garlanded English poet of his generation.
This collection, drawing on almost forty years of verse, represents the definitive guide to one of the leading English poets working today. It will allow the reader the chance to survey both the remarkable variety and the consistent quality of O'Brien's work, as well as the enduring strength of his obsessions: these have helped create a tone and a landscape as immediately recognizable as those of MacNeice, Larkin or Eliot. O'Brien's hells and heavens, underworlds and urban dystopias, trains and waterways have formed the imaginative theatre for his songs, satires, pastorals and elegies; throughout, the poems demonstrate O'Brien's astonishing flair for the dramatic line, where he has inherited the mantle of W. H. Auden. Also included are selections from both O'Brien's dramatic writing and his acclaimed version of the Inferno.
In this innovative series of public lectures at Newcastle University, leading contemporary poets speak about the craft and practice of poetry to audiences drawn from both the city and the university. The lectures are then published in book form by Bloodaxe, giving readers everywhere the opportunity to learn what the poets themselves think about their own subject. Where and what is the England in which we imagine we live? How do we authenticate this never-to-be-finished project? What are its imaginative origins, and how do contemporary poets stand in relation to those predecessors such as Eliot, Auden, Larkin and Hughes whose imaginary Englands have left such an imprint on the culture? Journeys to the Interior considers the work of a range of contemporary poets, including Peter Didsbury, Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Farley, Roy Fisher, Daljit Nagra, Jo Shapcott and George Szirtes, examining areas of dissent and signs of affirmation. Can England be seen as, in Langland's words, 'a fair field full of folk'? Is Englishness a matter of 'complicated shame', as Jo Shapcott put it? How do those born elsewhere who have made their homes here describe the experience of England? And if, as Auden said, 'all the poet can do is warn', what warning signs are poets receiving and transmitting in this period of doubt and anxiety?