IMMEDIATELY a poet feels he has to earn his sense of worth by winning prizes, his ego gets involved and he gets caught up in a treadmill which can never be completely satisfied…
Sean O’Brien has won many prizes for his poems. It came as no surprise on Monday when his latest volume, The Drowned Book (Picador £8.99), dominated by his own male menopause, picked up the most prestigious of all prizes for poetry, the TS Eliot, and he was presented by a cheque for £I0,000 by Eliot’s widow Valerie.Sean O’Brien plays it safe, echoing Lord Byron in his poem “Timor Mortis”.
His gift literally runs away with itself:
My friends, Lord Death is cruel but fair:
He loves it when there’s nothing there...
No evidence of Paradise.
His only mood’s imperative.
He knows our names and where we live.
He sees no reason to record
The names of those whose bones are stored
In his extensive cellarage:
They are unwritten, like this page.
Come now, and board his empty ark –
What need of poems in the dark?
What need indeed? Of all the elegies, I preferred “Railway Hotel”, in memory of Ken Smith. He was a powerful poet albeit one, like O’Brien, in the heartbreaking tradition of emotionally illiterate macho men. Talented women poets such as Mimi Khilvati and Brenda Williams, to name but two, don’t cut any ice in an unfeeling literary world in which the men poets still get most of the smarties.
Camden New Journal, 20th December 2007