Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

"The beautiful librarians" by Sean O'Brien (Picador, 2015)

I'm having trouble getting much out of this. Much of it means nothing to me - e.g. "The difference you missed before/ Is not the weapons only but the belts/ That can hold up the trousers" (p.24).

I like "Antistrophe: Underwater Fires" and "Where it Comes From". I think I understand the Larkinesque poems like "The Beautiful Librarians" (which includes "It passes time that passes anyway") and "Nobody's Uncle" ("The lottery's completely passed him by./ On chairs in shady doorways shelling peas,/ Tilting up their faces to the sunset, No girls grown old think fondly of him now"). I like and/or understand odd phrases elsewhere - e.g. from "At the solstice" - "As daylight turns to cinema once more:// A lustrous darkness deep in ice-age cold,/ And the print in need of restoration// Starting to consume itself/ With snowfall where no snow is falling now". "Residential Brownjohnesque" makes fun of Arvon-like courses - "And someone who is always not there yet/ But on a train / a plane / a mission / medication / sectioned", but it's an easy target. I've seen much funnier articles elsewhere.

Some of the first lines have contradictions, often to do with time - "The morning lasts forever. It does not" (p.2), "We were due here yesterday or never" (p.17), "Here is the present we know as forever" (p.56). And later the final lines join in - "a rose/ That flowers here where nothing grows" (p.60), "Where we will stay forever. Come now. Do not. Yes." (p.61).

Other reviews

  • Guardian
  • James Kid (Independent)
  • James Marriott (Perhaps the funniest poem in the collection is ‘Residential Brownjohnesque’ ... Perhaps the best thing in the collection is ‘Always’)
  • Dabid green (The poem that might be even better than the title poem is Cafe de l'imprimerie)
  • Marc Woodward (Stride) (There is much to admire in the writing here; there's a depth that demands the reader work hard. In a few of the 40 poems the reader is left with the feeling that there are keys pieces of information he doesn't possess and which are needed to unlock the puzzle - for example in 'Immortals' where less sympathetic readers may wonder if it's worth the effort... And in that regard it reminds of Eliot. Indeed there is a sense of three poets present here: Eliot, Auden and Larkin. Eliot for some of the denser imagery and that requirement for more information; Auden because O'Brien plays with different forms whilst carrying strong socio-political messages; and Larkin because there is an overarching bleakness.)
  • Aileen Ni Gillechroist


  1. Dear Tim

    I was disappointed by his Collected Poems so I've never got around to reading 'The beautiful librarians' but you make it sound rather interesting!

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

    1. I wouldn't take much notice of my opinions. They're offered as contributions to the hive-mind, to be consumed as part of a balanced diet. But I hope the extracts are more widely helpful.