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Sean O’Brien has written six collections of poetry, most recently The Drowned Book (2007), which won the Forward and T.S. Eliot prizes; Cousin Coat: Selected Poems 1976-2001 (2002) and other works which include the book of essays The Deregulated Muse (1998); the verse plays The Birds (2002); Keepers of the Flame (2003) and a verse translation of Dante’s Inferno (2006); the short story collection The Silence Room (2008) and the novel Afterlife (2009). He is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

November

Picador Poetry
2012 Shortlist
United Kingdom

Judges’ Citation

November is a book of subtle virtuosity. O’Brien’s skilled handling of rhythm, structure, narrative and image are on full display in this latest collection, rich in evidence of a careful, elegant mind at work.

November is a book of subtle virtuosity. O’Brien’s skilled handling of rhythm, structure, narrative and image are on full display in this latest collection, rich in evidence of a careful, elegant mind at work. In November we approach year’s end, a time of reassessment, of clear-eyed stock-taking and redirection. ‘Look away just for a moment. / Then look back and see…’ are the book’s apt, opening lines. This turning away and back, this existential strophe and antistrophe, are like the picked-through furrows of a ploughed field where O’Brien paces us with a firm hand past sites of sober reckoning. Gates, graveyards, stations, junctions and the hazy light of more than one afternoon bar become sites of conciliation with both past and present, where ‘every failure brings you its account / for signing.’ Placed in these terrains of transition, peopled by the dedicatees of elegy and homage, November affirms, through accumulated detail, these disappearing worlds that ‘cannot be other than real.