Geoffrey G. O'Brien: "speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick"
Ask and ye shall receive. Our First Book Poet Poetry Snark winner is …. (sound of drums rolling) Geoffrey G. O'Brien! While there have been many worthy contenders already listed in Tuesday's post (keep 'em coming), O'Brien was listed first in your comments, is among the better known names provided, and has the most pretentious jacket photo. So O'Brien it is!
The Guns and Flags Project is a book relentlessly, brutally self-conscious of its poetic lineage, which is that old mainstay: Stevens>Ashbery>Less Talented Suck-up. This is a book that seems preconceived to jolt Harold Bloom into pre-orgasmic alert status or lull John Koethe into blissfully-hypnotized self-absorption. So Stevensian/Ashberian is it that the poems are indistinguishable. At any moment in The Stuns and Drags Project, we could be waste-deep in a milquetoast and truncated version of "Clepsydra" or B-grade Stevens like "Examination of the Hero in a Time of War." O'Brien's titles are so Stevensoashberian as to be hilarious: "Observations on the Florida Question," "Standing Before Paintings," "Two Philosophers," "Reverent Estimations," "The Truth in Italy" (I could continue). The first word that comes to mind when one thinks of Runs and Brags is "palaver." That is to say, these poems go on and on, in a blandly homogenous, all-too-loose five-stress line that is terrified of statement yet hobbled by the unconscious urge to assert. For example: "Far be it from me to say that you've an ocean / in your throat, as you don't maintain it is so…. Far be it from me to say of your inner / surfaces that they're visited with marine qualities…" And so it goes. Well, far be it for Snark to say that O' Brien's career looks to be less than promising, but Shuns and Lags is one of the most boring books of poetry I've ever read. We have to agree with O'Brien when he says "it's not the sex of [my] clouds but their muteness that hangs, / sourceless, talentless, above the manic ground." Or almost agree: sexless, mute, and talentless--yes, we see that part--but sourceless? Fraid not, son. Your sources are painfully obvious. As our old friend Francis Jeffrey once said, "this will never do."