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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Review: Dancing on a Dead-End Street by Sarah O'Brien

An interview with Sarah O'Brien will appear here on 7/2/2019.

Sarah O'Brien, editor of Boston Accent Lit, is a bare-faced poet. A character tells her persona:
we wear hearts on
our arms, that’s what
makes an Irishman.
Note: not sleeves, but arms--even closer than one's sleeve.

Her persona goes through "a menagerie of moans"--moans of physical pain, sexual pleasure, and lost love. She pines like Dante or Yeats for an unrequited love, who cannot seem to love her in the way she wants love and yet that barrier doesn't stop her from loving--despite or because of his marriage to someone else.

Sometimes the love is enough, sometimes not. "You can’t scandalize me," she writes to the "American Jackal." In "Write Back Soon" as the title suggests she feels conflicted, speaks of her dog's "whimpering.... abandonment issues," sweet talks with metaphor of her being toast and melted butter (she is melting and causing the melting) and ends by warning the lover to "keep your distance." Likewise, in an untitled poem she "send[s] love into the universe / without a return address" and at expects "something good" but ends up expecting "nothing good."

A few titles demarcate what's best about these verses:

  • If There Is Something to Say, Say It 
  • Silent Treatment in Salem
  • Instead of Killing Myself ("offer my body to any mosquito")

Some lines are inspired:
I love weirdness like when a boy
reaches across me to scratch a blue wall. 
When I want to see if a plant is real,
I feel its leaves: fake. 
What are your intentions, gardener?
What will you grow with all this time? 
[from "With All This Time"]
If I leave this poem early
will you come back to 
[from "Irish Goodbye" which segues into the next poem "Twist" and its multiple senses]

The poems are her persona's life and livelihood as she points in "Love Letter to Late Capitalism." Just when she  thinks "When I Think I’m Out of Poems," an older woman finds a lost necklace and asks the persona to put it on and "she turns the corner."

But the best poem is "Time Zone":

I love long walks on clichés.
You want me to hear home
walking on Main Street.
I homed here in the past tense.
You never visited. 
In past tense, I ask a man to bed:
No labels heavy like a weighted blanket.
No fingering the sheets
as I touch tongue to collarbone.
You think I’m easy. Well, fuck. I am. 
My black boots make me famous.
I leave dignity at the baggage claim,
craving conversation in clouds.
You’re only halfway meeting me anywhere.
I wanna be caught by absolute surprise.

If you long for the ache of hunting and being haunted by love, Sarah O'Brien's Dancing on a Dead-End Street [link to chapbook] may cure what ails you.

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