Each poem in Sean O’Brien’s superb new collection opens on a wholly different room, vista or landscape, each drawn with the poet’s increasingly refined sense of tone, history and rhetorical assurance. The Beautiful Librarians is a stock-taking of sorts, and a celebration of those unsung but central figures in our culture, often overlooked by both capital and official account. Here we find infantrymen, wrestlers, old lushes in the hotel bar – but none more heroic than the librarians of the title, those silent and silencing guardians of literature and knowledge who, the poet reminds us, also had lives of their own to be celebrated.
Elsewhere we find a 12-bar blues sung by Ovid, a hymn to a grey rose, a writing course from hell, and a very French exercise in waiting. A book of terrific variety of theme and form, The Beautiful Librarians is another bravura performance from the most garlanded English poet of his generation.
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