A review of

Green and Gray

by Geoffrey G. O’Brien

Central question: How do you write poetry after FOX News?
Format: 102 pp., paperback; Size: 5 ½" x 9"; Price: $19.95; Publisher: University of California Press; Series: New California Poetry; Series editors: Calvin Bedient, Forrest Gander, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman; Book design: J. G. Braun; Typefaces: Scala and Bank Gothic; Title of collaborative book written with Jeff Clark: 2A; Number of poems in book composed using only language from the PATRIOT Act, with one word per line subsequently replaced by a word from Jean Genet’s Querelle: one; Representative line: “Rhythm opposes any instant of itself.”

Green and Gray is an exceptional book of poetry, a complicated and often difficult book, but not one in which the complexities and difficulty require readers to create their own meaning. Rather, the experience here is that of following the poet’s mind through the process of making meaning. This is the sort of poetry that makes thoughts like “This book is excellent and therefore I have a responsibility to read it” open into the actual and immediate pleasure of reading, and then further into engagement with the idea of reading itself, where one eventually looks up and says, “I can’t believe there are books.”

Green and Gray is also exceptional as a second book of poetry, in that it solves the problem that comes from writing a very good and very distinctive first book: how to go on without repeating yourself. O’Brien does this by using some of the same techniques as before, but in different and more complicated ways. For instance, compare how repetition works in “….” from The Guns and Flags Project: “The snow was the future perfect of snow,” “The snow was the perfect future of snow,” “The future of snow was the perfect snow,” to the way it works in “Hysteron Proteron” from Green and Gray: “heedless until explained; he begins to describe it; / Eve is claimed born across the water / and not yet proved; Eve is ‘made’.… abandoned, worked on, begins to be built; / ‘Eve’ is born; ‘Eve’ is claimed and made.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Samuel Amadon

Samuel Amadon’s recent poems have appeared in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Modern Review, and VOLT.

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