Sean O’Brien

Somewhere in the house, I howl.
Of this much I am certain, though
These days I no longer hear.
It’s only me again. Meanwhile
I watch and do not watch
The evening freight trains pull away
In almost perfect silence, gliding
At the low, inexorable speed
It’s tempting if not yet compulsory
To think is that of history,
A word we’d long supposed
Was exiled to the snowfield of itself,
When all the time the patient trains
Were overhauling us to fill
This yard as big as Luxembourg,
Locked down in night and fog.
But what do I know? Only that
They roll into the tunnel, after which
No further reference is made.
There is a pause. It’s me again,
There in the attic, the cellar,
Sealed between the walls, a howling
Absence of the sort you often find
In older houses such as this.
If I were me I shouldn’t dwell on it
But learn to count my blessings,
Carefully and often, just in case.

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Sean O’Brien’s poetry has received numerous awards, including the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Forward Prize (three times), the E.M. Forster Award, and the Roehampton Poetry Prize. His Collected Poems appeared in 2012. Europa is his ninth collection. His work has been published in several languages. His novel Once Again Assembled Here was published in 2016. He is also a critic, editor, translator, playwright and broadcaster. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Europa, Sean O’Brien’s ninth collection of poems, is a timely and necessary book. Europe is not a place we can choose to leave: it is also a shared heritage and an age-old state of being, a place where our common dreams, visions and nightmares recur and mutate. In placing our present crises in the context of an imaginative past, O’Brien show how our futures will be determined by what we choose to understand of our own European identity – as well as what we remember and forget of our shared history.

Europa shows not just a Europe haunted by disaster and the threat of apocalypse, but an England where the shadows lengthen and multiply even in its most familiar and domestic corners. Europa, the poet reminds us, shapes the fate of everyone in these islands – even those of us who insist that they live elsewhere.

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