by Meghan O'Rourke


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“The poems in Once illuminate and echo themes of loss and grief.”—Vanity Fair

The incandescent poems in Once, the second collection by an astonishing and formidable poet, explore loss, violence, and recovery. Facing a mother’s impending death, O’Rourke invokes a vanished childhood of “American houses, wet / kids moving through them in Spandex bathing suits; / inside, sandwiches with crusts cut off.” But the future hangs ominously over this summer paradise: not just the death of O’Rourke’s mother but the stark civic traumas faced by American citizens in the twenty-first century. “The future,” O’Rourke writes, “is all still / a dream, a night sweat to be swum off / in a wonderland of sand and bread.”

These poems are shadowed by illness, both civic and personal, and by the mysterious currents of grief. What emerges over the course of the volume is a meditation not only on a daughter’s relationship with her mother but also on a citizen’s to her nation. Throughout, Once examines the forces that shape war, divorce, and death, exploring personal culpability and charting uncertain new beginnings as the speakers seek to build homes in a shattered land and find whole selves amid broken, thwarted relationships.

from "Frontier"

. . . At times,

     I felt sick, intoxicated

     by BPA and mercury.

     At other times I fasted and the stars

     stumbled clear from the vault.

     Up there, the universe stands around drunk.

     I hope the Lord is kind to us,

     for we engrave our every mistake . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393343946
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 03/11/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Meghan O'Rourke is the author of the collections Sun in Days, Halflife, and Once, as well as a memoir, The Long Goodbye. A former editor at The New Yorker, she has served as culture editor and literary critic for Slate, poetry editor for the Paris Review, and is currently the editor of The Yale Review. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Best American Poetry, the New Republic, and Poetry, among others. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, and other awards, she lives in Brooklyn.

What People are Saying About This

Billy Collins

The only way out of a first-rate poem is its ending, so strong is its pull on the reader’s attention. Meghan O’Rourke writes this kind of poem again and again, releasing us only after her poems have fully cast their spell.

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