Geoffrey O’Brien: A Poet’s Prose

In Susan Sontag’s essay A Poet’s Prose, she writes, “The prose of poets is typically elegiac, retrospective.” This is evident in Geoffrey O’Brien’s extended essay The Browser’s Ecstasy: A Meditation on Reading. Sontag writes, “Poet’s prose not only has a particular fervour, density, velocity, fibre.” O’Brien’s enigmatic little book bears repeated reading, or rather browsing, to extract all the fibre from its chewy, dense prose. On every page are wonderful sentences and rushes of insight.

Proper reading, reading in a straight line, is something else again. That is a task, with its procedures, regulations, orders. The reader wants to get at something and in turn is gotten at. The mechanism cannot function unless he lays himself open at the precise angle and aligns his head with the slot marks. There are foreseeable consequences. He’s going somewhere and at the end of the journey there will be questions.

To move through a book from beginning to end is to advance triumphantly toward the death that waits after the last word of the last sentence. Each time out, it is a little rehearsal of dissolution. Assemble the pieces, see them through their matings and agons, and then share their disappearance. Of course, one can begin again, again and again. But still there is a desire for something else, an altogether different kind of movement. It’s a sort of hermetic spiralling, no more static than the vibrant stillness of the hummingbird at the window.

Salon review of “The Browser’s Ecstasy”

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