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Halflife: Poems Paperback – October 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The first collection from O'Rourke—critic, Slate culture editor and poetry editor at the Paris Review—displays a playful, energetic intelligence, varied aesthetics and a welcome self-possession, along with the inevitable growing pains. The power of first meetings, quick regrets and a generation for whom things happen fast animates O'Rourke when she is at her most inventive. Beginnings are her strong suit, as are evocations of teen dilemmas (as in "My Life as a Teenager") and stellar lines: "Strange to live in a wet world, then wake in the desert." Also included are two autobiographical sequences whose terse, grim cadence resembles, perhaps too strongly, Louise Glück's, and a few other imagistic lyrics reminiscent of Sylvia Plath: "The buds have already begun, fat pink fingertips." Such moments, though, do not weigh down the book; they are outnumbered by the forward-looking, deft promises at which O'Rourke excels, ending even a poem called "Elegy" on a melancholy high note: "How lucky it is I was born/ to tell you the way it all turned out." This may be one of the most talked about first books of the year. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A promising debut. -- Entertainment Weekly

Concise, sophisticated poems....Immediate magic. -- Chicago Tribune

Impressive. A box full of surprises and intense delights. -- Billy Collins

The whole collection is brought off with real skill and fluency...moments of genuine literary daring. -- New York Sun

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393333175
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393333176
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.3 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Meghan O'Rourke is the author of The Long Goodbye and the poetry collections Halflife and Once, which, like The Long Goodbye, touches on grief and the strange currents of loss. A former editor at The New Yorker, she has served as culture editor and literary critic for Slate as well as poetry editor and advisory editor for The Paris Review. She was awarded the inaugural May Sarton Poetry Prize, the Union League Prize for Poetry from the Poetry Foundation, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, and a Front Page Award for her cultural criticism. A graduate of Yale University, she has taught at Princeton, The New School, and New York University. She lives in Brooklyn, where she grew up, and Marfa, TX.

Here's a dialogue about grief she did with Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times:

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ted Burke on July 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Meghan O'Rourke,poetry editor for The Paris Review and a cultural editor for Slate,is also a poet with unique ability to get a nearly intangible notion, an inexlicapable sensation into words. Giving voice to hunch, making the half-idea a textured, tangible thing, hers is a poetry that completes sentences we cannot finish ourselves. Precision and morphological accuracy aren't the point, and the words themselves, the images they create or suggest, are more like strands of half remembered music that is heard and triggers an intense rush of association; any number of image fragments, sounds, scents, bits of sentences, suggestions of seasonal light in a certain place, race and parade through the mind as fast as memory can dredge up the shards and let them loose. Just as fast, they are gone again, the source of quick elation or profound sadness gone; one can quite nearly sense that streaming cluster of associations that make up a large part of your existence rush onward, going around a psychic bend, scattering like blown dust in the larger universes of limitless life. All one is left with is memory of the sudden rush, the flash of clarity, and the rapid loss, the denaturing of one's sense of self in a community where one might have assumed they were solid and autonomous in their style of being, that nothing can upset the steady rhythm of a realized life. O'Rourke's poem "Two Sisters" is a ghost story, or at least the attempt to write one; the narrator is struggling to find the words to describe what was lost with the passing of a sibling;

When you left, a world Came.
Rain, A morning, a weather That wouldn't end.
The windows closed like stitches.
Fingernails grew; nothing to pick at.
The tent of our mother's body went Wet around me and clung.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lisa M. Ermine on June 1, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Poems From the heart of an intelligent woman. Worth the read. I will pass it along to a friend so it is appreciated more.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Wahlgren on September 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
It's hard to believe this is a debut. The imagery (shadows, geese, etc.) really take shape in this book, never mind, the real situations of the protagonist in some of these poems. All of the poems are very colorful & alive & the paperback version is well-done.
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3 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
I found this collection quite arresting at first read. From one poem to the next, I was in turn startled, bemused, surprised, sliding through a landscape as changeable as moods, an unforgettable coupling of words that meet like strangers on a train step off at the next stop, lost to the night.

Insomniac, I am at the heart of a vital, dirty city, where eccentric travel circuitous routes before the abrupt busyness of morning:

"and children peel up into the supplejack twilight
like licorice from sticky floors-
there a black-eyed straight-backed drag queen
preens, fusses, fixes her hair in a shop window on Prince.
In the window the moon is a dented spoon,
cold, getting colder, so hurry sleep,
come creep into bed..."

Out there, in the night, the city is restless, more flagrant in its excesses, brief snapshots of the distractions that await on every corner, the dark a shield against indiscretion:

"Token in the slot...

A figure in the darkness.
The tine crank
Of canned do-wop.
come quick, no time for this,
the girls in thongs
are glancing at the clock."
(Peep Show)

Skimming from one provocative adventure to another, I stop, halted by a narrative with horror at its heart, a betrayal of innocence. I read, but reluctant, my mind skittering away; calm, relentless, she continues, seducing me with images as I stare, speechless:

"-a story that could not be forgotten or owned,
like looking in a mirror and discovering someone else's face.
What happened to her
Did not happen to you. You were a child

you were safe, not harmed. But
there are fields inside us. They grow.
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