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Once: Poems Hardcover – October 3, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“A lovely book of poems revealing the ephemeral nature of life in all its transparency . . . moving, tender, and real . . . the poems achieve their poignancy by way of honesty, nothing less.” (Rattle)

“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.” (Billy Collins)

“Accessible yet sharp-edged . . . a moving exploration of loss and redemption.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A fugue of death and resurrection with emotions like a heart-shaped trap.” (Washington Independent Review of Books) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Meghan O'Rourke is the author of the poetry collections Halflife and Once, and a memoir, The Long Goodbye. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, among them The New Yorker and Slate. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 89 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (October 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393080625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393080629
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.5 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,485,692 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

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nina Bennett on June 2, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
O'Rourke's second poetry book is divided into 3 untitled sections, suggestive of before, during, and after. The collection opens with the title poem, "Once," in which the narrator describes an idyllic childhood. It starts with:
A girl ate ices
in the red summer. Bees
buzzed among the hydrangea,

The first 5 stanzas continue with summer, suggestive of long, slow, days. Then 2 stanzas for fall, followed by 2 stanzas for winter. In the final stanza, life changes drastically.
When spring came, the home
had tilted into the tree's
long, crooked shadow. Nothing

was the same again.

We get a glimpse of what went wrong from the title of the third poem, "Diagnosis." Poems with hints of what is happening are interspersed with poems of childhood gatherings.
The future hasn't arrived. It is all still
a dream, a night sweat to be swum off
in a wonderland of sand and bread.
(Twenty-first Century Fireworks)

The lengthy poem "Preparation" is divided into numbered sections. O'Rourke starts by preparing the house for night.
I walk through the house, turning off the lights.
Perhaps this is a metaphor for preparing for death.
Section 3 is beautifully constructed. It continues the arc of contrasting a past, happy childhood with the reality of the present.
The Adirondack chair where she and I slept one afternoon,
the pool, the sun that burned our skin, the laundry
my father hadn't done for a month,
the couch on which she slept all day,
This section closes with 2 lines that take us back to laundry, but also hint at the future, made unthinkable by a strike-through.
A shirt came flapping off the laundry line
like a sail or a shroud-no, like a sail.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When someone dies, there are the facts of the dying, the death, and how one deals with grief in public. There is also the private world of emotions that others rarely see. Meghan O’Rourke writes about this in the poetry of Once.

Meghan’s poems take us inside her mourning of her mother’s death. She speaks with unflinching honesty and we can see grief’s inner landscape of images that are important to her. We can feel what she feels. There are touching poems of relationships coming apart, poems of lethargy, depression, and listlessness that would not leave, and poems about risky behaviors as she tries different ways to regain control of her life.

The poem, “Magnolia,” for example, provides a insight into how grief moves. Although Meghan feels ready to move on at this point, and signs of normal life have finally begun to return, grief still returns at random moments.

While the canon of grief literature is long, there haven’t been many notable books of contemporary grief poetry. The books I like that have come out relatively recently include Sandra Gilbert’s Aftermath, Anne Carson’s Nox, Mary Oliver’s Thirst, Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven, Claribel Alegria’s Sorrow, Donald Hall’s Without, Tess Gallagher’s Moon Crossing Bridge, and Edward Hirsch’s Gabriel. Meghan’s book is a valuable addition.

My full review is at Rain Taxi Review of Books - .
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lucia Sweet on August 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author writes about grief and dives deep into the hidden and remote depths of the soul to poetically describe a great loss -- without affectation or corny sentimentalism.
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