The insomniac speakers in Halflife are coming of age in a mythical world full of threat and promise. Seeking their true selves amid the fallen cathedrals of America, they speak wryly of destructive love affairs, aesthetic obsession, and encroaching war, but refuse to abandon hope in the power of imagination.
Praise for Halflife
“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.”
“A fun game for poetry nerds: read the first line or sentence of a favorite poet’s first book, and imagine it as a summary of the writer’s entire career…Meghan O’Rourke, the culture editor of Slate, offers a terse contribution to the first-sentence genre in this, her debut collection: “My poor eye.” Like many of the poems that follow, the sentence can be read as grave or arch, and at first seems straightforward but proves elusive upon closer examination. Is her eye poor because it doesn’t work well? Because it hasn’t seen enough? Or has seen too much? All three, we come to find. In fact, the sentence neatly encapsulates the central drama of O’Rourke’s poems: the tremendous difficulty of writing clearly and accurately (my poor inadequate eye) about things longed for but never seen (my poor impoverished eye) and things so terrible they should never have to be seen (my poor overburdened eye)…O’Rourke doesn’t revel in information saturation; she narrows her eyes and strains to distinguish intelligence from chatter, to discern a path to the authentic…We can be thankful that Bonnard in his paintings and O’Rourke in these magnificent poems keep their eyes open despite the darkness. In the book’s final lines, O’Rourke suggests — and I think she’s right — that there’s really no other choice: “Bits of silver turn in the breeze, / knives of light and appetite. / They want to be used.”