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Read an excerpt from Once.
About Once
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 21st century. “The future,” O’Rourke writes, “is all still/ a dream, a night sweat to be swum off/ in a wonderland of sand a 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 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 new homes in a shattered land and find whole selves amidst broken, thwarted relationships.
Praise for Once

“Accessible yet sharp-edged…a moving exploration of loss and redemption.”

—Publishers Weekly (selected as one of fall’s 10 Most Notable Poetry Books)