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This report is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

The Lyric Absolute Anthony Rudolf
Michael O’Brien (1939–2016) and the Lyric Absolute

In the late 1960s, I was living in Belsize Park. I had just founded Menard Press. The earliest publications were sporadic issues of two magazines, The Journals (and Notebooks) of Pierre Menard, both set on a manual typewriter. The second and final issue of Notebooks, published in April 1970 for a conference at the ICA, contained two poems and five translations by Michael O’Brien. The translations were of poems by Mallarmé, Trakl and André Breton – Michael was steeped in French and Spanish and Spanish-American surrealism. Translation was the raison d’être of the press, the matrix of my poetics, then as now. Homages to foreign poets and translations are often embedded in his books. He was a Menard natural.

I no longer remember which came first: publication or our meeting in London, but I think the meeting came first, probably in autumn 1969. Michael was one of four writers from New York who turned up at the flat on different occasions around that time, the other three being Paul Auster, Judith Thurman and Bill Zavatsky. It is possible Bill and Michael came together. All five of us are in Zavatsky’s magnificent and zany anthology of one-line poems, published at his Roy Rogers press in 1974.

I will focus on what I see as the heart of his work, although this highly personalised take leaves much unsaid and for others to touch on. Michael was already, and would remain, the lyric poet pure and simple: well, ...

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