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This article is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

The Trouble with Sean O'Brien Alan Munton

'Bore the arse off your nearest and dearest instead'

Three Little Words

Arse, fuckwit, postmodern - these are terms that Sean O'Brien has brought to the discussion of contemporary poetry. He knows the meaning of the first two words, though not of the third. 'Arse', as used in the poem quoted above, means that being boring is better than being at a poetry reading. The second term was used on a poetry discussion website when O'Brien was teased about his influence and lost his rag. 'Postmodern' is repeatedly misused in his critical book The Deregulated Muse, published in 1998. W.N. Herbert and Matthew Hollis say O'Brien is 'an impressive and important surveyor of the contemporary scene', but I sense an increasing distrust of his activities, and encounter surprise that he should have been awarded a large sum to translate Dante. For myself, I want to register here some scepticism about his ability as a poet and as a controversialist.

An ugly O'Brien poem entitled 'Fiction and the Reading Public' ends with a character called Dexter asking for books to read on Death Row. His friends give him Fonda's Workout Book and How to be a Sucker with the comment:

Here Dex, these ought to shut you up,
Pretentious little fucker.

This sudden contempt has no motive. Now O'Brien has got angry outside a poem, and people have noticed. His furious Poetry Review discussion of Keith Tuma's ...


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