PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Colm Toibin on Thom Gunn's Letters Allice Hiller and Sasha Dugdale in conversation David Herman on the life of Edward W. Said Jena Schmitt o'sn Hope Mirrlees Brian Morton: Now the Trees
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
Monthly Carcanet Books
PN Review New Issue

This article is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

A Gift of Bricks: Silence and the Poetry of George Oppen John Wedgwood Clarke

When I first heard a recording of George Oppen reading his 1968 Pulitzer Prize-winning poem 'Of Being Numerous', I felt as if I were being scattered over the city of New York. The place assembled and fell apart in the sound of his voice, which had a quality of restraint I found deeply moving. This was not a matter of emotional subtext, but the utterance of someone unwilling to say things they could not believe in, of someone reporting from a testing place of silence. He revealed the city as something pre-existent, emerging silent from the past and made meaningful only by the perceptions and voices of the people who flowed through it in the present. It was full of small, profound gestures, as in this poetic act of giving:


There can be a brick
In a brick wall
The eye picks

So quiet of a Sunday
Here is the brick, it was waiting
Here when you were born


This is naming as revelation and relation. Once identified, an insignificant brick can become a special thing. Carl Andre had performed a similar transformation in his 1966 work Equivalent VIII. His bricks were always going to be bricks, but they were also laid out in a rectangular shape, keeping the viewer moving between a unit of industrial production and the meaning of a shape that, in the context of a gallery ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image