Who Goes There by Geoffrey O’Brien


A call for identification is issued, leaving open the question of who signals and to whom. Begun in a moment of uncertainty and disconnection in the public sphere, continued in a time of enforced isolation, the poems of Who Goes There thread a path among defensive borderlines and invisible incursions, passwords and countersigns, ambiguous omens and conspiratorial premonitions, dream visitations and shards of retrieved history. Fleeting and fragmentary narratives take shape as if to provide a populace for emptied spaces. The scene may shift from Merovingian Europe to the hills of an imagined Old West, and the action from street wars of children to subjugation by extraterrestrial invaders, but these are all poems of an inescapable city of the present moment, at once inward, virtual, and walled. —Geoffrey O’Brien


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 80
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: October, 2020
  • ISBN: 978-1-948017-98-5


Is the title a watchman’s question directed at who and what, outside and inside us, is alien to human life and survival? Or is it the poet who goes there in the making of a book, “the same way / words go / but sooner”? Geoffrey O’Brien’s Who Goes There is another masterpiece by one of our best writers. Each poem, elegantly shaped by intricacies of sound and of voice, brilliantly fuses different linguistic modes and tones, bringing us into dreamlike, carnivalesque, neo-noirish spaces of personal witness and myth, illuminated by astonishing erudition. You’ll see time zones in which the past is in the present, remembered worlds of prodigies and prophets and unearthly voices, worlds in which light travels fast in rain, “and when it comes down / all night / how many voices / glisten in the sound of it.” Concluding with the soul-stirring “Lament for the City,” O’Brien, evoking a city of breakdown, slaughter, and pestilence, takes us deeper, into the alternative spaces of an imagined world of music that “would have continued / to rise at dusk over rooftops,” of “cloaked lovers” who whisper “on the sidelines / so that none might overhear / where they went when the moon rose.” —Lawrence Joseph


Un Dessein Si Funeste

“The passengers are not to know”
—not even suspect
that a play has been written
charting their activities in the days to come
hampering by stages their freedom of movement
as the ship changes course
and veers toward an archipelago
whose coordinates are familiar
only to the stranger who has not yet left his cabin


Geoffrey O'BrienGeoffrey O’Brien, born in New York City in 1948, has published eight collections of poetry, among them Floating City (1995), A View of Buildings and Water (2002), Early Autumn (2010), In a Mist (2013), and most recently The Blue Hill (2018). He is also the author of prose works including Hardboiled America (1981), Dream Time: Chapters from the Sixties (1988), The Phantom Empire (1993), The Browser’s Ecstasy (2000), Sonata for Jukebox (2004), The Fall of the House of Walworth (2010), and Where Did Poetry Come From (2020). His writings on film, music, theater, and poetry have appeared frequently in The New York Review of Books, Film Comment, BookForum, and other publications. He worked as editor at The Library of America for 25 years, retiring as editor in chief in 2017. He lives in Brooklyn.

Additional information

Weight 5.6 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in