Sean O'Brien

2019 Nominee

T. S. Eliot Prize

19 April 2018
80 pages


Europa, Sean O’Brien’s ninth collection of poems, is a timely and necessary book. Europe is not a place we can choose to leave: it is also a shared heritage and an age-old state of being, a place where our common dreams, visions and nightmares recur and mutate. In placing our present crises in the context of an imaginative past, O’Brien show how our futures will be determined by what we choose to understand of our own European identity – as well as what we remember and forget of our shared history.

Europa is a magisterial, grave and lyric work from one of the finest poets of the age: it shows not just a Europe haunted by disaster and the threat of apocalypse, but an England where the shadows lengthen and multiply even in its most familiar and domestic corners. Europa, the poet reminds us, shapes the fate of everyone in these islands – even those of us who insist that they live elsewhere.

The collection's title places its concerns within the political climate of our time . . . Among his exploration of European identity are reflections on a shared history, but also on his own ambiguous sense of place as a vagrant writer . . . O'Brien writes lyrics that are both personal and strangely elliptical . . . Other poems are more anecdotal and grounded in humour.
In both technical mastery and his belief in the seriousness of the poetic art, O’Brien is WH Auden’s true inheritor. It is reassuring that poetry of this quality is still being written.
Europa is an imaginative reorientation that reveals a truer picture of ourselves as Europeans, whether we like the fact or not.