O'Rourke, Meghan 1976-
O'Rourke, Meghan 1976-
Born 1976, in Brooklyn, NY. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1997.
Union League and Civic Arts Foundation Award, Poetry magazine, 2005.
Halflife (poetry), W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor of poems, reviews, and essays to periodicals, including the New Yorker, New Republic, Poetry, Los Angeles Times Book Review, New York Review of Books, Yale Review, and the Kenyon Review, and to Slate.com.
Meghan O'Rourke was born in 1976 in Brooklyn, New York. She attended St. Ann's prep school in Brooklyn, graduated from Yale University in 1997, and then immediately appeared to set out on the path of a New York literary darling. The summer following graduation, she started work at the New Yorker magazine as an editorial assistant, a job that she got thanks in part to having served as a summer intern there the prior year. In 2000, she was promoted to an editorial position. In 2002, she became cultural editor for Slate.com, the popular online magazine, and then added to her credentials the position of poetry editor, with Charles Simic, of the Paris Review in 2005. O'Rourke has contributed both poetry and prose to a number of prestigious journals and periodicals, as well, including the New Yorker, New Republic, Poetry, Yale Review, New York Review of Books, Los Angeles Times Book Review, and the Kenyon Review. Her debut collection of poetry, Halflife, was released by W.W. Norton in 2007.
As a poet, O'Rourke exhibits a range of style and sophistication that, according to critics, is generally expected of a far more seasoned writer, while still maintaining an openness that encourages readers to delve into her work. David Baker, in an introduction to his interview with O'Rourke for the Kenyon Review, remarked: "O'Rourke's poetry makes use of literary allusions, rich tropes, and presents a wide historical range and cultural aptitude; but she is capable, too, of personal narratives that bear great tenderness and vulnerability." O'Rourke herself admitted in the interview to having a variety of influences and to feeling that they shift depending on what she is working on and what she has read most recently. In addition to the work of influential poets, she feels inspired by political circumstances, fairy tales, and virtually anything that serves a purpose for her creative process. She told Baker: "I wanted to get beyond the self. To get there, it seemed to me, required a disciplined immersion in the imagination—a way of taking in everything I'd read, and capturing my own pleasure as a reader in not being limited to my historical moment."
Halflife met with thoughtful and enthusiastic responses from critics. Joel Brouwer, in the New York Times Book Review, remarked upon the ways in which O'Rourke's poems allowed multiple readings from multiple points of view. Citing the poem starting with the ambiguous line "My poor eye," he carefully analyzes the various meanings behind the words, each depending on a different delivery of the line—serious, straightforward, wry, and so on. Brouwer pointed out that the eye might have seen too much, or too little, or suffered an injury. The very malleability of those three lines ultimately serve as a theme of sorts for the work as a whole. Brouwer believed that "the sentence neatly encapsulates the central drama of O'Rourke's poems: the tremendous difficulty of writing clearly and accurately … about things longed for but never seen … and things so terrible they should never have to be seen." He went on to remark that "O'Rourke doesn't revel in information saturation; she narrows her eyes and strains to distinguish intelligence from chatter, to discern a path to the authentic." Ange Mlinko, writing for Poetry, declared: "My only disappointment with Halflife is that it has no real quarrels with form, with poetry itself…. O'Rourke doesn't strain enough against the limits of language." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded that "this may be one of the most talked about first books of the year," praising the collection for its "energetic intelligence, varied aesthetics and … welcome self-possession."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books, April 15, 2007, Katie Peterson, review of Halflife, p. 11.
Poetry, October 1, 2007, Ange Mlinko, review of Halflife, p. 64.
Publishers Weekly, March 19, 2007, review of Halflife, p. 43.
Gawker,http://gawker.com/ (April 23, 2008), "Why People Hate Meghan O'Rourke."
Kenyon Review Online,http://www.kenyonreview.org/ (April 23, 2008), David Baker, "A Conversation with Meghan O'Rourke."
Key West Literary Seminar Web site,http://keywestliteraryseminar.org/ (April 23, 2008), author profile.
New York Times Book Review Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (April 29, 2007), Joel Brouwer, "Fields of Memory."
Poesy Galore Blog,http://poesygalore.blogspot.com/ (March 18, 2008), Emily Lloyd, review of Halflife.
Virginia Quarterly Review Online,http://www.vqronline.org/ (April 23, 2008), Jennifer Chang, "The Music of Failure: On Meghan O'Rourke's Halflife."