Photographs by Michael O’Brien
Poems by Tom Waits
Can Tom Waits do with poetry what he does in song? - review
" ... With any sung lyric, the music's rhythmic values dictate the articulation of the words in a way that will differ from the natural rhythms of speech, which is what written poetry is primarily concerned with. And the line repetitions that are a fundamental part of song structure simply die on the page. While song may share 99% of poetry's DNA, it isn't poetry, any more than, say, a chimpanzee is a bonobo.
That said, however, this is a powerful book. O'Brien's subjects – white, black, male, female, young and old, a couple of families with small children – are all photographed against the same grey background. Some look defiant, some haunted or afraid. At the end of the book there's a series of brief quotes from each of the subjects. Some lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina, others have been dragged down by drink, drugs or mental illness. Brian Lohse, 53, has been homeless for 15 years and still can't quite make sense of his situation: "I didn't think there was any such thing as a homeless Republican, but the Lord will get your attention one way or another."
In his introduction O'Brien writes: "'Taking a photograph' is a common expression, and indeed, the subject is giving something away to the photographer. But there is reciprocity . . . and in this case, each subject received something tangible – a print that bore testament to a life." That's the key to his project – it's a concrete acknowledgment of people whom most of us would prefer to pass by in silence, an avowal that they exist, and that they can do so with full human dignity."
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