Catch Light

Poetry by Sarah O’Brien

September 1, 2009 • 6 x 7.5 • 92 pages • 978-1-56689-237-7

Delicately rhapsodic meditations on light, photography, and perception.

“The whole / world is synonyms,” says Sarah O’Brien in a debut collection that addresses all things photography—from its history to the necessity of light and white space, and from the thrills of its technology to the way we talk about and caption photographs, and the ways they, in turn, capture and change the world. In Catch Light, each poem becomes a miniature snapshot that locates the reality in illusion, tests the perception of imagination, and throws open the windows of visual narrative.

About the Author

Sarah O’Brien is a graduate of Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Originally from Ohio, she is a frequent traveler who has lived in Cape Town, and resided most recently in Paris. She is the translator of Ryoko Sekiguchi’s Heliotropes, and Catch Light is her first full-length collection of poetry.

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.


“This is a little Menippean satire on light. It is a dream of rectangles and an erotic history of photography. It is built with the softest tones, like slow shifts in a Morton Feldman quartet. Sarah O’Brien proves that poetry can be made of the subtlest differences and leaves the reader in the happy position of being light-sensitive as a plant. Her book has a rare unity, as if each page were part of a serial thinking in white Conté crayon. One is lost in shadow, and one is found in a festival of color. Such a book of persistence, always flickering with a slightly mad taste for the naked device: an aesthetic audacity. The subject matter of such refined poetry is perception itself.” —David Shapiro

“The refined subtly of these poems contains an epic energy that shivers like atomic orbitals just beneath the surface and results in eventual flashbulb blow outs. . . . O’Brien depicts a world in which we’re all going blind to see; where we collect damaged data in order to overwhelm it, to reconstruct our vision.” Jacket

“The heart of [Catch Light] is the uncanniness of why there’s something rather than nothing, and why that something gives way to nothing so quickly. . . . This is a beautiful book whose making-strange lies less in its linguistic experimentation (though there is that, too) than in reminding us how strange it is to be in the world at all.”Quarterly Conversation

“O’Brien masterfully re-creates scenes that feel familiar. . . . There is a magical quality to them, as the imagined photograph captures a swimmer whose hand, while pulling himself out of the water, ‘rests exactly on the surface of a lake.’ . . . This is a strong debut. . . . The poems are rich and invite multiple readings as they open up in various ways with each new seeing.” NewPages

“Brilliantly written poems all joined together in a beautiful unity, exploring the limits and power of imagination, perception, memory, and reality, most importantly in relation to the human experience of light.”Feminist Review

“There is a kind of considerate culling, and an otherworldliness, a looseness of frequencies, that is very appealing. O’Brien has a hovering touch, a light grace, yet the plots have sparked arcs. A serious arena.” Esther Press

“A refreshingly novel and subtly smart take on the potentially well-tread terrain of apertures and eyes.” —Diego Baez, Barrelhouse

“Brilliant—scintillating—dazzling—all the adjectives that come to mind go right to the heart of this luminous, haunting first book. Catch Light is prismatic, refracting light into all its aspects—sun, sight, cinema, photograph, kaleidoscope, eclipse—revealing deeply human connections among them all through their common intersection in memory. ‘We cannot drown in the sun,’ says O’Brien, but in this book, we do.” —Cole Swensen