Conor O’Callaghan


Life
1968- ; b. Newry, Co. Down; issued The History of Rain (1993), winner of Patrick Kavanagh Award; Arts held Council bursaries in 1990 and 1994; m. Vona Groarke and winner with Groarke of the Rooney Prize Special Award in the 20th Year of the prize, 1996; made television documentary on cricket in Ireland; reviews poetry for Times Literary Supplement; Seatown (1999); dir. the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Poetry Now Festival; placed second in Blackwell Poetry Competition, 2002;
 
lived in Dundalk; appt. to Heimbold Chair of Irish Studies at Villanova Univ. (Philadelphia), 2004; taught at Wake Forest University, North Carolina; appt. to part-time post at Sheffield Hallam University, Manchester, 2007; settled in Manchester but continues to teach part-time at Wake Forest; awarded the Bess Hokin prize by Poetry magazine, 2007; issued Fiction (2005), which received the Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

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Works
Poetry collections
  • Seatown (Gallery 1999), 61pp.;
  • The History of Rain (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1993), [q.pp.];
  • Fiction (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2005), 80pp.
See also  “The Middle Ground”, poem in Times Literary Supplement (22 March 2002) [infra].
Criticism
  • ‘The State of Poetry’, Krino, Gerald Dawe & Jonathan Williams, eds., [Special Issue] (Winter 1993), pp.51-52 [‘The best Irish poets still seem those who work to solidify a unique voice, and their best poems are those which attempt, in vain, to pull that voice apart’];
  • review of George Szirtes, Reel, in Times Literary Supplement (20 May 2005), p.29;
  • ‘Minding His Language’, review of Liam Carson, Call Mother a Lonely Field, in The Irish Times (20 March 2010), Weekend.
Miscellaneous
  • Red Mist: Roy Keane and the Football Civil War (2004);
  • ‘The Dalkey Eleven: Conor O’Callaghan recalls the lengths he once went to for a game of cricket’, in Irish Times Magazine (16 July 2005) [infra];

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Commentary
Ian Gregson, review of The History of Rain (Gallery 1993), in Times Literary Supplement (23 Sept.1994), [q.p.]; ’the collisions that occur in the work of Conor O’Callaghan are not so much between cultures as between fact and fantasy, history and memory, experience and representation. He has clearly learned from the example of Paul Muldoon in the way he summons up a notion of the real but at the same time interrogates it with the hypothetical or the fabulatory, but what is remarkable is that such a young poet is the extent to which he has assimilated all this sophistication and made something of his own out of it. Title poem describes how poets great-uncle Johnny MacCabe and MacCabe’s mother experienced the late summer of rain of 1940, or the gap between that experience and how O’Callaghan imagines it. [&c.] Notes use of borders (e.g., ‘suddenly uncertain at the border of an even longer decade’); finds in O’Callaghan’s poems the lived experience of succeeding generations; concludes that postmodernism in Britain and Ireland is in a fruitful dialogue with realism.

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Peter Sirr, review of The History of Rain, in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1994): ‘thoughtfully constructed and unfussily articulated blocks of reflection’.

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Bernard O’Donoghue, ‘A Heritage in Excellent Heart’, review of Conor O’Callaghan, Fiction [inter al.], in The Irish Times (18 June 2005), Weekend, p.10: ‘In 1993 Adam Thorpe saluted Conor O’Callaghan’s The History of Rain, his first book of poems, published when he was 25, as displaying “an extraordinarily mature and exact voice which promises really great things”. Seatown, with its mythopoeic inventiveness, confirmed this judgment, and now Fiction enhances O’Callaghan’s reputation and is further proof of his versatile virtuosity. The concerns of the earlier books were very evident: they took a balanced central place between past and future, watching history being made, in the Mahon-like “The Gate Lodge” for example. There was more traditional Irish myth-making in “Johnny and The Good Room”. And most eye-catchihg was the caustic, raunchy wit of a poem like “The Oral Tradition”. / These circus animals are all put through their paces again in Fiction.’ (See full text, infra.)

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Quotations
The Middle Ground”: ‘We wear this weather the tennis shirts / we once thought a scream … We don’t mind if the ground that separates / the high rises and the horsey set is, ours, this.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 22 March 2002; second placed in Blackwell Poetry Competition.)

East”: ‘Give me a dreary eastern town that isn’t vaguely romantic / where moon and stars are lost in the lights of the grehound track.’ (Quoted by Edna Longley, reviewing Selina Guinness, ed., The New Irish Poets, Bloodaxe 2004, in The Irish Times, 16 Oct. 2004, p.10.) Longley calls it a ‘brilliant attack on the persistent Celtic Twilight motifs’.

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The Dalkey Eleven: Conor O’Callaghan recalls the lengths he once went to for a game of cricket’, in Irish Times Magazine (16 July 2005): In 1990 O’Callaghan and others joined a club in North Dublin which had been founded in 1888. ‘[…] The godfathers of the local republican movement circulated a leaflet around the les salubrious housing estates, warning residents that cricket’s black magic was being practised in their midst. A home from home became an inevitability. / The ground is at the very top of that flat plateau just above the Naul. On a good day you could see both the Sugarloaf and the Mournes from the wicket. The tearoom had two long tables and a jungle of ivy had colonised the ceiling […] We were, we convinced ourselves, picking the pockets of the south Dublin elite. Mostly, opponents were regular Micks like ourselves. But just when that myth seemed about to come unstuck, convertibles and 4x4s trickled through our gate and their occupants sniffed our outfield with the imperious contempt of aristocracy in exile. The captain of the fourth XI of one Sandymount club even referred to us as “Ballygobackwards”.’ Mentions a radio commentary on the club with Dick Warner for RTE. (p.8.)

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Relishing: O’Callaghan writes, ‘I’ve been relishing Paul Durcan’s The Art of Living (Harvill). Durcan is an authentic original and his new collection is smaller and lonelier than anything he has ...’ (See Rosita Boland, ‘The books year: who read what in 2004’.)

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Poetic diaspora: ‘But, apart from the practicality of that, I found being in Ireland increasingly claustrophobic [...] There was a bigger world of poetry happening out there, and I wanted to get nearer it. I found the Irish poetry scene very incestuous and introverted. / I suppose where “home” was an unspoken given in earlier work, now I do write about feeling marooned between cultures. You leave and never fully reach the other side, and there is really no way back.[...; Leaving Ireland] has made my poems much freer and my line much longer. I honestly believe it’s a question of geography. In Ireland, where space is at a premium, we write tight little lines. In the US, where you can drive six hours due west and still be in the same bloody state, they write lines so long that you feel as if you'd have to build an extension on your house to accommodate them. I think the experience of living abroad has made my poems a fraction more experimental.‘ (Quoted in Rosita Boland, ‘What Daffodils were to Wordsworth, Drains and Backstreet Pubs are to Me’ [interviews with diaspora poets], in The Irish Times, 12 March 2011, Weekend, p.11.

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