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The Traumatic Quotidian

Paul Murphy

Live Streaming, by Conor O’Callaghan,The Gallery Press, 63 pp. €11.95, ISBN: 9781911337232

Conor O’Callaghan’s fifth poetry collection concerns itself with his father’s death, a tumultuous, earth-shattering moment in any person’s life when one discovers, for the first time perhaps, how alone in the universe one really is.

Live Streaming is divided into three sections.  First, a series of loosely connected lyrical poems, secondly a play or prose poem called "His Last Legs" and, thirdly, a further section of lyrical poems and prose poems. The poems are often more impressive as stand-alone pieces than as a collection connected through common thematic material.  Bereavement is mentioned rather than being tangible thematic content. Indeed, the title hardly indicates a theme rather a condition or process based on the incipient virtual world.

The book begins with a poem called “Grace” which deals with the collection of a table, hardly a subject of epic or myth but at times the poem gains seriousness when lost in the mundanity of such moments. There follows a series called “Trailer Park Études” of which the same could be said. Poems, such as “The Stars”, “The Rain”, “The Wind”, “The Grass” take up the primary material of everyday life, the traumatic quotidian, as the writer declares in a later poem “In Memory of the Recent Past”. They undeniably fashion something original from the mundanities that surround us. It is surprising to see a writer deal with such stuff. Stars, wind, rain etc are often a subject of poetry, primary material that is sufficient for the beginner writer. Yet an original poetic voice is heard in this collection, one which often demonstrates an easy conversational style that is based in prosody accurately employed.  Lucid rhythms and rhymes work most of the time, these appear to be iambic tetrameters. Although I had my doubts about the latter sections of “The Wind” when the word "wind" is rhymed on again and again. The poet seems to have ultimately given up on a rhyme scheme, perhaps deciding that it was too contrived.

These lines from “The Rain” seem redolent of hot, sticky days waiting for rain to come but also indicative of torpor and lassitude:

Forget the welcome rain outstayed,
For days the leaves are parchment sheet
And wind hangs chimeless in the shade.
Still rain remains the point of heat.

The rain is near. Like everything,
It’s best those seconds just before:
The broadleaf’s backwards canvas sling,
The fly strip flapping through the door.

The poet seems to be counting syllables when he might be better counting the beats since English is more of a stress-timed language than a syllabic one. However, whatever the verse arrangement, O’Callaghan’s writing is still always readable, lucid, flowing and balances the colloquial and the abstruse.

Poems like A Decade of the Rosary for Gerry Cooney seem to give something away in their opening lines:

Is it me, or do we seem marooned
Interminably in 1982?...

It is not a question that many people ask themselves and beneath the contemporary talk of trailer parks and tables, there seems to be a writer lost in the interstices between faith, poetry, and the legends of both. Petrarch surfaces too: 

Cicero wrote law. Petrarch worshipped Laura,
From ‘afar’.

"Afar" might seem like a tired poeticism albeit acknowledged as such by the quotation marks yet should it be in the poem at all?  

The next poem “Where Kimonos Go to Die” seems to be the conditioned nightmare of a practicing Surrealist. Beyond the surface appeal of the language there seems little to comprehend but perhaps that is the point?  A stream of consciousness exercise completed to fill a page on an eventless day, but the page is better filled than left blank. The same could be said of the central section "His Last Legs". The poet seems better when he is attempting poetry rather than an experimental prose poem which gathers up autobiographical material and some scraps of James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

In these poems there are some difficulties but also good insights, useful usages of language and occasional pearls.

 01/09/2018

 Paul Murphy was born in Belfast in 1965 and studied at Warwick University and Queens University Belfast. His poetry and reviews have appeared in many journals including the Honest Ulsterman, London Magazine and the Haiku Quarterly

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