Live Streaming

11.9518.50

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Live Streaming, Conor O’Callaghan’s first book since The Sun King was rapturously welcomed, is a book of many registers: the recent past’s ‘traumatic quotidian’, the seasons of a caravan park, a rhapsodic ode to marriage, a schoolboy imagining Petrarch’s love of Laura while praying for a heavyweight title contender.
At its core is ‘His Last Legs’, a collage — prose fragment, dramatic excerpt, transcribed recording — after a nineteenth-century stage Irish farce of the same name. It is a searing account of a family’s relationship with a late father who haunts the whole book.

Live Streaming, the fifth collection from one of contemporary Ireland’s most uncompromisingly restless voices, is a strange and dazzling performance.

There is no shortage of either emotional complexity or technical versatility in Conor O’Callaghan’s fifth collection, Live Streaming (The Gallery Press, 63pp, €11.95). Several of the shorter lyrics in the collection demonstrate a virtuoso handling of metre: the iambic dimeters of Appalachian Epithalamium scintillate, like champagne bubbles, with wit; the more sombre tetrameters of Trailer Park Études find O’Callaghan in contemplative mood. However, these shorter lyrics serve as bookends for the main event, which is an extraordinary 20-page tour-de-force of excoriating familial and self-examination, part prose poem, part dramatic interpolation, part transcription, entitled His Last Legs.

The notes to the text inform us that the piece is based in part on a once-popular “two-act farce” by the American William Bayle Bernard, whose protagonist was a stage-Irishman called “Felix O’Callaghan”. The poet’s choice of a farce as template for his collage/poem is not accidental, as that most clichéd of figures is also made to strut and fret here: the alcoholic, emotionally absent Irish father. The poem’s italicised sections comprise a transcription of a recording made while walking from room to room in his recently deceased father’s house. Like part of a crime-scene investigation, they are a pathetic inventory of familiar and unfamiliar objects, the disjecta membra of a wasted life. “There is nowhere to put grief”, the speaker observes at one point, and the piece demonstrates an awful fidelity to grief’s emotional switchbacks.

A particularly powerful section has the speaker, undone by his attempts to get the matter down, disconsolately recording his voice on a novelty toy, a “budgie which repeats your every word”. Disconcertingly, the budgie repeats his words back to him in a kind of exaggerated stage Irish: “I miss me feather”. It is hard to convey the power and pathos of this remarkable piece of work. Throughout, O’Callaghan’s voice is forensic, unreconciled, compulsively entertaining.

Caitríona O’Reilly, The Irish Times


 

Live Streaming (2017), O’Callaghan’s fifth collection of poems comes off the back of a six-year poetic absence in which he published a novel, Nothing on Earth (2016). Moving away from the self-reflexively metaphorical poems in Fiction (2005) such as ‘Coventry’ and ‘Gloves’, this book is more observational, more detached, sharing a tone of awareness with The Sun King (2013), his previous collection. The poems read as real. They are relatable in their quietude. They feel as if they have aged with their speakers, loss being the smell left after the party has kicked it. Oh yes, these poems have lost a lot, they are guilty poems, and I loved them for it.

. . . This is a guilty book, and such are the frequencies O’Callaghan blinks between, at one second meditative, looking on, the next murderously honest and deadpan, an oscillation which makes the book so exciting to read; you’re never quite sure where you stand. The moment you think a poem’s talking about a father, or a romantic night on a hill, or a glass of water, you get a line (generally contained within a sentence) that drops the lot, opens the poem up to new dangers, reveals more about a past than it should ever have been capable.

. . . Live Streaming is a deeply moving and rewarding book. One can find layers (if one is willing to dig!), clever line structure and technique, stark images, thoughtful observations. But most of all is the sense of nostalgia, the sense of longing and loss; the comfort in the panic. Too much to say and not enough words.

— Joe Carrick-Varty, The Manchester Review

Shortlisted for the 2018 Irish Times Poetry Now Award

Year Published: 2017
Details: 64pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 723 2
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 724 9

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