Conor O’Callaghan, The Sun King,The Gallery Press (2013), pp72, €11.95 pb, €18.50 hb

It’s been eight years since Conor O’Callaghan’s previous poetry collection, Fiction, so it’s a delight to receive a copy of The Sun King. The book is a mixture of short lyric poems and a number of longer set pieces. One of the longer is ‘The Server Room’, a ‘reconfiguring of the server room of an office building as a site of pilgrimage’, which owes, I’d guess, a little inspiration from the work of Timothy Donnelly (reviewed by Conor himself in Antiphon, issue three). Interestingly, this poem incorporates various texts, including the corporate plan of a university and a poem by Robert Frost and mixes in the terminology of the internet. It's a densely woven poem and you need to concentrate, but note how the harmonies resonate:

heavenly bouffant meringues of language,
focus and progression, hope’s woolly vowels
working closely with the opalescence
of systems, the knowledge economy,
its argot’s luminous opacity

like upholstered immaculate plumage
blooming off brewed hops out towards Burbage,
the remote mother-of-pearl cumulus
of such institutional verbiage
one still finds something oddly moving in.

Many of these poems seem barely able to contain their own exuberance, their condensed images tumbling thick and fast, bouncing with internal rhyme and assonance. Yet there is always ‘something oddly moving’ about them, even when past events have cast the narrator adrift; particularly when the language slows a little and gives the reader chance to take a breath:

If this is immortality, let it slide.
The chicken coop fades up, the boundary fence.
There is still hope, even now,
and for all those light years shining overhead.

Occasionally the syntax plays a little hard to get with the reader, had me clutching the end of the sentence and running back to the start to work out how we got to where we are:

Then the best revision is starting over,
much as a fall of unblemished snow
from that system the weather channel’s satellite
billows all day towards you across the state.

but generally the language is urban, colloquial, techie, filtered through O'Callaghan's imagination and emerging as lyrical as anyone could desire: such as the moving villanelle ‘Three Six Five Zero’ first published in Poetry in 2009, in which the poet eventually manages to listen to the messages on voicemail:

I contacted Tech to get my voicemail code

to hear your voice, not some bozo on the road

and ending with:

I'd happily forget my voice, the mail, its code.
We spoke at last that evening. Then it snowed.

O’Callaghan’s reading of this poem is quite beautiful – unfortunately their website no longer has a copy of it.

The collection always touches base with formal rhythms, even in the free verse poems, and O’Callaghan is as confident with form as free verse –  the trochaic structure of Blake's ‘Tyger, Tyger’ is brought up to date with an elegy for the heyday of the Irish tiger economy, now fallen apart:

All that sweetness, green stuff love
couldn't furnace fast enough.
(Tyger Redux)

‘The Pearl Works’, which ends the book, is a set of rhyming couplets, tweets of exactly 140 characters, one for each week of the year – an interesting experiment, and in the hands of a lesser poet probably doomed; but here mixes invocations of the sun and joy of life in a mysticism I wouldn’t have thought Twitter could reach for:

Sun king, king of evening gold, forgive me being this spaced.
Forgive me all this solitude I love. Forgive me all the life I have misplaced.

There’s an exhilaration for cadence and love of language here, and one feels Conor had enormous fun writing these poems. I suggest you will have as much fun reading them.

Rosemary Badcoe



long stairs