On Poetry

Julie O’Callaghan is gifted not only with a good ear, she also has a sharp, accurate eye…A witty, wise, funny humane collection.
– Brendan Kennelly, Sunday Independent

The voice of the mid-West on vacation – crude, colloquial and demonstrative. It is the brash voice of the American salesman promoting freedom, free enterprise and enterprising garbage. It is the voice of returned emigrants, lamenting their loss. It is the mixed voice of Irish people at tea-break overheard in snatches of conversation. All these voices are captured in dramatic moments or demotic monologues, and their vibrancy sings.
– Conor Kelly, Poetry Review

This is poetry you can understand: lively, entertaining, well-observed.
– Wendy Cope, BBC Radio 4

Reading What’s What, …is like finding oneself in the company of the best kind of wit and raconteuse on a long, long journey… a writer’s and reader’s antidote to despair.
– Mary O’Donnell, Poetry Ireland Review

These poems are agile, heartfelt, and original. They expand with repeated readings, earning the reader’s trust as they echo voices that are recognizable all around us, if not within us as well.
– Leslie Ullman, Poetry

O’Callaghan’s subtle ear for the intonations of speech, her appalled delight in the things language is made to do in our consumer-crazed ear…and her shrewd handling of line endings mark her as a true poet, someone with an almost deranged interest in the possibilities and impossibilities of words.
– Patrick Crotty, The Irish Times

No Can Do is the clearest, most poignant, most sustained voice. The poems seem effortless and are immediately accessible and yet achieve great emotional weight, by the lightest of means. The freshness and wit of this poet’s original voice have gathered scope and gravity. With this book, Julie O’Callaghan becomes an important poet in the English language.
– Judges Citation, Michael Hartnett Award

Review by Stephen Knight

The demotic, funny, quietly devastating vignettes of Julie O’Callaghan seem to owe a debt to the brevity and precision of classical Chinese poetry. O’Callaghan is a Chicagoan of Irish descent who has lived in Ireland since her twenties. Selected from a 25-year publishing history, the poems of ‘Tell Me This is Normal’ are part verse, part dramatic monologue and wholly her own.

O’Callaghan’s titles – “Schmooze-Fest”, “Da Boss” and “Old Babes” – indicate that her subject remains her homeland’s citizens, its losers, junk food eaters, jabberers and knuckleheads, to whom she gives voice, not unaffectionately. The cadences of yakking are brilliantly captured: “Dolly has piano lessons? /Dad’ll drive you. / My wife is goin’ to the Jewel Food Store? / Get old drippo to sit behind the wheel” or “I would love to know / who’s hogging all the chow / down that end./ It would interest me greatly” might be pieces of theatre, Samuel Beckett via Clifford Odets.

It would be a mistake to believe all this amounts to a rather slight talent. If in doubt, read the 12-page, fragmentary “Sketches for an Elegy”, written in memory of her father. This piercing work confirms Julie O’Callaghan as one of poetry’s best-kept secrets. High time more readers were in the know.

Independent on Sunday, 13 July 2008