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