Wake: Up to Poetry
Conor O’Callaghan’s The Sun King: Shockingly Vulnerable and Painfully Tender
In his newest book, The Sun King, Conor O’Callaghan invites readers into the shockingly vulnerable and sometimes bitter consciousness of a speaker who offers an unedited confession of his most intimate experiences. The reader feels privy to the pain and desperation of a decaying domestic space. At times provocative and on the verge of profane, O’Callaghan does not shy away from the seedy aspects of life. In “Lordship” he writes:
Once in stagnant water in grey dark in the bath.
Twice on the square of two mattresses dragged together,
missionary, all fours, dried clots showered away at dawn.
O’Callaghan’s unadorned and non-ostentatious language provides a raw, visceral reading experience. Inserting pop culture and technological references he makes the work grounded and relevant to the 21st c. reader. References to Nokia cell phones, Starbucks, Vivienne Westwood, Borders book store, BlackBerry phones, ethernet mycelium/ports, power points, screensavers, text alerts, voicemail codes, and Crocs, situate the reader in an easily recognizable here and now. As a result, The Sun King becomes a commentary on how we as 21st c. readers are shaped by the technological world which inundates us.
There’s no return route, is there? You sussed that too?
The truth, much as time does, vanishes behind.
It’s not like userdata, waiting retrieval by us (“Lordship”).
In a world that is so interconnected by technology O’Callaghan scrutinizes the human relationships that tear us apart. His confessional persona professes his soul and self, uncaring about the bitterness (and vulnerability) that bleeds through:
Forgive the ruse. Forgive my coming clean.
It can still be a secret, lover, ours and ours alone.
This is its safest keeping; nobody’s going to see it. (“Lordship”)
The Sun King is extremely accessible, grounded in a space and time that reflects O’Callaghan’s time in Ireland, England, and North Carolina.
The year is now.
The house is forty miles or so
south of the Virginia line (“Mid to Upper Seventies”).
Although grounded in place, the book chronicles one man’s struggle to overcome great loss and (re)discover a sense of identity and belonging:
The book has fallen face-down on the oak
and it takes him a really long time,
years in fact, to recover his place (“Mid to Upper Seventies” )
Throughout this man’s journey, the reader feels deeply connected to the poet, invited to join him in conversation even. At times the poet’s voice is somber, bitter, sarcastic and nostalgic but it is always honest, unwilling or uninterested in concealing anything from the reader: “I have a soul, you appear to be calling./Make of my soul what you will” (“Translation”).
In the culmination of the title poem, the speaker bears his soul in an invocation of the sun king:
My boy and girl were grown elsewhere. And somehow I,
five years east, woke in mind of an odd-job deity no heathen
need ever wake in mind of. King of sun, pray for me again.
Melancholy pervades The Sun King; however there are moments of hope or at least progression:
…Perhaps at times it’s better
to submit to the pin-drop of forgetfulnesss,
accept that there are questions of provenance
no amount of empty boxes can hope to answer,
leave the past to time itself back to a Square One (“Required Fields”).
Although saddled with bitterness and pain there is no lack of tenderness, shown most beautifully in “Kingdom Come”:
Who’d have thought a year
would find me stalking our old selves
while neighbors wheel their trash
to the sidewalk for the morning?
Though lately I’ve been praying, lady,
that whatever kingdom come there is
is a street we owned a place on
where the life we meant to love
and ran screaming from mid-stream
completes itself without us
This chilling sense of loss of a life that might have been or almost was fractures the book, parceling it into memories strung together by an inconsolable brokenness. However, amidst inundating sadness there is a glimpse at peace and a hope for resurrection that seems just beyond the poet’s view: “I’d happily forget my voice, the mail, its code./We spoke at last that evening. Then it snowed” (“Three Six Five Zero”).
Published in April of this year in Ireland, Wake Forest University Press will be publishing the North American edition of The Sun King in December.
Posted by Nicole