Hibernian Writers: Breda Wall Ryan

Breda Wall Ryan

Breda Wall Ryan

BREDA WALL RYAN grew up on a farm in County Waterford and now lives in County Wicklow. She holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from UCC; a Post-graduate Diploma in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language from Trinity College, London; and an M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. She was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2014. In 2015,she won the Gregory O’Donoghue Prize; in 2014 she won 2nd place for the Patrick Kavanagh Award; and in 2013, she won the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Competition, Dromineer Poetry Competition, the iYeats Poetry Competition and the Poets Meet Painters Competition. In a Hare’s Eye is Breda Wall Ryan’s first collection of poems.

What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

My mother had a great store of narrative poems by heart, which she recited for us as bedtime stories –  Robert Service’s The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee; Longfellow’s The Wreck of the Hesperus, and Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Some Yeats and Eva Goore-Booth, too. She also read to us from the Old Testament – more adventures in rhythmical language! School knocked all the enjoyment out of poetry for me, until Leaving Cert, when I had an excellent teacher who introduced me to the music in the language of Shakespeare, Milton, Keats and Shelly.

Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering rock ‘n’ roll for the very first time? Can you describe what it was like?

When I first came to work in Dublin, I bought a collection of poems by Dylan Thomas from a barrow on Henry St. The barrow owner recommended it. I  became so absorbed in the poems that I missed my bus stop on the way home, and could hardly wait to read them aloud when I reached home.

What was your first “Eureka!” moment in writing and publishing poetry; the moment when you realized “Hey, I’m actually on to something here!” in terms of your work coming together and first getting accepted and published in magazines and journals?

Seriously learning my craft, I had written poetry for about a year when I had 2 poems shortlisted for the Mslexia Poetry Prize. That was a huge thrill. Vicki Feaver said some nice things about them in her judge’s comments. It was my first competition, and first publication in a journal, so it was very affirming at that stage in my poetry journey.

What is the most memorable poetry reading that you have attended and why?

I’ve been to amazing readings by Heaney, Longley, Sinead Morrissey, Mark Doty, Gillian Clarke, Don Paterson, Robert Pinsky, Derek Mahon, almost every major poet who has read here in recent years. No-one expects to be wowed with major poets, however. Two wonderful surprises that stand out are: in the early 70’s I was present at a spontaneous outbreak of poetry in Henchy’s pub in St. Luke’s in Cork. John Montague was one of those who recited; that was pretty exciting. A few years ago, I went to hear Margaret Atwood read at Poetry Now in Dun Laoghaire. As one would expect, she was very good, but I came away stunned by the other poet on the bill, Máire Mac An tSaoi, a feminist, subversive and lyrical poet I had not appreciated until that evening.

Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

Oh, that’s such a hard question! Today, I’d choose After Ovid: New Metamorphoses, edited by Michael Hofmann and James Lasdun: Yearling by Lo Kwa Mei-en and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s Selected, because those are the books I’m carrying about and reading right now. But if I had to choose at another time, the list would be different. My desert island selection would be three very fat anthologies because I’d want to bring as many poets and poems as possible.

Hibernian Writers: Kevin Conroy

Kevin Conroy

KEVIN CONROY was born in Dublin and is currently living in Kildare, has worked in U.K., Germany, Swaziland, South Africa, U.S. and Ireland as a teacher, professional engineer, manager in multinationals, executive coach and organisational psychologist.  His work has been published in The Moth, Southword, Burning Bush II, Writing4All – the best of 2010, Boyne Berries, The Blue Max Review and erbacce. Selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2014, he was a prize-winner in Trocaire & Poetry Ireland Competition 2012, published  in  their  pamphlet ‘Imagining a Just and Free World’.

What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

My family motto is Maireann a scríobhtar  and my early published writing was adventure stories in Our Boys. Poetry didn’t fit with being an action man in Arbour Hill boxing club. It was for exams, except for one embarrassing performance on the school stage of Pearse’s “The Fool “. Years later I fell in love and poured derivative love poems into my journal. One escaped and was sent to the girl who is now my wife.

Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering rock ‘n’ roll for the very first time? Can you describe what it was like?

It was more “uncovering” than “discovering”. Slowly from Yeats, Kavanagh, Heaney to Robert Frost. Ger Quinn was a great teacher in U.C.D.’s part-time evening courses. I read Frost’s Collected Poems, Prose, Plays cover to cover. I discovered that a poem is not only putting technically excellent marks on a page or sounds in the air, but expressing the poet’s identity. It is an invitation to a person’s unique world. Concordance and authenticity is revealed (or not) by reading more of his/her work. Ever since, I read a poem first in order to see if I’ll reread it. The realisation that a poet is revealing his/her identity in every poem is one of the challenges for poet and reader. Currently, I come back to poems where something mysterious is emerging out of the author’s worldview that I recognise as having a truth that “resists the intelligence almost successfully.”  Kimberly Campanello’s “Orange on the Horizon” is an example.

What was your first “Eureka!” moment in writing and publishing poetry; the moment when you realized “Hey, I’m actually on to something here!” in terms of your work coming together and first getting accepted and published in magazines and journals?

I considered writing poetry a solitary thing, a secret thing. Not consistent with the persona of a business man and engineer. Then Maggie Hurt Smith persuaded me to perform in public in the Twisted Pepper, Abbey St., Dublin. They clapped!  the Moth published my first poem and I discovered that an editor (Rebecca O’Connor) can be kind and helpful! And I chanced my arm elsewhere with success. But it was being selected as an emerging poet in Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2014 that gave me permission to say I write poetry.

What is the most memorable poetry reading that you have attended and why?

It’s between Dennis O’Driscoll’s hilariously witty performance in Dún Laoghaire’s Poetry Now Festival (2003?) and Kimberly Campanello with composer Ben Dwyer on classical guitar in the Joyce Centre, 2014.

Kimberly voiced strange eerie sounds from her sheela-na-gig work, the room’s reverbational acoustics intensifying the effect. It was like the poet was communicating without words across time into an Irish past of the lost and disallowed, bypassing controlling powers with poetry that bridges to music. It was when I realised the source of great poetry is not necessarily words but vocal sound and visible marks.

Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

First – Dennis O’Driscoll’s “Dear Life” is a must – the title typically having double/triple meanings. I was M.D. of Oral B Labs living in Naas where Dennis lived. His work drew me in, at first, because he wrote about life at work – giving me ‘permission’ to do so too. When I came to know his utter conviction of the importance of poetry and what it can do in a technological world, I read everything he published and found an extraordinary person not only intelligent, witty, playful but deeply knowledgeable and widely recognised in the literary world. He would stop and chat about art (he was a Hon. Fellow of the RHA)and poetry on the street and, even though I didn’t know him well, he sent me books to read with a gracious note when I was recovering from an operation. His poetry has too often been bracketed as Larkinesque and language that is “the lyric equivalent of William Trevor”. Well, “Dear Life” poems such as  “Fabrications”, “Spare Us”, and “Our Father” are a testament to his lyrical quality. How beautiful is his praise for a God whose “special is//a sun-melt served on/a fragrant bed of/moist cut-grass; yesterday, a misty-eyed moon…drafting a summer dawn…/ profligate horizons,/ lofty skies, beyond which/other universes stack up..” and the wonder of the Big Bang – “the attention-grabbing/voicemail he recorded/ on day one: an opening/gambit that came out/of nowhere…bang /in the middle of nothing/…..the illuminated manuscripts/of galaxies, over which lovers/pore in the dark nights/of their infatuated souls.” This is lyric. There is his humour  in “Spare Us” and the bright intelligence of a poet holding contradictions in a single thought to disturb the meanings while keeping the poetry. Both the cold eye of domestic realism and the wonder of beautiful lyricism are there in his poems.

His poetry has metaphors and concerns deep into our current living working world, with humour and an edge that goes (cuts?) deep. This is a lifeline for me who teaches Technology Management knowing that both the physical and so-called social technology fused by business is taking over what philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls the life-world. He reaches that simplicity on the far side of complexity and includes the redress that calls for wonder and lyric.

Secondly, I would keep my Frost collection because his work lets me in as a writer of poems in a way that the unique perfection of poets such as Seamus Heaney don’t.  (However, his essays in The Redress of Poetry and collaboration with Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones are lasting influences).  Frost’s delight in ambiguity and his wisdom keep drawing me back to his work. He said poetry gives us “a clarification of life”, “a way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget”. It is a universal art form across all cultures and the “sound of sense” has a vocal music uniquely human.  His “For Once then Something” has that imaginative mystery that fascinates me.

I have built my own anthology of top favourite poems. It has forty-eight poems including C.K. Williams, Robert Hass, Sharon Olds, Muriel Rukeyser, Enda Wyley, Rhoetke, Elisabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Peter Sirr, Charles Bukowski, Donald Hall, Maggie Hurt Smith, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot. It is difficult to choose the third collection, but since I find that my current influences are mainly contemporary women poets, I choose Kimberly Campanello. Not her poetry collection, but her PhD thesis  “Writing the Sheela-na-gig: Semiotic Complexity, Ekphrasis, and Poetic Persona in the Poetry Collection Strange Country” .  Strange Country will be published by The Dreadful Press in October.

Kimberly’s work has drawn me into a world where the permissions of poetry fed by the apophatic free the imagination. Poetry that points to the inexpressible by referring to what it is not, honouring it with wonder and never-ending questions, aware that ultimate realities cannot be apprehended directly. But they may be pointed towards – “that great absence /In our lives, the empty silence /Within, the place where we go /Seeking, not in hope to/Arrive or find.” (R.S. Thomas)

This includes witness and redress for what is lost, disallowed, excluded.  Her work also interweaves art into ekphrastic poetry that involves a personal encounter with the piece of art that triggers vulnerability to uncertainties and possibly the unconscious. Iconographer Helen McIldowie-Jenkins has published my ekphrastic poem, “The Gilded Arch”, on her website. My interest in painting and icons leads me down this path, even though the change of direction may mean ‘emerging’ becomes ‘groping’ poet.

Kevin Conroy reads as part the Hibernian Writers group at the launch of The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work: An Anthology of poetry by Hibernian Writers on Tuesday 20th October at The Teacher’s Club.

The Shooting Gallery Press: A response to some of the reactions to my feature on contemporary Irish poetry for The Irish Post

That’s Charlie told…

OVER THE LAST NUMBER OF WEEKS, I’ve received no shortage of emails, text messages, tweets, comments on the site and words on the street from those people who felt strongly about my recent feature for The Irish Post on five contemporary Irish poets everyone should read, particularly about what they saw as glaring omissions on my part.

So allow me to make some points and clarifications about the list:

Firstly, I believe that credit is due to The Irish Post. Instead of featuring some vacuous, C- list Irish “celebrity”, an air- headed pop star who’s only key attribute is having been born with what his/her fans might perceive as “superior genetics”, or some steroidal- headed idiot who has upped- sticks and somehow managed to forge a career as an action- hero- movie- star in Hollywood, The Irish Post featured the late, great Seamus Heaney on the front page of Rí- Rá, The Irish Post‘s entertainment supplement, along with a 1,500 – 2,000 word, two- page spread, which profiled five contemporary Irish poets; for this, alone, The Irish Post must be commended.

While many readers may well have first read the feature on this site, it was originally featured in the print edition of RÍ- Rá, meaning, of course, that there was limited space for such a feature.

Tweet Poetry

The feature was not aimed at Ph.D candidates in Irish literature or even avid readers of contemporary poetry; rather, it was aimed at a general reader, specifically those many, many people who tweeted and re- tweeted lines from Seamus Heaney’s best- known and best- regarded poems and who, perhaps, have vivid memories of studying Seamus Heaney’s poetry during their secondary education, though are now out of the loop with contemporary Irish poetry.

If those millions and millions of people who quoted lines from Seamus Heaney’s poetry, following Heaney’s premature passing, were committed readers of contemporary poetry and regularly purchased books of poetry by living poets throughout the calendar year, poetry publishing would be a booming enterprise; it isn’t.

The list, then, was intended for those who may just be curious as to what else is out there, in terms of contemporary Irish poetry.

Picking the Poets

I picked five Irish poets from a short- list of twenty, which was a difficult process, to say the least. True, I could have featured all twenty poets, though I wouldn’t have been able to give a thorough introduction to all twenty poets. I chose, instead, to focus on five poets and profile those poets as thoroughly as possible within the limitations of a print publication.

Originally, the list comprised of Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson, Derek Mahon, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Michael Longley. All familiar names, suffice to say, and therein lied two of my deciding factors for the final list: four of these poets are from the north of Ireland and all five poets are now in their sixties / seventies.

Some readers criticised the final list for its lack of female poets: for this I make absolutely no apology, for the simple reason that gender was not- and never should be- a deciding factor in omissions or, for that matter, inclusions. Gender, quite simply, didn’t come into the equation when I was finalising the list; in that sense, I judged all of my inclusions and omissions equally.

There were other poets, too- remarkable talents, such as John Montague, Eavan Boland, Thomas Kinsella, Medbh McGuckian, Tom Paulin, Sinéad Morrissey, Leontia Flynn, Nick Laird, to name but a few- who didn’t make the cut as I didn’t want the list to be too focused on poets from the north and poets who belonged to Seamus Heaney’s generation, who are now headed towards the ‘Collected Poems’ stage of their careers.

I didn’t want to ignore poets from the south and I also didn’t want to ignore younger poets- now at the ‘Selected Poems’ stage- both of which are issues which readers have had with anthologies of Irish poetry that have been compiled in recent decades. Take, for example, Paul Muldoon’s The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry (1984) and, more recently, Professor Patrick Crotty’s The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry (2010).

Muldoon’s anthology has been criticised for being too Ulster- centric: seven of the ten poets featured were from the north of Ireland, which prompted Belfast- born poet Derek Mahon- writing in a review of Muldoon’s anthology for the Irish Times- to challenge Muldoon on what Mahon saw as Muldoon’s regional bias towards Ulster poets.

Mahon was not alone in his criticism of Muldoon’s anthology and the late Dennis O’Driscoll was equally as critical of Muldoon’s selections. Writing in his essay ‘A Map of Contemporary Irish Poetry’ O’Driscoll had this to say of Muldoon’s anthology:

“Muldoon’s selection, which excludes most of the significant poets from Southern Ireland, depicts the corpus of Irish poetry with a bloated Northern head on a spindly Southern body.”

Similarly, Patrick Crotty’s anthology was the subject of much criticism from Professor Clair Wills and, perhaps most memorably, Dublin- born poet Michael O’Loughlin- again, writing in the pages of the Irish Times and under the heading “Missing: Have You Seen These Poets?”– for what O’Loughlin viewed as Crotty’s “deliberate exclusion of an entire generation” of Irish poets.

The good news- dear readers- is  that yours truly will be profiling another five Irish poets in the coming days. 

So which Irish poets did I omit from my original list and why should he/she be included in the forthcoming list?

Make a case for inclusions here by commenting below and let me know which poets you think deserve special mention and why.

The list will go live later this week.

Interview: Conor O’Callaghan

Originally featured in the print and online editions of The Irish Post, July 20th, 2013. To read the original, please click here. 

Conor O’Callaghan, pictured in Chinatown, Manchester. Photograph: Eve O’Callaghan.

DUNDALK poet Conor O’Callaghan is pacing the corridors of a Drogheda hotel. There are only a couple of hours to go until the launch of his latest collection of poems and the 45-year-old is in a reflective mood as he teases out why it has taken him nearly a decade to produce The Sun King, his fourth collection of poems and his first in eight years.

“Once you publish a poem- once it enters the public domain- it becomes public ownership; it stops being your own thing. There are some poets who feel that they have to assert ownership of their own poems. Derek Mahon, for example, revises previously published poems in later books and, by doing so, is basically saying, ‘These are my poems and I’ll do what I want with them.’ And in a way I kind of respect him for that. Having said that, I don’t understand the impulse. I don’t even understand the impulse to want to revise poems. I’m far more interested in moving forward and creating new work.

“I do think that writing poems is to do with energy. Michael Hofmann once said ‘The hardest thing about being a poet is continuing to be one’. There are loads and loads of reasons for that: reputation, lack of encouragement, lack of money…the older you get, the more your energy gets used on other things. There‘s no way you can get up every morning and do it. Poets can’t write programmatically like novelists and dramatists. The energy comes and goes.”

It’s clear that that energy and inspiration are in abundance for the Dundalk man, who is now based in Manchester. If O’Callaghan doesn’t seem short of ideas for poems, it’s perhaps because his work is steeped in the materials of the modern world.

He is also, it seems, energised by the work of his contemporaries and is more than aware of his generation’s lineage. “I definitely think that the generation of Irish poets that I belong to tried to bring in influences from outside Ireland. We all read voraciously- American poets, Australian poets- and we tried to bring in those influences to freshen up the Irish lyric.

“And in British poetry, too, there are loads of people that I really admire: Simon Armitage, Sean O’Brien…poets who were massively important to me. I really admired how they got things from our world- the late 20th century / early 21st century- into poems, without compromising too much in terms of style or grace; that you could still write beautiful lyrics yet still have photocopying machines, greyhound tracks and Chinese takeaways in the poems.”

I feel it’s my duty as a poet to examine something as closely as possible, to absorb its vocabulary and to try and make something real and something beautiful from it all.

O’Callaghan’s passion for the 21st century lyric- for poems by Irish poets that move on from the Heaney– esque descriptions of the landscape- lead me to ask him if the commonly held perception of an Irish poet is somehow misjudged? He’s in no doubt about this.

“When I lived in Ireland in my 20’s, I used to be involved in Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools program, teaching writing to primary school children. One of the first things I would always do in the classroom is ask the children ‘When your teacher told you that there was a poet coming here today, what did you imagine that I would like?’ Based on their suggestions, I would draw an identikit. That identikit would always resemble Patrick Kavanagh: patchy jacket, bottle of whiskey, craggy- looking…it was always a disheveled, bearded old man. There was a definite sense that, as an Irish poet, you were expected to fit a particular profile.

“Similarly, poverty was a given with poetry. I remember being interviewed on an arts radio program on RTÉ and the interviewer- who shall remain nameless- asked me ‘how do you make ends meet’ in a very sympathetic tone. Now it was the high years of the Celtic Tiger! We were doing o.k! And I couldn’t resist saying to him ‘You know what? I’m fine, thanks! I’m making loads of money!’ And I tackled him about it: I said ‘Do you expect me to be broke?’
“I’m not going to pretend to be poor just because there’s this expectation that I should be poor. Patrick Kavanagh, someone who I revere very much, clearly went through this long period of poverty. But the poems weren’t the result of poverty; the poems happened in spite of the poverty. It’s a bullshit idea that poets should be broke.”

What I find annoying is that are loads of Irish poets out there writing about the downturn and the end of the Celtic Tiger, who never wrote about the Celtic Tiger…They are elegising something that never existed in their poems.

This brings us neatly to the Celtic Tiger. ‘Tiger Redux’, a poem from The Sun King, which was written as an elegy for the excesses of the Celtic Tiger years, is one of the book’s more memorable poems.

In a telling stanza, O’Callaghan challenges the reader to re- consider the virtues of Ireland’s unprecedented boom years: “Truth? Though you were mighty strange- / so laissez faire, so keep the change- / spare us from the dope who (bore) / digs the hole we were before.”

“One of the things that really annoyed me about the Celtic Tiger was this hangdog attitude”, O’Callaghan says. “We spent most of the 15 years of the Celtic Tiger waiting for the bubble to burst. It seemed to me that from 1994 onwards that everybody was saying ‘Any day now…’ There was also this attitude that, all of a sudden, Ireland had lost its soul. You would get this, particularly, outside of Ireland. I remember being at a party in America and an Irish ex- pat saying “Ireland is very wealthy now, but it’s lost its soul. And I said to him ‘Fuck off!’

“I speak as someone who spent the 1980’s signing on in Barrack Street in Dundalk. I saw the rough end of penury and straitened times in Ireland that preceded the Celtic Tiger. Are you honestly asking me to say that I didn’t enjoy the affluence of the Celtic Tiger? I did. Clearly, it was massively corrupt, poorly managed; clearly there are a huge of refugees of the recession, some of whom are members of my own family, some of whom are people who I love very much and who have suffered; I don’t take any of that lightly. But the one thing nobody says about the Celtic Tiger is that it was brilliant. It was great fun; like a collective coke habit- you don’t want it back; you’re glad that it’s gone; I’m glad that we kicked the habit. But are you honestly telling me that you didn’t enjoy the rush of the time? We did. Everybody did. It was a time in Ireland where you walked out your front door and you were knee- deep in cash. Everybody had money and we’re expected to feel guilty about it all.”

The Celtic Tiger years is clearly something that O’Callaghan has thought about as a father, a son, a brother and an Irish citizen. What is it about those years, though, that interests him as a poet?

“I’m interested in the way that the Celtic Tiger has impacted upon the Irish poem. The landscape has changed dramatically in Irish poetry, which has to with the Celtic Tiger in ways that are largely unacknowledged.

“What I find annoying is that are loads of Irish poets out there writing about the downturn and the end of the Celtic Tiger, who never wrote about the Celtic Tiger. So the landscape and their version of Ireland in their work has gone from pre- Celtic Tiger to post- Celtic Tiger and nothing in between. So in actual fact, they are bemoaning something that didn’t exist in their poems. They are elegising something that never existed in their poems.

“‘Tiger Redux’ is partly tongue- in- cheek, but only partly. Part of me is actually nostalgic for that affluence. The simple response would be to whinge about the Tiger and say how terrible it was or to try and do as some of the great realist novelists in America of the late 60’s / early 70’s did and try and look at it as closely as possible and find the poetry in it; there had to be something of poetry in it. Robert Graves famously said ‘There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.’ The first part is certainly true. Is there no poetry in money? I think there is poetry in money, actually.

“But money is one of those things that isn’t considered a fit subject matter for poetry. Robert Frost once said ‘Poems should take as its subject matter those things that are commonly experienced but uncommon in books.’ We think about money all the time, we spend a chunk of lives worrying about it and yet there is almost no poetry about money. It hasn’t entered the mainstream of poetry. So I think that there are things that I and the poets of my generation have tried to bring into the Irish lyric: common experiences that are uncommon in books. With The Sun King, I’ve tried to write about sex, money and the Internet; to locate the poetry in the Internet. I feel it’s my duty as a poet to examine something as closely as possible, to absorb its vocabulary and to try and make something real and something beautiful from it all.”

Acknowledging that every poet has one poem that will be etched on their gravestone, O’Callaghan admits that ‘East’, his signature poem from 1999’s Seatown, is one of his finest accomplishments. Deliberately intended as a personal manifesto, the poem explores O’Callaghan’s relationship with Dundalk and, in a broader sense, Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the world. Emigration is featured heavily in ‘East’, which, of course, is a theme that is becoming more relevant than ever in the present climate.

The Irish football team taught us great lessons about emigration and the healthy relationship that we have with our emigrant community.

“My earliest memory of emigration was when I was about 10 years old, watching the opening match of the 1978 World Cup between West Germany and Poland. I was in my Grandmother’s house, which was right next door to where we lived. I was sat down at the television with my four brothers, excited as anything. The doorbell rings. There is a couple on the doorstep. Who was it only my cousins from Chicago who had found us: we didn’t even know that they existed. It was my Grandfather’s first cousins. It was such a serious thing that the opening game of the World Cup was switched off. ‘They’ve come all the way from America’, my Granny said. I had no option but to figure this out in my head. And that was the first time that I got a handle on emigration: that there was this whole other side to ourselves that is out there all the time. The people from Chicago that came into that room that day are, in truth, as Irish as ourselves.”

Self- described sports fanatic O’Callaghan, who wrote Red Mist: Roy Keane and the Football Civil War, a memoir set during Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy’s bust up in Saipan, can’t resist explaining his interest in emigration without mentioning the Irish soccer team.

“I think the Irish football team taught us great lessons about emigration and the healthy relationship that we have with our emigrant community. I always think of the Irish football team of the 1980’s, which was cynically defined by the Granny Rule. Tony Cascarino said in his autobiography that he never felt anything other than Irish and that north of Ireland players were never treated as second- class citizens- they were treated like everyone else. And I was grateful to him for saying that because I think that it’s true.

“You can be Irish and yet not be born there; you can have two identities at once, which are very important and profound lessons for people. For example, take London- born Alan Kelly, the former goalkeeper for the Irish team: it was him who taught his team mates Amhrán na bhFiann. This is a guy who feels as Irish as he is English. The Irish team were ribbed about the mixed extraction of the players in the English media in a way that seriously pissed me off.”

As we part, I ask O’Callaghan if he believes there’s a link between his love of sport and his practice as a poet: if the idea of working within closed systems, common to both sport and poetry, is part of his make- up. Again, he goes back to sport.

“I play crown green bowls. There’s some nights you play like Jesus and there’s other nights you play like Judas. Writing poetry has its good days and its bad days.”

And with that, O’Callaghan makes his way to a darkened stage at Drogheda Arts Centre to read from The Sun King, knowing that he is one of the few Irish writers alive today who can skilfully shine an unflinching light on how we live and how we relate to the rest of the world.

The Sun King is out now from The Gallery Press.