Clare Shaw and Conor O’Callaghan, Manchester Literature Festival at Deansgate, reviewed by Chloe Heard

The intimate surroundings of Waterstones was the chosen setting for a reading by contemporary poets Clare Shaw and Conor O’ Callaghan. With a rich northern twang Clare Shaw warmed up a gloomy Mancunian Friday with captivating wit and an insightful explanation of her personal journeys that caused her to go ‘a bit mental’. Clare is an absolute delight to watch as she becomes absorbed into the stanzas that she so meticulously crafted, her animated expressions relay a passion for writing that is highlighted when spoken as well as written. Her ability to ground the profound in the everyday is obvious through her inspirations spanning from Coronation Street, a Bus Shelter and the disappearance of Madeline McCann In 2006. Including the poems ‘Hands Up’, ‘Cuckoo’, and the two part story poem ‘You’, Shaw gave us a rounded insight into her processes as a writer. Her comments on the process of pregnancy and motherhood once again showed the versatility of this contemporary writer. Shaw commented of the fears and vulnerabilities of motherhood in the initial section of ‘You’, in the second section she relayed a happier simpler version using food metaphors and nurturing description. This idea of motherhood takes another form in ‘Cuckoo’ in which Shaw comments on the arrival of mental illness into the fold of parenting. Her candid explorations of mental health issues and other real life problems in tandem with an eloquent writing ability make her a truly exciting writer.

The same can be said for Conor O’ Callaghan’s confident and well-practiced readings. His fourth collection entitled ‘The Sun King’, published earlier this year, reveals a set of poems that ‘happen in the spaces between parallel and reality’ according to his publisher. With a command of the audience Conor spoke of his inspirations stemming from his time living abroad in the US incurring the poem ‘3650’, his experiences as a university teacher in  ‘Translation’ and an afternoon of snowfall demanding that Manchester come to a standstill in ‘Gravity’. Within ‘The Sun King’ is a testament to the transformation of technology and a salute to a new form of writing. ‘The Pearl Works’ is a sequence of Tweets spanning 2012 which, essentially, became a diary of the year for Conor. Events such as the Olympics and the football are commented upon. In the Q&A O’Callaghan commented on the importance of young poets emerging onto the circuit and presenting the form of poetry with variation. Equally Conor made it clear that the form of writing that will remain most popular is the written book form, therefore creating a harmony between the old and new. Overall, each poet were a joy to watch and successfully advertised their work with flair and passion.

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