William McGonagall on speed?

More Poems From The Boreen By Tom O’Brien
Published by tomtom-theatre, Paperback, £6.49

Review by Pete Donohue

Tom O’Brien is an Irish writer, playwright and poet who has lived in Hastings for over 21 years. His writings are primarily inspired by his native Ireland (he was brought up in Kilmacthomas Co Waterford), the London-Irish community of the latter twentieth century (he worked in the building industry there for many years), and his encounters and experiences since moving to Hastings in 2000. His plays and readings have been performed widely in Britain, Ireland and the US, and of course locally too.

More Poems From the Boreen is O’Brien’s latest poetry collection and has been described by one critic as “William McGonagall on speed.” Boreen is the Irish for ‘little road’ or what would be called in English a country lane. William McGonagall is often regarded as ‘the worst poet ever published’. So could O’Brien’s poetry be described as bad too? The answer, of course, is purely subjective but I find this book quite good.

Why I say ‘quite’ good is because the collection is so varied – 149 poems over 99 pages. Subject matter and themes are diverse in range and I found some poems better than others. O’Brien has a keen observational eye and delivers a lot of humour in this book. His poetry includes elements of the Absurd, Gonzo Journalism and stream of consciousness writing – which may account for the ‘on speed’ reference – but there are also hints of Irish Romanticism, protest and comments on popular culture here. My biggest criticism of this work is an overreliance on rhyme, which sometimes seems to inhibit or restrict where he might have taken a poem, and I would like to have seen more blank verse. That said, many readers do prefer rhyming poetry and rhyme is clearly a part of O’Brien’s style.

Is O’Brien a twenty-first century McGonagall? The latter has been described as ‘the real gem of Scots literature’ – he was born in Edinburgh of Irish parentage. McGonagall (1825-1902) is also notably famous for showing no recognition or concern for his peers’ opinions of his work, so O’Brien may well choose to pay little or no attention to this review.

As a collection to dip into now and again More Poems From The Boreen works well and readers are always likely to find something inside that will put a smile on their face or make them think. This and many more of Tom O’Brien’s books can be found on Amazon or at local independent bookshops.

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