Well Versed: The Poets

Vona Groarke and Conor O'Callaghan on a swing

Vona Groarke and Conor O’Callaghan share the magic and melody of poetry.

Vona Groarke and Conor O’Callaghan give life to words.

Conor O’Callaghan and Vona Groarke are poets-in-residence and husband and wife. “We look a bit like the Sonny and Cher of Irish poetry,” he quips. She laughs, and the moment captures the easy humor that comes with sharing friendship, family and a commitment to making poetry an everyday pursuit.

“We want to make poetry a part of students’ lives,” says Groarke. “Otherwise it’s just something to do when you’re sitting down and looking at a book in the library. The difference between poetry and prose is like the difference between abstract and narrative painting. In the museums, people tend to gravitate towards paintings with a story. There are things to recognize and relate to, such as the light on a girl’s face or the way she’s reading a letter, and suddenly the whole thing comes alive. Abstract art is more like poetry because it is about itself.”

The poem itself is a private little room that you can go away to — even if only in your head — without having to explain it to anybody else and, at times, without even admitting anyone else into that room. Conor O’Callaghan

The couple know the challenge of crafting words into verse. “There isn’t a formula for writing poetry,” Groarke says. “I tell students that if you’re a dentist then you’re bringing the accumulated knowledge of every tooth you’ve ever worked on to bear on this tooth that you’re doing now, but with poetry, it’s not like that. Everything you’ve done up to this point matters nothing at all. It’s a clean slate. You have to allow yourself to do it fresh every single time, which is difficult.”

“You keep imposing some craft on your material until you get to the best form of completion that you can manage. We try to get away from the conventional idea that a poem is somehow inspired,” says O’Callaghan.


Listen to Vona Groarke’s essay “My Writing Day” on NPR. (2 min:30 sec)

Written by David Fyten
(Wake Forest Magazine 3/08)
Photos by Ken Bennett
Web content by Kim McGrath


Wake Forest University Press


Go to part:

1. Well Versed
2. The Origins of the Press
3. The Winds of Change
4. The Poets


Have you heard?
The Z. Smith Reynolds Library Rare Books Collection houses a large Irish collection, including imprints from the Cuala Press. Cuala Press was set up in 1904 by Elizabeth Yeats and her brother William Butler Yeats.


Did you know?
Provost Emeritus and former Professor of English Edwin G. Wilson (’43) and the founder of the Wake Forest Press, Dillon Johnston were instrumental in the purchase of the Dolmen Press archive. Literary history buffs, Irish poetry lovers and scholars can enjoy tracing the steps of Irish publisher Liam Miller at Wake Forest University’s Z. Smith Reynolds Library.


Watch The Chieftains & the Dublin reels on YouTube


Download “Well Versed,” by David Fyten. [PDF]