After 30 years of writing only sporadically, Kevin J. O’Conner returned to poetry in 2013—first as a creative exercise, then for the therapeutic benefits. Since 2015, he writes every day, exploring the craft of poetry through monthly writing challenges—‘my ongoing effort to write something that doesn’t sound like something I would write’, he says. Kevin’s poems explore isolation, memory, life’s small moments, and the experience of starting over at ‘a certain age’—always with an emphasis on straightforward expression.
As of late 2017, Kevin has published ten collections of poems—the latest of which is 8: Eight-word Poems—plus four volumes of ‘love notes’ to the days of the week. His eleventh collection, the oft-mentioned The Lilac Years, is in the compilation stage.
When not writing poetry, Kevin can be found copy-editing documents from far-flung places, attending open-mic readings, designing books, taking photographs, sometimes painting, and often contemplating what to cook now that he is tired of soup. He lives near Seattle with his cat, Trixie, who likes to sit atop the refrigerator.
Okay, that’s the ‘official’ writer-like short bio.
As I have posted before on my blog, I have a complicated relationship with poetry. I liked poetry when I was in school, but it was seeing the printed lyrics on the inside cover of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that made me want to write. After that, I wrote a lot of what was undoubtedly a lot of really bad song lyrics that wanted to be poetry. This pretty much continued until high school, when I started to get better at it, eventually gravitating towards a sparse style with skinny verses (i.e., with three words per line, max) and an oh-so-serious tone.
My second quarter in college, winter 1982, I managed to get one of my poems (I no longer remember which one) published in the student newspaper’s quarterly literary supplement. The following quarter, I submitted another poem or two—but this time, I got a snarky response from the supplement’s editor saying something like, ‘anyone can read [book title I no longer remember] and think they’re Richard Brautigan’. I had never heard of Richard Brautigan (and still have never read any of his work), but it was clear that this was an insult, accusing me of being a wannabe.
I did not write another poem for five years.
In 1987, recently finished with school, having too much time on my hands and too few job prospects, and in a relationship that I would later learn was falling apart, I began keeping a journal. A couple of months later, I wrote my first poem since receiving that rejection letter five years earlier. I did not make that a regular thing, but instead wrote sporadically over the years.
A semi-prophetic, writing-on-the-wall poem I wrote the day before my marriage collapsed notwithstanding, I returned to actively writing poetry again in April 2013. At a time when I was back on my own for the first time in ten years, had just turned 50, and was struggling to find regular work in post-Great-Recession America, I discovered that I was able to express things through poetry that were not coming out in my regular journal entries (or anywhere else, for that matter). With that, I began to take poetry seriously again.
The following year, while taking time out to deal with the unexpected resurgence of regular panic attacks, and needing a new project, I dug out those old journals, found all the poems they contained, and copied them into a Word document, to which I began adding new poems as I wrote them. Not long after that, inspired by the example of my friend Lola Peters (who had just published her book Taboos), I compiled my first poetry collection, Separation Anxiety. I followed that about four months later with Journalism, which contained the poems that I liked, but did not really fit into a book about separation and divorce.
In 2015, I began writing poems on a daily basis—and reading at open-mic events. I also published three more poetry collections—The Imperfect Document, Quiet on the Outside…, and Refusal to Remain Invisible—as well as ‘Dear Monday…’, my first collection of ‘love notes’ to the days of the week. And, albeit reluctantly, I went back to taking anti-anxiety medication to get my panic attacks back under control.
For 2016, I added monthly writing challenges to my daily practice, the idea being to force myself to write things that don’t sound like something I would write. Along those lines, in an effort to produce something different, I spent five months putting together two editions of This Is Fifty-three—a full-color edition combining poems with photographs and graphic elements, and a stripped-down black-and-white edition (because color is expensive). I also published Coffee Stains (at the start of the year), and the next two volumes in the ‘love notes’ series. And I finally made it to Everett Poetry Night.
2017 has been one of those ‘difficult’ years. The feast-or-famine nature of freelance work (I am a copy editor and occasional graphic designer) became more pronounced; my state of mind has kept pace, the result being that I felt it necessary to get help for depression. Nonetheless, I have continued to write on a daily basis, and have published four books—…but for the thoughts running through my mind, This Is Not the Book That Will Save Your Life, 8: Eight-word Poems, and ‘Dear Thursday…’. At the time of this writing, I am compiling my next collection of poems, the above-mentioned oft-mentioned The Lilac Years, and preparing for my turn as featured poet at Everett Poetry Night on December 7th. I also got to do some copy editing for this year’s TEDxSeattle.
I am cautiously optimistic for 2018. I am evolving as a writer, and getting better at presenting my work to audiences. In the new year, I hope to get copies of at least one of my books into one physical book store.
In the meantime, thanks for playing!
(16 November 2017)