We produced a book in one month. On October 30, we met with Joe O’Connor to discuss his vision for the chapbook Why Poetry? On November 11, we sent the interior to print, and on November 13, we screen printed the covers. On November 20 we sewed about 70 books and various people have been sewing more in spare moments (seemingly pulled from thin air) ever since. Tonight, the work of this whirlwind unit culminated in a poetry reading here at Saint Vincent College, where we presented the community with the finished product, a beautiful, lovingly handmade chapbook of poetry by a man who has written poems his entire life but is only now receiving the recognition his work deserves.
The evening began with a brief introduction by Ms. Gil-Montero of how Why Poetry? came to be. The project grew out of a friendship, an openness that poetry provides. Ms. Gil-Montero met Joe O’Connor because of Eulalia Books, which was only an idea at the time. That the idea came to fruition was in no small part due to support and encouragement from Joe, who is an unwavering champion of the humanities and a stalwart believer in the power of poetry.
Throughout his work and the stories he told in between reading poems, Joe sought to remind us of a simple yet fundamental truth: we are human. Through the humanities, including poetry, we discover what it means to be human living in this world, and we discover who we are as individual human beings. “There are three truths,” Joe writes in the titular poem, “Why Poetry?” “We are lost, we are human, we have everything we need.” It is not enough, according to Joe, to be human alone. We need relationships, we need the “costly exchange” of interacting with others to help us “discover the thrill of being.” And yet relationships are exactly what we have, whether we like it or not. No person is completely self-sufficient; we have everything we need precisely because we must rely on others and allow them to rely on us.
Why poetry? Because poetry allows us to connect with our humanity through the experiences of another. In particulars, poetry reveals universals. In one person, Joe said at the reading, exists a multitude of emotions, memories, skills, failures, and ties to other people. There is more to each one of us than we ever let on. Poetry provides a bridge, a medium to say the unsayable, to reveal our secrets that we ultimately hold in common with every other person on the planet. Joe wants us to be “aware of actual life, to accept living fully, completely and to take action to create a wonderful life.
“And the answer is poetry.”
Why Poetry? is available now from Eulalia Books.