Bittersweet but successful, our Small Press Publishing Class met for the last time on Wednesday, Dec. 4, for the culmination of all our learning and effort: the book launch for author Joe O’Connor’s first published work. Each member had worked diligently on their assigned portion of the event, and the effort was evident!
Joe O’Connor’s vibrant personality and humility delighted me. He read each poem with sincerity and genuine enthusiasm. Rather than plow through his entire work, he paused thoughtfully between several poems and gave us snippets of experience—little windows into his world—to consider and take to heart. Many were life-lessons that he learned during his time at Saint Vincent, and one of them I will never forget. O’Connor recalled the college President’s speech at his freshman banquet, where he instructed the students to look to their right and to their left, proceeding to tell them that those were the people who would teach them ninety percent of everything they’d learn at college. How true that is! His minute details, painting mental images of his life, drew me into the wisdom of his down-to-earth poetry and helped me to relate to him.
He also touched on artists, being one himself, in ways which piqued my interest. Jim Kozak, cover design artist for Why Poetry, roomed with him at Saint Vincent. Both aspiring artists encouraged each other. Encouragement, O’Connor declared emphatically, is the most important thing one can give an artist. Encouragement carried him through agonizing years of mere publishing dreams to the reality of a printed work in his hands, a work to be distributed and enjoyed by people he may never meet, as is the nature of selling books. He thanked his wife, Ms. Gil-Montero, Kozak, and our entire class for roles in encouraging him to carry on with his life-long dream.
I always find it fascinating to learn what roots such a passion for the arts in each individual. O’Connor shared that he first learned to write poetry in detention. Forced to memorize passages of books if he wanted to leave early from his punishment, he found himself face-to-face with words, grappling them and their irascible nature to slip out of mind just when needed. Memorizing the passages made him organize words and view them in a new manner, a manner which led to writing his own.
O’Connor’s speech and reading of his work satisfactorily answer the question, “Why Poetry?” The answer, in essence, is because it’s necessary. No matter the job—as Joe O’Connor himself worked in economics—every person needs a little color, a little touch of art in their life, a little way to express their deepest thoughts and dreams on paper, and sometimes, a little way to share them with the world.
This class has been a pleasure! I wish best of luck to everyone as we embark on the next leg of the journey: taking what we’ve learned and applying it to our own careers and daily life. A special “thank-you” to our fabulous professor, Ms. Gil-Montero, the wonderful Haylee Ebersole for hosting our group for workshops, and author Joe O’Connor, for inspiring each of us along the way.