Sunday, July 02, 2006

Tomas O’Leary is a poet, translator, musician, singer, artist and expressive therapist. His published books of poetry are “Fool at the Funeral,” and “The Devil Take A Crooked House.” both from the Lynx House Press. O’Leary’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Midwest Quarterly, Ibbetson Street, Poiesis, The Worcester Review, and others. For the past 15 years he has worked in nursing homes, leading circles of the elderly in song and spirited exchange, and entertains with his accordion at pubs and private parties. He has an M.F.A. in poetry from the writer’s workshop, U/Mass/Amherst, and M.A. in expressive therapies from Lesley University. O’Leary was brought up in Somerville, Mass. by Irish immigrant parents and now resides in Cambridge, Mass. with his wife and two sons. I talked with O’Leary on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You have this highly developed character of the old country, wisecracking troubadour poet. Is the real O’Leary, or do we all just invent ourselves?

Tomas O’Leary: To one extent or the other. I certainly suspect that we invent ourselves. To what extent I have invented myself I don’t know. I don’t deny I do have a game. I do it to the degree that I can milk it out or raise it up. Otherwise I would just lie down and die. I don’t want to do that.

DH: You got your MFA in poetry from the writers’ workshop U/MASS/Amherst. What was the experience like . Any mentors?

TO: That goes back to the late 60’s. A great bunch of people there. Everything in the poetry world was happening spontaneously. There were readings at a drop of the hat. There were gathering in houses, in bars, etc… As to mentors I have to mention Joseph Langland. He had a way of embracing what appealed to people. He wasn’t restricted to his own style. He was a high song pastoral poet. He was much given to the lyrical. There were people among us who emulated the minimalism of Robert Creeley. I didn’t. I travel among many modes.

DH: Do you do a lot of revisions of your poems?

TO: It varies among poems. Sometimes it takes me a few years to write a poem.

DH: You have had several poetry collections published, and you say you have completed a novel: “Portrait of the Artist as a Black Hole.” Can you tell us a bit about the novel?

TO: Its conceit is that it is written in one day. It has a Joyce-like element to it. The protagonist in the novel is tripping on Acid.

DH: Is this based on personal experience?

TO: Of course. But since this is a family show I deny it.

DH: Can drugs enhance creativity?

TO: I won’t deny that they can. But I wouldn’t advocate people take it for that purpose. Haven’t you done a little dipping in your day?

DH: Well Tom, it is a family show.

TO: In your workshops you stress “intentionality” in writing. Explain?

DH: I don’t think I can. (laughs) I can talk about it for an hour. It is something to throw in the face of writer’s block. I direct people to write about something that they actually want to be writing about. That’s harder for some folks than you may think.

For more info on Tomas O’Leary go to:

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