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« Fran Kimmel on Troubled Childhood | Main | Win! Free Books for Poetry Month »

January Gill O'Neil on Marriage & Divorce

January Gill O’Neil is the author of two books of poetry: Misery Islands and Underlife. She is executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and is assistant professor of English at Salem State University.

Gill O’Neill was featured in Poets & Writers magazine's 2010 Debut Poets Roundup, is a Cave Canem fellow, and serves as chair of AWP's Northeast Council (Association of Writers & Writing Programs). She lives with her two children in Beverly, Massachusetts, and writes the blog Poet Mom.

In Misery Islands, Gill O’Neil explores love's coming together and tearing apart.

“Growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, a military town, I didn’t know anyone whose parents were divorced,” she explains. “My parents had a strong, occasionally rocky marriage, but they stayed together. For me, getting married meant mating for life—but life is full of surprises. I had no idea I’d face my own divorce after eight years, and would raise two small children as a single mom. Today I understand that sometimes couples get what they need from one another and then move on. I wouldn’t be the woman, mother, and writer that I am today without those experiences. And I would not have made it through the divorce without poetry."

January Gill O'Neil offers three good books that helped her "get through the most difficult time in my life."

Stag’s Leap
by Sharon Olds

To paraphrase one of her older poems, Sharon Olds is “excellent at the knife-throw,” meaning her precision in relation to imagery and depth of emotion is unmatched. There is no one who goes deeper into this poetic subject matter, in my opinion, than Sharon. The poems in Stag’s Leap (winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry) are frank and honest as she writes about her husband’s infidelity and the end of her marriage. I read the book poem by poem, maybe one a day. I was too raw and the poems too visceral. But this is one of those books where I felt stronger for reading it, thankful for the experience.

Late Wife
by Claudia Emerson

Before her passing in December 2014, Claudia authored five poetry collections including Late Wife, also chronicling the dissolution of a marriage (a posthumous collection will be published in spring 2015). In Late Wife (winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry), Claudia included epistolary poems written to her first husband, and to her current husband, whose first wife had died of lung cancer. When I was facing a difficult time with my publisher about the poems in Misery Islands, also dealing with the topic of divorce, poet Nikky Finney who advised me to read this collection for its structure. I’m struck by Claudia’s ability to dangle a metaphor in a poem and never go too far.

From the poem “Eight Ball:”

“It was always possible
             for you to run the table, leave me
nothing. But I recall the easy
             shot you missed, and then the way
we both studied, circling—keeping
             what you had left me between us.”

by Denise Duhamel

Nominated for the National Book Critic Circle Award in 2013, Blowout details the stages of Denise Duhamel’s uncoupling: love lost, love grieved, and love found. Her poems cover a range of topics, from young love and mature love. The language is playful and accessible, bold and satiric, and she does not shy away from pop references. From movies to Madonna, Denise is most powerful when she brings humor to the darkest corners of the soul.


Reader Comments (1)

Thank you for sharing these books on the theme of "uncoupling." When I divorced my first husband in the mid-70's I felt as if I had amputated my own arm. I was devastated, thought I would never love again. And the ensuing grief taught me, as well: Grief is a form of love. I have been happily married since then, a relationship lasting over four decades, so I know one does survive and one can love again. Still, I wish I'd had any of the three books you mention here, and am going down to my independent bookstore to order them as soon as I finish this Post.

May 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Staley

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