Poet laureate visits SCSU


Jeff Lamson – Arts & Entertainment Editor

Author and poet laureate representing Old Saybrook Pat O’Brien came to speak to students about life, creativity and a newly published book, according to the OwlConnect event page.

O’Brien was invited by Maile Chaplar, president of Southern’s chapter of the international English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta. She read poems from 2012 poetry book, “When Less than Perfect is Enough,” and collaborative efforts with fellow poets around the state. There was also a Q&A session in which the members of STD and Bookmarks English Club could ask for advice from the well- versed writer.

“You don’t get a chance to talk to someone like that all the time,” said Jason Tessier.

The junior and English major said he liked the variety of topics and tones that O’Brien covered in her readings. Poems have a tendency to focus on sad topics, Tessier said, but O’Brien was able to change that up in her pieces.

A regular at the club’s meetings, Tessier said that he usually tries to make it to events, especially when there is a seasoned writer coming in.

“I’m in a lot of classes where I write poetry and stories myself,” Tessier said, “so it’s good to get the voice of someone who’s been doing it for a while.”

O’Brien discussed her method of inspiration, saying that walking was helpful, but that one must also read other people’s work.

“There’s no one formula, no one way,” O’Brien said. “[It] depends where you are in your life and how much energy you have.”

As for revising O’Brien said that one has to, “Just do it.” She said that she could relate to the struggle of having to go through the process as a writer.

“Often, what you put down is precious,” O’Brien said, “so you can’t always come to grips that it could use some help.”

She said that she liked working in collaborative groups, like the Connecticut River Poets, a group she helped co-found in 2012. Establishing ground rules within these groups can

be tremendously helpful, she said, and being in a group forces you to write something. The group is working on another collection of poems to be published in a book, she said.

Her new book, “The Laughing Rabbit: A Mother, A Son and the Ties that Bind,” was co-written with her son who she said she was forced to put up for adoption in 1962 and reconnected with in 1982. The book also features contributions from her son’s birth father’s widow, his adoptive aunt and his wife. The two of them wrote the chapters individually, going back and forth throughout the book with poems in select places.

“Poems act as stepping stones throughout the story,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said that the book was originally her son’s idea. When she and her son first met he was caught up in his own life, grieving an adoptive mother who had suffered from cancer and getting into a “bad marriage,” she said.

“I think that the process was long and hard because of his resistance,” O’Brien said, “that he’s doubly delighted that it worked out.”

Addressing topics involving her grandfather with whom she was close to, her father who she watched drink and then lie to her mother about it, her brother who died in a car accident and her grief about it, the Iraq War and what it meant to her as a mother and her relationship with her son, O’Brien’s poetry addressed some less than savory topics, but that writing was a part of the process of it all for her.

“This is a way of looking back at life and coming to grips with it,” O’Brien said. “The stories can be difficult, but there can be a way to find forgiveness and understanding.”

Photo Credit: Palmer Piana

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