Lesley LeRoux on “Celeris” by Emily O’Neill

There’s nothing like poetry that makes you stop and reread. Poetry you can savour – that clings to the back of your throat, insists on being taken in not just in one sitting. This is the poetry you fall back on, and that, perhaps, you have resting beside you on your bedside table, waiting. It’s there when you need it. A friend. It hears you. It knows where you’ve been. It has been there too.

Emily O’Neill’s Celeris (Fog Machine) is a collection that tells you just that. Whether it’s relationships, dealing with societal expectations, or just the ebb and flow of life, perhaps all of it combined, O’Neill has an answer for you. Or, she offers up pieces of herself that, as a reader, feel like answers if only for the fact that they show you someone else has had similar feelings, thoughts, and hurts. Throughout the poems there are mentions of horses, and this is no accident. O’Neill speaks of feeling stifled, of pain from past traumas – it’s hard not to imagine the horse as a symbol of freedom, of breaking away from that which no longer serves.

when you were leaving & I shouted I miss you
already it was an unconscious reference to Sara’s magazine
of tears, one read aloud on the porch/beach while I hid
swaddled in my tarot card print scarf to keep me
from the sun’s teeth. maybe I’m a carrot, the kind
that grows legs & walks out of the ground
& into soup stuffed with ginger
but if possible – if I’m allowed
to make requests – let me be pretty as a pony running
laps without a rider. it makes sense, promise.

However, in “Funeral Train,” O’Neill speaks of horses in an entirely different way.

In this case, the narrator is struggling with the thought of a proposal, and the inevitable wedding and marriage that follows. There’s a sense that the author feels caged in by the prospect, and wants nothing more than to remain her own, refusing to be “welded together at the knuckles.”

remember how you wanted to propose
in public & once the yes was wrung
from the clapper at my lips
a wedding would erupt
from the frozen ground
like a torrent of horses
trampling me into you, making
us a single sadness …

I could never marry a ghost
but I’ll marry grief if it keeps me my own

Comfort is a word I associate with good poetry, inasmuch as it can echo your experiences, your fears, your wants, your needs, your desires, your heartbreaks, your triumphs (the list is endless) right back to you. There is great solace in that. But this kind of intimacy between reader and author can only happen when the person holding the pen – or pressing fingers to keys – approaches the writing with such honesty that the words have that extra force behind them. Maybe it’s a punch to the gut – a reminder of how things were, and where you are now. Maybe it’s a hand that reaches out to yours, assuring you that everything is going to be all right.

That’s O’Neill for you. She is forthright and has a way of making the saddest of ideas or stories sound so beautiful. Come to her words when you’re looking for something both delightful in its language and yet haunting in its content. She speaks to the feelings inside of us that we sometimes struggle to get out – that we, like the narrator, perhaps feel too stifled by norms and expectations to lay bare.

(Fog Machine, Poetry, Paperback, March 2016)

Keep up with Emily O’Neill’s work at http://emily-oneill.com or follow her on Twitter @tabernacleteeth. You can also check out her interview with Vagabond City here.

LESLEY LEROUX is a writer, editor and artist based in Canada’s capital (originally from Newfoundland). She graduated with a degree in journalism from Carleton University. Her fiction, nonfiction and photography have been published both in print and online, and she has occasionally dabbled in radio and television. She is a feminist, bibliophile and yogi who can be found tweeting about any of the above @LesleyLeRoux.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.