Emily O’Neill’s Pelican is a beautiful, complicated, and dense collection of poetry that delves deep into senses and subjects. These elements work perfectly together as O’Neill talks about difficult subjects such as death and loss while also using subtle words and tones to equalize how the reader takes in the poems. One of these poems, called “Buying Flowers in the Lobby Gift Shop,” is clearly about a loved one in the hospital at some stage of end of life.
Another one of O’Neill’s poems, called “How I Am Not My Mother,” talks about how she wants to be like her mother without all of the negative aspects that come with being like her. For example, in one line, O’Neill writes, “I want to be the same ghost” which is an interesting line because it forces the reader to question what is so bad about a shadow and what kind of relationship the author has/had with her mother that would she would only want to be a “shadow” of her.
Yet another poem from O’Neill that is filled with complicated messages is one entitled “The Ballad of Sexual Adventure.” Here, she talks about what seems to be a first sexual encounter of some kind and uses a few well-known tropes to describe what’s happening, such as the imagery of two young people lying on a trampoline together as the boy in the poem begins to put his hand down the narrator’s pants. The imagery is beautiful here in the beginning of the poem, but that seems to be where it ends for this one. The rest of the poem is quite confusing as the rest of the poem doesn’t seem to connect with the beginning, almost as if they are two separate ideas being put together.
In another poem, entitled “The Coffin Letter,” O’Neill again seems to be trying to connect two different ideas, moments, or thoughts into one poem that, unfortunately, just don’t seems to be working well at some points in the poem. It seems at times that she is writing a heartfelt goodbye to a loved one, and then at other times she seems to be so cynical about the whole thing that it doesn’t even matter if the other parts were heartfelt in the first place.
Overall, the book is thoughtfully put together and has nice a contrast from most modern poetry about the subjects that O’Neill covers.
About the Author: Emily O’Neill is an artist, writer, and proud Jersey girl. She tells loud stories in her inside voice because she wants to keep you close. Her work has appeared in The Best Indie Lit New England Anthology, Cutbank, The Journal, Sugar House Review, Washington Square, and Whiskey Island, among many others. Her poem “de Los Muertos” was selected by Jericho Brown as the winner of Gigantic Sequins’ second annual poetry contest. Her debut collection, Pelican (2015, available now), is the inaugural winner of YesYes Books’ Pamet River Prize for first and second collections by women and genderqueer authors. She is the author of two chapbooks: Celeris (Fog Machine, 2016) and You Can’t Pick Your Genre (Jellyfish Highway, 2016). Former editor and essayist for Side B Magazine, she currently edits poetry for Wyvern Lit. A bibliography of her published writing lives here.