Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Life of a Poet - Eileen T O’Neill

This interview was Written and done by Sherry Blue Sky

‘’Talent develops in a quiet place, character in the full current of life’’
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This quote can be found at the top of the site Words and Thoughts, and, as I have come to know this writer, it seems an appropriate one for the poet herself. Yes, we are sitting down today with Eileen O’Neill, one of our most self-effacing, but most steadily supportive and encouraging members. You’ll find Eileen’s appreciative comments sprinkled liberally throughout the blogosphere, and likely have been the recipient of many.

Poets United: Eileen, so nice of you to give us this chance to get to know you better. Tell me, is there a story behind your beginning Words and Thoughts?

Eileen: When I started my blog on March 24, 2010, it was really in response to a rather demotivating experience, during the few weeks that I had spent as a member of an online writing group. I felt that I would be very arrogant to think that I could simply start writing and expect that it would make sense to anyone else, so I paid an annual fee and joined that group. At that time I was unaware of Blogger or Wordpress.

I posted my first poem and got a few comments, which were reasonably positive. I wrote and posted a second poem, which reflected my thoughts and joy at the arrival of spring. However, the online Tutor took my poem apart with his style of critique. He implied that I must have copied my words from a gardening brochure. This was absolutely untrue, as the words in that poem were my own. I took my leave of that group and almost put my pen out of sight. I wanted the freedom to express my own Words and Thoughts and my blog was activated.

Poets United: And we are so happy that you did! Eileen, would you like to tell us a little about yourself? What part of the world do you live in, and where is Home for you?

Eileen: Sherry, I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1957. I grew up living in the University area of the city, where I enjoyed living in the middle of both student occupants and private residences.
This lent itself to having exposure to a variety of people from all over the world. A mixed, non -political location, in a very beautiful setting, and for me ‘the idyllic normality’. Until the age of eleven in 1969, when my world changed forever, and death and destruction became widespread throughout all of Northern Ireland.

Poets United: I can’t even imagine living through the Troubles as a child.

Eileen: My home environment was outside of most of the immediate troubled areas, but it still impacted on the quality and freedom of my daily life, in Belfast. My teenage years were simply school and home. There were no social activities and life was lived within the walls of my home. There was really no choice. After leaving school, I trained as a nurse and enjoyed this career very much. Sadly, nursing as a job has changed so much over recent years that I could not return to it again.

I became a full-time mother to three sons and one daughter and I have enjoyed that experience beyond words. In 1994, my husband Gerry and I decided to leave Northern Ireland, when a career opportunity brought us to the North of England. From a map, we selected the market town of Macclesfield, as our place to live. It is a town on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park and an area of outstanding natural beauty. I felt homesick for a while, but now I regard Cheshire as my home.

The main scenic photograph on my blog shows an area about ten minutes from my front door. It is within The Peak District National Park. I live in East Cheshire, almost on the border with Derbyshire. The scenery is beautiful and in a few weeks, those hills will be overflowing with spring lambs. In fact the scenery reminds me very much of parts of Ireland, only even more beautiful!!

Poets United: Oh, I’d so love to see it all full of lambs!

Eileen: I have been away from Belfast for seventeen years and I feel that I now have very few ties to the city. I am more inclined to “look back” to happier days there, in innocence. This is often reflected in my writing. I return to Belfast several times each year, but I almost feel like a ghost stalking the streets, since my childhood area has changed so much. The heart is missing and that influences my thoughts.

Poets United: I imagine it must feel very different to you now. Eileen, what is it about poetry that makes you want to write? And when did you begin?

Eileen: I first started writing on September 5th, 2009 and I was both petrified and excited. My first poem was called “The Power of The Word”. I jotted down a few words which came from my frustration and anger one morning, while experiencing computer connection issues. I didn’t tell anyone in my home for more than a month that I had written my first poem. I think my family were both surprised and shocked!

A Belfast-born friend, who is a philosopher and writer, offered me words of encouragement to at least “give it a go”. I sent him my first attempt at writing a poem and he returned it with a comprehensive reply. His style of offering constructive advice and praise was of immense value and I have continued to write. My personal confidence has grown, and I am happy to have found ‘my style and comfort area’.

Poets United: What style of poem do you write the most?
Eileen: I have found that my poetry style falls into several groups. In the main, I favour prose, as this allows me freedom and is not so rule bound. Open flow and open mind! I like quirky off-the-wall words and objective writing, rather than very subjective. I probably compose rhyming poetry least of all. Perhaps that stems from my childhood memories of Saturday mornings and elocution lessons at the age of ten. I remember Christina Rossetti and Walter de la Mare, in particular.

Perhaps a surprise to you, but I am not very motivated by Irish writers. I do make an exception for W. B Yeats, his poem, Lake Isle of Innisfree being one of my favourite poems. I remember at the age of thirteen being fascinated by the work of a poet from Northern Ireland called Michael Longley. I went along to a festival in Belfast, where I attended his poetry readings almost every day.  His work is more representative of life in Northern Ireland, both past and present, and is written with an Ulster style, which I really appreciate.

Poets United: What are your thoughts concerning the internet and poetry?

Eileen: The internet has allowed much more freedom of expression for those like myself, who may be ‘testing the waters’, experimenting with writing or trialling their work. The biggest worry for all poets and writers is to try to retain ownership of their words. I never post all of my work and often reserve some favourite pieces, safely reserved for the future. Copyright issues and plagiarism is a big concern, as information has such a great value and must be protected. With proper guidance, a Blog Site can be a wonderful shop window to the world and a gauge of the work produced.

Poets United: Well said! When do you find you write the most? Do you have a favourite spot for writing?

Eileen: I write the most when I have a silent environment, or sometimes prompted by some background music. This can be at all hours, although mainly in the early part of the day, when my mind is free of other domestic distractions. I like to stare from my writing corner towards my garden, which is usually filled with many birds and flowers. This influenced my poem Sanctuary, which is the poem I have selected to be included in the Poets United Anthology. I will admit that also I find composing from the comfort of my bed easy, as it is a very calm place to be, with a view of the Cheshire countryside.

Poets United: Ooh, if I got that comfy, I’d never write a word, I’d fall asleep ! Do you have a favourite among your poems?

Eileen: The first is called A Friendship Proclaimed (19/11/2009). This was written two months after I first started writing, and really reflects my own happiness, even at that early stage. I loved this discovery about myself. The intrigue it caused with my husband and family. Where had I been hiding all these words for so many years!

The second poem is called Open Invitation (10/06/2010) This poem means so much to me personally. My religious upbringing as a child and young adult has been severely dented by recent exposures of child abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church. I questioned my own convictions and had difficulty reconciling them with a strong feeling of betrayal by the church and its ministers.  Open Invitation is my position with religion today. A God I can connect with whenever and wherever. Not in a formal way or through a formal service. I enjoy that personal freedom and that influences my thoughts.

Poets United: I share your background, and really hear you on that. Eileen, how do you know when a poem is good? And do you do much revising and reworking of your material, or do you let it stand as it comes to you?

Eileen: In the early days of writing, I think my work was very subjective. I look back at early work and see my mistakes. Sometimes I will make some changes, but other times I leave the work as it is.
A good poem will flow with unhindered thought. That is very satisfying indeed. A difficult poem or piece of prose will emerge, when a conclusion or that tricky last line, will not ‘reveal itself’. Then panic sets in. Sometimes, it is only a simple ‘nip and tuck’ which is required!

Poets United: What most often triggers you to write?

Eileen: My thoughts to write are triggered by many things: philosophical thoughts, people observation, personal experiences, childhood, Belfast, family, daily life, world events.  After living with thirty years of political bitterness in Northern Ireland, I avoid that subject.  I am very disillusioned with politicians and the deception involved.

Poets United: How do you feel about writing? What do you hope to accomplish through your writing and your website?

Eileen: I could have never imagined the degree of personal satisfaction I have gained from writing.
I feel refreshed, connected and hungry to achieve more. My blog, Words and Thoughts, allows me to test and gauge the opinions of other writers and that is important. Belonging to a group like Poets United helps very much to encourage writing, even during an ‘off’ time. It can be very easy to switch off and become lazy or disaffected. Then there is a more difficult struggle to return to writing form.

Poets United: I agree. Poets United started me writing again after a long dry spell. I really needed the motivation and support of belonging to a writing community. Do you have a favourite poet?

Eileen: My favourite poet is Derek Walcott, who wrote the poem Love after Love.
This poem was featured in the book The Time Traveller’s Wife, which was written by Audrey Niffenegger and which was later released as a film in 2009. I wrote an article about Derek Walcott, for Poets United in October 2010. My next favourite poet is Philip Larkin and his poems, This be the Verse and Days. My only choice of an Irish poetry connection is W.B Yeats and Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Poets United: Great choices! Do you write with hopes of being published one day?

Eileen: I have never been published, or even entertained the thought that I would produce anything of value to the outside world. Indeed, I did get a surprise to find that it was possible to have one of my poems, ‘Sanctuary’, included in the forthcoming Poets United Anthology. However, I will admit that when I met my husband Gerry, back in 1975, some of the very first words I spoke with him were to tell him, ’’One day I hope to write a book’’. Perhaps I might consider an Anthology of my own poems, at some time in the future!

Poets United: Yay! Go for it! Have you had any adventures you’d like to tell us about?

Eileen: In the past few years, as my family have moved out of home to university and the world of work, I have felt free to enjoy some extra travelling. I particularly have enjoyed many visits to America. My first visit six years ago brought me to Seattle. This was followed by a weekend exploring Port Hadlock and the Pacific coastline nearby. I was shocked by the poverty at Neah Bay, a native Indian Reserve. That was the nearest point I got to Vancouver, which is on my list of places to visit.

I have been to the California coast and San Francisco three times, and enjoy the Monterey area.  I was even brave enough to take a Whale Watching Cruise. Of course, I just had to visit Sonoma and Napa Valley, to check out some wonderful wines! I have been to Dallas, Austin and Atlanta.  I have travelled extensively in Europe and will admit to having Switzerland, France and Malta as favourites. I simply love exploring new places and trying some new foods.

Poets United: You have done a lot of travelling. How wonderful! When you get to Vancouver, come a little bit farther and we’ll have tea! Are you a fan of music?

Eileen: My musical influences are wide and varied. Much classical music, especially Vivaldi.
Van Morrison for his lyrics which somehow evoke memories of my Belfast connection.
The Killers, from Las Vegas. ( If I were about thirty years younger, I might be brave enough to attend one of their concerts!!! ) Empire of the Sun, from Australia. (Music to stay up all night with and welcome the dawn!!!) America, Eagles, Steely Dan. Johnny Cash, (Many more).  Music from the 1980’s, which evokes great memories, and most music which was made in Manchester! Irish music is wonderful at certain times! Lots of influences, and too many to list.

Poets United: Do you have some favourite poets in the blogosphere?

Eileen: I visit and appreciate following the work of so many other poets in the blogosphere,
that it is difficult to name every one. I will name three, who have influenced my thoughts and writing.

The first Blog author is Seán McGrady. He is a philosopher and writer, who is working on a novel to be published in USA, later this year. I admire his compositions, which always force me to think and understand the message behind his words. His blog is called Poeticus Philosophicus
The second poet is Gerry Boyd. I admire his quirky words and always make a point of visiting his blog. He is presently touring and exploring America in a white camper van. What an adventure!!
Gerry Boyd’s Poetry

The third poet is Paul Andrew Russell.  Paul is one of the poets at Poets United.

Poets United: Yay, Paul! I look forward to checking out the other poets, too. Eileen, when you’re not writing, what are some of your other interests?

Eileen: Besides travel, I enjoy speaking French and have surprised myself, since I had not studied the language since school years. Trying some new foods is an interesting challenge, which I like to do.
In January of this year, I did successfully eat some snails, encouraged by French friends.  In Dallas I managed to ‘enjoy’ some alligator, suggested by a friend from Washington!  I enjoy my garden and spend much time there during the year. I try to do as much walking as possible in the countryside, here all around my home. Wine tasting has become a favourite activity and takes me to France quite often during the year.

Recently along with my husband and three other friends, I sang before an audience of 450 French people, without music accompaniment. I shocked myself, since I am actually quite shy.
However, we have been asked to return next year, to sing again!!

Poets United: Wow! This is why I love doing these interviews! There are always surprises! That is very cool, Eileen!

Eileen: Last week I realised that I had reached a personal milestone. I had composed my 100th poem, which was called ‘My Literary Amour’........Poets United has been at the core of my writing experience, since June 2010, when I became a member.

The very first poets I followed on the blog were Robert Lloyd and Bob Hazelton. I admired their work very much. I enjoy and contribute to Poets United, as often as time will allow. I have great camaraderie with a group of poets, whom I now regard as an extended family, and who are located worldwide.

Poets United: I know! Isn’t it the coolest?

Eileen: On a personal level, I am recovering from a serious fall, which happened while I was on holiday in San Francisco last year. That has impacted greatly on my daily life and my mobility.
Writing has been a welcome lifeline and diversion for me during the past year.

I am also very happy to have learned very recently, that I am to become a grandmother for the first time later this year. Another new chapter in my life to be unveiled.............

Poets United: Oh Eileen, I am sorry to hear about the fall you took, but thrilled that you will be a new grandma. You will so enjoy the new little person. Congratulations!

Eileen: I wish to thank my husband Gerry and my family for all of their love and support, during this most wonderful journey! Finally, Sherry and Robb, thank you for your amazing support and friendship, and for allowing me this wonderful time with you.

Poets United: Thank you, Eileen. It has been such a pleasure!

There is much more to a poet than their poetry. The folks that live behind the pen can be some of the most interesting people around. We look forward to giving our readers an intimate and personal look at some of the other poets found here at Poets United, so be sure to come back and see who we chat with next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. It is good to learn more about you Eileen. And congratulations on another great interview Sherry. :-)

  2. What a wonderful interview with a person
    whose work I admire. Thanks for sharing more
    of yourself with us, Eileen.
    Sherry, nice job.


  3. Eileen you have been such an inspiration in every way here at Poets United, and in the blogosphere. Your writing is always insightful and very thought provoking, I love to visit your blog, and you have been such a wonderful encourager to so many. It is a blessing to learn more about your fascinating life! Congratulations on your new grandbaby on the way...that is awesome! Hope you continue to recover more and more from your fall...I know that can be painful in more ways than one. I look forward to reading your wonderful words for years and years to come Eileen! :-)
    (Wonderful interviewing Sherry! )

  4. A very good interview, Sherry, with a lovely and very supportive lady.

    Eileen's is one of the blogs I visit every day to see if she's posted a new poem.

    Lovely to see you being interviewed on Poets United, Eileen.

  5. Eileen is a gem. Great to get to know her better.

  6. Eileen what a wonderful journey you have had and thank you so much for sharing it with everyone...and Sherry - you do such a wonderful job on your happy to have met you both here at Poets United...bkm

  7. Great to learn more about Eileen. She's an active, supportive edition to Poet's United.

  8. Sherry, your interviews also seem to invite me in, to take part, and to be present. Thank you.

    Eileen, it is nice to get to know more about the individual behind the pen and I have to admit it was a surprise to learn how recently you had begun writing. You seem far more confident and relaxed about all of it. Thanks for sharing this piece of your story with all of us. Congratulations on the coming grandchild and am glad you took the chance to write.


  9. Two of my favourite writers settling in for a chat…how wonderful!

    It was great to learn a few things about you, Eileen, and you know I always enjoy our shared Belfast heritage. I too was surprised to hear that you are fairly new to writing...there is such wisdom and insight in your work. Clearly you were a poet at heart long before you began putting pen to paper! Congratulations on the expected wee baby…and I do hope your health issues resolve themselves soon. I look forward to reading much more of your poetry…

    And a wonderful interview, Sherry, though ‘interview’ seems too dry a word. When I read your work, I feel like I’ve just pulled up a chair to visit with friends and share the latest news over tea. I loved this well-written piece with its sense of connection and relaxed tone! My great thanks to you both…


  10. oh Sherry ,thank you for such a wonderful interview...
    Eileen, it is our pleasure to know about you a little more..So sincere and loving...its there in your words..
    It is sure blessing to be a part of Poets United where we share a special bond with each other...
    Thanks to both of you for sharing ....

  11. Alright Eileen! I so enjoy visiting your site with each new post you make and now this interview has made a wonderful linkage with you the person behind the poet. Thank you for the sharing of yourself.

    And Sherry, well done!

  12. Great job Ladies! It was fun to learn more about
    Eileen, singing...Wow! Go the the concert, it will inspire a poem ;-D
    I loved learning more about your life and you~

  13. Susannah, Pamela, Carrie, Paul, Old Ollie, Barbara, Kim, Elizabeth, Lynette, Rashmi, The Unknowngnome and Ella,

    Thank you all so very much indeed for all your lovely comments written in connection with this Life of a Poet Interview.
    I appreciate all your words and your friendship here at Poets United very much.
    Best wishes, Eileen

  14. Sherry Blue Sky,

    I would like to thank you for featuring me in The Life of a Poet Interview, for this week.
    I enjoyed thinking back and recalling some interesting facts about my life.
    I enjoyed working with you Sherry and I appreciate your input, together with my words, which together made this a very interesting experience.
    I am astounded by the very kind comments left by so many Poets United friends.
    Thank you Sherry,
    Best wishes, Eileen

  15. this is a great interview and its nice to know the story behind a great poet from my own group 7! eileen. i just followed you thru networkblogs and have you checked out the other blog of mine i recently started as an extension of its at: send you the invitation in awhile haha!

  16. Kris,
    Thank you very much for your very kind comments.
    It has always been a pleasure to follow your poetry as well.
    Belonging to the same Poets United Group, was a wonderful introduction, to your words.
    I will find your new Blog.
    Best wishes, Eileen

  17. Dear Eileen:
    A delicious way to meet you in your privacy. Now I know you a little more and I am so happy to have your friendship, your sweet words and support unsurpassed.
    Beautiful interview highlights your qualities as a woman committed to literature.
    Thanks for everything. I have no words to thank all your help.
    Debrah Riddleton

  18. Eileen my dear friend your story has taken me out of hiatus. You are one of the gems I have met on-line through poetry. And this interview just confirmed how lucky I am to be your friend.

    You were always there during my dark times, you were there when no one seems to understand me.

    You never get tired of telling me about the good things in life to the point of sending me pictures of your adventures.

    Ooops! I almost forgot I'm on the comment section.. I'll just send you the rest of it on E-mail.

  19. Eileen I am a fan of your blog and it was fun to read more about you. What a beautiful area you live in. Despite much travel there are so many places in the world I am not familiar with. Thanks for the interview, Sherry as well.

  20. Debrah,
    Thank you for your very supportive words.
    It is good to have met you via our poetry.

    Best wishes, Eileen

  21. Ronald,
    What can I say. Your comment is brimming with such generosity, of words.
    It has been a delight to know you and to count you as a wonderful friend.
    Thank you for your support to me along this journey.
    Best wishes, Eileen

  22. Peggy,
    Thank you for your very kind comments.
    I have enjoyed following your blog too and thank Poets United, for affording us that connection!
    Best wishes, Eileen

  23. This interview has been fun to read. It is so inspiring. Thank you Poets United and Sherry Blue Sky for this.

  24. I just read this wonderful interview of Eileen...Sherry and Eileen; you both were great to listen to! I like your style Eileen, poetic compassion for your fellow poets, we all love you!

    I as well have been to San Francisco and one day will visit the Pacific NW in the US. I would however enjoy living in England or Ireland...thank you both for such encouraging and inspirational words throughout you highly valued interview Eileen. Best Wishes!


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