Best Holiday Present for Poets: Rewilding by January Gill O'Neil

January Gil O'Neil reading at the Old South Church, Boston
Two years ago, I wrote a post overflowing with admiration for a January Gil O'Neil poem and then added a prompt to go with it on this site.  What unmitigated joy to see this same poem in the brand new pages of Rewilding, just out from Cavaan Kerry Press.

If Sharon Olds and Robert Hayden had a love child, I think it would be January O'Neil. She employs the smooth, shiny surface of a Sharon Olds poem with the more emotionally nuanced and extended outlook of poet Robert Hayden (think "Water Lillies" and "Those Winter Sundays"). Here are two poems so you can decide for yourself.

Now on sale at Cavaan Kerry Press

On Being Told I Look Like FLOTUS, New Year's Eve Party 2016

Deep in my biceps I know it’s a complement, just as
I know this is an all-black-people-look-alike moment.
So I use the minimal amount of muscles to crack a smile.
All night he catches sight of me, or someone like me, standing
next to deconstructed cannoli and empty bottles of Prosecco.
And in that moment, I understand how little right any of us have
to be whoever we are—the constant tension
of making our way in this world on hope and change.
You’re working your muscles to the point of failure,
Michelle Obama once said about her workout regimen,
but she knows we wear our history in our darkness, in our patience.
A compliment is a complement—this I know, just as the clock
will always strike midnight and history repeats. This is how
I can wake up the next morning and love the world again.


A gray hoodie will not protect my son
from rain, from the New England cold. 

I see the partial eclipse of his face 
as his head sinks into the half-dark 

and shades his eyes. Even in our
quiet suburb with its unlocked doors, 

I fear for his safety—the darkest child 
on our street in the empire of blocks. 

Sometimes I don’t know who he is anymore 
traveling the back roads between boy and man. 

He strides a deep stride, pounds a basketball 
into wet pavement. Will he take his shot 

or is he waiting for the open-mouthed 
orange rim to take a chance on him? 

I sing his name to the night, ask for safe passage 
from this borrowed body into the next 

and wonder who could mistake him 
for anything but good.

Rewilding is on sale this week at Cavaan Kerry Press. It's the best present of the season.

January Gill O’Neil
is the author of Misery Islands and Underlife, published by CavanKerry Press. She is the executive director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, an assistant professor of English at Salem State University, and a board of trustees’ member with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and Montserrat College of Art. A Cave Canem fellow, January’s poems and articles have appeared in the Academy of American Poet’s Poem-A-Day series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, and Ploughshares, among others. In 2018, January was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, and is the John and RenĂ©e Grisham Writer in Residence for 2019-2020 at the University of Mississippi, Oxford. She lives with her two children in Beverly, Massachusetts.