Tuesday Poem: A Left Hook, by John O’Connor; In Memoriam John O’Connor

David Howard has alerted me to the sad news that Christchurch poet John O’Connor died recently. I didn’t know John well, but I enjoyed talking with him when I was in Christchurch, and he kindly gave me the opportunity to feature his poem Johnny as a hub Tuesday Poem. It comes from his 2013 collection Aspects of Reality (HeadworX).

A few years earlier, I’d published John’s poem “A Left Hook” on this blog, and I’m republishing it today as a tribute to John. In 2013, John made his own selection of his poetry available online, and an adapted version of his bio from that site is below:

John O’Connor was a Christchurch poet and critic. He was co-winner of the open section of the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition in 1998 and winner of both the open and haiku sections of the same competition in 2006. In 2000 his fifth book of poetry, A Particular Context, was voted one of the five best books of New Zealand poetry of the 1990s by members of the NZPS. He was an editor for Canterbury Poets Combined Presses and was founding editor the poetry magazine plainwraps, co-founder of Sudden Valley Press and Poets Group, occasional editor of Takahe, Spin and the NZPS annual anthology. 

He was a past chair and long-term committee member of the Canterbury Poets Collective. His poetry has been widely published and is represented in Essential New Zealand Poems (Random House/Godwit, 2001). His haiku have been internationally anthologized and translated into eight languages. In 1997 he received an Honorary Diploma from the Croatian Haiku Association and in 2001 a Museum of Haiku Literature Award, Tokyo, for “best of issue” in Frogpond International, a special issue from the Haiku Society of America, featuring haiku from 52 countries and language communities.

A Left Hook

an early experience
of the left hook (admirably

tight if open-handed) came
at the beatific hand of

Monseigneur O’Dea – too
old to be a parish priest – who

about to impart the very
body & blood of Christ found I

was not holding the paten
correctly. a few years later

an equally irascible boxing
coach imparted impeccable

advice on how to throw it,
though he didn’t know the bit

about feinting with Jesus.
when the good monseigneur

had his final photo taken
he bestowed a copy on our family

– old friends should be so blessed –
for a decade it sat on the mantelpiece

between a bunch of plastic grapes
& a glass bowl that snowed if shaken.

This poem is from John O’Connor’s recently published Cornelius & Co: Collected Working-Class Verse 1996-2009 (Post Pressed, Queensland, 2010), which I also reviewed.

The Tuesday Poem: This week’s poem is Albert Park by Alice Miller, a finalist in this year’s Sarah Broom Poetry Prize (won by Diana Bridge).

4 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: A Left Hook, by John O’Connor; In Memoriam John O’Connor

  1. That's sad news. He was quite a character. I only met him a few times but he was a memorable person and a great poet. Thanks for posting the poem.

  2. Thanks, Rachel and Helen. I met John only once, I think, but I'm pleased I've had the opportunity to share some of his work.

  3. I only learned of John's passing yesterday when attending the memorial service for Helen Bascand. Both great losses to the poetry community.

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