Welcome To My Bed

Birds of Praise

Taking compliments gracefully has never been a strength of mine. Typically, when someone says something specific and pleasant to me I blush and deflect and change the subject. I've improved slightly at just saying thank you before melting into a shock puddle at the prospect of anyone finding me even marginally remarkable, as all the praise heaped on my bird these past few months has taught me just to smile and say "I'm very proud." Because I am. The outpouring of support for this book has been overwhelming, and as far as I can tell it will just keep getting better. Pelican's being talked about in public again, and not just by me at the NYC Poetry Festival last week.

In what's probably the most thorough and attentive review I'll ever receive, Knar Gavin had this say about my bird:

The poet acknowledges her own grief if only to propose a triumphant emergence from that grief. Rather than rotting or desiccating away, O’Neill’s fallen tree undergoes a state change instead, thriving in its fallen state, covered in a verdant blanket of not one, but many small green lives. A single damaged life becomes host to a colony of beings. In a sense, the poet is just such a host; with each fall, her voice springs back to life, newly rich in timbre and strength.

You can read the whole shebang and blush along with me here at Heavy Feather Review. And as if Gavin's words didn't already have me all tied up in knots of gratitude and disbelief, Gina Vaynshteyn wrote a review for The Rumpus that not only compares me quite favorably to Plath but also gives space to how I try to find language for memory:

There is so much to love in Pelican. The expertly devastating language. The preciseness of form. The honesty of story. The way O’Neill juxtaposes tender familial moments with violence and aggression. 

In her closing paragraph, Vaynshteyn writes, "Pelican is gut-wrenching, and it doesn't fear flesh." I couldn't hope for higher praise than that. Read the entire glut of kindness here.

Finally, there's the relentless support my press has shown me. On my way back from Pittsburgh, the fabulous and tireless YesYes Books publicist, Heather Brown, tweeted at me so I could see her interviewer asking for me by name over at the Best American Poetry blog. My bird wouldn't be in anybody's hands at all without Heather, or KMA Sullivan, our fearless leader, or Stevie Edwards, the editor and friend who's believed in my work for longer than almost anyone. The entire YesYes staff and family of authors makes me so proud to be among them. I am so boundlessly thankful for the work YesYes has put into making sure I've been welcomed as wildly as any debut author could dream to be welcome by the literary community. You can read the entire Meet The Press feature, including an excerpt from Pelican, here.

Yes Yes, West Coast

Boston has about five feet of snow on her face, but I'm trying to focus on my flight Tuesday afternoon, when I will be delivered to two weeks of West Coast shows. Are you all in your feelings and looking to commiserate? I'll be performing work from Pelican in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California for the rest of the month alongside my powerhouse press-mates Meghan Privitello and Danez Smith. Let's hug, if you're into that.

Wednesday 2/11, 11 AM-1 PM

PCC Cascade Campus

705 North Killingsworth St, Portland


Thursday 2/12, 7-9 PM

Olympia People's Mic

Cafe Love

204 4th Ave E, Olympia

$3-7 entry, Facebook event page


Friday 2/13, 7 PM

Bad Blood

Ace Hotel Portland

1022 SW Stark St, Portland

Facebook event page 


Saturday 2/14, 7-9 PM

Sole Repair Shop w Sara Brickman

1001 East Pike St, Seattle


Sunday 2/15, 6:30 PM

Portland Poetry Slam

Velo Cult Bike Shop

1969 Northeast 42nd Ave, Portland


Wednesday 2/18, 12 PM

City College of San Francisco

Rosenberg Library 305

50 Phelan Ave, San Francisco


Wednesday 2/18, 7:30 PM

Berkley Slam

The Starry Plough

3101 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley

(1 block uphill from Ashby BART)

$7-10 sliding scale, cash prizes


Thursday 2/19, 6-7:30 PM

University Book Store

2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley


Friday 2/20, 7-9 PM

The Art Bar & Cafe

1060 River St #112, Santa Cruz


And if you haven't pre-ordered your copy of Pelican yet, there's still time. The official release date is 2/15, so if you buy your book in the next week and send me a picture of your receipt, I'll send you a copy of the zine of witchcraft/pizza/pop poems I made called nobody dies from being wrong.

Pre-order Your Very Own Pelican

My first poetry collection, Pelican, is available for pre-order now for $2 off list price + free shipping. It is full of poems about medicine and memory and growing up in New Jersey. There are letters to my father that I've dropped into rivers. There are prayers I re-wrote as spells to drag myself back from grief towards something living and holy. There are all kinds of stories I could tell you in synopsis here, but if you want to hear even a few of them, I want you to have a copy of this monster. Click here to get your very own big-mouthed bird made of poems.

Below is the first poem in the collection, the first of many birds taking flight in me at all times.

kismet pelican emily o'neill

Cover Story

I am deliriously proud to announce the official release date of my first poetry collection, Pelican. Mark your calendars! January 15th! Pre-ordering will be available soon, but until then, check out the stunning original illustration Daniel Obzejta made us for the cover.

Two months until this creature is in your hands. I'm giddy. How are you?

Gross in Love: The Tour

My book is coming out in three months! AGHHH!!!

And another thing: my partner John's book is also on its way! AGHHH!!!

Which can mean only one thing--we're going on a book tour together, and it is going to be GROSS. And by "gross," I mean a truly excellent adventure across America (and maybe beyond?) with lots of high-fiving and bike-riding and poems poems poems.


Places I have not been but want to go: Denver, Reno, Portland, Omaha, Iowa City, Chicago, and your house, and your friend's house, and your grandma's house (as long as she doesn't frown too harshly upon content "for mature audiences only").

If you need poems about grief and death and sex and friendship and animals and witchery and general feral bitchiness, I'm your gal.  If you need poems about recovery and outer space and houses and cats and robots and how to be in your brain and body at the same time, he's your gal. We want to meet you! We want to high five you and jump on your couches (with your consent, of course) and invade your poetry readings and art happenings and vomit our feelings into your life and never leave, not really, because afterwards you'll have our books and also little pieces of our hearts.  Got it?  Good.

You can invite us to your city or reading or living room using the handy contact form on this website, or by leaving a comment on this post.

We love you! Let's meet for real!


Somewhere in the high school years of my vast library of diaries, there's a to do list entitled "WHEN I GROW UP I'LL BE STABLE," after a Garbage lyric.  The list is full of hopes, some of them wild, some of them only pretending to be.  Hair dye, piercings, and tattoos factored heavily, along with road trips and other "get out of this one traffic light town" angst.  I wanted to love more than advisable and live loudly, a tall order for the shy, solitary person I was then.  Among the mostly attainable items on this list, there was also a dream-the-impossible-dream moment: publish my first book by the time I'm 25.  And it's happening.

yes yes contract

My first book, Pelican, has been selected as the inaugural recipient of Yes Yes Books' Pamet River Book Prize, a new award given annually to a debut collection by a female-identified or gender queer poet.  Yes Yes makes absolutely gorgeous books and champions so many authors I admire, and it's still overwhelming to think they'll be the ones shepherding my words into the world in a book with a spine for the very first time.  Working with KMA Sullivan and Stevie Edwards on this project has been nothing short of joyful, which is really saying something, since the content of the book leans heavily towards exploring one of the most painful losses I'll ever experience.

In 2011, my father passed away after a long, complicated battle with diabetes.  I had recently finished college and was still struggling to find my footing.  During my final semesters of school, as my father's health had worsened, my writing had veered away from the performance pieces I'd written since admitting I wanted to be a poet.  The new work was shorter, more spare, and a lot of the poems I wrote at the time scared me beyond all reason because each of them tried to capture a different facet of what losing my father felt like.  How sad I was.  How angry I was.  How alienated I felt from my peers.  How impossible it was to imagine myself fatherless.  The chapbook I turned in as a part of my thesis project at Hampshire, Quiet is a Brand of Noise, was peppered with tiny worries of what would become of my family and our stories once my father succumbed to his chronically poor health.  My partner at the time was pressuring me to start submitting my writing to be published, and though I was excited to imagine people reading my work, I was equally terrified of exposing my grief to the scrutiny of strangers.  It felt shameful to be dwelling so heavily on my father's ever-approaching death, and even more shameful to do so in public.

our last family photo

our last family photo

Against my better judgment, I started sending out the work.  It was and is messy for me.  I go back and forth between being proud of myself for being able to lift the curtain on what is, for many people, a very private dance between the chill of loss and the glow of nostalgia, and terrified of what making this dance public says about me.  Now that we're wrapping up final edits on the book, I just feel tired.  When my father was in hospice, a family member asked my then-fourteen-year-old brother Owen how he was doing with everything.  He said, "How am I supposed to feel?  He's been dying my whole life."  Barely out of middle school, and already an existentialist.  In seriousness, when he said it, something clicked about how oddly we'd grown up.  My father's health problems started long before we were born; they were impossible to separate from our experience of him.  The earliest draft of the oldest poem in Pelican is from the fall of 2007, but the stories present in the book are as old as I am, and some of them much older.  I've only ever known my dad as someone never quite within my reach, and writing about losing him has been a powerful reminder of how much of his life I still get to share in.

My father's stories, especially the ones he used to tell after a few drinks (ask me sometime about Grace Jones and the Bicentennial), have always been my favorite ones to tell to strangers, so this book was bound to fall out of me in one form or another at some point.  Pelican is full of birds and booze and stories (both real and imagined) I've told myself and others about my dad in order to better understand him and me and how we helped and hurt each other.

This Sunday is the three year anniversary of his death, and it's hitting me much harder than it ever has.  I'm not sure if that's typical.  I'm not sure I could grieve typically if I wanted to.  It didn't occur to me until a friend brought it up yesterday, but the anniversary is probably much more present for me this year because of how much time I've been spending with these poems.  Another friend tried to console me by saying that at least no one can accuse me of running away from my feelings.  In the future, if I ever try to run away from my feelings, I suppose someone can just chuck a copy of this book at my head.

Though the project won't be published until December, poems from Pelican (and work from the new manuscript I've been working on) have been popping up all over the internet recently.  The Adirondack Review gave a home to "The Right Words;" "Wishes For The Full Moon" found its way into Cactus Heart; "I'll Admit It" is living over at Word Riot, along with a poem called "I Didn't Mean to Swear in Your Church" that I wrote after watching both versions of the movie Footloose consecutively; and The Bohemyth's most recent issue includes "Rosary For The Blood Moon," the last of my moon poems, as well as "I Remember Loving You Through The Internet" and "I AM HOLDING YOUR SCREAMING BODY WITH HARVARD SQUARE."  And at 7 PM on July 12th, I'll be joining a bunch of fabulous lady writers (including my beloved roommate and partner in crime, Cassandra de Alba) for Vector Press's third issue release party at the Moderformations Gallery in Pittsburgh.  I have three poems in the issue: "The Age of Instability," "knife play," and "& when the canary stops singing."  There will be free food, free drinks, and there's no cover.  Come talk about sea birds with me, please please please.