Isobel O'Hare is a poet and essayist who was born in Chicago but did most of her growing up in Ireland. She is the author of Wild Materials from Zoo Cake Press. Her writing can be found in The Account, Dirty Chai Magazine, HOUND, FORTH Magazine, Numero Cinq, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and Cease, Cows, among other publications. She received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she was recently awarded a Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship. She lives in Oakland, California.
DS: Why do you write poetry?
IO: I started writing poetry when I was a kid because I didn't have anyone to talk to about a lot of very traumatic things that were happening in my life. I grew up in various abusive environments where I often felt isolated and unheard. I was already writing short stories about fantastical things like a world-traveling young girl and her pet chimpanzee, a couple of time-traveling elementary school students, as well as some retellings of classic horror stories. Poetry came to me specifically as a form of self-care when I needed someone to talk to and nobody was there but paper and pens.
These days I write poetry for a few different reasons. Self-care is still definitely one of them, but I don't tend to share the things that I write for my own therapeutic purposes, as they tend to be unfinished thoughts that are suspended in liquid anger. These are the pieces I have to write in order to get to a truer place.
Poetry can take the form of magic spells when I start to feel that some form of transformation is needed in me but I don't yet know how to achieve it. I usually end up realizing that the poem wasn't the entire spell itself but just one component of it. Maybe the eye of newt.
I also write poetry in order to translate the world as I see it into something that can be communicated to another person. It is often difficult for me to communicate my experiences of the world via spoken language, and sometimes prose seems too direct in an explicit sense. Poetry offers a form of communication that is more intuitive, and thus paradoxically more direct than saying literally what one is thinking or feeling. It creates a conduit for two minds to read one another without speaking.
DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?
IO: That same conduit. Whenever I connect to a piece in this way, I get so excited. It makes me want to write more myself, to continue communicating in this language that exists in a universe parallel to our own.
DS: Describe your works in progress.
IO: I am (very) slowly putting together a full-length poetry manuscript. Some of the pieces from Wild Materials will be included, as well as some pieces that didn't make it into Wild Materials, but it will mostly be new poems.
I am also working on a long-form piece on PTSD that connects personal narrative with scientific research out of the desire to further mainstream understanding of the disorder. It is becoming increasingly important that PTSD is understood as a major health concern in the United States.
DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?
IO: With all of the recent scandals in the poetry world, my hope is that we will continue to communicate openly with one another about race, class, gender, disability, and other social issues in order to increase accessibility for all poets who are part of our community. It is consistently distressing to wake up to news of the latest scandals on a weekly basis, but the fact that we can openly recognize and talk about these events as problematic is promising. Social media has given access to so many people who were previously cut off from such conversations, and I look forward to its continued use as a tool for discussion and increased accessibility.
Wild Materials (SOLD OUT!)
Wild Materials (SOLD OUT!)
Some of Isobel's Poems Online: