“Something of Jesuit paleontologist and mystic’s convictions about the noospheric phosphorescence of thought, as well as some serious mythopoeic, mycophilic revelation,” wrote Peter O’Leary in an e-mail when asked what he hoped to provide to the Duke community.
Poet O'Leary's rhetoric is immediately striking, particularly in his natural use of words like “noospheric” and “mythopoeic."
“I make up a lot of words in my poetry,” he said. “I also use a lot of obscure words. It might be exciting for audience members to speculate whether a word is made up or simply obscure.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 8 in the Duke East Parlors, O’Leary will deliver a reading hosted by the Manic Caravan Reading Series. The poet, like the event, will be a “conduit for excitement,” said Jonathan Moore, professor of creative writing at Duke.
Currently teaching at the School of the Art Institute and the University of Chicago, O’Leary offers a novel perspective on contemporary poetry. Through his background in divinity studies—a far cry from poets of English or literary criticism backgrounds—O’Leary offers an unparalleled theological approach to poetry that extends beyond the walls of the church.
Moore said that O’Leary represents a fugitive spirituality, offering insight into the correlation between divinity and human consciousness.
“His work gives you permission to think about experience anew—to trouble the distinction between the sacred and profane,” Moore said.
But those who are strictly secular beings, atheists and the like, should not be steered away by O’Leary’s religious implications. His upcoming reading is not exclusively designed for a devout audience. Moore encourages attendance for anyone who enjoys listening to those who are simply passionate about living. He added that O’Leary teaches his audience what it means to be an excited human being.
Defined by Moore as a man “always enthusiastically for or aggressively against," O’Leary has a writing style comparable to that of the Black Mountain poets, a group of writers who experimented with the boundaries of poetry through a force of aesthetic energy.
“He’s a very dynamic figure,” said Moore. “It sounds crazy, but in the contemporary world you don’t get to see somebody love something very often. He loves language…He loves the presence of spiritual roots within experience.”
O’Leary will be reading from his most recent book, "Phosphorescence of Thought," as well as unpublished work from a new project called "Earth Is Best." Both works are installments of a not yet finished trilogy exploring the conscious and, subsequently, the unconscious.
True to its title, "Phosphorescence of Thought" tracks the evolution of thought. Incorporating both cosmic and religious views, the collection follows the progression of thought from its creation to what O’Leary calls its “apocalyptic present."
"Earth Is Best" is about the euphoric, altered states of consciousness that arise from mushroom foraging and are manifested in Finnish and Roman mythologies.
Evidently outside the realm of mainstream poetry, O’Leary’s work may come across as outside the box and, perhaps, a bit enigmatic. But one should expect this from a man whose inspirations include bird watching and “effervescently” foraging for porcinis in Oregon.
O’Leary will join the Duke community toward the Manic Caravan's mission in the “pursuit of exegetical enthusiasms" with his perplexing yet enlightening speech.
"There’s no better way to spend an otherwise lovely evening," said Moore. “Isn’t someone who loves what they do always worth seeing?”
Peter O'Leary will deliver his poetry reading on Wednesday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. in the East Parlors. A reception will follow. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://english.duke.edu.
Poet explores, conveys spirituality and consciousness
Special to The Chronicle