MIKE O’CONNOR August 3, 1944 – January 4, 2021
Obit by Tim McNulty and Jack Estes
Mike O’Connor, a poet, writer, translator, and editor who championed Olympic Peninsula writers, died on January 4 at his home in Olympia following a short battle with cancer. He was 76.O’Connor was the award-winning author of eleven books of poetry, stories, and translations from the Chinese and editor of several anthologies. His publisher, Jack Estes, described him as someone whose life and poetry were one. “Mike’s work was a direct expression who he was,” Estes said. “His love of nature, his deep Zen Buddhist philosophy, and his infectious humor came through in everything he wrote.”O’Connor’s clear and direct poems celebrate living simply, holding friends close, and honoring the earth. He helped found the Foothills Writers Series at Peninsula College and was active in the literary circle around Port Townsend’s Empty Bowl Press. His writings touched the hearts of thousands of readers. One of his best-loved poems, reflecting on the end of a day cutting cedar in the Olympic foothills, concludes, “the moon and stars / jingle in the sky / like wages.”Thomas Michael O’Connor was born August 3, 1944 in Aberdeen, Washington. He spent his childhood in nearby Montesano, a time delightfully recreated in his book of stories, “Unnecessary Talking.” He moved to Port Angeles for his high school years and was a standout athlete.O’Connor studied with Pulitzer prize winning poet Elizabeth Bishop at the University of Washington, but his roving spirit also took him to the University of the Americas in Mexico City and the University of California Berkeley before settling on a small farm in the Dungeness Valley.In the 1970s he worked seasonally for the U.S. Forest Service, built trails, planted trees, and selectively logged in the Olympic Mountains. Those experiences inspired many of the poems in his first book, “The Rainshadow.”A student of Chinese culture and poetry, O’Connor lived in Taiwan through the 1980s and early 90s where he edited and wrote for English language newspapers. He mastered classical Chinese and translated the work of Buddhist poets, publishing several volumes including “Where the World Does Not Follow” with photographer Steven Johnson and “When I find You Again It Will Be in the Mountains, Poems of Chia Tao.” He published several more volumes of original poetry including “The Basin,” “Immortality,” and “When the Tiger Weeps.”His honors included fellowships from the International Writers Workshop and the National Endowment for the Arts and grants from the Pacific Cultural Foundation and the Washington State Arts Commission, among others.O’Connor was married to Della Knox-Bennett of Bainbridge Island and to Port Townsend choreographer and dance instructor, Ling Hui. He spent his final years with his grade-school sweetheart, Mary Hughes, about whom he wrote a biographical fantasy called “Mary O’Houlihan.” He is also survived by his sister, Sharon Georg, of Alberta and innumerable friends and admirers in the U.S. and abroad.No service is planned.Books by Mike O’Connor, if you are a friend, associate or family member, email [email protected] and I will send you a book as a gift in his memory. Otherwise, you can order them through the link above.
Albert A. Dalia, Ph.D., Adjunct Lecturer, CAS Writing Program wanted to add:
Two important books that Mike published were missing yesterday. Back in the day when I was editorial director at Wisdom Publications, which Tim should know, we first published Mike’s Chinese Buddhist poetry translations. Mike was an old friend from the Taiwan circle of expats that lived, studied, and worked there. I suggested he publish with us and helped develop the translations with the original Chinese text next to the English translations. I checked his translations with some Harvard scholars who studied Tang Dynasty literature. What was unique about Mike’s work was that not only were the translations technically accurate, but they went beyond that; they were poetry! Mike was a poet and was able to make poetry out of the translations, which, in my experience, most scholarly translators are not able to do – if they even attempt it. Here’s the books we published: The Clouds Should Know Me By Now – Buddhist Poet Monks of China, Co-Editors and Translators, Red Pine and Mike O’Connor and When I Find You Again It Will Be In Mountains – Selected Poems of Chia Tao, translated by Mike O’Connor (2000), the book was dedicated to his father, Tim O’Connor. I expect that Mike can still be found in those mountains.
Mike O’Connor’s books can be on Pleasure Boat and Empty Bowl, as well as the above:
If you would like to make a contribution in Mike’s Honor, contributions can be made to the 2 following locations:
Montesano Public Library
125 Main St.
Montesano, WA 98563
Assured Home Health
2102 Carriage St., St. D
Olympia, WA 98502