Sometimes the world seems to tilt the wrong way on it's axis; this past week was one of those times. The world and Anam Cara lost two of its brightest literary lights -- Karen Blomain and John O'Leary -- and I lost two of my most treasured friends.
Karen first retreated to Anam Cara with her husband and writing partner Michael Downend to work on their individual and joint writing projects. For several years, she returned to lead, with Michael, creative writing workshops and in doing so inspired and enhanced the work of many now successful published writers.
We had lots in common, and I looked forward to her often annual visits as a reunion with a sister, an anam cara. I learned much from her about her approach to inspiring others's writing and her own unique creative process.
The smile you see in her photo was always on that beautiful face of hers. She fairly glowed with joy and warmth and filled you with the same whenever she was around. It is so hard to accept that we can no longer in included in the radiant comfort of her presence. I will miss her in all the years to come.
I include here a tribute to Karen written by her publisher and friend:
August 18, 2012
In Memoriam: Karen Blomain
From Pearlsong publisher Peggy Elam, Ph.D.:
It is with deep sadness that I report the death of Karen Blomain, author of The Season of Lost Children (Pearlsong Press, June 2011) and other wonderful works. Karen passed away early Wednesday, August 15, 2012, at her daughter's home in Union Dale, PA.
Karen and her husband, Michael Downend, a photographer who took the beautiful photo of Karen above as well as the picture of autumn leaves on the cover of The Season of Lost Children, were spending time in Mexico, as they did regularly, in January 2012 when Karen became ill. They flew home to Pennsylvania for treatment.
"When faced with grave illness, Karen continued to say with a smile that she was 'lucky, lucky,'" the Times Leader reports. "Her greatest joys in life were her family, her travels, her innumerable best friends and teaching how to write from the heart."
I am honored to have known Karen for the time I did, and am privileged to have published her second novel. Although we never met face-to-face, I enjoyed our August 2011 Pearlsong Conversation (a recording of which you can listen to and/or download at http://www.pearlsongmedia.com/pearlsongconversations/2011/PC-KarenBlomain-8-14-2011.mp3)....and I secretly fantasized about attending one of her writing workshops in Ireland.
She must never have experienced writer's block; the last time I talked with her about her third novel-in-progress she had written 1,000 pages and expected to do considerable trimming of the manuscript. (Alas, the Times-Leader reports the novel, I'm Still Me, remains unfinished.)
Karen was a retired Keystone College and Kutztown University professor, poet, novelist, and playwright. You can read more about her many accomplishments at her website, www.karenblomain.com.
When my daughter and I came to Beara in November 1997 to look at the house that became Anam Cara, we met John walking up the street in Allihies. After welcoming us to his homeplace, he spent a good bit of the afternoon telling us stories about the peninsula, stories of its history, its mythology, its landscape, its creative people.
We were overwhelmed with the depth of his knowledge and his imagination and with his willingness to share it with us. Over the years, what began as a unique and much appreciated gift from John into the place that I would soon call home became a ever-increasing respect for John as a poet and as repository for all things Beara.
Three years ago, he, Paddy O'Conor, and I began working together to create Retreat to Deep Ireland, a residential workshop retreat that focused on Beara as inspiration for writing, particularly poetry. The third in the series was scheduled to begin on 29 September, and we had scheduled four for next year as part of Ireland's "the Gathering 2013." In losing John, we have lost a big chunk of the heart and soul of that work.
I loved the times we spent together – from the first time I heard his stories at that picnic table in Allihies, to being part of his poetry readings, to getting know about his beloved children, to learning more about his way of life and his horses, to our working together on our workshop retreats – planning and strategizing, laughing (a lot), his writing while I edited, talking with pride about our children, listening to his stories, his loving to drink my coffee and eat my chocolate chip cookies to help us through our meetings, to his many creative excuses for going outside for a smoke, to the teasing, challenging, witty conversations about ourselves, each other, and life.
John O’Leary is part of the heart of Beara for me, and I will hear his voice and his poetry in the echoes in Allihies that he first told me about. I will miss him in all the years to come.
The following appeared in The Southern Star:
Well-known scholar and poet drowns in Beara
By Jackie Keogh
Castletownbere RNLI was involved in the search and recovery of a man off West Cork in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
John O'Leary from Allihies, West Cork, whose body was recovered off Cod's Head by the Castletownbere RNLI Lifeboat after his boat overturned. (photo: Niall Duffy)The man, a father of three, has been named as John O’Leary. Although born in Boston, John has lived for most of his life on a small farm on the Beara Peninsula, overlooking the North Atlantic, where he farmed sheep and bred Irish Draught Horses.
He was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, where he took a first, and at Trinity College Dublin, he has been Visiting Professor of Creative Writing and Irish Studies at Illinois Wesleyan University and Seattle University and has taught at numerous universities in America and Europe. He was also ran workshops at the Anam Cara Writer's and Artist;s Retreat in the neighbouring village of Eyeries.
His beloved Allihies Parish is located on the western tip of the Beara Peninsula and stretches between Cod's Head, where his body was found, to the North West and Dursey Island to the South West.
John was one of a number of locals who put Allihies – which is the furthest village in Ireland from the capital, some 394 kilometres away – on the map by organising a coastal community conference in 1990. In fact, Mary Robinson chose the event for the launch of her successful campaign for election as President of Ireland.
It is understood that early on Monday evening that John and his teenage son went sailing in a small dingy near their home and shortly after that the boat capsized. Both hung on to the upturned craft for approximately four hours but then John's son made his way ashore to raise the alarm, but sadly John did not survive the ordeal.
Paul Stevens of the Castletownbere RNLI lifeboat service extended his sympathy on behalf of the RNLI crew to the family of the deceased and said: 'the Beara Peninsula is waking up this morning with a huge sense of shock.' Everyone knew John. He was gregarious, loquacious and likeable.