May Field photo and text c Irene O'Garden 2012

I took this photo last night here in the Hudson Valley. Very pleased to say that a poem of mine, “Nonfiction,” has just received a Willow Review Award. Am using my prize money for a handsome new fountain pen, thus completing the poetic cycle.


Although I yearn to serve what is important, I am exhausted by Importances. Living that keyed-up, wired, efforty onrush of priorities— Alert! Important! Respond! Flash! Gone. Alert! Important! Respond! Flash! Gone. Alert! Important! Respond! Flash! Gone.  It’s not so much that we can’t hear ourselves think, but that we can’t hear ourselves ask questions.

The synaptic dazzle obscures the humility of questions. To pause seems unresponsive, anti-athletic—when you are tossed the ball, you are not to stand and question. You are to zen-monk it to the next player, to the goal, no thinking, just respond. We know the meaning of Game On!

Assuming questions are important, when exactly is Game Off? The 24/7 circadian jumble, the clamor for attention– I recognize this world. It’s like my urgent childhood as one of seven children, when it was psychic life or death to be noticed, to be valued, to be important. But how important is important now?

What is important? For me, flow. The flow of ink across a page, for one. The ebb of ink, important also.  Have to stay with the ebb to go with the flow. Come to think of it, ebb is still flow, just backwards.

If flow is important, questions are important. They flow more abundantly and frequently than answers. If answers were The Answer, the Internet would be the answer. But while answers are meaningless without questions, unanswered questions still have meaning. The most meaningful questions of all have no answers.

Happily, most answers give rise to more questions, and the image of a grassy blossomy meadow arises. A field of inquiry. A natural landscape of the  mind.

There is abundance in a field. Noticed or not, plants seem happy in their world. Plants do not insist on their importance. They have no doubt of it.

What questions are you asking?



Image and text © Irene O’Garden


What follows is the first in a series of reflections. These arise most vigorously when I take my annual writing retreat, but can sneak up anytime. I took the accompanying photograph on this year’s retreat.  This figure is one of my most cherished objects. I found her at an outdoor antique store, in her present condition. Though you cannot see it in this photograph, incised beneath her bare feet is the word “Life.” She lives here on my desk, but likes to go on trips.                     


        Heeding at the silver dawn of sixty the ongoing clarification of identity. The ongoing clarification of the ongoing changing identity. And identifying the identity which is steady throughout, always present, who rides the bucking bronco, but is never unseated.

       Still occasionally entertaining the delusion that there is an inside and an outside. That there is a world and a me. Still in kindergarten.     Still teaching in order to learn, learning in order to teach.            Still searching, stretching for the pattern to impose over freedom. Still seeking comfort in syncopation, yearning yet for steady rhythm. Still pausing to spell “rhythm,” still some ancient doubts.        Not knowing the destination, outside of the fiction of death. Yet knowing destination’s not all that important, since each destination is supplanted by another. Direction’s more important. Direction is the pen-name of identity.

Here I am with John and Bee in a moment of "Land Assessment"!

Hi everyone! I’m happy to say that my poem “Land Assessment” was recently published in the Wawayanda Review 2, the annual journal of the Northeast Poetry Center’s College of Poetry. I will be joining other poets to read in celebration of the publication of this second anthology of regional work, edited by Steve Hirsch and Robert Milby. Won’t you join us for a creatively inspiring evening of the spoken word?

We’re meeting at the Tuscan Cafe at 5 South Street in Warwick, New York, at 7 p.m. on Saturday April 14, 2012. Copies of the Wawayanda Review 2 will be for sale.


The book is finally out! As many of you know, I won a Pushcart Prize for my essay “Glad To Be Human,” which was originally published in the “Tusculum Review” and is now included in the 2012 edition of The Pushcart Prize – Best of the Small Presses. The series, which has been published every year since 1976, has featured hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays. Writers who were first noticed due to inclusion in the prestigious annual collection include Raymond Carver, Tim O’Brien, Jayne Anne Phillips, Charles Baxter, Andre Dubus, Susan Minot, Mona Simpson, John Irving and Rick Moody. I would say I’m in some pretty good company, wouldn’t you?


The book is available through the distributor W.W. Norton & Company, as well as on Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.

Any author who has a book positively reviewed or mentioned by a publication is lucky indeed. I’ve been abundantly fortunate in this respect, my book Fat Girl being a shining example. Please take the time to visit my author page to find out more about the book. Here is a taste of the generosity I received for the work:


“A poetic, funny, deeply touching look at the problem of overeating…O’Garden’s poetry glistens.” — The Denver Post

“Ohmigod this book rules! Her story is so compelling and soulfully written that it almost made me cry. I love books like that.” — Sassy Magazine

“Very moving. I couldn’t put down. I was impressed with the writing and the way O’Garden was able to write from inside addiction and make the mechanics of addiction clear. I know this is one of the books I’ll be buying by the dozen to give to people.” — Ellen Burstyn

“The pain and anger of overweight is clearly delineated, and the struggle over power and powerlessness is presented in a quite poetic, dramatic way. O’Garden teaches us about addiction without being preachy or seeking converts. Her simple statements arise from secret thoughts and deceits and thus show the crisis of personal integrity that a fat person suffers.” — Judi Hollis, author of FAT AS A FAMILY AFFAIR and FAT & FURIOUS, and director of Hollis Institute

“..a painfully honest little book, illustrated by the author and told in prose, poetry, aphorisms and no small amount of anguish.” — The Oregonian



Our new Art Garden logo

In 1987, I founded The Art Garden, a performing literary magazine staged four times yearly at the Garrison Art Center in Garrison, NY. I still produce, host and write for The Art Garden, now a semi-annual event at The Philipstown Depot Theatre in Garrison, New York.

And, thanks to tech-savvy writer Saxon Henry at Adroyt, we will shortly be entering the 21st Century with a dedicated Art Garden blog, YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter Feed. Keep your eyes peeled!

I’ve won a Pushcart Prize!

October 1st, 2011

Pushcart_coverI’m very pleased to say that my essay “Glad To Be Human,” published in the “Tusculum Review“, has won a Pushcart Prize. According to their website, The Pushcart Prize – Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America. Look for it in bookstores November 15th!

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