a Sasquatch tribute to
summarize events, during the afternoon of Monday, March 13, Juan began
experiencing difficulty breathing. Not one to take chances with his health,
he then called an ambulance to take him to hospital. Upon arrival at the
Heart Institute, he suffered a heart attack, and went into
coma. Although the staff managed to resuscitate his heart, as
per a cat scan, the prognosis was grim, the staff indicating that
he would not come out of the coma. Between then and Wednesday morning, Juan
remained on life support, however his heart once again began to experience
difficulty, the medical staff choosing to discontinue life support.
The following day, a non Eucharistic religious ceremony celebrating
Juan’s life (Spanish music included) was held at 12 o’clock noon at
Photo of Juan and friends in the autumn of 2004 at
the Royal Oak II
addition to the above, here’s a scan
of an article on Sasquatch in general, which ironically appeared in
the paper the week before Juan passed away, again courtesy of The Ottawa Citizen. Special thanks to
Linda Mondoux for writing the article, and to Maureen Glaude for providing
the scan. Photo which appears with the article courtesy of Don Loper.
El Dorado reading series tribute slide show, courtesy of Luciano Diaz.
Tribute link to Juan on the Ygdrasil site, as well as Juan’s translation of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda,
courtesy of Klaus J. Gerken.
Messages of Condolence and Poems for Juan O’Neill
It was only last month that I visited all you dear friends and read poetry with you. As usual Juan was his charming self. Don and I was so delighted to join you all for brunch and an afternoon of Sasquatch which I will never forget. Needless to say I am heavy of heart while I write to you. I struggle with these words as I have never been good at facing these kind of things.
When I first received the news of Juan's heart attack and subsequent coma I was dismayed. I felt sick at heart and sobbed. Don and I went for a long walk and we talked about him. I asked "What are we going to do without Juan? What will the poets do without him? He is so giving. He is so encouraging. He builds us up. What are we going to do? I feel like I cheated myself by moving away and not being able to associate with the Sasquatch bunch for the last four years. I could have been there enjoying his charm and talent and now I may never see him again." Then today I get the news that he has passed away. I am so heartsick.
Juan was like a lion. His roar was his poetry and song. His den was the cellar at the Royal Oak and his Pride was the attending poets at Sasquatch. But now the lion sleeps. Good night Juan.
One thing I don't regret. I had that bit of time with him last month and he hugged me.
Love, Julie (Loper)
Ominous but Juanimous
Juan O’Neill 1933-2006
Author's Note: for my (and so many of ours in town and in this country) dear friend, first and long-time host of poetry, Juan O'Neill who passed away March 15th, 2006 (the Ides of March). I'd just heard the Ides mentioned on my radio, when I got the dreaded call about his demise that day. I'll be giving this at his tribute reading Sunday. The first of many poems I'm sure about him post-mortem, but not my first with him in it.
It is with the greatest of regret and our profoundest grief that we announce the passing away of Juan O'Neil, Director of Sasquatch Literary Performance Series, Ottawa, Canada's longest-standing poetry Open Mic venue, which has been in existence for almost 26 years. He was almost 73 years old (1933-2006). Juan has played an instrumental, indeed stellar, role in the establishment and promotion of Sasquatch Literary Performance Series here in Ottawa. Thanks to his tireless, impassioned and devoted efforts, which so few folks can muster, Sasquatch has grown over the past quarter century to hold the key position it does as one of Canada's foremost poetry Open Mic cafés. He will be sadly missed by all of us.
Canadian Poetry Association
I was very saddened to hear of Juan's passing. I have recordings from years back at the Sasquatch. He always seemed to me to be a wonderful, 'exotic' literary soul with a great deal of depth and heart. This Thursday evening I will be sure to do credit to his important place in 'our' literary community.
Leonard Cohen sings a song dedicated to Irving Layton, and the Byronesque phrases remind me of you.
"Though the night was made for loving
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we"ll go no more a roving
By the light of thee moon."
Dear Juan, our paths crossed only once. You were the friend of a friend. Yet your spirit touched me. You were kind, articulate, literate, smiling and still a sexy man.
Just below Cobourg Park
Where ancient Indians are entombed
We met at poet Rob Craig's place
For the first time.
When time was so bounteous and we fashioned it
Into a long snaking safari of parties,
And poets , and "Sasquath" . by the antediluvian rivers of
And under the sledge hammer of life
We tried so hard to be free
Running, when we could, like happy children on benzedrine
Evading the true heart of our demons
Though chanting our pain like antique clerics
I playing Freud
I, a Jew, with crippled tongue but powerful ears
You an Oscar Wilde who could never keep quiet
We were the perfect pair
Until I grew an appendage between my lips.
And bitterness began its swell in our aging veins.
But never did the hot throbbing sun of mutuality
And understanding quit us.
It sat there in the pale blue sky seemingly forever.
And you ran the ship of "Sasquatch "
With a captain's fondness of craft
Always the good shepherd' caring for his flock
Counting, nursing, prodding, encouraging
Myself and all the other hopefuls.
So, in memory of our life together
Let us laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh
The way we always did
(No one laughed with such gusto as you, except maybe me)
And let us squat in the desert of the Sierra Madres
Watching our hard -earned gold dust
Vanish into the storm
To the four corners of the earth
But before that we'll trudge to the mine site
And repair the mountain's wounds
And I will say I'm sorry, and Hemmingway
Will say he's sorry and Fidel will say
He's sorry, and you will say you're sorry
And everything will be ok.
Me packing my bags for British Columbia
And you bundling trowels and shovels into yours.
Where now?, I ask.
To that garden well above the Ensenada de Gaspar
And I can see it now among your grandfather's elegant roses
The most exquisite, tender lemon tree
Like the one you planted many many years ago in your Laurier Bachelor Apartment
Whose baby, mint winter -sunned leaves you caressed so touchingly with child's fingers...
Like the abundant bountiful delicate magic you planted for all of Us
For a sumptuous great multitude of seasons
At the humming crossroads of Sandy Hill.
© 2006 Phil Mader, Nelson, BC
Below are two quotes that I deeply feel relate to Juan O'Neill. The first expresses his will to absorb the wildest of energies, in the early years, especially. The second refers to his desire not to be stuck into someone else's uncompromising mold. They could be, if you so wished, incorporated in the memorial.
only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to
talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who
never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous
yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..."
"Don't let the bastards grind you down".
-- "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" (UK movie, 1960s. Dir. : Tony Richardson).
best, Phil (Mader), Nelson, BC
LET IT BE... He is now this beautiful angel that will help us to be more loving with each other and life... "
It is a shock! I just saw him full of - as usually! - energy, love to poetry, love people!!! He was a Great Poet, the best example of loyalty to HIS EXCELLENSY ART OF POETRY! I really will miss him! he was very friendly to me. Once, he invited me to participate in stage production NA DNE by M. Gorky. He played with the same determination as making poetry! Then we came together to cafe on Laurier and he offered me a bowl of soup...I feel a bit guilty of some cases where I wasn't up to his standard...We all learn from these kind of people! I wish his "child" - Royal Oak poetry gathering - will continue successfully! May be to name it somehow in his memory (instead of Snezhni Chelovek...) The best to all his colleges and friends!
Yours trully, Misha Levitin (his voice when he called me still in my ears...)
The measure of a Man
To the memory of Juan O’Neill, Founder and Director of
Sasquatch Literary & Arts Performance Series in Ottawa
14/4/1933 — 15/3/2006
O, kneel before the memory of a Man
And feel this precious gem’s true worth and measure!
For sometimes in the great Divine’s birth plan
We find a Man whom many hearts may treasure.
A Man where we see more than just the sum
Of life’s sporadic portions strung together:
Parts swell to form an integrated one —
A one who dwells in poets’ hearts forever…
Who felt his own free native Cuba’s pull
Midst Canada’s linden trees and Ireland’s heather,
Criss-crossing seas with a rose from Istanbul,
Blazing his rows of words filled with endeavour.
To every Jack and Jane he bobbed in greeting.
More e’en than that, in fairness he stood tall.
His scarlet moments flaring, but soon fleeting,
A generous jewel, sharing with one and all.
For learnèd Spanish tongues he was translator,
To rally sons of Muses he was heard.
His songs and poems were such that none was greater,
A touching love-light shone through his every word.
His hairy eloquent beast feels very lonely,
He’s missed at every meeting of the clan.
O, feel the measure of this one and only!
O, kneel before this memory of a Man!
© 25 April 2006
Although my acquaintance with this vibrant,
kind and gentle soul was brief, I will be forever thankful for
it. His warm, sincere welcome and his encouraging words after my
first public read at Sasquatch a few weeks ago meant so much to me (and
the kisses sealed the deal!). I can only imagine how much you and
his many long-time friends must feel. It was apparent within seconds of
being in 'his room', that he was a man full of compassion
for life and living things -especially the poets he took under his
On this beautiful afternoon, I will walk to a clearing in the sun and set a handful of feathers free to ride on the wind in his memory.
I am deeply saddened to hear of Juan's passing yesterday after reading the wonderful account of last Sunday's Sasquatch in the Ottawa Citizen and of Juan's founding of Sasquatch, and then boom! to read of his death yesterday from your e-mail to Sylvia, and again in today's arrticle in the Citizen. He always came across as a most personable and charming man and generous in his contribution to furthering the importance of poetry, language, music, and other related arts. His scope was international, and he was barrier-free. It will be hard not seeing him at Sasquatch any more but somehow, I am sure he will always be there as an unforgettable presence. While I feel I have not been on the poetry circuit for very long it has been a privilege to have met one Ottawa Poetry icon in Juan O'Neill.
I wanted to send along my condolences about Juan. I'm pretty sure you knew him so very well and that his passing has left quite an empty space with you. He was certainly a dear man and one who gave so many people an opportunity to bring their work into the public, who might not have otherwise. May he be blessed and may Sasquatch carry on in his name.
Mid-march on the prairie,
Amidst a long awaited snow swept landscape,
Winter having finally arrived in the west
After five months of bleak grassy farmland
Post-return from Ottawa
After having rescued Fergus,
After feeding you tortilla chicken soup
In Sorrenti’s kitchen, pouring out wine and soul
After sitting up all night curled into you
On the sofa sharing our adventures in living
Since last we sat across one another,
After falling asleep together, you, Fergus, me
I hear you singing softly
In the maroon lavender of the early morning,
Your eyes twinkling in earnest
Once more offering to give me a child.
We had that conversation once
On a sunny Ottawa summer day,
Drunk on spirits and farewells
When I came to see you before I left again for the west
Perhaps you never knew then
Just how deeply you touched me,
How you reached into the heart of me
And gave me what no other man ever had.
“You’re a sublimely fine woman, Bonnie,
and while I might not be around to help
raise a child for long, it would be so meaningful
to me to know I gave the world a child with such a fine woman”
And while that never came to fruition,
I will always hold that unrealized creation
Close to me, a talisman of a strange sort,
A comfort, a knowing that age is irrelevant when a heart is true.
We spoke about that. Often.
We got to the meat and potatoes of things.
Very much Aries, we two, cut to the chase,
Mean what you say, say what you mean.
The world is full of would be poets.
Sharks cleverly disguised by medium.
A true poet lives their words,
You, mon cher, epitomized this.
Here on the prairie
Miles from where the Buffalo literally roam
After the thaw, I’ll look up into my night sky
I know I’ll see you dancing with the Aurora Borealis
Surely after leaving the physical form,
The dance continues, the song,
Your voice, so beloved, we’ll hear with our eyes.
© 2006 Bonnie Adams
Fort Saskatchewan (Edmonton), AB
and I were very saddened to hear about the passing of Juan O'Neill. Were it
not for Juan and the other founders of Tree, I would never happened upon the
series in 1999. I also would not have directed Tree for six years, an
experience that I cannot easily measure.
I was so sad to hear of the passing of Juan O'Niell. I was fortunate enough to meet him while attending Sasquatch and he was one of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met. To those of you who knew him better than I did, I pass on my deepest condolences. I am unable to attend on Sunday afternoon, but I will be thinking of him.
Allan K Watt
John was a dear friend of mine at
college, and although our paths crossed rarely, a
strong fraternal bond endured.
Please accept my sincere regrets for not being there among you to celebrate the life of Juan O’Neill. I am leaving for Pakistan for a month.
When I learned yesterday of Juan’s death, I was shocked and saddened. It took me several hours to absorb full the realization of it. Oddly, this past week, I have thought of Juan several times. He had written a wonderfully evocative introduction to the Tree Anthology last year, which brought back a flood of memories of the dedication of poets, such as the late Marty Flomen, Juan himself, Marcus, Rob and James, to name a few of the directors. These people have committed themselves to promote and nourish the poetry scene in Ottawa. I had intended to write to Juan and express my appreciation. But I was on a previous trip to Pakistan when the anthology came out and James Moran’s reply to me by sending Juan’s e-mail address. After I returned, I fell back into the routine of daily life and neglected to contact Juan. Last week, I thought of him and resolved to do it. Now, sadly, it is too late.
I first met Juan back in the early 1970s, at one of the readings of another poet who has single-handedly done so much for Ottawa poets, Jane Jordan. That simple meeting lead to much discussion and debate among a group of poets - Juan, Kathryn Oakley, Rob Craig, Tim Dunn and myself - about what was lacking in the local scene. And, so, we founded Sparks, Ottawa’s poetry magazine, perhaps inspired by Poetry Toronto. It was a labour of love for us all. But back then, almost 30 years ago (can it really be that long ago?), we were all filled with poetic zeal and ideal. We were sure we would make our mark on the national poetry scene, putting Ottawa on the map.
Some of that group have fallen away from poetry, turned to other forms of expression or simply no longer inspired to metaphor; others continue to struggle to capture and transfer that beauty, spoken by our interior voices, onto empty pages. Juan too had that struggle. But he went one long step further than the others did. He put considerable energy and effort into nurturing poets, to finding spaces for beginners to test-drive their first creative drafts; or, for those who had sufficient quantity of poems to celebrate their latest publication. It was selfless of Juan to do this. He inspired so many of us with his unwavering dedication to ensuring we did not lose our way, as is all too easy for the world does not burn with the same zeal for poetry as we, its practitioners do.
In writing this, so many memories of the three decades since I met Juan crowd in – long evenings of fun, frolic and drink at his house on Cobourg Street, heated conversations on street corners, camaraderie with well-known Canadian poets in the small and intimate locations he found to hold for their readings. It is ironic, or perhaps poetic, indeed that Juan had such a huge and compassionate heart and that, in the end, it was that very heart that would cease his life.
I send my deepest sympathies to Ariel, Larry and Hugo. Whenever I met Juan, the first thing he spoke to me about, after the poetry, was Ariel. Partially, it was because Ariel and my own son, Aaron, are of the same age and they shared many an evening as children played together while their fathers dedicated themselves to the business of poetry. But more importantly, it was because he was so damned proud of her and wanted nothing but the best for her. I can imagine he had the same pride and love for his new grandson.
So, Juan, where ever your spirit is on this cold March day, I raise my voice to say out loud this too-late thanks. Here is the e-mail I should have sent last year. Adios amigo.
You have left us but you have left behind a part of you, that considerate and considerable generosity, your legacy that will continue to encourage and developed the poetic community in Ottawa.
THE MURDERING CROWS
for Juan O’Neill
April 14, 1933 – March 15, 2006
Five months now
the black birds have gathered
not in pairs or even a dozen
but by the hundreds
In a small grove
that reaches up from the twists
of a semi-polluted stream
about a quarter mile south
of Billings Bridge
Despite a steady
coming and going
rain ice and snow
will not dislodge them
from their ambivalent perch
as one can only imagine
what feeds an army
that does not migrate?
Yet ever onward they roost
quietly eyeing one another
in their multitude
as if knowing something
in the world around them
is about to change
Why is it then
I am the only one to see them?
on the bus to work
and the train coming home
they practice for miles around
their ornithological epicenter
yet close enough to project squadrons
of six twelve eighteen
and further still beyond the ‘scrapers
lost in newspapers and conversation
do not see them
while others like me stare out the window
yet their expressions
do not speak of birds
When in winter
seems only I can marvel
at how the branches of elm and maple
have sprouted leaves
that suddenly launch in waves
© March 11, 2006
thank you chris
you were a truly charming host, both in the poetry farewell and the st.joe's going away celebration.
i can see how sad and lonely this has left you; but where there is a hole in the
heart, love comes.
i knew juan, for 25 years, working in the cafe business together; we had our
friction, but pure love, always shone thru, as we both really dug babies, and
bright colours; and good eating.
a very empathetic man, and a passionate, and paradoxical thinker, he has
left us his joy in all the things he loved; for that we shall be happy.
may your heart soon heal. also known by dawn; close friend of mr. mader.
I did not know Juan very long; but a few
weeks. He was a warm person,
Juan was a lovable carmudgeon and I felt the sharp edge of his tongue a couple of times in our short acquaintanceship. I had only read at Sasquatch two or three times in the weeks preceding his death.
Juan was the sweet anchor of the proceedings and at the appropriate juncture - during every Sasquatch event he would suddenly decide the time had come to sing a song of love, loss and longing - generally cast in an exotic locale of yore.
Perhaps his ghost will haunt the basement of The Royal Oak for some time - cuffing poets unawares if they slip inadvertently into solecism or sloppy scansion.
well Juan, old boy!
when you listen to the wind
i see, your face alight
with beauty and tranquility
and golden rays in flight
you light the places
and surrender there
your torch of knight
to light the way
of little children
who walk, the stairs
- Bette Davidsong
A Tribute to Juan