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a Sasquatch tribute to





                                                      Juan O'Neill
                                      April 14, 1933 - March 15, 2006




It is with great sadness that we the members of the Board must convey to you that our dear friend, founder and Chair of the Sasquatch Literary and Arts Performance Series, Juan O'Neill, passed away at 9:22 a.m. Wednesday morning, March 15, at age 72.

 

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.

In response to Juan’s passing, Heather Ferguson, booked the downstairs room of the Royal Oak II, on Sunday March 19, where a special memorial get-together/poetry reading was held in Juan's honour. As many as the room would hold, friends from all over our extended literary family spoke and read poems, in addition to sharing words of friendship and condolence from those out of town. Juan’s longtime friend, Seymour Mayne, started off the afternoon by giving some historical background on the man and the series he founded.    

   The following day, a non Eucharistic religious ceremony celebrating Juan’s life (Spanish music included) was held at 12 o’clock noon at
   St. Joseph’s Catholic church, almost directly behind the Royal Oak II, where Juan’s family and several of his friends attended, and either
   read from scripture or delivered eulogies.  

  
On behalf of Ariel O’Neill and family, and the Sasquatch crew, deepest thanks for all your support.


 

 

 

Photo of Juan and friends in the autumn of 2004 at the Royal Oak II
L to R: Julie Loper, Maureen Glaude, Juan O’Neill, Chris Sorrenti
photo © 2004, courtesy of Don Loper 

 

 

Included here is a scan of a related article printed in Thursday March 16, 2006’s newspaper, courtesy of The Ottawa Citizen.

 

In 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.

Following the above, Juan’s daughter, Ariel, wrote a detailed obituary which appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on Saturday, March 18, 2006. It also acts as a concise bio.

 

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


If you would like to contribute a message, anecdote, or poem for Juan,
please send it in the body (no attachments please) of an e-mail message to:
sasquatc@e-sasquatch.ca

 



Dear Chris and Members of Sasquatch,

 

 

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)

Comox, BC

 

 

Ominous but Juanimous


by
Maureen Glaude

for Juan O’Neill 1933-2006

Now the Ides of March
will forever mark
the tragedy of your exit

but I 'd wager you’ve already
permitted yourself
at least one wry smile
in observation of your
theatrical timing.

How very you,
thespian, poet
Shakespeare afficianado
lover of history, the classics,
and literary device.

Play On! Juan! Play On!
Strut that great stage
in the sky!

© 03/17/2006

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.

 

 

Richard Vallance

Chairperson

Ottawa Chapter,

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.

Best wishes,

Jane (Crosier)

 

"Dear Juan,

 

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. 

 

Good journey,

 

sb"

 

 

 

 

Text Box: The Magician of Sandy Hill (In memory of my friendship with Juan O'Neill) 


                                             

 

                                             

 

 

 

 

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

Bytowne

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

You Plato

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.

 

“The 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..."
-- "On The Road”  - Jack Kerouac

 

"Don't let the bastards grind you down".

 --  "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning"  (UK movie, 1960s. Dir. : Tony Richardson).

 

best, Phil (Mader), Nelson, BC

 


"I feel so sad about the news.  I will always remember the very special time we had together. The summer nights, I can still hear him laughing with you. How he loved you so much and that you were such a dear friend to him. He was very kind, gentle, refined man. Juan taught me many things. He would appreciate the smallest things there is when given to him. He will surround us with the beauty of the flowers, trees; the wind, the rain and the sun who will caress us. I will always remember how he used to love dancing Polkas, he loved sipping special tiny cup of Turkish coffee around our round picnic table that felt like A Petit Cafe de Paris. The special artistic nights with music and theatre. I remember also when he used to praise me about my simple cooking and made us feel so important with our modest way of living.

LET IT BE... He is now this beautiful angel that will help us to be more loving with each other and life... "

 

Lina xxx




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...)

Gatineau, QC

 

 

 

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

 

John Woodsworth

 

 

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!

      

 

Ottawa

© 25 April 2006

John Woodsworth

 

 

 

 

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 wing. 

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.

 

nancy rattle

 

 

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.

 

Yours sincerely,

Betty (Warrington-Kearsley)

 

 

 

Dear Chris,

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.

Sandra Howard




For Juan O’Neill: My Kindred Spirit

 

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

 

Magnetic storms.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Anita 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.

We will miss Juan.

My condolences,
James (Moran)
Past Director, Tree Reading Series

 

 

 

 

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.    

                   God bless

                   Allan K Watt

 

 

 

Dear Jarkko,

Would you ask Phil Mader on my behalf to be so kind as to convey my sympathies to the family of Juan O'Neill? 

John was a dear friend of mine at college, and although our paths crossed rarely, a strong fraternal bond endured.

Thank you,
Leonard (Cohen)

 

 

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.

Blaine Marchand

 

 

 

THE MURDERING CROWS

 

           a premonition

 

               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

spaced apart

yet close enough to project squadrons

of six twelve eighteen

and further still beyond the ‘scrapers

 

Fellow transiters

lost in newspapers and conversation

do not see them

while others like me stare out the window

yet their expressions

body language

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
to darken an already somber sky

 

© March 11, 2006 

Chris Sorrenti

 

 

 

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,
 offering great encouragement to newcomers, including me.
 His romantic soul came through in his beautiful songs.
 The first time I read, I wore a special, feathered hat for courage.  Juan
 was rather taken with this hat, and mentioned it in his blog. In future I
 will wear it in honour of Juan's memory.
 It was a pleasure to know him, even for a short time.

 Carol A. Stephen
 Carleton Place




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.

be well Juan, old boy!
Carl Edgar Law


here is a poem for juan i wrote:

 

when you listen to the wind

i see, your face alight

with beauty and tranquility

and golden rays in flight

 

you light the places

seldom journeyed

and surrender there

your torch of knight

 

to light the way

of little children

who walk, the stairs

of night.

 

-         Bette Davidsong

 

 

 

 

A Tribute to Juan

No more struggling to climb those stairs
Instead he's dancing with Fred Astaire
***
No more colds or influenza
Instead he's playing cards with Nonna Rosa
***
No more worries about costs
Instead he's running with Terry Fox
***
No more indigestion or heart burn
Instead he's dining with Audrey Hepburn
***
No more prescriptions from the doctor
Instead he's laughing with Richard Pryor
***
No more anger, no more drama
Instead he sings with Frank Sinatra
***
No more wondering about technology
Instead he's traveling with John Candy
***
No more searching for his specs
Instead he's talking with Gregory Peck
***
No more brunches at the Oak
Instead he's sailing to meet his folks
***
So no more feeling blue
Now he's smiling at me and you


Jacqueline Zena
March 19/06

 

 

 

 

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