The Book and The Poet: William O’Daly

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In Profile: William O’Daly – The Road to Isla Negra

When I was discovering the poetry of Pablo Neruda in my late 20’s it was the beginning of a fascination and addiction that was going to last right up until today. Just like my obsession with Garcia Lorca, I was about to consume every piece of writing, every book, every essay and article there was about Neruda, and my collection of books on my shelf could be considered a little over the top by some.

As I gradually increased my collection, I was discovering the different voices of translators and admiring the work and time they put into their interpretations of Neruda, and one in particular was William O’Daly, who has translated eight posthumous books of Don Pablo, eight books I adore, and now Bill, has released a short and beautiful collection, in homage you could say of Neruda, and it is a gorgeous little book.

Who is William O’Daly?

The Book and The Poet: William O'Daly
Photo Credit: Mike Aviña

William O’Daly was raised in the San Fernando Valley, attended the University of California, Santa Barbara and now resides in the Sierra foothills of northern California.

Though he studied economics, he began to study literature a started writing poetry. He became assistant editor of Spectrum magazine and in 1972, left to go to Colorado and co-found the brilliant Copper Canyon Press.

As a poet, translator, fiction writer and editor, O’Daly dedicated a good part of his life to translating Pablo Neruda and this journey has brought us lucky readers closer to Neruda with his late-career and posthumous work, and I absolutely love each of these books, ‘Still Another Day, The Separate Rose, Winter Garden, The Sea and the Bells, The Yellow Heart, The Book of Questions, The Hands of Day (my favourite), and World’s End, all a must if you are a Neruda fanatic like myself.

O’Daly’s poetry, essays, fiction, translations and reviews are published worldwide and in 2006 he was a finalist for the Quill Award in Poetry. He has published two chapbooks of his own poetry, ‘The Whale in the Web’ and the following…

The Book ‘The Road to Isla Negra.’

We live twice on the road to Isla Negra –
once in our dreams and once in our shoes.

The Book and The Poet: William O'DalySo begins the first poem ‘The Road to Isla Negra’ in this small delicious collection of a personal journey taking by the author to the home by the sea of Pablo Neruda.

After reading and collecting all of O’Daly’s translated Neruda books I was excited to hear that the poet was bringing out a chapbook of his own work and the topic in hand, a journey to Isla Negra, a visit to the home of the man he has collaborated with through the power of translation and poetry, part homage, part thank you.

And as with the opening lines above, we are invited along side O’Daly on a calm journey beautifully intertwined in the minds of both O’Daly and Neruda, the voice of O’Daly stirring our perceptions and the ghost of Neruda, calmly observing and listening by the sea. The poet returns to us, to the world/ to the bell hanging in the back yard/ at the starry door of the sea.

In the following two part poem ‘The Dreamers’,  Neruda as a young boy comes as a vision to O’Daly and offers him his voice in colours. The images are ghostly and stunning and in the second part of the poem, O’Daly stands over the grave of Neruda and watches for his return from mountain or sea,/unaware that, side by side, they can live on/ like water or inevitability.

Such beautifully crafted lines flow throughout this small collection. Just like his translated Neruda ‘Book of Questions’, O’Daly proposes his own questions to Neruda in the poem entitled ‘Questions for Pablo’ Speaking with one another/ are we able to waken the earth? and Heart of our hearts/ who are you, who am i? Questions of mystery and great beauty, begging us readers to take the time to relax and think.

This collection offers us a time-capsule, filled with memories and devotion to the terrain and sea of Chile and captures the feeling and emotions of such a place Neruda felt daily and now, O’Daly is feeling too.

As in the long poem ‘For Neruda’, a sort of biography of the poet, leads us along a journey over the geography of Chile, the terrain, it’s people and it’s politics, it’s history and current state, and end with the astonishing lines We, who love the earth, cannot stay/ but we can live forever where the stone/ and the beetle share the dream/ where the wind endlessly blows.

Terrific. This is a must have little collection, and something also has to be said about the lay out and structure along with the photography which is stunning. I really wish there where more books like this, a mix of photography and poetry, it really does create a stunning piece of art.

Galen Garwood has added his gorgeous artistic photographs in with this collection (as you can see by the cover) and it really adds to the emotions you get from the words of O’Daly, a great job all round by Folded World Press.

With this collection, O’Daly brings Neruda alive again, though, Neruda never really died and lives on in the poems and territory of his beloved land, always with us in our dreams and in our shoes.

Where to Find William O’Daly?

Bills website is

Excellent interview in the American Microreviews and Interviews

Buy ‘the Road to Isla Negra here at Folded World Press of at Amazon



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