Michael O’Leary’s books published by HeadworX are now available at Lulu’s leading online bookstore:

Collected Poems 1981-2016


eBook $AUD12.99

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Hardback $AUD40.00

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paperback $AUD24.95

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Out of It: A Novel Cricket Novel


eBook $AUD8.99

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Hardback $AUD35.00

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paperback $AUD18.95

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Main Trunk Lines: Collected Railway Poems


eBook $AUD8.99

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Hardback $AUD35.00

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paperback $AUD18.95

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Toku Tinihanga: Selected Poems 1982-2002

toku cover

eBook $AUD8.99

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Paneta Street


eBook $AUD8.99

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Make Love and War


eBook $AUD8.99

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Sounds of Sonnets, with Mark Pirie


eBook $AUD8.99

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Michael O’Leary recently contributed his poem and the below drawing (Blonde on Blonde) in honour of Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and an elegy for Leonard Cohen, to Poetry Notes, Spring 2016 (Newsletter of the Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa).

The Bob Dylan poem also appears in Phantom Billsticker’s Cafe Reader, Summer 2016, and the Cohen elegy in Tony Chad’s Valley Micropress, December 2016.


Bob Dylan drawing by Michael O’Leary, 2008


Michael O’Leary


(10/9/1998, Wellington)


With my ear to the future

And my mind to the past

Sitting twenty rows back

and up high

I could feel the real visions of Johanna


From the ancient times

When the nuns had us sing

The answer is blowing in the wind

the Jews and the Catholics

Have fought pitched battles over my soul


And out on Highway Sixty One

Or along any lonesome railway track

The songs remain like freight cars

to be sung or shunted

Along the weary lines of a human face


Echoes of Mr. Yeats’ hymn

And a thousand singsong others

Expressing in thought, word, music

like your friend, Woody

The all too familiar taste of dust and death


Recalling the desolate row

Of houses in Margaret Street

Now either destroyed or gentrified

must we really move

Into the Ponsonby of the new, shallow mind


Later, you entered the ‘her’

Part of my life also

With a precious angel

now gone, but then

I was the man in the long black coat


From all you need is love minus zero

To being sick of love

Then, on one more night

you took us from Maggie’s farm

To forever young, as a simple reminder


Now there’s even talk of

Cranking up the Oldsmobile

For so long stuck inside, and

up the central plateaux

To Auckland, the Great Arsehole, sacred


Okay, Mister Room Man

Play a song for us

Say a prayer too, as you

wing your own way

Earthbound, heavenwards soaring beyond


For always talking the blues

To your Jews and Gypsies

All those masters of war

old Hitler, Stalin, and yes

The President of the U.S. does sometimes stand naked


Through all the years’ confusions

Of ideas and people and events

To this present listening

so many things have happened

While you just keep on singing to my sister’s alarm


I’m glad to come and see you

To tip my hat to the master’s hand

With my rainy day woman

asleep on my shoulder

Times have changed so much, they’ve remained the same




Beginning life as a middle-class son

Comfortable in your Jewish Catholicism

Tailor-made for the family’s business

You chose the more difficult artist’s path


Through the Montreal poetry scene

You played youth’s favourite games

Slim volumes proffering Flowers for the Führer:

Eichmann’s normal human perversions


More polite than the gutter snipe

Rock and rollers, who said they joined

A band to get laid: young Cohen said

He played music to meet women


In the late 1960s when every belief

Came to an end: when The Beatles’ apple

Turned to pulp without the future fiction

You came along with a song from a room


A muse, in the real sense of ‘to amuse’

Someone who spoke openly about thought

And feeling, perhaps here was a poet

Who wasn’t alive a hundred years ago


Who wasn’t ‘beat’ or rock ‘n roll, exactly

But came so far, with a Spanish guitar,

With a seductive voice and lyric to match –

Existential, if you’ll pardon the expression


So all our Suzanne’s took us all down

To our own lands of rags and feathers;

Remembering well that Chelsea Hotel,

New York and the tragic taste of success


You went into God’s Hamburger Bar in

The city of Angels, wanting nothing but

‘One with Everything’ . . . becoming a Buddhist

Monk to escape the world of pain and love


Old songs and new could not be suppressed

So you returned to the world to bring them,

To sing them to audiences old and new

Hallelujah, Hallelujah: from below and above


Dancing to the end of love, you twirled

Full circle, singing so long Marianne, by e-mail

As she lay dying, remembering Greek Isles

Sunshine and smiles, farewell dreaming


It’s now as dark as you want it, Leonard

But remember, there’s always that crack

Perhaps you really have come to understand

Now, that’s where the light truly gets in . . .


Poems and drawing copyright Michael O’Leary

On Saturday, 24 October 2015, Michael O’Leary’s new book Main Trunk Lines: Collected Railway Poems was launched in tandem with David McGill’s The Death Ray Debacle.

The launch was held at the Paekakariki Station Museum.

A report appears on Beattie’s Book Blog:



The Paekakariki Arts Walk was opened on Sunday 30 August 2015.

Michael O’Leary appeared at the opening and blessing for the project. Michael, a significant local artist, is included in the walkway with his poem ‘Track Gang & Shunters at Paekakariki’ .


Michael’s poem included in the Paekakariki Arts Walk

Here’s a link to the website about the project:



Micheal O’Leary speaking at the opening of the Paekakariki Arts Walk, 30 August 2015

Michael O’Leary’s collected railway poems Main Trunk Lines has been released through HeadworX Publishers in Wellington. Copies of the new paperback edition can be ordered direct from HeadworX, email: mpirie@xtra.co.nz See information and details on the book below:

New Book Information from HeadworX

Title: Main Trunk Lines: Collected Railway Poems
Author: Michael O’Leary
Editor: Mark Pirie
Release: September 2015
Price: $25.00
ISBN: 978-0-473-32917-4
Extent:  80 pages
Category: NZ Fiction
Format: paperback
Publisher: HeadworX

About the Book

Michael O’Leary’s new book is the first to collect his entire oeuvre of New Zealand railway poems.

Spanning over 30 years of his writing, it runs the length of the railway in Aotearoa and depicts many of the country’s railway stations and towns.

The central poem of the book is O’Leary’s sequence Station to Station, a cognac dedicated to the rock artist David Bowie.

Mark Pirie writes in the foreword: “Michael’s poems take the reader on their own rail journey, stopping from station to station and recording the life and times of the people and places around them. But the train can also be a metaphor for life, the great journey we are all part of which encompasses both love and death. There’s no stopping for long with Michael, as the next train arrives and the next journey awaits.”

O’Leary’s well-known love of all things rail led him to become a trustee for the Paekakariki Station Museum after he settled on the Kapiti Coast in the 1990s. He currently operates Kakariki Bookshop next to the Paekakariki Station Museum.

‘I don’t know of any living New Zealand writer who is a bigger railway enthusiast.’ – Iain Sharp, Sunday Star-Times

About the Editor

Mark Pirie is a New Zealand poet, editor, writer and publisher. Website: www.markpirie.com


Cover photo by W W Stewart, A P Godber collection, Turnbull Library


Michael O’Leary recently contributed his drawing of Northern Irish footballer George Best (above) and a poem on the 1967 Manchester United visit to New Zealand to a special football issue of broadsheet: new new zealand poetry.
The issue edited by fellow poet/publisher Mark Pirie comprises a selection of football poetry from 1890-2014, focusing mainly on New Zealand football by New Zealand poets.

Others who’ve contributed include Gary Langford, Harry Ricketts, James Brown, John Gallas, John Dickson, Bill O’Reilly, Grant Sullivan, Harvey Molloy, Tim Jones, Dylan Groom and Pirie himself. Former New Zealand All White Michael Groom has written the foreword.
The Night Press, Wellington, has published the special issue to coincide with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It will be available from May online as a free download pdf as well as in a limited print edition. Website: http://broadsheetnz.wordpress.com

Here is Michael’s poem:

Michael O’Leary


In 1967 the football club Manchester United played a game
Against an Auckland Eleven they were expected to tame
And although they did in the end win eight goals to one
Seeing ‘The Beatles’ of the football world was great fun

For as a teenager I had always preferred the round ball code
Rather than the rugger that ‘everybody else’ in New Zealand chose
And watching the ‘Beautiful Game’ in that ‘Summer of Love’
Brought music and sport together as if to finally prove

That a show in front of more than 26,000 at Carlaw Park
Watching Soccer could be like a rock concert where the spark
Of enthusiasm is ignited by an ultimate, primal, human desire

To belong, as in olden days when people gathered around a fire
Thus, the world’s most famous and celebrated sport was seen
In Auckland at a time of love and music and the world of dream

DB NZ Soccer Annual 1975
: ‘Manchester United came to New Zealand, hammered both its opponents [Auckland 8-1 and NZ 11-0] and introduced soccer supremo George Best to the country. That United team had all the stars: Best, Charlton, Law, Stiles, Stepney, Aston, Foulkes, Crerand, Kidd … the list seemed endless.’ Charlie Dempsey was the director of tours for the NZFA and the AFA.

Michael O’Leary has been included in the anthology, Notes for the Translators: Poems from 142 New Zealand and Australian Poets.

The book is intended to be offered to Chinese mainstream publishers for translation.

O’Leary’s poem is ‘Nuclear Family’ – a speculative fiction poem on apocalyptic war.

Notes for the Translators was collected and edited by Christopher (Kit) Kelen of the University of Macao, China. It also features other leading New Zealand and Australian poets like Les A Murray, John Kinsella, David Eggleton, James Norcliffe, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Mark Pirie and Niel Wright.

Michael O’Leary (pictured above, c1970s) recently published a book of his artwork over the last 40 years. It is accompanied by descriptions of his art along with key extracts from his poems that relate to his artworks.

It has an introduction by art curator Gregory O’Brien and was launched at John Quilter’s Bookshop, Ghuznee Street, Wellington, on Saturday 21 July 2012. It is available from Michael at pukapuka@paradise.net.nz

Here is part of O’Brien’s introduction to the book. The title of the essay is a nod to Maurice Duggan’s story ‘O’Leary’s Orchard’:


When Charles Barr wrote that ‘all criticism involves distortion,’ he probably wasn’t thinking of the kind of distortion Jimi Hendrix utilised in ‘Voodoo Chile’ or ‘Star Spangled Banner’. Forget about the small metal box on the stage floor, equidistant between the Fender Stratocaster and the Marshall Stack. Barr was talking of the gnarly, misshapen kind of criticism against which Charles Baudelaire railed over a century earlier. In his 1846 review of the Paris Salon, the father of modern art-writing laid it on the line: ‘I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that which is amusing and poetic; not that cold and algebraic kind which, under the pretext of explaining everything, displays neither hate nor love…’ Thus the best account of a painting can well be a sonnet or an elegy. Of similar mind, the American painter Fairfield Porter put it another way: ‘Aesthetics should be, or I think I prefer to say, is, a collection of personal remarks, avoiding systems and extrapolations…’
   In attempting a critical introduction to this sampling of Michael O’Leary’s diverse visual/verbal output, I would—channeling the benevolent spirits of Baudelaire and Porter—embrace and celebrate the effects and distortions of the work but without, I hope, distorting
the work further. Instead I would offer the reader/viewer a few vistas from the periphery of this munificent orchard, and corral a few thoughts appropriate to such a zone of carefully considered moves and virtuosic mishaps (‘what is the life of the mind but a history of
interesting mistakes,’ wrote Hugh Kenner) so that we might follow Michael O’Leary on his ’eccentric orbit’, to borrow an astrological term well-suited to his artistic progress, his trajectory through the inner and outer world of things.
  Needless to say, Michael is on the side of the makers rather than the annotators, elaborators and explainers. He places himself firmly in the grand tradition of artists who invent their own tradition. That said, he has inherited an assortment of character traits from Romanticism. Like Rimbaud or Mallarme, he is capable of the ecstasies of artistic creation and a euphoric immersion in nature or human company or music (the Beatles, Kurt Cobain…). Like Yayoi Kusama, from time to time he finds himself ‘obliterated in the dancing swarm of fireflies’. When the need arises, an inner need, he can also rally the troops, shake the battlements, blow the trumpet—just like Ken Bolton: ‘Unemployed at last!’ Or, again, like Kusama: ‘Love Forever Girls! Adolescence is on the way!’ Or Mallarme: ‘A lovely drunkenness enlists me to raise, though the vessel lists, this toast on high and without fear. / Solitude, rocky shoal, bright star…’

Gregory O’Brien

Title: ARTIST: Artworks and words
Author: Michael O’Leary
ISBN: 978-1-86942-132-8
Price: $50.00
Extent: 60 pages
Format: 260mmx208mm
Publication: July 2012
Publisher: Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop

The poem ‘Rubesahl’ and an extract from the novel Unlevel Crossings by Michael O’Leary appears on the following blog Aotearoa Affair Blog Carnival with links:

Blog Carnival #1: CROSSINGS.

Two poems by Michael O’Leary appear in broadsheet 8 (November 2011).

The first ‘From P.H. D. to PhD’ is a ballad relating the accomplishment of his recent PhD at Victoria University of Wellington’s Gender and Women Studies Dept.

The second poem ‘The Last 48 Seconds of Kurt Cobain: A Poemumentary’ was first published in Benedict Quilter’s Cobain tribute book Blue Eyed Son (Independent Women Records, Wellington, 2010).