bad w/ a camera

it’s refreshing to practice something you are not only not good at, but bad at. it’s refreshing, and it’s freeing, and it’s fun. i am not good at many fun things that i deeply love doing, including sometimes, the act of having fun. including also, instant photography.

I bought myself this camera before visiting my friend and her family in Australia in 2018. I wanted physical memories.

what happens is an item, person, or scene of interest makes itself known - then I take out the camera, a point and click instant camera with rectangular slats of film. the body of the camera is held awkwardly, in matte white. the aperture is slight and dim.

I try, cranking the dial knob to the recommended setting for the light, careful to avoid the mysterious HI-KEY setting. i adjust by some inches, press the button and the picture reveals itself, a frame slowly rising from beneath the black hedge.

I give it five minutes to develop. I give it five more minutes in the event it takes ten minutes to be at all impressive.

uniform flower

it’s inevitably the same as all the other photos: color sapped from the overpowering flash, details in the back or foreground hazy in an uninteresting way. viewed all together, the photos harmonize into a bland catalog of indistinguishable point and shoot photos.

I have since lost all of the photos from Australia, but I will describe some here: sunlight hitting a bright red chair in a half-abandoned office building, deities carved in white stone, flies aggressively lobbying for our toast, the graveyard by the sea, my friend’s son - sleepy with his ring of yellow hair, a multi-colored sculpture designed to catch wind off the south coast.

the other photos i hold again and again. i visit them, in their pleasant stack in my memory box. I rearrange them, tacked up at my office. particular photos of loved ones, i stash in places only i will think to look. in locale specific to me. it’s sentimental.

(perhaps my photos from Australia are in a stash so secret that not even I am allowed to know. I think they must be all the more enjoyable for their utlrasecret status.)

i hold the photos and some detail of the process swims up. the nudge of joy as I remember the annoyance of the condition they were taken in: of a spitty rain ruining the lens. or the sun overpowering my line of vision, as the camera strap tightens haphazardly around my wrist as I struggle simultaneously with my water bottle and backpack - impatient as ever, shunning any attempt at one-thing-at-a-time. a punishing wind knocking strands of loose hair into my face and eyes.

all this for bland and greyed out ocean, faded beach blankets set back from the shoreline. a single crack of sun shot over a rock, the blank pink of a late flowering bush, the recognizable curve of a stranger’s elbow.

the reward in a harmlessly greedy stash of what, in its mediocrity, could only be mine.


Caroline O'Connor Thomas

The 20th anniversary issue of 580 Split is now live, and you can read my poem here. The entire issue is beautiful.

this time last year

As I was clicking through old drafts & applications of mine, I found the poetic statement I wrote for my Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship exactly one year ago.

Having to write statements are useful exercises. I could never hand you an "about-ness" for my writing, but a statement forces me to look at how I look, which magically always leads me to look with a newness. 

It felt fitting to both share the statement, & finally launch my site, which has been a good six slow months in the making. 

Please visit again & stay in contact: caroline.connor.poetry @ gmail

Caroline O'Connor Thomas
poetic statement I

At the pith, language lusts peculiarly for the real, & would sooner draw blood than be ironized into oblivion. That I am female should not matter, though it seems to.

These are my materials, which others might have hemmed from me: Hunger (i.e. desire,) the thirsting Californian aquifer, female fluids, the sex & noise of our bodies together, homelessness, death.

Overhead, bus wires clip the city sky back. A bouquet of flowers comes wrapped in cellophane, then paper, & then a rubber band. We watch the neon of parrots race across the Embarcadero, their squabbling drowned by the bass of a Rihanna song from a passing car.

These are my materials.

Occasionally I regret that I have little time for nostalgia. But I’ve willingly witnessed every Kardashian spin-off, Trump-era press conference, & know the potential double-speak of emoji usage.

Like Keats’ grecian urn ecstasy, or Coleridge’s alpenglow trembling, ingesting is experiencing. Though now, the ancient & holy devices of sincerity & enthusiasm feel threatening as a knife. Still the satellite of my open face receives & filters, in stupefied awe of the landscape where I’m located. It could be eco-poetry, but it isn’t. The raw & specific terror of pop culture weds the I absent of distinction from you, & strikes out into an open neo-romantic field.  

The small event-ness of each poem should find the blade not only an actual blade, but the boundary where its actuality meets mythos. Here, the blade is a tool used to protect, to (pro)create, to slice open the belly of something mammalian & warm, so that we too may know feast.

Written for 2017 Ruth Lily Fellowship application
San Francisco Botanical Garden Library, April 30th, 2017 11: 11 AM

Caroline O'Connor Thomas