Poet and artist Rachel O’Neill takes up residency at Randell Cottage

Rachel O'Neill. Photo by Alison Glenny
Rachel O’Neill. Photo by Alison Glenny

Artist, film maker, teacher of creative writing, communications professional, and, above all poet, Rachel O’Neill is the 2023 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage. O’Neill will be using their six months at Randell Cottage to work on two projects: completing their third book, Symphony of Queer Errands, and a fourth, a collection of prose poems titled Master of the Female Half-Lengths.

O’Neill is a graduate of the Master of Creative Writing workshop at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters. Their two previous collections of prose poems are One Human in Height (Hue and Cry Press, 2013) and Requiem for a Fruit (We Are Babies, 2021). They have been extensively published in anthologies and journals – most recently Best Small Fictions 2020 (Sonder Press, 2021), Out Here: An Anthology of Takatapui and LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa New Zealand (AUP, 2021), and Best New Zealand Poems 2019 ( IIML, 2020).

Wearing their artist hat, they provided illustrations for Bernadette Hall’s 2016 poetry collection Maukatere: floating mountain (Seraph Press, 2016) and they collaborate with arts collective All the Cunning Stunts, exhibiting in the European Union and Aotearoa.

RCWT chair Christine Hurley says the Trust is delighted to be welcoming O’Neill to Randell Cottage. “Our assessors were unanimous in their recommendation – describing Rachel’s work as innovative and witty, as intellectually challenging and satisfying but also very human. We are very much looking forward to seeing what comes of their time at the Cottage.”

O’Neill says Symphony of Queer Errands is inspired by the use of counterpoint in poetry and music and takes the form of two hybrid-form narrative poems in conversation with each other, representing the emotional and lived nuances of contemporary queer experience. It will feature a composer attempting to work with an orchestra of imagined instruments – a piano made of parts in revolt, with strings that are guillotined rather than hammered, a kind of piccolo called The Little Dreamy, purring anti-gaslighting bowls.

O’Neill says the residency is a “dream come true.”
“Like it is for many, maintaining my creative practice has involved personal sacrifices and periods of financial precarity. To be at the foot of Te Ahumairangi and to be offered the acknowledgement, support and care of the Randell community means a lot to me.

“Thanks to the Fellowship I’ll not only have the time and means to complete these books that I'm so passionate about, but I’ll also be able to be available to my community and to share more readily what I have to offer in a broader sense as a creative person. Community involvement is a precious thing for everyone in all the ways we might manifest it, and I’m so honoured and grateful to be able to write and be a writer in the community in 2023 thanks to the CNZ Randell Cottage Writers Fellowship.”

The Randell Cottage hosted its first writers in residence in 2002. The restored Category II historic building, gifted by the Randell-Price family, hosts two writers a year: one from New Zealand and the other from France. In 2022 it was home to essayist and novelist Rose Lu and, very briefly, to Caroline Laurent whose 2021 residency was disrupted by Covid-19 border restrictions. French writer Sedef Ecer was in residence from February to April of this year, while Caroline Laurent will return for two months in November.