A confluence of absurdity and pain pulls the accomplished nonfiction author out of his poetic hibernation.
Author: Matthew Cook
Peter Conners sitting on a small set of steps

COVID-19’s grip on society has relaxed to the point that most people have returned to their pre-pandemic lives. Of course, the virus isn’t gone, but it’s no longer the omnipresent bogeyman it once was, which is an incredible testament to our collective ability to move on. It wasn’t that long ago when it felt like the movie 28 Days Later might have been a prescient warning (the plot centers on a sudden, incurable virus). And while others were coping with the anxiety of living through a real-life horror film by making sourdough starters and learning to crochet, Peter Conners was writing prose poetry.

“One of the things I love about the form is it can deal with absurdity and pain in ways that can be playful, poignant, or surprising,” says Conners, a publisher and executive director for independent publishing house BOA Editions, Ltd.

Like many others during the last two years, Conners had a rich supply of absurdity and pain to draw from to create his third full-length poetry collection, Beyond the Edge of Suffering. Through a blend of writing forms, he reflects on the chaos of COVID-19, a stormy political climate, and the challenges of coping with personal upheaval. These stories are coming to the University of Rochester on October 19.

Conners will kick off the 2022–2023 season of the River Campus Libraries’ Neilly Author Series with readings from his book and stories about the origins of his poetry and flash fiction. As all of the books highlighted in this year's Neilly talks support key concepts in the biopsychosocial model—developed by University professors George Engel and John Romano to serve as the cornerstone of psychiatric education and training—the 2022–2023 Neilly Author Series season is dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the University of Rochester's Department of Psychiatry.

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Beyond the Edge of Suffering is Conners’ first poetry collection in more than 10 years. He’s spent the last decade chronicling music and the counterculture community through his nonfiction books Cornell ʼ77Growing Up DeadJAMerica, and White Hand Society. In May, he released his first novel, Merch Table Blues. In total, he’s authored 11 published works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; he’s also served as editor for dozens of volumes of poetry and prose.

Conners’ papers are currently being held by Rochester’s Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation (RBSCP). The collection includes journals and notebooks, drafts of work, posters and press clippings related to published books, and correspondence with authors. ∎

All Neilly Author Series talks are free and open to the public, made possible by the Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Endowed Fund. For more information on Peter Conners’ talk, contact Kim Osur, development manager at the River Campus Libraries, at kimosur@rochester.edu.

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