O'Leary, Michael

O'Leary, Michael


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Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop

In Brief

Michael O’Leary is a poet, novelist, publisher, performer and bookshop proprietor. His poetry and novels often explore his Māori (Te Arawa) and Irish Catholic heritage, the poetry more conventionally, the prose in an alternative vein. He has published collections of poetry, several novels, and his writing has also appeared in anthologies. Under his Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop imprint he has published his own prolific output as well as many other writers, both alternative and mainstream.


O’Leary, Michael (1950 –), publisher, poet, novelist, performer and bookshop proprietor, has made a colourful contribution to the literary scene in three cities.

Born in Auckland, he was educated at the universities of Auckland and Otago, and now lives in Wellington. Under his Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop imprint he has published his own prolific output as well as various other writers, both alternative and mainstream. His works include Surrogate Children (poems, 1981).

Ten Sonnets (1985), Straight (novel, 1985), Out of It (satirical novel, 1987), Before and After (1987), Livin’ ina Aucklan’ (1988) and The Irish Annals of New Zealand (1991). He has also written commissioned histories of two Auckland cemeteries, and edited Wrapper (1992), a collection of poems by both new and established poets. His work has appeared in Pilgrims, Te Ao Marama and elsewhere.

O’Leary’s poetry and novels explore his Maori (Te Arawa)–Irish Catholic heritage, the poetry more conventionally, the prose in an alternative vein which owes something to Joyce and Beckett.

Author entry from The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature,
edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie (1998).


Michael O'Leary's Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop imprint (inspired by Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’, the Beatles’ Apple label, and John and Yoko’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’), has also featured books by writers from countries other than New Zealand, including the first versions of Richard Berengarten’s series, Manual, in four mini-books (2005-2009). The 240-page A-Z compilation, 25 Years of the Earl of Seacliff (ed. Mark Pirie, 2009), documents Michael O’Leary’s versatile and influential oeuvre.

His writing has appeared in the following periodicals and literary journals: Art New Zealand, brief, broadsheet: new new zealand poetry, Craccum, Critic, Dominion Post, Dunedin Star Midweek, Echoes – Good wine, poetry and prose, English in Aotearoa, JAAM, Kapiti Observer, Metro, New Zealand Listener, North and South, Paekakariki Xpressed, Pilgrims, Poetry NZ, Printout, Rambling Jack, Samoan Observer, Saoirse, Berlin Sidestream, Snafu, Sunday Star-Times, Tango, Titirangi Poets, and Valley Micropress.

Unlevel Crossings (2002) is the first novel in the Dreamlander Express trilogy, and is about Patrick Mika Fitzgerald who embarks on a physical and psychological train journey. O'Leary's rhythmic prose, wordplay and multilingual puns are described as providing a Maori-modernist take on Aotearoa New Zealand. The second book in the series, Straight (new ed. ESAW, 2007), is illustrated by Greg O’Brien. Magic Alex’s Revenge completes the Dreamlander Express trilogy (ESAW, 2009).

Toku Tinihanga (Self Deception) (2003) is the selected poems of Michael O'Leary, spanning twenty years.

In 2004, Michael O'Leary co-edited with Mark Pirie, JAAM 21 Greatest Hits: an anthology of writing from 1984-2004, drawing on work included in HeadworX and Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop publications as well as retrospective material from the first 20 issues of JAAM magazine.

O'Leary's collection of poems Make Love and War was published by HeadworX in 2005 .

Mahones (2005) is an anthology collection of four poets, featuring Michael O'Leary, Mark Pirie, Bill Dacker and Iain Sharp.

Sounds of Sonnets
(2007), is a collection of sonnets by Mark Pirie and Michael O'Leary. Each poet has 25 sonnets to depict their style and content, usually elegiac and satirical. In doing so the two poets combine to produce a substantial volume that will entertain and bring notice once again to the sonnet form in New Zealand.

Alternative Small Press Publishing in New Zealand: 1969-1999 Literary History/Publishing History (Steele Roberts, 2007) canvases the important place small press publishing has in the literary culture of Aotearoa New Zealand.

O'Leary's subsequent collections of poetry include, Paneta Street (HeadworX, 2008) and G’Day Country Redux (with David McGill) (Silver Owl Press, 2009). He was editor of Poets of Mana – Poetry Anthology (ESAW, 2009).

His poetry also featured in the following anthologies: A Tingling Catch: A Century of New Zealand Cricket Poems 1864-2009 ed. Mark Pirie (Wellington: HeadworX, 2010), and Ava Gardner: Touches of Venus ed. Gilbert L. Gigliotti (Washington, D.C. Entasis Press, 2010), and Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English: Whetu Moana II eds. Albert Wendt, Reina Whaitiri and Robert Sullivan (Auckland University Press, 2010). In 2011, O'Leary's poetry was set to music by Kapiti-based musicians and composers on the CD Fences Fall.

Michael O’Leary is a trustee for the Poetry Archive of New Zealand, Aotearoa, a charitable trust dedicated to archiving, collecting and promoting New Zealand poetry. He now lives in Paekakariki, north of Wellington.

Michael O'Leary completed a PhD in Gender and Women's Studies at Victoria University in 2011.

Michael O'Leary's new book is simply titled Artist. Published by The Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, in July 2012 it was launched at Quilter's Bookshop in Wellington.

O'Leary's autobiography, Die Bibel: Being the Authoritative History of Dr Michael John O’Leary, Earl of Seacliff (Steele/Roberts) was published in 2016.

In 2017, O'Leary released Collected Poems: 1981 - 2016, collected and edited by Mark Pirie.

In 2020, O'Leary published Apocrypha Scripta. His friend and colleague David McGill launched the book thus: "Greetings in three among many languages throughout this mainly English fictional literary autobiography by our Paekakariki poet laureate, Michael John O’Leary. He has Irish, Maori and a little German in his genes, and all are to the fore in these dream weavings of his literary coat of many colours."


Updated January 2017.