Playing with dolls… and words Jersey City poet makes print debut with “Paper Doll Cutouts”

Deirdre O’Dea has been surrounded by verse from an early age. While most children’s parents were reading them golden books or making up bedtime stories, O’Dea’s mother would recite William Butler Yeats poems that she had memorized by rote in her native Ireland.

Perhaps that is why falling into poetry was an almost natural reaction for O’Dea, who has been writing poetry for the past 17 years. This long-time Jersey City resident recently published her first collection of poems called “Paper Doll Cutouts.”

Past meets present

“Paper Doll Cutouts” was an idea that O’Dea had been toying with for many years, and she finally devoted herself to publishing it at the end of last year.

The book is a 40-page collection of modern poetry that O’Dea published herself, through Wasteland Press. It was a work-in-progress for many years, O’Dea said, having started on some of the poems as far back as 1990.

“It was now or never,” she said.

But it wasn’t as if O’Dea had a huge pile of poems to choose from. She often physically gets rid of the poems that she doesn’t like.

“It was a matter of keeping the poems or throwing them in the garbage can,” she said, adding, “I had read some in a couple of places and that propelled me to hold on to them.”

Those she held on to and decided to include in the book touch upon common themes and complement each other. Many are about love and relationships, and experiences that she has lived through. And many of those experiences are universal.

The poem titled “Valentine” is an accurate explanation of why so many people are reluctant to fall in love. “Last night love reared its ugly head. I turned to find it in my bed. This morning it laid still. And it, I thought to kill. I let it be, And so it killed me.”

But just because she incorporates experiences from her life into her work doesn’t mean that the book is a poetic memoir for O’Dea.

“I don’t find that they’re reminders of past events,” she said. “[The poems] are in the present for me. They’re a positive force that I’m now sharing with the audience.”

Not just child’s play

The book’s title comes from a line in the poem “STUCK LIKE GLUE” which O’Dea said is one of her favorites in the collection.

“It’s about how we’re all linked together in a common denominator,” she said. “We’re all touched in one way or another by one another. It’s the commonality of universality.”

The title, she explained, also reflects her affinity for printed words and newspapers (O’Dea was a reporter for her college paper), and out of that came her fondness for playing around with words.

“[Paper dolls are] an old-fashioned skill of entertainment and enjoyment that doesn’t even require a pen and paper,” she explained.

The same is true for poetry, she said.

“Poetry can be interchangeable when you’re working on it, like the clothes on a paper doll,” O’Dea mused. “Just as dolls’ dresses can be plain or fancy, words can be dark or bold.”

Following in tradition

O’Dea has been playing around with words since her college days. As a literature major at Manhattan College in Riverdale, it was a requirement of one of her undergraduate classes that got her writing.

Though she grew up surrounded by poems and developed a great affinity for it, O’Dea had never attempted to write her own.

“It was scary and exciting at the same time,” she said.

And though they may not express that initial excitement that O’Dea felt when she first began to write, the poems in “Paper Doll Cutouts” are charged with emotion.

Much like a girl chooses the outfit for a doll, O’Dea has taken great care in choosing the words that she feels best express the sorrow, frustration and joy of everyday life.

The themes of nature and mysticism that are so predominate in Yeats’ work are two topics that O’Dea uses as well, trying, in some way, to emulate the master poet.

“I like to trace my finger along the ledge,” she said, modestly. “I can’t do it justice. I chase after it like a little girl chasing a bird.”

She uses free verse, rhyme, and rhythm to convey these themes.

“A real poet would scold me,” O’Dea joked, “I don’t really sit down with a form and say, ‘I’m going to stick with the structure of iambic pentameter and metered verse.’ I don’t confine myself to that.”

Music and lyrics

And O’Dea does not confine herself strictly to poetry as a means of artistic expression, either. She and her husband have a band called The Observers, which performs in Jersey City and lower Manhattan. She plays guitar, sings and does some of the songwriting as well.

While the music she creates is more “punk-y, garage, and rock and roll-y,” O’Dea said her music and poetry are related “in artistic melody.”

O’Dea explained how poetry and music are linked. Some of Yeats’ lyrical poems were put to music in the compilation album titled Now and in Time to be.

“That makes me think of how poetry and music are related and do crossover,” said O’Dea.

Deirdre O’Dea’s “Paper Doll Cutouts” is available at Another Man’s Treasure vintage store on Brunswick Street in Jersey City, as well as on and

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By Deirdre O’Dea

I pulled you close and poured the glue.

Elmer’s Non-toxic, goey mess.

I am glued to my seat waiting

for the move.

Next, the scissors to cut, the part

and place it

Apart from me closer

To you like, Like

A paper doll cut out – in a chain missing

a link laying,

Straight and flat –

Covered in a print pressed by another’s hand.

I pulled you close to keep my dimension ’round.


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