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Read about a recent review of my book Hyaena Season in Image Journal’s Good Letters blog by author, anthologist and long-time Image contributor, Peggy Rosenthal.


I recently posted my video about Poetry as Prayer, from the Logos Project, as well as the full article, and watch here for my upcoming Poetry as Prayer retreats.


What a time we had! La Romita Poetry Writing Retreat in Italy – Summer 2017


A community of poets and painters, great food and creative expression! And lots of laughter! What a time we had! You can check out my Facebook page for pics and blog posts by Sheila, one of the retreatants! Another retreatant, Tonya, wrote this about her experience:

Being at La Romita, in the hills of olive groves, within the deep history of Umbria and the story of the once-Capuchin monastery itself, was enchanting. I’d worked briefly with Richard Osler once and knew he would bring big energy and a head and heart full of poetry. He did that and more. The more is in his uncanny ability to enable people to find their own poetry. He invites, supports and nourishes the opening of inner channels of communication with the people we’ve been missing in ourselves, who all have so much to say. Richard gives poetry and while we received it and worked hard to learn to hear it, we also had an incredibly good time.

Read all about it!


hyaena-season-coverMy new collection of poems, Hyaena Season, launched last Fall! More than ten readings in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, New Westminster, Victoria and Calgary. And sold lots of books!

The poems in Hyaena Season touch on the intimacies of a wide range of human experience from the killing grounds of Rwanda and DR Congo, to settings more familiar here in Canada.

Hope to do some more readings in the upcoming months! Here are details on past readings! Launches and readings during the past year. Thanks to all those who came out to hear me read!

You’ll find a complete list of my works here.


Here’s a short piece on what this site is all about.


If you’re wondering where my page of readings has gone, it’s just moved – from the home page to its own place inside the site. You can always reach it from the main menu under “Richard Reading”.

Upcoming Events

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In Spite of 9/11 and Other Catastrophes We Must Still Sing – A Reflection on Patrick Lane’s Poem – Small Elegy for New York

Canadian Poet Patrick lane. Photo Credit: Richard Osler, 2014

Small Elegy for New York

A small bird sings in the apple tree today
where the fruit hangs heavy in the heat.
The harvest is still weeks away.
He sings to leaves to shelter him,
that there be flowers, nests, and seeds,
that the sky he knows will always be the sky.
In New York far away the great fires burn,
yet what birds sing will stay
the night to come a few more hours.

In the garden I am bound by what I say
as you are bound. I pray for what I know,
that birds must sing among bright leaves,
that apples ripen toward the fall,
that we must hold what we are born
to hold, and all our weariness today
is just a stay against the hours. Prayer
is bird song in a garden far away
from the play of shadows fire makes.

The silence of the dead is what we own.
It’s why we sing. The sky is clear today.
Go on, I hear my father say, my mother too,
and though they rest in quiet graves
I hear them still. The sky is clear today.
The dead sing too in the wreckage and the fires.
We must listen to their song.
The burden is our lives.
We pray because we cannot turn away.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

I am so grateful to my friend and fellow poet Mary-Ann Moore for posting this poem by Canadian poet Patrick Lane on Facebook.  It honours the horrific events in New York City twenty years ago on September 11th. It honours them with a hope of what will endure in spite of everything. That, in spite of everything, there is still a safe garden far from fire and destruction. That even the dead tell us: “Go on.” Do not give up.

And this poem also honours something outside the specifics of that awful day on September 11, 2001. It honours the need to sing, to use words, to help keep our spirits alive even in the darkest times. But it also honours what a garden means for Patrick. Its almost mythic place in his work.
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The Itinerant Sea-Sight Seeker Xiao Yue Shan – Two Ocean Shores (Japanese and Canadian) in Twenty Days – and now the Winner (Announced Today) of Tupelo Press’s 2021 Berkshire Prize

Poet Xiau Yue Shan, recently of Tokyo, currently of Victoria B.C., born in China in 1993 . Photo Credit: Ahlum Kim, Poetry Magazine.

I write poems…to say grace.

Xiao Yue Shan from Minutes, Sea-Sight Journal Day Nineteen, June 29th, 2021 from her website shellyshan.com

the ocean is a gateway, a gentleness that contains and understands rage. almost fata morgana. the water is the ink by which the story of the land may be written. memory that may be projected into the future.

Xiao Yue Shan from her journal entry Minutes, Sea-Sight Journal Day Four, January 12th, 2021 from her website shellyshan.com

when the reality of undertaking sea-sight occurred to me, it initiated an unprecedented fear of inability; I do not know from where poems come. I do not know how my hand proves the tangibility of idea. I have started and ended so many poems not knowing where I have been inside them—only that I trusted the underlying vision that held me in its thrall during those wonderful moments. now, with this new undertaking, I would have to be servile to the volatility of my thinking. I would have to trust that I could do this work, this work that I do not set in order, but that which holds me, fleeting, in its absolution.

Xiao Yue Shan from Minutes,  Sea-Sight Journal Day Twenty, June 30th, 2021, from her website shellyshan.com

 

details      escape

returning to the place where memory goes
which resembles most closely the stagger of stones
needling the hem of land at minoura’s feet
water work of the inland sea interlocking past

I think I had to take more than one deep breath
to commiserate with the animal we named silence
beaten under depths rest good fruit car crashes
invented grandmothers more sunrises than reality

who is the owner of unremembered moments
would they open their great book
if  I stood
at the door
and begged?

Xiao Yue Shan from Poetry Magazine, April 2021

Okay, I am gob-smacked. Woke up this morning and soon after read that Xiao Yue Shan (Shelly Shan) had won Tupelo’s Press’s Berkshire prize today. Saw she lives in Victoria, B.C. an hour from where I live. What? I had never heard of her. Wondered who she was. tracked her down through her website. Saw she was born in China in 1993, is involved as an editor in four literary journals including one based in Beijing and one in Tokyo and has been getting poems published all over the place for the past four or five years.
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Short-Listed for Canadian Griffin Prize Shortlist 2021 – Yusef Saadi – Words are His Pleasure

Canadian poet Yusuf Saadi

Pleasuring Shahrazad

In rosewater I rinse
my final words, dip
them into your body.
Your slow, saline drip
on my tongue. You eclipse
Medinan dates soaked
in honey, saffron rice
with diced pistachios,
a single pomegranate—
surah carved in Kufic
on each ruby seed.
Camphor recites its being
inside a kerosene lamp.

Don’t plead, simply ask
for pleasure pleated
upon pleasure past
tongue-winding rinds
around words.
Damascus musk settles
on damask pillows.
Iced watermelon wine
gushes in crystal glass.
Hebron peaches blush;
sea-coast lemons
cleave in halves.
My nails moonrake
damp thighs;
again, I dine on
webbed-wet fingers.

Lips graze lashes, kohl.
On each closed eyelid
my tongue practises
its patient whorl
before I cherish
your perfect pearl.
I gave my day
dreaming of your
myrrh’s mystique.
Now my tongue
is to caress—
not to speak.

Yusef Saadi from Pluviophile, Nightwood, 2020 and the Malahat Review, Fall 2019

Pun intended. What a pleasure to read the concluding poem of Montreal-based Yusef Saadi’s debut poetry collection that was short-listed for the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize. Wow. Debut book and short-listed for one of the most prestigious poetry prizes going!

Yusef loves words and word play in a way that reminds me of American Canadian poet Heather McHugh. Both of them such playful wordsmiths but can also deliver a serious punch. The title of Yusef’s book shows his love of  sonically rich words, this one a made up word that has made the rounds of the internet it seems since 2016. And Yusef notes it is a mix up of greek (pluvio) and latin (phile). And not surprising it has been given a definition on line of a lover of rain!

(Now, a serious tangent! Well, please let me confess I am a Pluviophile but not necessarily a lover of rain! No, I am a lover of truly, one of the finest culinary establishments I have ever had the pleasure to eat at! Pluvio in Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Run by two thirty-something partners Warren Barr + Lily Verney-Downey the service and food in the restaurant is exemplary. Kinda like Yusef’s poetic offerings.)

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What Will Not Let Me Forget – A Personal Story of a Poem and Synchronicity (Meaningful Coincidence)

My poem “Voices”, long forgotten but demanding to be remembered!

In a series of synchronistic events a poem I wrote has come back to me more than thirty years after I wrote it and almost twenty years since I had disavowed it and forgotten it! I had forgotten that a dear friend, Sarah Wilson, copied out the poem in her distinctive and wonderful script with a water-coloured background (see above) and we had made multiple copies on sturdy rag watercolour paper and given them away! Well, the poem is forgotten no longer.

A number of months ago here on a far-west shore of Canada I received an email from Susan R. from far away in Port Colborne, Ontario. She said she had picked up “Voices” for fifty cents at a Mennonite thrift shop a number of years ago in Port Colborne, made copies and gave it to friends! I was flummoxed, couldn’t remember any special rendering of the poem, let alone Sarah’s rendering.  Wondered what the heck it was. Then Susan sent a photocopy. Just like you see above.  But not this copy! That’s the second surprise!

A few days ago an friend I had known in Calgary years ago and whom I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years emailed me from Falmouth in Cornwall, England. She had a dream a few days before she wrote me that directed her to go looking through old boxes to find the poem I had given her years ago called “Voices”. That’s her copy above! Two times in a few months! No simple coincidence I say!  And Falmouth? You’ve got to be kidding! That where my Osler great great grandparents were born and lived before leaving for Canada in 1837 a few weeks after they were married! Wonderfully strange. Synchronicities. What needs to be paid attention to!
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My Story – Transforming Anger into Action Close to Home – What To Do About “Unsustainable Logging”? How To Turn “Things or Objects” into Nouns We Care For?

A Woman Hugging a Noun Called “Old-Growth Tree”

“If I choose not to become attached to nouns – a person, place or thing – then when I refuse a intimate’s love or hoard my spirit, when a known landscape is bought, sold and developed, chained or grazed to stubble, or a hawk is shot and hung by its feet on a barbed wire fence, my heart cannot be broken because I never risked giving it away.

But what kind of impoverishment is this to withhold emotion, re restrain our passionate nature in the face of a generous life just to appease our fears? A man or woman whose mind reins in the heart when the body sings desperately for connection can only expect more isolation and greater ecological disease. Our lack of intimacy with each other is in direct proportion to our lack of intimacy with the land. We have taken our love inside and abandoned the world.”

Terry Tempest Williams from Winter Solstice at the Moab Slab

I immediately thought of this searing quote by Terry Tempest Williams when I read the remarkable opinion piece by Susan Simard in the Globe and Mail this morning. And just a little while ago I shared on Facebook her heart-cry to our dwindling forests here in B.C. Susan is a B.C.-based forestry expert whose ground-breaking work on understanding how trees connect underground through roots and fungal connectors has given us utterly new and profound insights to the interconnectedness of things that keep us and our planet alive.

Noted B.C. writer Yvonne Blomer expressed in a comment to my post how frustrated she is about all that is happening with forestry here in B.C. and I said back to her on Facebook: ME TOO! Then I wrote some words I have expanded into this blog post! Thank you Yvonne for the trigger!

I know we have a new forestry plan for B.C., unveiled last week, that will give greater voice to native communities and might protect more old-growth forests which is great but I am not sure it is nearly enough. My heart winces every time I go to visit my grand daughter on Salt Spring island when I see the mountains of logs being loaded on to ocean-going ships in the Crofton harbour. Really Mr. Horgan? Really Mr. Premier?

Why aren’t forestry worker up in arms over this as much as they are about protestors trying to protect our priceless remaining old growth forests? And why isn’t the government helping forestry workers transition into other jobs that ultimately will not threaten life forms on the planet like forestry is now doing. How to put back true “sustainability” into sustainable logging. I hear the impassioned cries of forestry workers, men and women and their families, about how their jobs are precious and must be protected but at what cost. Do they truly understand the cost to our world if we don’t slow down the pillaging of our forests? Do they understand the danger to our world Susan Simard’s work is revealing to us?

First this admission: I am complicit. I sit inside a wooden house with wooden floors and fir trim around doors and windows. But surely there is a “true” way to have sustainable logging that does not endanger our very well-being!

Now to make this personal. To write in the spirit of Terry Tempest Williams’s paragraphs above. Paragraphs which if taken to heart must change a heart. So here is my story and response to the trees falling not just deep within B.C. far from cities but to the trees falling all around me in the Cowichan Valley here on Vancouver Island on private lands then often sold for development. So a month or so and this close to home, literally, and perhaps not so obviously-awful some new neighbours a ways down our road in the country moved in and then took out all the trees that bookended an existing field. There were a lot. They decided they needed more field space for grass and horses. I get their’s is private land. Yet, we share the air and water! And the trees have a huge impact on air and water as we know. Now more runoff off into already compromised Quamichan Lake.
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S (Reprise and Surprise) is for Sotelo – Watching Men and Women Performing Their Wounds – Poems from VIRGIN by Analicia Sotelo

American Mexican poet Analicia Sotelo

Private Property

In this minor emergency of the self,
We drink to become confused,
To swim in the dark like idiot fish.

This is a lake at night in a forest.

This is where we look up at the stains
In the sky and someone says, It’s purpling out here,
And someone else says, Someone write that down.

We’re all performing our bruises.

Chloe smiles like a specialty knife,
Bea tells stories like a bubbly divorcee,
Clara smokes like a sage in her coiffed towel,
expertly naked, third eye shining.

I hang back on the shore with Kyle.
We talk about his man in New York
while our skinny-dipping sirens
sing show tunes in the violet dark.

Later we’re all in a clinic at 3 a.m.
handling Kyle’s broken ankle.
It’s so embarrassing , he keeps saying.

And it is: earlier doing the sprinkler
in a dorm room to Please Don’t Stop the Music,
he kept yelling, Stop the music! Stop the music!
until we understood: he wasn’t actually joking.

And sometimes the poems were like that.
When we wrote knife, bubbly, naked,
we were really getting down,
dancing hard on the injury.

Analicia Sotelo from VIRGIN, Milkweed editions, 2018

These days I am drawn to challenging poetic voices that live outside a safe mainstream cultural center. It could be LGBTQ voices, male or female, or men or women with disabilities or non-white voices (also male or female) saying these are my realities, not those of the mainstream. These voices saying be careful of what you get used to. It may be built on false assumptions or foundations.

One such voice is that of American Mexican poet and educator Analicia Sotelo whose 2018 poetry collection, VIRGIN, was picked by black American poet Ross Gay as the inaugural winner of the Jake Adam York Prize for a first or second collection of poems by an American poet. This book sings a saw-like song cutting up all sorts of cultural assumptions especially about women. And her saw is sharp and savvy. Sher looks underneath to where the bruises, the injuries, the wounds are!

I have been sitting with her poem Private Property for some weeks now, so amazed at what complexity she adds to a scene of kids hanging out in a dorm, hanging out a lake and ending up in hospital. But there is so much more going on. There a psychological take going on that look beneath the surface. And she wields images like swords.

In this minor emergency of the self,
We drink to become confused,
To swim in the dark like idiot fish.

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S is for Spriggs – Two Get-Me-Every-Time Poems by the American Poet Bianca Lynne Spriggs

American poet Bianca Lynne Spriggs (1981 – )


What Women Are Made Of

There are many kinds of open.
— Audre Lorde

We are all ventricle, spine, lung, larynx, and gut.
Clavicle and nape, what lies forked in an open palm;

we are follicle and temple. We are ankle, arch,
sole. Pore and rib, pelvis and root

and tongue. We are wishbone and gland and molar
and lobe. We are hippocampus and exposed nerve

and cornea. Areola, pigment, melanin, and nails.
Varicose. Cellulite. Divining rod. Sinew and tissue,

saliva and silt. We are blood and salt, clay and aquifer.
We are breath and flame and stratosphere. Palimpsest

and bibelot and cloisonné fine lines. Marigold, hydrangea,
and dimple. Nightlight, satellite, and stubble. We are

pinnacle, plummet, dark circles, and dark matter.
A constellation of freckles and specters and miracles

and lashes. Both bent and erect, we are all give
and give back. We are volta and girder. Make an incision

in our nectary and Painted Ladies sail forth, riding the back
of a warm wind, plumed with love and things like love.

Crack us down to the marrow, and you may find us full
of cicada husks and sand dollars and salted maple taffy

weary of welding together our daydreams. All sweet tea,
razor blades, carbon, and patchwork quilts of Good God!

and Lord have mercy! Our hands remember how to turn
the earth before we do. Our intestinal fortitude? Cumulonimbus

streaked with saffron light. Our foundation? Not in our limbs
or hips; this comes first as an amen, a hallelujah, a suckling,

swaddled psalm sung at the cosmos’s breast. You want to
know what women are made of? Open wide and find out.

Bianca Lynne Spriggs from Breakbeat Poets Vol. 2 – Black Girl Magic, Haymarket Books, 2018

I am so grateful to Haymarket Books, the self-defined “radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher based in Chicago” which introduced me to Bianca Lynne Spriggs in the anthology Breakbeat Poets Vol. 2 – Black Girl MagicI like this poem and Bianca’s poetry enough I am featuring her again here a little more than a year after I featured her to celebrate International Woman’s Day last year!

My exposure to Haymarket has been through their poetry publications that publish voices from typically non-white communities that been under-represented in so-called mainstream publishing. Not just the marvelous BreakBeat Poets anthology series (now with four volumes including the latest LatiNext) but individual volumes as well including If God is a Virus by Seema Yasmin that I featured a few weeks ago in my blog post Y is for Yasmin. And their BreakBeat Poets anthologies celebrate poets, some well-known, others not, that add a necessary vitality to today’s poetry scene.
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T is for Thesen (and Gallant) – The Wig-Maker – A Remarkable Collaboration – Truth-Telling, Poetry, Healing

Canadian author and wig-maker Janet Gallant

from The Neighbour

My dad was such a liar.
      It was all about perception, I had to be a refined lady
            I never carried myself like a slut, not even nail polish.
I was perfect.
      I fooled them all, to the point where I fooled myself.
            I was fictitious. I wore nice suits.

By the time you’re six, you’re a double agent.

In a world that feels this way, the soul knows something is wrong.
The moan is the vibration of the soul.

Since I could never speak my truths, how could I sing them?
I never felt worthy. I felt like a fraud.

The truth is in music. The truth is in the moan. Billy’s moan.
The moan on the slave ships.

Everything that is wrong is in this story.

Janet Gallant and Sharon Thesen from The Wig-Maker, New Star Books, 2021

Out of two fires comes the book The Wig-Maker, from which this poem excerpt can be found. From the fire of drastic physical and sexual abuse in childhood and a literal wildfire that threatened the city of Kelowna in the B.C. interior in 2017.

It was during one evening during the worst of that fire around Kelowna that turned two neighbours (celebrated writer and teacher Sharon Thesen and wig-maker Janet Gallant) with little previous contact into intimate collaborators. It was then with the help of some wine that Janet began to tell her story which, through many follow up meetings and artistic collaboration, created the words that make up almost all of  this book. It tells a life-giving story of self-discovery and claiming her black ancestory, a name and birthright. How Janet McCrate (her birth name), became Janet Cliff (her married name) and now Janet Gallant (her birth-father’s name).

This book. So much more than a collection of poems. Something, dare I say, of the sacred enters in, when a survivor braves all resistance and shares their story within the compressed marvel that is a poem. And when I think of the results of doing this I think of the words of American poet Greg Orr who suffered the huge trauma of killing his brother in a hunting accident when just a boy:

When you suffer trauma, you mostly do that passively, as a victim. But when you translate that experience into words and shape it, you become active. You are no longer a passive endurer of experience, but an active shaper of it. You’ve redeemed something from that chaos. Writing a poem can save your life, and reading a poem can show you that you are not alone. “Someone else felt this. Someone else went through what you are going through and they survived, even triumphed.The poem is the proof of that survival and triumph.

Gregory Orr from Image Journal, Winter 2013

This book, yes, difficult, forged within the container of an unspeakably difficult life. This book proof, as Gregory Orr says, of triumph and survival. And because of this I feel it is so important that this huge small book get as large a readership as possible. To remind all of us of the possibility of surviving the large and even small challenges in our lives. To know we, too, can survive “the moan” what ever form it takes in our lives.
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U is for Uppal – R.I.P. 1974-2018 – Gone Far too Soon!

 

Canadian poet, playwright, novelist and memoirist, Priscila Uppal (1974 – 2018). Also Canadian Poet laureate for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2012 London summer games.

To A Future Reader

I beg you, tell me
the words I left
ended up funny,
gave you guffaws
as the planet
went all to hell
in ways I was not
sad enough to imagine.

Ave Atque Vale
Farewell

Priscila Uppal from Ontological Necessities, Exile Editions, 2006

This kind of takes my breath away. This poem from the 2007 Griffin Prize Canadian shortlist might not have imagined that its writer, Priscila Uppal would leave this planet 12 years later at an impossibly young forty-three years of age. Dead from a shockingly rare cancer that, in her words, only attacks the incredibly fit. To hear her discuss her cancer and poems that came out of it please click here. It feels so worng that a woman who was so alive and participated in life as if each year was worth two or three, was taken from us so early.

And, for sure, little did she know in her poem above she was not sad enough to imagine her own early death nor the current Covid-19 pandemic. I think it’s safe to say Uppal was irrepressible even editing , ten days before her death, one of two collections that came out after she was gone.  And the end to her poem from Catallus, Hail and Farewell. How uncannily fitting.

Priscila was the author of among many things she wrote, eleven poetry collections, a celebrated memoir, a play and two novels and,  as well,  was a full-time  York University professor! She crammed in a lot in her forty-three years.  And if you see pictures of her decked out in some great colourful outfit or wearing a great hat you sense her vitality and exuberant life force. While it was here.

And now the title poem from her Grffin-Prize-nominated poem. How it seems almost a prediction of what was to come:

Ontological Necessity

I’d like to bruise this earth
with mental missives until it cracks. If a volcano’s brain
contains each eruption, we too must have these splits,

these dungeon pits inside us.

The harvest is nuclear.
My mouth, an octagon; my chest an F.B.I. file.
Stem cells grow off my neighbours balcony, fall into my tea.

Cancer paid my tuition. On and on the hurricane
spies and trades. No one wacthes television

for the stories. Our universe is fresh out of those.
The galaxy yawns and pops pills.

Dear Self,
How am I to know if You are still alive?

Test me, you reply.

Priscilla Uppal, ibid

The freshness of all that comes at me unexpected in this poem!  This volcanic voice. How it throws everything but the kitchen sink at me. The fun it seems to have doing this! Really: my chest, an F.B.I. file? The marvel of that. Maybe not a playful meaning in the poem but done so playfully. And then the dramatic ending. I wish she hadn’t ever written this. To ask to be tested to know her “self” is alive. Oh god, it was so alive! And she did get tested. Tested too much! Too far. Yet in her 2015 CBC interview, linked above, her confidence that she was going to beat the unbeatable was remarkable. Couldn’t have asked for more of an alive self if you ask me. Priscila, your poetry a remaining gift and maybe not all guffaws. Your death, a remaining loss and grief.

V is for Vasquez (Gilliland) – A Journey Home to Find Where Healing Lives: In “Tales from the House of Vasquez”

Mexican-American poet and YA author, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

The Tale of Postpartum

The doctor is ancient
and I don’t think
she can hear me
when I say, my columna
verterbral is on the outside now.

She asks, do you like
caring for the baby?

I nod. Yes, I love
caring for the baby.

And then I whisper.

But how long
can a woman live
with her spine
on the outside.
It hurts so bad,
I can’t even cry.

Good news, the doctor
tells me, staring at
her notes. You don’t
have depression.

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland from Tales from the House of Vasquez, Rattle, 2018

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland won a Rattle Chapbook prize in 2018 for her poetry collection Tales from the House of Vasquez. But that was the least of it! This bewitching and haunting collection is what helped put Raquel back together again after what she describes as a major nervous breakdown following the birth of her first child. Poetry as healing. Stories as healing. The stories of the women in  Raquel’s family, their horrors and triumphs. The female histories from the house of Vasquez that included a history of mental illness of her mother’s side. And how they suffered. These discoveries Raquel made in the making of this book. In the making of her healing.
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