What’s New

hyaena-season-coverMy new collection of poems, Hyaena Season, has launched! 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.

I’m doing more launches and readings over the next few months – hope you can join me for one of those and for updates on the readings please follow the “launches and readings” link as well. Thanks to all those who have come 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”.

Intimate Poetry That Sells – And Sells – The Poetry of Toronto-based Rupi Kaur

milk and honey - Best Selling Poetry Sensation

milk and honey – Best-Selling Poetry Sensation

When my mother opens her mouth
to have a conversation at dinner
my father shoves the word hush
between her lips and tells her to
never speak with her mouth full
this is how the women in my family
learned to live with their mouths closed

Rupi Kaur (1992 – ) from milk and honey, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015

Our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to

women of colour

Rupi Kaur, ibid

The kindest words my father said to me
women like you drown oceans

Rupi Kaur, Instagram

It takes a broken, twisted person to come searching for meaning between my legs.  It takes a whole, complete and perfectly designed person to survive it.

Rupi Kaur from her Tedx Talk, I’m Taking My Body Back, August 2016

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The Bigness of Small Poems – #21 in a Series – Poem as Mirror and Solace

Danish poet Ulrikka S. Gernes

Danish poet Ulrikka S. Gernes

house lies the book you didn’t know
you were looking for, opened to the page
with the poem about solace you didn’t know
you needed; at first the letters,
then the words, little by little
the lines disappear as you read them
in the light of the faint dawn that trickles in
between the venetian’s dusty
slats and unites you with someone
you didn’t know you are.

Ulrikka S. Gernes, trans. Patrick Friesen and Per Brask from Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, Brick Books, 2015

This gem of a poem says why I read and write poems. It is included in a collection that made the Canadian short-list for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize. It didn’t win but this poem has made me a fan of Ulrikka S. Gernes (1965 – ), the celebrated Danish poet, author of eleven poetry collections. I wasn’t familiar with the work of Per Brask but the other translator, Patrick Friesen is a Canadian poet I have featured in my poetry-as-prayer retreats. Great collaboration!

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The Bigness of Small Poems – #20 in a Series – Hyaena Season Launches!

Launch of Hyaena Season Tonight

Cherish This World

The daughter, for a time, who wouldn’t talk
or look at him, that daughter, tells of her days
and nights on Mandarte Island, barely more than a rock
in the Salish Sea. He touches his tongue
to the sound Man-dart-eh makes in the mouth. 
Says it again and again. Something cracks open  
in his chest. Not like the eggs broken, the dead
chicks still inside, in the pictures she shows him, 
but the others, the gull eggs busted open, 
the prisoners escaped, gone free.

Richard Osler from Hyaena Season, Quattro Books, 2016

Tonight I am so pleased to joining other Quattro Books authors at the first launch of Quattro Books Fall season. Big thanks to my editor and publisher and Allan Briesmaster who has been such an acute editor and all around support.

To commemorate this evening I wanted to include my poem Cherish This World in my on-going tribute to small poems. This poem, I wrote running along the seawall in Sultanahmet, Istanbul. I had to memorize it because I had no pen or paper. When I got back to my apartment and scribbled it down I had to dodge my drops of sweat!

This poem mean a lot on many levels. A description, yes, of time my daughter spent living on Mandarte Island with one of the largest colonies of breeding seagulls on the Canadian west coast. But more. The risks associated with things coming to birth. The chance that something incubated may not make it. Even a relationship between a father and daughter.

But tonight this poem for me is a metaphor of the long journey of my first book coming to print. All that tapping and a book busted free.

With huge thanks to all who supported me on this journey. Now, time for supper and heading off to the reading at Pressed!

A Poet/Saint! Happy 88th Birthday to Jean Vanier on Sept. 10th

Jean Vanier. Photo Credit: The Templeton Prize

Jean Vanier. Photo Credit: The Templeton Prize

I grieve to speak of love and yet not love as I should.

I ask forgiveness of the many I have wounded.
And of the many I have passed without seeing their wounds.
Pray for me, my brother.

Jean Vanier from the foreword to Tears of Silence, Griffin House, 1971

For me, it seems absurd that a man who has devoted almost fifty five years of his life in the service of others would pray this prayer/poem in the foreward to his book. But not for Jean Vanier.  Once a naval officer in the Canadian Navy (more than sixty years ago!) but now, celebrated as a theologian and Roman Catholic social innovator who has devoted himself as a friend to countless men and women around the world who live in the L’Arche federation of  about 140 home communities he founded in France in 1964. L’Arche, known as L’Arche Daybreak in Canada, is now active in about forty countries, providing warm and loving homes for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them.

I have met many people in my life but no one comes as close to the having the qualities that define him, in my heart, as a holiest of holy human. I know Vanier would bridle at that description. But I write it anyway. His compassion for others seems limitless. It shines out from his 1998 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Massey Lectures – Becoming Human (click here) – and in his three NPR interviews  with Krista Tippett (click here).
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The Squinch – An Architecture of Appetite in Poems by Hass and Kinnell

August Blackberries

August Blackberries



I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths and squinched,
many-lettered, on-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

Galway Kinnell from Mortal Acts, Mortal Words, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980

I first knew the word squinch defined as an architectural feature that helps hold up a structural component like a dome over a square building. And I confirmed this looking my real not virtual dictionary! The Oxford! But no matter! What a juicy word. And brought so wonderfully and deliciously to life by American poets Galway Kinnell (1927 – 2014) and Robert Hass (1941 – ). But by using squinch in a very different way. Squinch, as in compressing or closing something.

And beyond the delight in the mouth of the word squinch, Kinnell’s poem has particular significance for me. Earlier this summer at a poetry retreat in Italy, Kim Addonizio, the retreat leader, recited Kinnell’s poem from memory. Better still she recited it during a festival in the village of Il Castello Di Valle Di Nera in Umbria. What makes the location even more relevant is that this village was devastated by the 1997 earthquake and completely rebuilt! Last week’s equally devastating earthquake to the north of this area brought the reality of this into much clearer focus. Eerie for me as well. I was in Italy during the 1997 quake and just missed the most recent one by six weeks.

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The Bigness of Small Poems – #19 in a Series – David Fraser Storms the Unspeakable!

Canadian poet David Fraser

Canadian poet David Fraser

The End

The room is too small
for a serious debate between
two lovers who are no more,
but perfect for the silences
of space, the cosmos
swallowing up comment,
leaving only one exit
for both of them, each not
wanting to be the first.

David Fraser from After All the Scissor Work Is Done, Leaf Press, 2016

The life of poetry on Vancouver Island, B.C., and in particular, in Nanaimo, would be a lot leaner without the contributions of David Fraser, undaunted champion of all things poetry. Whether his own poems, or the one’s published in his magazine Ascent Aspirations, or the poems shared at WordStorm, Nanaimo’s spoken word poetry reading series he co-founded in 2007, Fraser believes in the power of the poetic word.

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Where Does a Great Poem Point To? – Poems and Comments by Franz Wright and Li-Young Lee

Franz Wright (1953-2015) Pulitizer- Prize-Winning American Poet

Franz Wright (1953-2015) Pulitizer Prize-Winning American Poet


for Dzvinia Orlowsky

Where is the 
the man of heaven
in me—

my body’s filthy, face and hands

completely filthy
the man of dust

This mask
this glove
of human flesh

is all I have
and that’s not bad
and that’s not good

not good enough

not now

Franz Wright (1953-2015) from The Beforelife, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002

This poem by Franz Wright (Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet like his father, James) jumped out at me with a shovel and a rake when I read it today. The day after I came home from a week long poetry retreat with American poet Li-Young Lee at the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe sponsored by Seattle-based Image Journal (the Journal of Art, Faith and Mystery).

What a line by Wright: Where is/ the man of heaven/ in me—. It challenges me especially after my week at the Glen. How do I access, not my persona, but what Lee calls my unknown self, the one I discover if I surrender myself to my poem and what ultimately my poem points me to! Can I get to the same place Wright does where he says his mask of flesh is not bad but where he adds that this is not good //not good enough // not now.

Wright’s first lines cohere with Lee’s main contention during our week together: if we, as poets, don’t write from the ultimate authentic place in us (in Christian terms, the Christ consciousness within us) we are writing as a persona and our poems will not fulfill their ultimate potential. Lee makes no bones about his contention that poetry is a spiritual practice. Other poets will disagree but not me. Here is one of Lee’s statements that still echoes inside me.

The artist knows we are surrendering to something bigger…. We have to practice being God’s eye, heart, mind and will. I don’t want more separation. I don’t want to write a persona poem. My ego is a persona. I won’t get to the real Li-Young unless I let Christ inhabit the art.

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The Bigness of Small Poems – #18 in a Series – James Wright – A Poem to Counter Terror

Victims of the July 1st Dhaka Attacks: Abinta Kabir, Faraaz Hossain, and Tarishi Jain.

Victims of the July 1st Dhaka Attacks: Abinta Kabir, Faraaz Hossain, and Tarishi Jain.



As the plump squirrel scampers
Across the roof of the corncrib,
The moon suddenly stands up in the darkness,
And I see that it is impossible to die.
Each moment of time is a mountain.
An eagle rejoices in the oak trees of heaven,
This is what I wanted.

James Wright from Above the River: The Complete Poems, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990

It has been a few weeks since the tragic terrorist attack in Dhaka but since then violence in the world continues unabated.  Attacks of all kinds: the attempted coup in Turkey, the deaths in Nice, France by a man in a truck, the deaths of five policeman in Dallas and days before that, the two deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. At times like these poetry can bring some kind of solace. Which is why this James Wright’s poem brought me such comfort when I learned of the deaths of the three young people who died in the Dhaka attacks.

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The Bigness of Small Poems – # 17 in a Series – Song Lines – The Eco-Poetics of Basma Kavanaugh

Canadian poet Basma Kavanaugh

Canadian poet Basma Kavanaugh

from NICHE

Last winter a chorale in an old church, a cold night in a prairie city. The
unaccompanied human voices smouldered and keened, swelled the stone
building, fluttered in the wooden rafters, soared

over shining pews, ruffling the hairs of my body. With my skin suddenly too
small, and pain burnishing my larynx, I thought, this is why we love the birds,
this is our gift to earth, our reason for being.

Basma Kavanaugh, from NICHE, Frontenac House Poetry, 2015

Poetry as rabble-rouser in the best sense of the words. To stir our spirit and our consciences! Especially in its passionate call to preserve our fragile planet, all its creatures!  That is something Basma Kavanaugh sings out again and again in her 2015 collection: NICHE. Not only is the poetry noteable in this collection but the production quality is way above average especially with its use of illustrations. A book that feels good to hold in the hand.

Kavanaugh is a poet, visual artist and letterpress printer from Manitoba who was short-listed for the CBC Canada Writes Poetry Prize in 2014. But even more, she is a woman who gives voice to an eco-poetics we need to hear and sing in our blood! So many of her poems are praise songs for the land. And what an appropriate epigraph she uses from Pablo Neruda to begin her book: This is the land./ It grows in your blood/ and you grow./If it dies in your blood/ you die out. Ouch and double ouch.

In this small poem, number seventeen in my occasional series, Kavanaugh brings singing into her poem and in so doing, for me, provides an echo from a long poetic tradition. The idea of poetry as its own kind of singing. The incredible importance of singing, and the singing that is poetry!

Her poem makes me think of American poet Gregory Orr’s wonderful line: Turn me into song. Sing me awake. Even more directly it reminds me of these lines by American poet e.e. cummings from his poem # 53:

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old.

So many references to singing in Kavanaugh’s book!  Here’s the poem that comes after the one that introduce this post! Oh, the songs we all need to sing to save our precious Earth:

To sing. To warble, cry, croon, chant. To trill, lament, howl, wail,
To ululate, to lullaby.

Long ago people grew tobacco high in the Rockies. In cool, short summers,
they sang two hundred songs so the sacred leaves could ripen before frost. In
this gadget-rich gallup

to apocalypse what have we lost? What have we gained? If evolution has
stopped, can we sing tenderness, surrender, sing our ending, coax the future
from a seed? With a chorus of seven billion,

one small song each?

Basma Kavanaugh, ibid