Click to See What’s New

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

Oh No, Another Great Poet Gone – Linda Gregg (1942- March 19th, 2019) – Her “Eyes Open, Uncovered to the Bone”

American poet Linda Gregg (1942-2019) Photo Credit: Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Each Thing Measured by the Same Sun

Nothing to tell. Nothing to desire.
A silence that is not unhappy.
Who will guess I am not
backing away? I am pleased
every morning because the stones
are cold, then warm in the sun.
Sometimes wet. One, two, three days
in a row. Easy to say yes and no.
Realizing this power delicately.
Remembering the cow dying on the ground,
smelling dirt, seeing a mountain
in the distance one foot away.
Making a world in the mind.
The spirit still connected to the body.
Eyes open, uncovered to the bone.

Linda Gregg from Sacraments of Desire, Graywolf Press, 1991

Thanks to my friend Barb Pelman I only learned of the death of the American poet Linda Gregg a few hours ago. She has been a poetic talisman for me for about ten years. I have written much on her over the years. (See previous blogs dated Dec. 4th, 2012 and Nov. 30th, 2012. Also April 17th, 2014 and January 16th, 2016). The poem above, one my favorite Gregg poems. Statements like gunfire’s staccato. And the defining statement of the last line: Eyes open, uncovered to the bone. Linda, that was your genius along with the hammer-head simplicity and impact of the way you wrote what you saw, eyes open, uncovered to the bone.

I discovered Linda through her connection to the celebrated American poet Jack Gilbert (1925-2012) her former husband for eight years early in her life and life-long friend. Their relationship was tempestuous, filled with Gilbert’s betrayals, but their lives were inextricably intertwined until Gilbert died. When I met Gregg at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival about five years ago she was still visibly shaken by Gilbert’s death about two or three years before.

Gregg’s spare but searing poems with her matter of fact diction coupled with graphic images, confront and astound me. And her detached tone which heightens the shock value of what she says ! Like these lines from her poem, Wife, below:

My husband sucks her tits.
He walks into the night, her Roma, his being alive.
Toward that outer love. I wait in the hotel
until four…..
Read More »

The Bigness of Small Poems – #46 in a Series – Crozier and Lane (and Tranströmer)

A broadsheet of two poems by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane. Printed by Sally Green of the Brooding Heron Press, 2010

Two exquisite, yet for me enigmatic, poems by the Canadian poets Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, partners for more than forty years before Patrick’s death eleven days ago. This broadsheet hangs in my home office and I revisit it now again. And every time I feel happily lost in a lyric mysteriousness, much the way I do when I read Nobel Prize Laureate Tomas Tranströmer whose poem Tracks concludes this blog post.

I have to leave my head, my mind behind when I approach these poems. I have to ask my heart what it sees what it feels. And I get to love the haunting spareness of both of them! Their language and images. I have to surrender to the images first and only while immersed in them allow my mind a little wiggle room with the huge thoughts, huge abstractions. First, in Lorna’s poem: a dark that lives in us and hard-won grief and second, in Patrick’s poem: what language can’t say, can’t reach.
Read More »

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 45 in a Series – A Small Gem by Patrick Lane (1939-2019)

A poem by Patrick Lane: Calligraphy by Martin Jackson, 2000

The benefit of cleaning up a chaotic office! Finding this exquisite small poem by Patrick Lane. As I remember him telling me, and here my memory may be a touch thin in places, this poem was part of a larger piece and his “Beloved”, Lorna Crozier, told him this was the poem!

I appreciate the complexity of this poem. This is where I can get geeky about craft! The extra richness its syntax provides. And the line breaks. So much to feast on! Beneath the tree; glutted on winter. That meaning. Then this: Beneath the tree; glutted on winter apples, seven sparrows lie. The wonderful delay of the verb! Then the more of: drunk, beating small wings on snow.

And then the turn. The leap and the clear evidence of a master poet’s mind at work. The move from pure image to something more complex and infused with thought. The alchemy Lane creates as if the these birds could transform ice and snow into air, something to fly free inside!

And where this poem flies me is my own wings beating against death these days. Patrick’s, Merwin’s, Hoagland’s and the death in December of my my dear friend in poetry, Andy Parker from Houston, Texas.

My version of these lines. The comfort it brings:

as if he could fly into it
and make of death an element as free as air.

Maybe gratitude, not death, is what will free me of some of my sadness. The gratitude for the gift of poetry as a poet and teacher, Patrick gave so many of us.

 

Absences Gone Through Me – R.I.P. W.S. Merwin and Patrick Lane – The Bigness of Small Poems – # 27 in a Series – Updated and Revised

American Poet W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

EARLY ONE SUMMER

Years from now
someone will come upon a layer of birds
and not know what he is listening for

these are the days
when the beetles hurry through dry grass
hiding pieces of light

W.S. Merwin from Migration: New and Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2005

What a great poem to celebrate W.S. Merwin who died today in Hawaii, age 91. Another one of the greats gone, this time south of the border while I am still reeling from the death of one of our greats on this side of the border, Patrick Lane.

Putting it simply, Merwin was one of the American poetic giants of the past fifty years. He was the recipient of countless awards and honours including two Pulitzer Prizes and the position of U.S. Poet Laureate in 2010. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was, with his wife Paula, his reclamation of nineteen over-farmed and cleared acres in Maui, Hawaii, transforming it into a unique preserve of more than eight hundred species of palm.

Early One Summer. What an image rich and yet, mysterious little poem. Are these birds dead or alive? I may be way off but I love the idea of an archeologist coming across a layer of bird bones with no idea what songs, from bones, sang a summer morning into even more beauty, years before! Or, the idea of someone coming across a mass of birds with no idea what the songs could call from their heart!

I wonder as well if I hear an echo of these lines from e.e. cummings’s 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 what to make of the last tercet with its striking image of beetles hiding pieces of light. Now, after, for us here on the West coast a long dark winter, I especially cherish the image of the beetles hiding summer light. Would I, could I, find that light now to light my way in my late day walks in the nearby woods. And figuratively, to light my way in dark times of war and random acts of terrorism like the horrible mosque attack in New Zealand yesterday.

Merwin, what a human treasure. The author of more than fifty books of essays, prose, poems and translation.Even at eight-nine, effectively blind, he was still composing poems. His last book of poems, The Essential W.S. Merwin came out in 2017. And in 2016 he released two books: Garden Time, a poetry collection, and an illustrated volume, What Is a Garden, including poems and essays centered around  the remarkable palm sanctuary he and his wife created over forty years.

Here is another small-poem gem of his. One of my favorite small poems. A perfect choice on this day of his passing, his absence and Patrick’s:

Separation

Your absence has gone through me
Like a thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

W.S. Merwin from Migration: New and selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2005

The coherence of the metaphor in this poem astounds me! And another thing: it has punctuation, something Merwin discarded in the late 1960’s.

But to go back to Early One Summer, Merwin’s deft image of the beetles brought to mind a poem many of my American friends may not have encountered. One from my my much-loved mentor and friend, Canadian poet Patrick Lane who died last week. Gardens were also a passion of Lane’s. Here is Lane’s poem:

Patrick Lane (1939-March 7th, 2019)


UNDER THE SUN IN THE DRY DESERT HILLS
WHERE THE RAIN NEVER FALLS IN AUGUST

In deep sand a beetle shoulders her way toward paradise.
A sunflower, wild with yellow, covers her with one shadow.
Among the grains of quartz, one bruised garnet, a cone of pine.
The beetle clambers. There is nothing like her in the world.
Almost blind, I get down on my knees.
My bare feet have the same soles they had when I was born.
My mother is dead.
Among many things I am alive. Still.
A single drop of water falls.
The beetle stops for a moment but she does not drink from the salt.
There is somewhere she has to go and she goes on.
Mightily.

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

Ah, the slowness of this poem. Its end-stopped lines. How this poem moves like the beetle. Carefully. Slowly. Mightily!

What a pleasure to say good-bye to these poets by featuring two great beetle poems by two true masters of the craft! And now, also the sadness, knowing that both these great lives are end-stopped. No next lines.

A Poem and a Blues Hurting Song – Haunted and Haunting Words from Patrick Lane’s Hard, Hard Days

Patrick Lane (1939-March 7th, 2019)

ASSINIBOINE

Deep summer nights and you, far off, quiet in the dawn.
That last morning the mute swans were on the river and I was unclean.
I placed hot stones in water as you told me of the old people
beside the slow current singing. If I look hard enough I believe
I can see the swans slide past on that long river going toward the lake.
It took many stones, you weaving grouse feathers in your hair, and laughing.
Do you remember the swans? The birds whose wings were song?
Your mother told you they were ghost birds. But she was crazy, you said.
And then the city and you lost again in the bars, the empty rooms.
It was the time one of my last lives was changing.
I looked hard, but there was no finding you.
I turned all the way around then and headed west toward the grey rain.
It was a far way, that walking to the place where the sun drowns.

Patrick Lane from Washita: New Poems, Harbour Publishing, 2014

One of the things I learned from Patrick Lane as a student of his retreats and then as a friend was his unflinching honesty about his years of addiction, in his conversations public and private, in his poems and especially in There Is a Season, his 2004 memoir of his first year in recovery from forty five years of alcohol and drug abuse. Patrick was not afraid to go back to those hard days. And name their dark bleakness. He was not afraid either to write poems of the ones left behind, especially women, in that crepuscular drug and alcohol world. These haunted poems of women who may not have escaped that world. The one he did escape with such courage in his early 60’s.

Because of my work as a poetry therapist with men and women in recovery I see the value of the hard naming. Of poems set in the time of addiction. Poems as a reminder, a warning about what was, and the darkness there, if they were to return. Which too many do return to. And Patrick, thank God, didn’t. Because if he had many of us who were taught by him during his sober years would have missed him. I for one, would have lost my greatest teacher.

Patrick is not the only recovering addict to name their dark days. I think especially of American poets Thomas Lux, Franz Wright and Mary Karr and most recently books by American poets Kaveh Akbar and Chelsey Minnis recounting harrowing addicted times. Also Marie Howe, her poems in her most recent collection, Magdalene, of being addicted and the early days of recovery. The searing lines of this poem called Magdalene – The Addict: I liked Hell./ I like to go there alone./ Relieved to lie in the wreckage, ruined, physically undone./ The worst had happened. What else could hurt me then?/I thought it was the worst, thought nothing worst could come./Then nothing did and no one. What an ouch in that poem.
Read More »

The Desolate “Isness” of Addiction – A Poem by Patrick Lane

Canadian author Patrick Lane (1939 – 2019)

Half-Hearted Moon

Sometimes I don’t feel anything. It’s best
to be with people when I do. I stare
across the coke and whiskey at Jimmy
and Moon. We are talking about nothing.
The half-hearted night stumbles
up the cracked pane and no one cares.
Moon is crying and there is nothing
I can do. She isn’t mine
and if she was I’d leave her. Right now
I’m staring at the scar of light
cut in the sky. You may think it hard,
the part about Moon.
But she is here and she is stoned
and she’s paid nothing for the trip.
She will.
The dark will come soon and eat her alive.
But not tonight.
Tonight it’s just me, safe for the hours,
a bottle hidden behind the wrecked sofa,
most of an eight-ball tucked into my sock,
knowing no matter what, I’m okay.
For now.
but you tell me, if you know.

Patrick Lane from Go Leaving Strange, Harbour Publishing, 2004

Tomorrow I facilitate a poetry writing session with men and women in recovery. In the aftermath of the death of the great Canadian writer Patrick Lane I have been thinking a lot about his poetry. And especially about this devastating poem written about the dark days of his addiction to alcohol and drugs before his recovery in 2000 at age sixty.That journey to recovery is portrayed in his award winning memoir There is a Season. Still one of the finest memoirs I have ever encountered.
Read More »

Remembering Patrick Lane (1939-2019) – A Poem

Patrick Lane

Fear and Reading

Reading Patrick Lane again, hearing Faulkner:
Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice 
and studies the master. Read! So I read Lane's lines,
and wander behind them, not like a soldier, rifle
at the ready, not sure of friend or foe, but curious
about an image I fear. Lane, talking about writers,
the art of careful watching, saying, when he sat
among the snakes: their dense bodies
how he held one of the great father’s to his ear
so I could listen to the whisper of his breathing.

To hold something, its skin so close to the earth’s
breathing, its skin and open mouth so close 
to our living and not be afraid. To know 
as I know how Lane sat among the rattle snakes
in their hibernaculum in the dry sage brush country;
to wonder if he or anyone could hold a rattler,
great father, earth’s fanged venom, so close,
an old friend. And how much of this earth must I hold,
watch and listen into a poetry unafraid of how
it will change me? Unafraid to feel the dry skin,
the long winter there, the death inside it,
                                                       breathing. 

Richard Osler, January 14th, 2019, unpublished

During one of the Patrick Lane retreats I attended I remember Patrick telling me about sitting among the rattlers. That image has haunted me. I remember being so afraid of them when I spent time in rattler country back east in the Georgian Bay. But this is how Patrick entered this world. Brave and at times, dare I say, a bit reckless or was it just fearless? I don’t know but his encounters with wild things is one of the many ways I cherish his memory.

So many things Patrick taught me and the huge tribe of us that were taught by him over the years. But one of the most important was to write a poetry so fearless it could change me. In my own way I have tried to take my “rattlers” in my arms and listen to their breathing, their wisdom.

Thank you Patrick. How you challenged me to be the most fearless poet I could be. How you challenged yourself the same way. And the gift of friendship you gave me. Not just with you but with your beloved Lorna Crozier and the other dear friends I made through your retreats near Sooke, on Vancouver Island, on Bowen Island offshore West Vancouver and in Honeymoon Bay near Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island.

Patrick Lane R.I.P. (March 26th, 1939 – March 7th, 2019)

Patrick Lane, beloved Canadian poet and treasured friend. Photo Credit: Richard Osler

When I Sleep

When I sleep the birds come to the garden
With their gifts of seeds out of ice
Last year’s leaves of grass lift into night.
All my songs have been one song.
The palm of my hand and the sole of my foot
remember everything I have forgotten.
The old lantern by the pond has always been there.
Now is the time to light it.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems, Harbour Publishing, 2011

Patrick Lane once said poets should not be afraid of clichés but find a way to bust them, make them new, surprising. Patrick Lane is dead. And I want to be the first to say: Stop all the clocks. But Auden said it first. And it’s over-known now, I know.

Instead I want to say let the beetles know, the ones that walked through his poems. I want to say let all the birds know. And let the cougar know, who drank from a pool as Lane looked on and the cougar looked back at him. I want to say what words can’t say.

But what I will say: All your songs were one song. And I will sing them on. And I promise I will not leave my lantern unlit.

I love you , my teacher, my friend.

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 44 in a series – Joy, Not Meant To Be a Crumb

English poet Phillip Larkin (1922-1985). Photo credit: Fay Godwin 1970

Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

3 August, 1953

Philip Larkin, from Whitsun Weddings in Philip Larkin, Collected Poems, The Marvel Press and Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1988

Luck

Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
Is flung.

To some people
Love is given,
To others
Only heaven.

Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994

 

American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Throwing out handfuls of thanks, not crumbs, to my Island Five colleague and friend Terry Ann Carter for mentioning, in a Facebook post, the poem Days by the English poet Phillip Larkin. If I knew this poem at all I had forgotten it. But it tied in to so well with two poems I have been wanting to feature in a blog post for the past few weeks. This idea of joy or happiness. Do we give it enough room in our lives? Do we cultivate it? (To see my post from January 2018 that also featured Langston Hughes poem please click here.)

Read More »

Two Poems – How Can We Prepare for Our Losses? – One Poem Each By Keetje Kuipers and Jane Hirschfield

American poet Keetje Kuipers.

Anemoia

Not yet old enough to read, and already
            my daughter’s learned nostalgia by example,
what to feel at a loon’s call or when passing
            a blue door, how the sky just before nightfall
turns like a vulnerable animal showing
            its belly. She misses the dog who died
before she was born, the town we barely
            lived in. When she tries to give language
to everything she thinks as past—the Indians
            and ice caps and the neighbor girl, now
ten states away, who used to thread flowers
            through her baby-fine hair—her words
become the ropes that lower each to its grave.
            I want to cut loose from her each wistful sigh
I hear escape her lips, lips that have never
            spoken secrets like scars on the air or kissed
another’s mouth to bruising. But if she doesn’t
            learn nostalgia now, how will I ever teach her
regret? I have to get her ready for the future.

Keetje Kuipers from Narrative On-Line Journal, Winter 2019

First, the definition of Anemoia: nostalgia for a time you’ve never known. And that seems pretty well embodied in Keetje Kuipers poem published recently on Narrative On-Line.

Second, who is Keetje Kuipers? Turns out she is an American poet , winner of many poetry honours, whose third book, All its Charms, is coming out from BOA Editions in 2019. And she has a list of blurbers on the back cover of her book to envy: Tracy K. Smith (U.S. Poet Laureate), Ellen Bass and Beth Ann Fennelly.

And thanks to the net I discovered more about Keetje Kuipers who lives not far from me on an island in the Salish Sea. She is married to her college sweetheart Sarah Fritsch Kuipers and gave birth to their daughter Nela about six years ago. I don’t usually mention these kinds of domestic details in my blog posts but I have for this post because of the story of her relationship with Sarah in the Swarthmore College Bulletin, Winter 2017, profiling LGBTQ couples who met and fell in love at Swarthmore, a liberal arts college founded in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania in 1864 by a branch of the Society of Friends (Quakers).
Read More »