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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”.

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The Extraordinary Poetry of Two Tormented Poets and Lovers – Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan

Austrian German poet Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) Photo Credit: The New Yorker and Herbert List, Magnum

The Respite

A harder time is coming.
The end of the respite allowed us
appears on the skyline.
Soon you must tie your shoelace
and drive back the dogs to the marshland farms.
For the fishes’ entrails
have grown cold in the wind.
Poorly the light of the lupins burns.
Your gaze gropes in the fog:
the end of the respite allowed us
appears on the skyline.

Over there your loved one sinks in the sand:
it rises toward her blown hair,
it cuts short her speaking,
it commands her to be silent,
it finds that she is mortal
and willing to part
after every embrace.

Do not look around.
Tie your shoelace.
Drive back the dogs.
Throw the fishes into the sea.
Put out the lupins!

A harder time is coming.

Ingeborg Bachman (1926-1973), trans. Michael Hamburger from The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, Ecco, 2010

Thanks to an extensive article by Emma Garman online in the Paris Review this week I was reminded of the extraordinary German poet Ingeborg Bachmann. And the great impact the poem above had on my poetry mentor and friend Patrick Lane when he read it in an anthology in the 60’s. It may be that Bachmann is experiencing a real revival of interest in her work. Just a few months ago the writer Rachel Kushner profiled her late-career novel Malina in the New Yorker, calling it the truest portrait of female consciousness since Sappho.

I don’t remember all Patrick said about The Respite but its  ominous and threatening overtones created by such original images gut-punch me every time I read it.  And maybe, just maybe, I might hazard to claim that this line: Put out the lupins is one of the greatest lines of poetry I have ever read. Especially coming as it does after the lupins are introduced in the first stanza: Poorly the light of the lupins burns. The dread in this poem. The dread in so many of her poems.

Bachmann struggled with a lot of mental pain and despair in her life and her poetry is drenched with the darkness of a post-war Germany. What I didn’t know within her troubled but brilliant writing life, that ended tragically in a cigarette-caused fire in her Rome apartment, was her tempestuous on and off relationship with the great German-speaking Jewish Romanian poet, Paul Celan. Celan, who drowned himself in the Seine in 1970, was forever haunted by the Second World War and its toll on so many including his family – his parents died in the Holocaust and he endured two years as a prisoner in a labour camp. His poem Death Fugue is considered one of the most important poetic expressions of the horror of the Holocaust.
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What a Feast of New Poems! The La Romita En Plein Air Poetry Retreat June 22nd to July 2nd, 2019

The view from Narni, Umbria, overlooking the Nera River valley

Was it only last Sunday we were here in the hill town of Narni? And wrote our next to last poem based on postcards with images taken from space  of our solar system and stars and constellations hundreds of light years away. The challenge: to write a poem that connects the the far-away images to specific moments or images from here in Umbria.

We read our poems together a few hours after we returned to La Romita before our poetry reading that evening. For the reading the twelve of us picked a favorite poem from the more than ten poems we each wrote during the retreat.
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Death by Addiction – A Searing Poetic Memoir by Sheryl St. Germain

American poet Sheryl St. Germain. Photo credit: ©teake zuidema, 2107.

Loving An Addict

Yesterday the skies were troubled
gusts almost knocked us down

today the sun, the kiss of a breeze

it was always fights or lies

Maybe at the end 

         I preferred the lies

Sheryl St. Germain from The Small Door of Your Death, Autumn House Press, 2018

The absolute helplessness of of someone close to a person in the thrall of addiction. The huge bravery of Sheryl St. Germain to write about it. And the crushing metaphor inside the title of her collection of poems: The small door of your death. Small door = needle prick. Equals overdose. Equals death. Equals the death of St. Germain’s son Gray (1984-2014) almost five years ago. Equals the title of her passage through her own addiction and Gray’s and his death.

This is an astonishingly out-there book. Harrowing and life giving. Yes the contradictions poetry can hold. This book epitomizes what poetry should and could be. The huge no of addiction and a son’s addiction and death. The huge yes of recovery and moving from unspeakable grief to the release of speaking and writing about it. I can’t say enough good things about this book. And about St. Germain’s never-give-up heart.

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Two Roads to Take – One Truly Up, One Tragically Down – Poetry for Recovery

Tools of Drug Addiction

The Addiction Room

The room is dark. There are four walls
a top and a bottom. I am trapped. I can’t get out
and sometimes in that darkness I don’t want out,
sometimes I love feeling trapped, like the room
has somehow stayed safe. I cannot get out
and more importantly, no one can get in.

Somewhere along the way I’ve become the darkness,
become one with the room, surrounded by the chaos,
white noise and demonic screams. My fear fades
with the kiss of that pin-point touch, warmth flows
throughout my body and in that moment I am
untouchable but no one told me what tomorrow would bring.
The warmth that pretended to be safety was gone,
I was trapped and no longer wanted to be.
The six sides of this room mirrored the cold prison
I was living and dying in on the inside. Death was
lingering ever so closely and not that that I had
become completely unaware of it, I had stopped
fearing it. I almost wanted it and invited it. I am trapped
and all hope is gone or lost in this four-sided, top
and bottomed room.

S. with permission

I have the privilege of being midwife to the birth of fragile, restive, resilient, stand-out poems written by men and women in recovery. Given safe space and the support of other supportive published poetic voices these poems appear on the page in under fifteen minutes. Some go back to the darkest days of addiction, some celebrate the new light coming through in recovery. Others span any topic you might imagine. But what they all share is what Canadian poet Susan Musgrave says: a poem knows more than I do and is wiser than I am. And that is where the healing can happen. The writer’s own voice as counselor and confidant.

Today I write this blog with a sadness infused in between my words. S (not the initial of her first name) who wrote these searing words above during the past few years died in mid-2018 of an overdose. A courageous woman, another casualty of our on-going opioid crisis. S was happy to give me permission to use her poems in my work. And her mother has welcomed my use of them. I thank them both. But I so wish S was alive to read these poems and write some more.

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Poem as a White Raven Released from Darkness – The Poetry of Luljeta Lleshanaku

Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku (1968 – ), short-listed for the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize. Photo Credit: Guernica Magazine

Waiting for a Poem

I’m waiting for a poem,
something rough, not elaborate or out of control,
something undisturbed by curses, like a white raven
released from darkness.

Words that come naturally, without aiming at anything,
a bullet without a target,
warning shots to the sky
in newly occupied lands.

A poem that will well up in my chest

and until it arrives
I will listen to my children fighting in the next room,
and cast my gaze down at the table
at an empty glass of milk
with a trace of white along its rim
my throat wrapped in silver
a napkin in a napkin ring
waiting for late guests to arrive…..

Luljeta Lleshanaku from Between Water & Song – New Poets for the 21st Century, edited by Norman Minnick, White Pine Press, 2010

I was delighted to see that the Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku, along with her translator Ani Gjika has been short-listed for the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize for her 2018 collection Negative Space. Lleshanaku is an original voice. Plain-spoken, straight-forward but also a shape-shifter, a magician who adds a dash of mystery and magic inside her words. And sometimes a quiet eeriness.

I discovered the poem above in an anthology nine years ago and quickly included it in my collections of poems on poetry.Maybe it’s just me but the way she has written her last lines I feel a strange ambiguity. The lack of commas in the version of the poem I have from her book a child of nature adds an eeriness for me.

Is she describing a napkin in a napkin ring on a table like the glass of milk? Or is she, her throat wrapped in silver, the napkin in a napkin ring? Yikes. So much going on.

She says she’s waiting for a poem to arrive and that it will come in the details of the dailiness of her life (children fighting and a glass of milk) and it seems that it did arrive. Maybe as a late guest to her word table, word feast. It arrived with the jolt of that strange and compelling image of a throat wrapped in silver, a napkin in a napkin ring. That constraint. This sense she is wearing a choke collar. And knowing the repressive regime in Albania she grew up in is their a touch of the political in this poem? Maybe.

No matter the undercurrents running through this poem I love being able to sit inside its subtle mysteriousness and feel its bigness. Feel how it captures the elusiveness of a great poem. The reader running hard to catch up to the poem but never quite getting there.

I found this profound meditation by Lleshanaku on suffering and the healing power of poetry  in a 2017 interview in Gurenica:

Years ago, I thought that if a person had experienced injustice in her life, it meant she would be fair, because she would know what it meant to be a victim of injustice. But now I am not so sure. Experiencing injustice can also make a person dangerous. Carrying a sense of revenge and anger can make a person victimize their own self. I could easily be one of them. But writing was the thing that protected the child inside me, helped me deal with my fears, displeasure, pain, wounds. Writing was the instrument by which I discovered the beauty and meaning in the midst of misery. So poetry protected me from myself.

This idea that writing poetry, a poem,  can protect us from ourselves. Marvelous! Ah, that kind of poem would be, as she says a poem is, a white raven released from darkness.

The Incense of J’Adore. A Poem for Mother’s Day by the Sierra Lorean-American Poet Yalie Kamara

The Sierra-Leonean-American poet Yalie Kamara. Photo credit: From her website.

 

THURIBLE

“I’ll be loving you until the day that you are me and I am you.”
—  Stevie Wonder



	I know that homesickness is born from distance
	and that distance cures home sickness.

	And that rage is a big calcified hut of a heart
	with one door, two rooms and a half-opened

        window. And that you both sleep on
        its floor when words are two mouths
	
        full of broken teeth. And that this is a lineage thing.
        From mother to daughter. I know you will awaken

        for two reasons: the whistle pitch of a ready kettle
        on the stove or the fragrance of braided flowers swaying

        at the lip of the open window. Today in Indianna,
        I felt heat rising from my pulse points.

        I spritzed both of your birthday present perfumes
        onto my body as if they would never run out.

        Lovely. I rurubbed them into my wrists unrtil my bracelets
        clanged like laughter. J’adore.

        Until I was joyful and almost bare boned. 
        Until I saw the human smoke of my good work.

        Until my arms were incense. Until your gifts lifted
        from my skin and glided on winter air, returning to you.

        Until you dreamt, until you couldn’t. And you both
        arrive in the kitchen and drink hot water. 

        And talk about the familiar scent of kin set aflame.

Yalie Kamara from A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF MY NAME in the New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tano), edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Albani, Akashic books, 2008

Every year for the past five years Akashic Books of Brooklyn, New York, has published a chapbook set of African poets edited by the black American poets Kwame Dawes and Chris Albani. As artistic artifacts these boxed-sets are a joy to touch and look at. What enjoyment to dump the contents (up to as many as eleven chapbooks in a box) and feast on the colourful and stand-out covers. What is inside is equally arresting. And in June the sixth box set in the series will be released.

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The Only Whole Thinking – Poetry! Another Farewell to a Poet – Les Murray 1938-2019

Australian poet Les Murray (1938-2019). Photo Credit: The Guardian

Poetry And Religion

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing’s said till it’s dreamed out in words
and nothing’s true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can’t pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can’t poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There’ll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds – crested pigeon, rosella parrot –
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.

Leslie (Les) Allan Murray (1938 – 2019) from The Daylight Moon, Carcanet Press Ltd, 1988

One way to keep writing blogs is to write farewells to favorite poets who have died recently! Not a way I like to choose. But what a list recently: Crawford, Hoagland, Lane, Merwin and Oliver to name a few! And now the Australian poet Les Murray. A poet who dedicated his books literally To the Glory of God, Murray could move from the transcendent to the nitty gritty of this earthy life on a dime. He could talk big ideas and then write about cows.

Murray, who died on April 29th, 2019, was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal in poetry in 1999, one among many honours he received  in his lifetime. To see the obituary in the Guardian please click here. And to see this great tribute to Murray by the poet David Mason in First Things please  click here.

Now, I want to talk about this poem above – Poetry and Religion! Such an example of big ideas and then grounding (almost!) the poem at the end with a striking physical image. And in between the beginning and the end so much abstract ideas punctuated now and then with startling images or asides: the image of the soldiers marriage bed and then a quote by Huckleberry Finn (What the heck!). But most important for me is the celebration of poetry as rising from an inexhaustible source! And that it the only whole thinking! Huge and gutsy declaration but worth considering!

I first encountered this poem in an on line course on spirituality and poetry led by the author Peggy Rosenthal whom I met through the Glen Workshop (sponsored by Image Journal) in Santa Fe. I am grateful to Peggy for this poem and many other other poems and ideas she has shared with me over the years. You can find her great blog on the Image website.
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Celebrating Death in Life – A Poem by Sam Hamill

American Poet, editor and publisher, Sam Hamill (1943-April 14th, 2018)Photo Credit:3QuarksDaily


The Orchid Flower

Just as I wonder
whether it’s going to die,
the orchid blossoms

and I can’t explain why it
moves my heart, why such pleasure

comes from one small bud
on a long spindly stem, one
blood red gold flower

opening at mid-summer,
tiny, perfect in its hour.

Even to a white-
haired craggy poet, it’s
purely erotic,

pistil and stamen, pollen,
dew of the world, a spoonful

of earth, and water.
Erotic because there’s death
at the heart of birth,

drama in those old sunrise
prisms in wet cedar boughs,

deepest mystery
in washing evening dishes
or teasing my wife,

who grows, yes, more beautiful
because one of us will die.

Sam Hamill from Habitation, Lost Horse Press, 2014

It’s been a few weeks more than a year since Sam Hamill died. So many beloved poets gone during this time. For the link to my post written last year celebrating his extraordinary life in poetry please click here. I came across this poem a few weeks ago and it seemed so appropriate. This terrible and wonderful dance between life and death. These conjoined twins. And in my life this dance so present. The birth of my grand daughter Eowyn during this time of mourning the death of Patrick Lane my beloved poetry mentor and teacher.

I remember Hamill reciting this poem a few years ago at the Cascadia Poetry Festival after his wife had died. The poignancy of that. And the poignant reminder to me knowing that death, too, will take me in its arms, to see all the beauty, all the life around me. Even all the death in life, some of it not pretty including wars, genocides and the dying of so much of the earth’s flora and fauna. To praise, as Adam Zagajewski says, this mutilated world!

 

 

 

Tender Regret – A Poem by Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) – #6 in a Series – A Way To Say Farewell and Thank You

American Poet, Teacher and Essayist, Tony Hoagland (1953-2018)


MESSAGE TO A FORMER FRIEND

I just wanted to write and say,
in case you are hit tomorrow by a truck

or are swept from the beach by a freak wave;
or in case your ex-wife decides

to take her own life
right after taking yours;

or in case you go to the doctor,
who finds a lump in your neck,

and you are carried swiftly out onto the terrible waters
of clinics and infusions

and I never see you again —
I just wanted to say,

Bon voyage, my friend, my dear and former friend.
I just wanted to confess

how much you meant to me back then,
before I learned to hold my love in check

thanks to my tutorial with you.
Thank God I got those holes sealed shut

through which every passerby
could see my neediness,

and thank God I banished you
into that frozen part of me

where nothing moves or breathes.
And yet it’s funny, isn’t it?

Our weakness can never be eliminated;
neediness is part of what we are.

Living is a kind of wound;
a wound is a kind of opening;

and even love that disappeared
mysteriously comes back

like water bubbling up from underground,
cleansed from its long journey in the dark.

ready for someone to arrive, and kneel
and drink it in again.

Tony Hoagland from Recent Changes in the Vernacular, Tres Chicas Books, 2017

Losing long-term and valued friendships was something that happened to others, not to me! Or so I thought! Then one friendship in particular hit the rocks, foundered and has yet to be salvaged. I am not sure I am willing to bring that friendship back out of the depths but Tony Hoaglabnd’s poem encourages me to look on the relationship, me included, with more tenderness and compassion. To see my role in the relationships’ sinking and to feel the love that sustained it for years. To be grateful.

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Tonight, the Memorial for Patrick Lane (1939-2019) – This Morning, Remembering an E-Mail Correspondence from Fourteen Years Ago

Patrick Lane Memorial Announcement for April 20th, 2019

So this is it, Lane. Not a living wake, but a celebration of all your living. And this is only the beginning. Wait until you’re dead.

Susan Musgrave, editor, from You Loved Being a Stranger – 55 Poets Celebrate Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 1994

There are times when I no longer know if what I have told is truth, or is a lie, a fiction. There are times I think I have gone mad. At such times I turn to praise and its companion, Prayer and in surrender find what peace I can.

Patrick Lane from There is a Season, McClelland & Stewart, 2004

What a shock to read the lines written by celebrated Canadian author Susan Musgrave in the introduction to a book of poems celebrating Patrick Lane’s fifty-fifth birthday twenty five years ago. Sad to say, the wait is over. The grief and celebrations have now begun.

And what comfort to read the lines from Lane’s astounding memoir written in his first years of sobriety.What a reminder for me as I grieve my dear friend’s death on March 7th to remember that praise and prayer are my way to healing from this huge loss in my life.

And tonight, April 20th , we will experience what Musgrave predicted twenty-five years ago, another proof of this at Patrick’s memorial celebration at the University of Victoria’s David Lamb Theatre at 7 PM. Already the outpouring of grief over Patrick’s death on March 7th and the concomitant celebration of his contribution to the Canadian literary landscape has been huge. I am sure at the memorial gathering that sense of grief but also celebration of his life will be equally powerful.

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