2020 Italy Retreat Banner

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

Patrick’s Poets – #3 in a Series – Vancouver Island’s Mary Ann Moore

Poet, blogger, book eviewer and writer mentor, Mary Ann in front of Susan Musgrave’s B&a in Haida Gwaii

Only Child

Even though I’m an only child, no one
can remember what time I was born.

Dad was sure it was midnight, he heard
the whistle of the train going north.

Aunt Valada said it was early morning,
just after she saw the milkman on Princess Street.

Mum couldn’t recall the time.

She said I had gashes on either side of my head
from the forceps. I had to stay in hospital,

there was something wrong with my eyes.
Grandma recommended carrots, bread crusts

to give me curly hair and it worked out
as did 10:30 a.m. figured out by Elizabeth,

the astrologer I once slept with, the two of us
in her single bed, the Cowboy Junkies on CD.

Mary Ann Moore, Unpublished with Permission

Mary Ann Moore need little introduction to the Vancouver Island writing community. Based out of Nanaimo she has been leading writing circles and has been a wonderfuly frequent participant at poetry retreats and readings up and down the island for many years. It has been a pleasure to hear Mary Ann’s poems for more than ten years. To see how her poet’s  eye for  details using a spare everyday plain diction has developed and developed into today’s finely honed and distinctive voice. Each word counts and her comic timing feels just right. In her poem above, to start at birth in hospital and end up in a single bed with an astrolger lover! Got to love it!

I first met Mary Ann at a Patrick Lane poetry retreat many years ago and so I was so glad to see the photo below taken at a Patrick Lane retreat by my dear friend Liz McNally, for many years the organizer of the Patrick retreats. And it was Liz I first featured in this series on poets mentored by Patrick! The second poet featured was Martha Royea. Other Patrick poets I have featured outside this series include Heidi Garnett, Rosemary Griebel, Linda Thompson, Barbara Pelman, Rhonda Ganz, Terry Ann Carter and, Susan Alexander.
Read More »

A Poem for Our Time by the Great Spanish Poet Antonio Machado – Walker, There Is No Road, The Road is Made by Walking

Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

from Proverbs and Songs


Walker, your footsteps
are the road, and nothing more.
Walker, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
Walking you make the road,
and turning to look behind
you see the path you never
again will step upon.
Walker, there is no road,
only foam trails on the sea.

Antonio Machado, trans. Willis Barnstone from Antonio Machado, Border of a Dream: Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2004

This celebrated poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875- 1939) first came to my attention through American poet Robert Bly in his seminal anthology, The Soul Is Here For Its Own Joy. Then it got a lot more personal when my beloved partner and wife Somae quoted it to me in day three of us getting together. I was getting all focused on the future and she gently reminded me, through this poem,  one day at time, Richard. One day at a time! Now I look back on more than four thousand three hundred and eighty of them!

And how relevant is this poem today. Its emphasis on one step at a time. Each step based on today. Only looking back will we know the path! It reminds me of the great line by David Whyte: what we can plan is too small for us to live.

And this huge little poem rings so true especially now during the pandemic when worry about the future looks like is running amok like a virus. What businesses will never reopen. The long term impact on investment portfolios, pensions, our standard of living. Instead this huge little poem says one step today, Another tomorrow. And trust that the step tomorrow may not be part of anything you planned.
Read More »

Grief Work – Two Versions of a Poem by Natalie Diaz

Hispanic and Indigenous American poet Natalie Diaz

Grief Work

Why not go toward the things I love?

I have walked slow in the garden
of her—: gazed the black flower

            dilating her animal-

I give up my sorrows
the way a bull gives it horns—: astonished,

            and wishing there is rest
            in the body’s softest parts.

Like Jacob’s angel, I touched the garnet
of her hip,

            and she knew my name,
            and I knew hers—:

it was Auxocromo, it was Cromofóro,
it was Eliza.

When the eyes and lips are brushed with honey
what is seen and said will never be the same,

so why not take the apple
in your mouth—:

            in flames, in pieces, straight
            from the knife’s sharp edge?

Achilles chased Hector round the walls
of Ilium three times—: how long must I circle

the high gate
between her hip and knee

            to solve the red-gold geometry
            of her thigh?

Again the gods put their large lands in me,
move me, break my heart

like a clay jug of wine, loosen a beast
from some darklong depth.

            My melancholy is hoofed.
            I, the terrible beautiful

Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered
at the bronze manger of her collarbones.

            I do my grief work
            with her body—:

labor to make the emerald tigers
in her throat leap,

lead them burning green to drink
from the deep-violet jetting her breast.
We go where there is love,
to the river, on our knees beneath the sweet
water. I pull her under four times,

            until we are rivered. 
            We are rearranged.

I wash the silk and silt of her from my hands—:
now who I come to, I come clean to, 

            I come good to.

Natalie Diaz from Postcolonial Love Poem, Graywolf Press, 2020

A friend of mine responded to my post on Natalie Diaz yesterday by saying my featured poem reminded her so much of another favorite poem of her whose author she couldn’t remember. As she started to read her poem I realized it was Grief Work by Natalie Diaz published in 2015! What I didn’t realize was how that poem was revised in her newly released book Postcolonial Love Poem.

Read More »

The Poetic Disruptions of Natalie Diaz – A Rich and Complex Title Poem in a Brilliant and Complex Book – Her Second Collection – Postcolonial Love Poem

Indigenous and Hispanic American poet, Natalie Diaz. Photo Credit: Remezcla, a digital publisher, creative agency, and entertainment company.

Postcolonial Love Poem

I’ve been taught bloodstones can cure a snakebite,
can stop the bleeding—most people forgot this
when the war ended. The war ended
depending on which war you mean: those we started,
before those, millennia ago and onward,
those which started me, which I lost and won—
these ever-blooming wounds.
I was built by wage. So I wage Love and worse—
always another campaign to march across
a desert night for the cannon flash of your pale skin
settling in a silver lagoon of smoke at your breast.
I dismount my dark horse, bend to you there, deliver you
the hard pull of all my thirsts—
I learned Drink in a country of drought.
We pleasure to hurt, leave marks
the size of stones—each a cabochon polished
by our mouths. I, your lapidary, your lapidary wheel
turning—green mottled red—
the jaspers of our desires.
There are wild flowers in my desert
which take up to twenty years to bloom.
The seeds sleep like geodes beneath hot feldspar sand
until a flash flood bolts the arroyo, lifting them
in its copper current, opens them with memory—
they remember what their god whispered
into their ribs: Wake up and ache for your life.
Where your hands have been are diamonds
on my shoulders, down my back, thighs—
I am your culebra.
I am in the dirt for you.
Your hips are quartz-light and dangerous,
two rose-horned rams ascending a soft desert wash
before the November sky unyokes a hundred-year flood—
the desert returned suddenly to its ancient sea.
Arise the wild heliotrope, scorpion weed,
blue phacelia which hold purple the way a throat can hold
the shape of any great hand—
Great hands is what she called mine.
The rain will eventually come, or not.
Until then, we touch our bodies like wounds—
The war never ended and somehow begins again.

Natalie Diaz from Postcolonial Love Poem, Graywolf Press, March 3rd, 2020

What a poem! This eponymous poem by the indigenous and Hispanic American, Natalie Diaz, from her second poetry collection in almost eight years, Postcolonial Love Poem. This poem and its book, both dazzling in their dark and daring undercurrents, crosscurrents of danger, loss, eros, longing, and conflict given to us in rich mixture of meta and personal motifs and moments. And such duende, those so-called dark notes, in this poem and in many of the other poems in her book.So many hungry lines, the kind of lines she says she likes to write!

And as I say in the title of this poem Diaz’s poetry is a poetry of disruptions. Disruptions of war and the subjugation of the U.S.’s indigenous population, the disruption of post colonialism, environmental degradation and climate change; disruption of addiction through the lens of her addict brother and the disruptions of love. But through it all is a deep undercurrent of eros and Lorca’s duende – the dark notes. But above all, the power of longing and love in this book , love for beloveds and the land,  do not succumb to the book’s underlying themes of conflict and surviving oppression.
Read More »

To Put the Soul Right – A Poem (plus two others) by Caitlin Maude, With Thanks to Ilya Kaminsky for Sharing It

Irish poet Caitlín Maude (1941-1982)

I Long For the Rhyme of Health

I long for the rhyme of health
a small fresh syllable
a poultice of words
to put the soul right
and make the body strong.

I long for a rhyme
to put the soul right.

Caitlín Maude, trans. from the Gaelic by Pearse Hutchinson from a Facebook post by American Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky

Call this my daily pandemic task, cleaning up the books and papers off the floor of my library! And call this poem by Caitlín Maude, featured above, an unexpected gift from that challenging task. I found it in a print out of poems and quotes posted by Ilya Kaminsky on Facebook before Christmas. That man is a treasure trove of great lines and quotes. Wise snippets.

In the first reading I had missed the Maude poem but in today’s circumstances it stuck out.  When I thought of the vitamins and such I am taking to boost my immune systen against Covid-19 I was forcefully reminded that perhaps an under-rated boost to my spiritual and physical immunity is the thing I love and cherish – poetry!

Oh how this wee poem sings out its heart to me! To put the soul right! To put the world right!  So apt for today. And I know as Keats knew that poetry has a lot to do with the soul! And if this poem isn’t some kind of deep soul-speak I don’t know what is.

Read More »

These Days I Can’t Seem To Get Enough of Greg Orr, His Latest Book – Two More Wisdom Poems for Hard Times

American poet Gregory Orr. Photo Credit: Emily Bolden

It’s narrow . . .

It’s narrow, and no room
For error—I zig

And zag through
The treacherous channel.

What fool said joy
Is less risky than grief?

My ship could wreck
On either shore.

Needing to navigate
By contradiction:

What I want to grip,
I need to release.

When despair says
“Let go,” I must hold

Gregory Orr from The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write, W.W. Norton & Company, 2019

I seem to be on a Greg Orr binge these days. To see last week’s post on Orr please click here and to see my introductory post to Orr back in 2012 please click here. Now the poem above and one below to feast on.

What to with opposites? How connected they can be in strange ways. Here in the poem above, It’s narrow . . ., two shores, each that can cause a wreck. Joy and despair. And then how to avoid coming aground on either. The lovely contradictions. The need to release joy, not clutch it. And the need to hold on to life when despair says: Let go.

Greg Orr’s poem from his latest book also makes me so aware of how I can hold joy at arms length. That way I think I will avoid the let down when it goes. For me that’s worse then holding on too tight to it! What I appreciate: the thought stirred by Orr’s poem that I must hold all of it lightly. Even my life. Letting go as our great act of generosity.
Read More »

A Found Poem – By Italian Novelist Francesca Melandri from The Guardian on March 27th – When All of This Is Over the World Won’t Be the Same

Italian novelist, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker Francesca Melandri (1964 – )

From The Guardian:

The acclaimed Italian novelist Francesca Melandri,
who has been under lockdown in Rome for almost three weeks
due to the Covid-19 outbreak, has written a letter
to fellow Europeans “from your future”,
laying out the range of emotions people
are likely to go through over the coming weeks.

And what a letter it is. And it is as relevant for me here in Duncan on Vancouver Island as it is to her fellow Europeans. I posted the letter from The Guardian on Facebook earlier today and as I did I once again thought how more powerful it would be as a poem! So I lineated it, gave it stanzas and took out a few prosey lines or phrases here and there but otherwise all the words in the “poem are Francesca’s.

This “poem”/letter has so many surprises in it.  Things that seem so obvious once I read them but weren’t so obvious before. The real human cost of the lockdown/ self isolation around the globe. What might happen inside those houses and apartments. Will spouses and children be beaten? Will marriages collapse? With the emphasis on cases and deaths and the looming economic toll some of these other tolls are not so well described. But they are here.  I especially appreciated her arch remarks about how nice it is the CO2 emissions have been cut in half but how will I pay my bills?

I hope you enjoy this “poem”/letter as much as I do!

A Letter To My Fellow Europeans

I am writing to you from Italy.
From your future. We are now
where you will be in a few days,
in a parallel dance.

We are but a few steps ahead of you
just like Wuhan was ahead of us. We watch
you as you behave just as we did. You hold
the same arguments we did,
between those who still say
“it’s only a flu, why all the fuss?”
and those who have already understood.

From your future, we know many
of you, as you were told to lock yourselves
up into your homes, quoted Orwell,
some even Hobbes. But soon you’ll be too busy
for that. Read More »

In a Strange Time, A Familiar Voice in These Pages- A Poem from Today, March 28th, by Francesca Bell from Rattle’s Poets Respond

American Poet Francesca Bell

for my husband, 21 years my senior

There are so many times
I could have killed you.

After 28 years of marriage—
the only contact sport
I’ve ever stuck with—

I found myself

crying this morning,
after a trip outside,
singing Happy Birthday

three times through,

just to be sure,

scrubbing despite
the sting of my split skin

as I’ve loved you
through even the rub
of the raw years.

I held my hands steady
in the water’s reassuring scald,

trying and trying
to save you.

Francesca Bell from Poets Respond at Rattle Online, March 28th, 2020

This is my fourth blog post featuring the American poet Francesca Bell. To see my most recent post on her first book please click here.

What I find startling in this poem published online by Rattle a few hours ago, is its simplicity but also its richness. Through her craft. Also they way Bell can be so personal without a hint of sentimentality. How well she does that here. Nothing like a love poem that begins: There are so many times/ I could have killed you. That’s enough to kill any sentimentality. And makes the love in the last lines so much more believable and impactful.

Read More »

The Answer to the Question “Yes” – The Whimsy and the Wise Words for a Time of Shatter – Four Poems by American Poet Gregory Orr

American poet Greg Orr (1947 – )

The last love poem I will ever write….

Will contain an invention for turning ant’s tears
Into hummingbird wings. It will hold every
Elegy the night sky ever wrote for the moon.
It will reveal the answer to the question “Yes.”

It will feature a rosebush that grew naturally
Into the shape of a woman, a man, a dog.
It will contain all of our sorrow and some of our joy.

It will exhibit glass slippers worn by the last queen of mice
And also the invisible cathedral built on the spot where we met.
It will display a tree whose leaves change colour
With the weather, turning bright blue at forty degrees.

It will contain a replica of the ice ship that sails
Through dreams, searching for the survivors.
It will contain all of our joys and most of our sorrows.

Gregory Orr from The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write, W.W. Norton & Co., 2019

Whimsy is not a word I would normally associate with American poet Gregory Orr, one of poets who has most influenced and inspired me as a poet and a poetry therapist. But his poem above has such delightful whimsy in it: Turning ants’ tears into hummingbird wings! Yes. And the answer to the question “yes.”

This love letter, not a candidate for a Hallmark card. This wildly imaginative celebration of the fantastical and other-worldly. A love letter to imagination and possibility. Imagine: an invisible cathedral at the place where “we met.” Yes.

This poem, a love letter big enough for all of our sorrow and some of our joy. A love letter big enough for all of our joys and most of our sorrows. I love how Orr repeats this line and reverses it with a slight change. As if he is showing how hard it is to capture these two huge abstractions; sorrow and joy. But they share space in our guts and hearts and also our love. Great joy when we met. The coming sorrow when we part, by choice or by death. And the joys and sorrows in between. A very real and wonderful last love letter!

Read More »

After All of This is Over – For the Pandemic, a Perfect Poem By Ada Limón, Winner of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award

American poet Ada Limón (1976 – )


Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
                 Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.
I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.
We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
       the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.
It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
       recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.
And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
       Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.
But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
       of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—
to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
       what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
       We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
     No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
                 if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,
rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?

Ada Limón from THE CARRYING, Milkweed Editions, 2018

Ada Limón rose to prominence in 2015 when her book, Bright Dead Things, was nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award (NBCCA). It didn’t win but her book The Carrying, that came out three laters, did win the NBCCA.  And  when I picked up that book today as I was reshelving books (my Sisyphean task) I started to read DEAD STARS and thought this could be a poem for this crazyily disrupted time. And I was glad of the chance to feature Ada for a second time in my blog. To see my previous post on Ada from April 2018, please click here.

I am grateful for what DEAD STARS calls out for me to strive for. How it reminds me of what we can be. Not our smallness but our bigness! Our direct relationship to the stupifying power of stars.

So much of poetic craft and value in Ada’s poems that I find compelling can be seen in DEAD STARS . You can see clearly her mixture of lyric and narrative, showing and telling! The speaker is out for a walk with cold coming in, when she captures the lyric isness of what she is feeling: I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying. Then the narrative moment of taking out the trash takes over and the focus on the stars, constellations. Then the speaker takes another lyric jump, risking the cliche that we are star dust but avoids by saying it differently, unexpectedly: we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising— to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Read More »