What’s New

Poetry Writing Retreat in Italy – Summer 2017

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.

Click here for  Part One of the Introduction to the Retreat


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”.

The Bigness of Small Poems – #30 in a Series – Christian Wiman’s Heart Cry

American poet Christian Wiman and former editor of Poetry Magazine. Photo Credit: Slate

American poet Christian Wiman, former editor of Poetry Magazine. Photo Credit: Slate

Writing poetry is a much more powerful and destabilizing experience for me than is writing prose. The former plays hell and havoc with my life and mind. The latter is an exercise in sanity. That said, there are certainly areas of experience to which prose gives me access that poetry does not. I can plan on what I’m going to write about in prose. Poems aren’t real poems unless they shatter — there’s that word again! — all of your intentions.

Christian Wiman, from the New York Times, April 10th, 2013

This a quote to spend time with! It captures the wildness of making poetry.  And Wiman should know. He was editor of  Poetry magazine for ten years  and now teaches at Yale Divinity School.

It has been months since I last posted a blog post!  Swept away by life and preparation for ten day retreat in Italy from June 23rd to July 3rd! Now, I’m home and settling in. So many poems to share! And stories from Italy. Wiman’s quote was proved again and again as the retreatants with me in Italy allowed their poems to shatter their original intentions. Allowed themselves to be revealed by their poems! Both a scary and exhilarating journey.

Now for Wiman’s huge small poem! As an example of the art of the poem, simultaneously a beautiful and terrible showing, this poem is exemplary. I used this poem in Italy as a great example of a poem that shows, doesn’t tell! Also, as an example of delayed revelation, of surprise! So critical in poetry! As Osip Mandalstam says: The fresh air of poetry is the element of surprise.

The images in this poem do all the work, build a metaphor of the narrator as abandoned house that comes achingly alive with the wind. This image of wind, pneuma, the breath of God, giving glorious voice to the wounds of the house, the narrator. And the surprise of the last line: Shatter me God into my thousand sounds.… A line made even more shattering knowing that Wiman has struggled with cancer for many years, sometimes in debilitating agony with it, but still Wiman survives and the thousand sounds of his poetry and prose are a life-giving gift to so many!

Small Prayer in a Hard Wind

As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
Only someone lost could find,

Which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams,
Its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,

Seems both ghost of the life that happened there
And living spirit of this wasted place,

Wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
That is open enough to receive it,

Shatter me God into my thousand sounds . . .

Christian Wiman from Hammer is the Prayer: Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016

What this poem helps me see is how much our poems become that wind that blows through the wrecked places of our lives and creates a beautiful and sometimes terrible music. It Italy I was witness to this kind of music day after day. And wonderfully, out of this music came, not only tears, but laughter. Laughter that joined us to our common humanity, forged each poet into a community of poets! I miss that community!

In Great Company – Heidi Garnett’s Poem in Your Pocket

Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett, contributor to Poem in Your Pocket and author of Blood Orange, Frontenac House, 2016. Photo: Frontenac House

Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett, contributor to Poem in Your Pocket and author of Blood Orange, Frontenac House, 2016. Photo: Frontenac House

Wish List

I want to meet a blue parakeet that reads the future
pulling Tarot cards with one delicate outstretched foot,
the hanged man uncovered.  I want to own a Corvette,
a 1960 red and white convertible hardtop
and drive around town with my dog Bud.  I want
to write love poems as if world peace depends on them.  I want
to shape each day like a clump of clay
until it becomes what my hands remember.  I want
to see the turnings of things, who and where we already are,
light rising again in the east, the moon
climbing into the world through a trapdoor each night,
my attic a place of worship.  I want to see a white-tailed deer
gazing at an inverted image of itself in a frozen lake
and just once the clearly marked tracks of a bobcat
breaking new snow.  I want to go home
as if I never left.  Like the sun I want to enter
through one door and leave by another.

Heidi Garnett, with permission, from Poem in Your Pocket, American Academy of Poets and League of Canadian Poets, April 27th, 2017

Yesterday poems from a small collection of 31 poems were read out loud across North America and other English-speaking parts of the world as part of Poem in Your Pocket Day, an annual celebration of poetry during National Poetry Month. To see the full collection click here.

The list of Canadian and American contributors is impressive. A who’s who of contemporary poetry: Gluck, Hirschfield, Crozier, Merwin, Howe, Ostriker and Nye and many more including many great other Canadian poets, some not yet household names. One of those, to my utter delight, was Kelowna poet Heidi Garnett, no stranger to this blog! I featured her new poetry collection, Blood Orange, in the Fall last year.

Garnett is best known for her searing poems of witness to the unspeakable suffering of German men and women at the hands of Russian troops in the aftermath of the Second World War. Her poems are an important  addition to the record of 20th Century atrocities.

The poem included above shows another note in Garnett’s wide poetic range. I love the whimsy and playfulness in this poem. What a sight that would be: Heidi in a red corvette driving around with a white poodle named Bud! I want to know my future: bring on the blue parakeet!



Full -Up! Poetry La Romita, June 23rd to July 3rd, 2017

So pleased to announce that my 10 day poetry retreat in Umbria, Italy has filled up to its max! So looking forward to hanging out with a great community of writers at La Romita School of Art in June!

Yes! The Sure Footed Poems of Rosemary Griebel

Canadian poet Rosemary Griebel

Canadian poet Rosemary Griebel


for Joan Shillington

After your mother’s death
I wanted to tell you, grief
makes you a traveler
in the foreign territory
of every day. Look for her
in small places: the pure loneliness
of early morning; the hollows
alongside animal trails leading
to salt; where the Milky
Way touches the darkness.

You will want to talk to her
as you fold empty clothes
into a garbage bag. Speak.
Later, the aroma of cloves
and you will be peeling
apples when she calls your name
through the clicks of a warming stove.
Listen. She is telling you
all that’s gone is not lost.

Rosemary Griebel from Yes., Frontenac House, 2011

I picked up the full-length poetry collection Yes. by Calgary-based poet Rosemary Griebel, a few weeks ago . Read through it for the first time in three or four years. I was dumbfounded by the emotional resonance is so many of the poems. Images as delicate as rice paper yet strong enough to hold the sorrows of a life – the death of a mother, of a brother – and even stronger: able to bring such an isness of what has gone as to bring it back through the alchemy of words, into a hope that somewhere, somehow what is gone is not lost.

Griebel’s images and metaphors are sure footed on the page. Confident with a knowing that comes only from the inside out. The poem writing the writer not the other way around. Like this line from her elegiac poem Tell Me: I didn’t know the hollow bones of the heart break like small twigs. And these lines: Tell me the mystery is not the light but how it passes through us./ How sorrow is like birds that life, resettle and one day are gone./ You wanted to stay. Tell me that.

I’m not sure how had I let Griebel’s poems disappear from reach but I’m glad they were just a book shelf away, that I had not lost them! Then I wondered how many poems, books, have I let vanish from my life, like this, in my chasing after the next latest book?

Which poems come back? Which books? Twigs, small branches, leaves in a stream, or bigger, a river. Passed then gone. The small beauty. Silver flash, water moves, shifts. A tremor lit up by light and something more, something other, perhaps. Memory allows the stream, the river to stop. The twig or branch retrieved. Remembered. Let go. Remembered.

As every metaphor does, this one breaks. I lose it. But I know where it began. All the poems and books and poems I have read. Glimpsed for a minute than gone. But some I find again. A book shelf is not a river. At first glance, none of the flashing movement. Beauty as transient, momentary. But look! A book can be retrieved and inside poems can flash and move, white pages, a river of sorts as they open and close.

Today I am on retreat at Honeymoon Bay on Lake Cowichan, near Duncan on Vancouver Island. A group of us led by Canadian poet Jan Zwicky – our theme: Writing and Environmental Witness. We began with a discussion of hope at a moment when we may be on an irreversible course to environmental catastrophe. How do we write in the shadow of that reality. What hope written against this can be anything but false?

What I left that discussion with was the unshakeable conviction that all I can do is stay awake, pay attention and celebrate the beauty still here even as so much vanishes every day. My job as a poet, as a writer. To see the beauty, sometimes even in the harsh or difficult things. The way Rosemary Griebel sees:


The white pages of a book.

The many ways a hand can open
   and close.

The brief darkness
   of a plane in front of the sun,
lives suspended overhead.

The way plants eat light –
that is holy.

The endless voice of the ocean.

The streets of early morning
   when lone lights shine from the windows
of the elderly.

The eyes of someone who has lost love.

It is in the breath and gathers into  small sounds:
bread, home, yes.

When you bite into an apple and taste rain.
   That is.

Rosemary Griebel, ibid

The Bigness of Small Poems – #29 in a Series – Marie Howe’s Divine Spark

American poet Marie Howe

American poet Marie Howe


Was I ever virgin?

Did someone touch me before I could speak?

Who had me before I knew I was an I?

So that I wanted that touch again and again

without knowing who or why or whence it came?

Marie Howe from Magdelene, W.W. Norton & Company, 2017

In her astonishing fourth full-length poetry collection American poet Marie Howe addresses two of her central concerns: her recovery journey from addiction and her deep-rooted spiritual roots that come to full-flower in her expression of her faith through the images of the Christian story.

I have been using Howe’s poetry in my recovery work for many years and especially some of the poems from this collection that first appeared in American Poetry Review. But I have also used some of her devotional poems in my Poetry as prayer workshops as well. In particular At the Star Market and Annunciation.

The big small poem I highlight here touches so sharply on the sense of a divine spark buried inside the human. A spark and a longing that humans have been singing and writing about for thousands of years! I am grateful for the full-throated humanity of Howe which I have witnessed not only in her poetry but through her occasional poetry retreats.

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 28 in a Series – The Delicacy and Ferocity of Franz Wright

Brazilian Novelist Clarice Lispector. Photo Credit: The New Yorker

Brazilian Novelist Clarice Lispector (1920-1977). Photo Credit: The New Yorker

I’m trembling with fear.  Just as well that what I’m about to write is already somehow written within me. What I have to do is copy myself out with the delicacy of a white butterfly.

Clarice Lispector from The Hour of the Star,  New Directions, 2011

I am addicted to great quotes on writing, especially poetry! The first quote I want to highlight to celebrate National Poetry Month is by Clarice Lispector, a Brazialian novelist who had the heart of a poet and whose poetic turn of phrase was exemplary.

My prayer for myself this month and for all poets is that we in our writing exemplify what it is to copy out ourselves with the delicacy of a white butterfly; and may I add, sometimes, with the brute ferocity of a tiger!

A man who had both the delicacy and ferocity was American poet and Pulitzer poetry prize winner, Franz Wright, son of poet James Wright, also a winner of the Pulitzer for poetry. They are only son and father to have both been so honoured.

American poet Franz Wright. Photo credit: The New York Times

American poet Franz Wright (1951-2015) . Photo credit: The New York Times

Franz, like his father battled addiction for most of his life. He has many poems describing his journey from addiction to recovery but none as precise and ferocious as this one. A great example of a small poem that punches way above of its weight! The bigness of a small poem!


My name is Franz, and I’m a recovering asshole.
I’m a ghost
that everyone can see;
one of the rats
who act
like they own the place.

Franz Wright from The Beforelife, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002

When I first read this piece by Wright  I was silenced by this subversive definition of an addict. I have to say I think this definition could include a lot more than alcoholic or drug addict assholes but it works so well as an “issness” to describe someone “under the influence”.

On this first day of poetry month in 2017 I celebrate the searing honesty of Franz Wright. His fearless ability to let himself be copied out so clearly.

Singing in Dark Times – #7 in a Series – Derek Walcott’s Gratitude

Ozzie's Garden, Brownstown, Jamaica. Photo Credit: Bill Cunningham

Ozzie’s Garden, Browns Town, Jamaica. Photo Credit: Bill Cunningham

The Morning Moon

Still haunted by the cycle of the moon
racing full sail
past the crouched whale’s back of the Morne Coco Mountain,

I gasp at her sane brightness.

It’s early December,
the breeze freshens the skin of this earth,
the goose-skin of water,

and I notice the blue plunge
of shadows down Morne Coco Mountain,
December’s sundial,

happy that the the earth is still changing,
that the full moon can blind me with her forehead
this bright foreday morning,

and that fine sprigs of white are springing from my head.

Derek Walcott from Collected Poems 1948-1984, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993

This poem seems such antidote to the tone of some of the dark tones and dark actions in the world around us these days. A perfect poem for my series: Singing in Dark Times which was born out of Berholt Brecht’s famous small poem:


In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing
About the dark times.

Bertolt Brecht(1898-1956): Poems 1913-1956, edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, Eyre Methuen, 1976

*Brecht titled a number of his poems Motto. This poem, Motto, comes at the end of his Later Svendborg Poems and Satires 1936-1938

Walcott’s poem is not a singing about the dark times. Instead it captures an “isness” of this world’s beauty that shines even in the dark. When the dark dims lanterns such as these, the dark is deep indeed. May the brightness Walcott’s poem is, shine brightly. May it encourage me, and I hope, you, to feel whole heartedly, I am happy that the earth is still changing.

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Derek Walcott – Nobel Prize Laureate (1930 – 2017) – R.I. P.

Derek Walcott (1930-2017) Photo Credit: CBC

Derek Walcott (1930-2017) Photo Credit: CBC

For every poet it is always morning in the world. History a forgotten, insomniac night; History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History.

Derek Walcott, from Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory, Nobel Prize Address, December, 1992

Gone at age 87. World poet, poet of the Caribbean – Derek Walcott. And now, a deeply felt sorrow by me and I know by countless others. The quote above risks becoming cliché. It is that frequently quoted. It was included in the New York Times obituary yesterday. But it is also that good and for me still unexpected. Still fresh.

This quote is a call for poets to look at the world with fresh, with new, eyes! In spite of history. To imagine what was there at the beginning. To go back to the morning of the world. In his case, the mornings before exploitation, colonialism. But also in the now to see the world as it is, to fall in love with it in spite of the changes history imposes. To see beauty there still.
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A Few Spaces left – 10 day Poetry Retreat in Umbria, Italy – June 23rd to July 3rd

I am so happy to announce that the desired minimum number of registrants for this retreat has been reached! The retreat is now an official GO!

I am looking forward to going back to La Romita School of Art for a second time to adventure into the heart of Umbria and to turn these adventures into a wide eyed seeing on the page! Such a multi-talented group of adventurers and poets coming to this retreat. A retreat where we will have the words of Czeslaw Milosz echoing in our hearts and minds:

To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.

Czeslaw Milosz from Selected and Last Poems 1931 – 2004, Ecco Press, 2011

What a home we will make in sentences while at home at La Romita! Full details of the retreat below:

Recovering Words

 Writing Retreats
with Richard Osler

The focus of these retreats is to create the opportunity for participants to create substantial new poems through comprehensive writing adventures (assignments) 


La Romita School of Art
Terni, Umbria, Italy

10 Days

June 23rd to July 3rd, 2017

To Discover a Wider Eye

Oh, the world, the world,
What eye is wide enough?
What pupil sufficiently diligent.

 —  Greg Orr


Oh, Italy –  Umbria – La Romita School of Art – What better places to discover how poetry can bust open your eyes, widen them and help you bring something home you couldn’t imagine before you left.  It is one thing to travel in a country, it is quite another to see it the way a poet does – with unmixed attention.

In this ten-day poetry writing retreat you will be inspired in structured writing sessions, through the poems of master poets and other creative prompts, to write unexpected poems that stretch you as a writer. And what better place to be stretched than Italy – its sights, sounds, smells and tastes which are on full view here at the La Romita website.

And what better place, provoked as you will be by Umbria’s beauty and history in numerous out trips, to be further surprised by the mystery at the heart of poetry; the way, as Canadian poet Susan Musgrave says: Poems always seem to know more than I do and to be wiser than I am, as far as I can see. That’s also what’s magical about writing. Where do these things come from? This is where wide-eyed seeing moves into an even wider dimension of being, remembering and knowing. It is this “wider-eye” that will be encouraged and stimulated during our time together.


Open to writers of all levels of experience this retreat will take care to maintain a constructive balance between facilitated writing sessions, lots of quiet times for writing and our out trips to some of the remarkable places near and far-near from La Romita including, Rome, Assisi, Perugia, Spoleto and some of the many towns that dot the hilltops of Umbria, each with their own special features and histories.


To help prepare you for the poetry retreat you will receive a four to six page introduction in May 2017 with poems and thoughts on poetics. In addition, a few weeks later, you will receive a pre-retreat writing  adventure/assignment to be completed and brought with you to the retreat. The poem that comes from this will be at the core of how we introduce ourselves at the beginning of our time together.


There is something special that happens when a poet/retreatant lives in a community of other poets for ten days. Yes, life-long friendships can develop, but even more, a synergy can occur as poems are written together, shared and revised that leads to the retreatant going home with a sheaf of new poems quite unlike any others they have written before. And poems that are keepers!


La Romita School of Art, located in the hills overlooking Terni, Umbria, sixty miles north of Rome and a three hour drive from Florence.


For Double Occupancy including, room, all meals at La Romita and out trips:  $2200.00 U.S. Single Supplement $300.00 U.S. Further discounts are available for spouses/partners; friends, and those coming with retreatants but not participating in the poetry retreat.

A deposit of $500.00 is required to register. The deposit is non-refundable. Final balance, non-refundable, will be owing April 15th, 2017.


Richard in facilitator Mode

Richard in Facilitator Mode

Richard Osler (65) is an experienced poetry writing facilitator and workshop leader who leads more than one hundred writing retreats and workshops a year in the U.S. and Canada. His poems have been published in the U.S. and Canada. His chapbook, Where the Water Lives, was published by Leaf Press in 2012 and his full-length collection, Hyaena Season, was published by Quattro Books, Toronto in the Fall of 2016. His website, which includes his poetry blog published  about forty times a year, can be seen at recoveringwords.com


Please Contact Richard Osler at osler@shaw.ca or 250 597 7875.


“The safe space Richard Osler creates in his Recovering Words Poetry Retreats revitalizes and expands the creative spirit. People write beautiful poems and share them with each other. They vow to stay in touch, to continue writing. They leave reluctantly.Heidi Garnett.   Heidi, who lives in Kelowna, is a nationally-recognized Canadian poet through her numerous honours in  poetry contests including: Winner: Winston Collins Prize (Descant – The Journal) for Best Canadian Poem of the Year 2012; Second : Freefall 2012 Poetry Contest; Third: Rattle Poetry Contest 2010 (6000 entries); Shortlisted : Arvon Prize in the U.K. (6000 entries) Adjudicated by Carol Ann Duffy; Runner-up. She has also taught creative writing at The University of British Columbia – Okanagan. Heidi’s recent book published in 2016, Blood Orange, was just cited, in a year-end review in Vallum by Canadian master poet Lorna Crozier, as her poetry discovery of the year!

“Richard Osler makes poetry an integral part of his life. He is exceptionally well-read and brings to a retreat a vast reservoir of poetic knowledge regarding modern and classical poets, their poetry and their craft. These hip-pocket skills from years of practice and reading will make your experience working with him inspirational and productive. From the very first afternoon at a Richard Osler retreat, you will be brought together as a community of poets who through his guidance and your own writing practice will find pathways to possibilities that are rich and valuable.” David Fraser.  David is a much-published Canadian poet and founder and editor of Ascent Aspirations Magazine, since 1997. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in 65 print journals, ezines and anthologies. He founded the Wordstorm poetry series in Nanaimo in 2006. His most recent full length poetry collection, After All the Scissor Work is Done, was published by leaf Press in 2016.

Singing in Dark Times – #6 in a Series – Good and Bad Times for Poetry

Polish Lithuanian Poet Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)Photo Credit: AKG Images / East News

Polish/Lithuanian Poet Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) Photo Credit: AKG Images / East News

Joy. The other taste in sorrow’s cup

Guy Gavriel Kay from The Last Light of the Sun, Penguin Canada, 2004


In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing
About the dark times.

Bertolt Brecht(1898-1956): Poems 1913-1956, edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, Eyre Methuen, 1976

*Brecht titled a number of his poems Motto. This poem, Motto, comes at the end of his Later Svendborg Poems and Satires 1936-1938

The idea behind this series of blog posts was to highlight poems that inspire a sense of contentment or hope in dark times. A singing about the dark times, yes but also with a taste of what is good in the world. That’s why I choose as an epigraph for the blog post, the line from Guy Gavriel Kay: Joy. The other taste in sorrow’s cup. A good reminder. As is this poem from the great Nobel Prize Laureate Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) who lived through those dark times described by Bertolt Brecht:


A day so happy
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers
There was nothing on earth I wanted to posses.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Berkeley, 1971

Czeslaw Milosz from Selected and Last Poems (1931-2001), Ecco Press, 2011

Now, that’s a great state of heart, state of mind! What a relief: Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot. I know for me this is an important poem. A poem to balance the necessary singing about the dark times. Maybe it will be important for you,too, dear reader.

Speaking about singing about the dark times, I come back to Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright and poet who, fearing persecution because of his political views, fled Germany in early 1933 after Hitler came to power. After living in various countries including Denmark, Finland and Sweden he moved to the U.S. in 1941 and moved back to Germany after the war in 1946. Although better known for his plays his poetry is highly regarded. W.H. Auden said he was one of ten poets from whom I learned most.

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