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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”.

Upcoming Events

There are no upcoming events at this time.

On Swimming – Remembering Adam Zagajewski and A “Swimming” Poem by Maxine Kumin!

R.I.P Adam Zagajewski – 1945 – 2021

On Swimming

The rivers of this country are sweet
as a troubador’s song,
the heavy sun wanders westward
on yellow circus wagons.
Little village churches
hold a fabric of silence so fine
and old that even a breath
could tear it.
I love to swim in the sea, which keeps
talking to itself
in the monotone of a vagabond
who no longer recalls
exactly how long he’s been on the road.
Swimming is like prayer:
palms join and part,
join and part,
almost without end.

Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021) from Mysticism for Beginners, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997

After sending off my tribute to Adam Zagajewski last night after hearing he had died earlier in the day I remembered he had been on my mind last week after a friend had said she had read a great poem about swimming but couldn’t remember the author. It turns out the poem my friend was thnking about was “Morning Swimby American poet Maxine Kumin (1925-2014). (I have included it below.) In a strange way the two poems do talk to each other. Swimming as a prayerful or spiritual exercise.

It was only this morning that I made the time to find Adam Zagajewski’s poem above – On Swimming. This series of gentle declarative grammatical sentences slowed down by their line breaks. The pace feels almost hypnotic to me until the last sentence. And such sweetness and sunlight in this poem yet also a sense of vulnerability and fragility. The image of a vagabond (so unexpected) and a fragile fabric of silence around old churches. So fragile even a breath could tear it.

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He gave Us Astonishment and a Flame, High, Bright! R.I.P. Adam Zagajewski ( June 21st,1945 – March 21st 2021

R.I.P Adam Zagajewski – 1945 – 2021

A Flame

God, give us a long winter
and quiet music, and patient mouths,
and a little pride – before
our age ends.
Give us astonishment
and a flame, high, bright.

Adam Zagajewski,translated by Renata Gorczynski and Clare Cavanaugh from Without End – New and Selected Poems, 2002

Oh, Adam Zagajewski was given astonishment and gave astonishment. And he was a flame! High, bright. Now that flame is snuffed out. Zagajewski, the great Polish poet dead at seventy-five in Krakow on Sunday night Polish time. Such a loss! And only five years ago The Toronto-based Griffin Trust gave him its prestigous lifetime achievement award.

I will let the celebrated American poet Mary Oliver, gone last year, sing his praises: [He] is now our greatest and truest representative, the most pertinent, impressive, meaningful poet of our time. High praise indeed. This poet, born on my birthday June 21st, whose passing hurts me, truly. I loved his poetry. This poet, who came to prominence in North America especially after the tragedy of 9-11 when the New Yorker published his now famous poem Try to Praise This Mutilated World:

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world
Remember June’s long days
And wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
The abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world –
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
One of them had a long trip ahead of it,
While salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
You’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
In a white room – the curtain fluttered
Return in thought to the concert where music flared
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
And leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
And the gray feather a thrush lost
And the gentle light that strays and vanishes
And returns.

Adam Zagajewski, translated by Renata Gorczynski and Clare Cavanaugh from Without End – New and Selected Poems, 2002

To read a discussion of this remarkable poem from my blog post in June 2012 please click here.

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In a Dry as Dry Desert Time – A Poem by American Poet Jessica Jacobs Plus Two Others from Her 2019 Memoir-In-Poems

American poet Jessica Jacobs. Photo Credit: Lily Darragh from Jessica Jacobs’s Website.

When You Ask Me Why We Took So Long

I could tell you
again how tired I was then, how
disillusioned. The real answer,
though? I have no idea. But I do know
        this:

             Even with evidence
of recent rain, a desert
says only dryness. Its low bushes brittle,
its cracked earth red as rust.

    Yet this hides the land’s proclivity
for flooding.
             For after weeks, sometimes
months, of empty skies, when
        rain finally arrives,
      it’s repelled.
                       
            No matter how thirsty
the ground, after so long
     without water, it has forgotten
               how to drink.

Jessica Jacobs from Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, Four Way Books, 2019

Thanks to the Palm Beach Poetry Festival last year I became aquainted with Jessica Jacobs and her wife, Nickole Brown. They were stand-outs for me.  But, and if you could see my office/library you might understand this, I didn’t go back through Jessica’s 2019 latest poetry collection until a few weeks ago when I was shelving heaps of poetry books!

Jessica’s latest collectionTake Me with You, Wherever You’re Going  has a tenderness combined  with a fierce honesty that brooks no sentimentality. This is an inside look at love, eros, longing and a love story before and after marriage. This book/memoir captures the “is-ness” of the everything a deep relationship is including its seismic shakes, its fragility and its strength. It’s all here.

I knew I was reading the kind of poetry book that matters to me when its deep fragrances of words and emotion stayed with me. Little hauntings that tied me back to the compelling longing and vulnerability in this book. To write about love in a way that does not mush down into an ice cream soupiness but bites hard first and lets the tart sweetness seep in second is a skill. I leave this book its poems feeling as if I have breathed in bigger breaths.  This book two big lungfills!

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The Stirring “Occasional” Poem of the 2021 U.S. Inauguration Poet, Amanda Gorman

U.S. 2021 Inauguration poet, Amanda Gorman

from The Hill We Climb

And so we lift our gazes, not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another.
We seek harm to none, and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
not because we will never again know defeat,
but because we will never again sow division.

Amanada Gorman, U.S. Inauguration poet, January 20th, 2021

Just how real this poem is, written by twenty-two year old Amanada Gorman was proved to me in a comment in marked contrast to this poem’s wisodom, geneosity amd hope. What made the comment worse was that it came from a white credibly-published American poet in California. His response to my Canadian friend’s excited and positive post of Gorman’s reading at the inauguration was to call her “a moron.” Someone who became Youth Poet Laureate of the U.S. and goes to Harvard, a moron? Oh dear. I think it says more about the man than it does about Gorman.

The comment and the post has been removed but it was a singular reminder that the divide Gorman calls closed may be far from it. At this moment. What would it take for that man to be able to say:  ” We lay down our arms/ so we can reach out our arms.”  I wonder about imagination. Gorman’s imagination is on full display in her poem. That she can imagine a country where divides and divisions end. Where arms can be put down so arms can reach out. Wade Davis, the noted social anthropoligist says” imagination is the enemy of dispair.” I would say that male poet beset with his own version of despair may be lacking the imagination to fight it. What could change him? What can change any of us stuck in a “I am right, you are wrong” place? That’s the answer we all need today.

When I saw Amanda perform her poem I was moved by its intelligence and power. And by the way she delivered it.  Like a “spoken word” piece. That energy and focussed impact.  At twenty two to write a “spoken word” piece like this is beyond commendable. Bravo! I found it compelling in its hope and its truth telling. It was finished the night of the Capitol riots on Januray 6th. If it could even open one heart dead set against the Biden presidency that would be a victory in my mind. The entrenched mindsets that would dismiss her poem can bring me close to despair. Then I have to remember. Put down arms, reach out your arms! Thank you Amanda.

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[Not So] Silly Old Man, Wet and Laughing in the Rain – Bill Cunningham (May 16th, 1942 – January 12th, 2020) R.I.P. And You Did Not End Up Having Simply Visited This World!

Bill Cunningham (1942-2021) in Florida in 2018 – A man for all seasons, wet or dry!

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
what it is going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems Volume I, Beacon Press, 1992

With a burdened heart I say good-bye tonight to one of the greatest gifts poetry has brought me – Bill Cunningham. An extraordinarily fine human being by any measure. Dead today from cancer. And for sure this man, this dearest of dear friends, did not as Mary Oliver writes: end up simply having visited this world. He went eyeball to eyeball with it, stood tall, up to his elbows in the beauty and mud of this world! And in one of his latest poems featured below he imagined himself as a silly old man wet and laughing in the rain. That kind of eyeball to eyeball!

And one of the great beauties and gifts of this world for him was the birth of his grandson Jad almnost three years ago. We all got a great laugh when his daughters remembered how he said he would not be an available-all-the-time kind of grandfather if he ever became one. Well, within weeks if not days of Jad’s birth he was showing up pretty well daily to help out! And when Jad’s mum, Ali, went back to work Bill was there dutifully and happily at 7 in the morning  every day, except weekends, for a long time! And was a constant visitor after that time as well until Jad went daycare where Bill would often pick him up and take him home!

One of my first memories of him was at Surfside, Texas when he joined a poetry retreat I was leading there in 2011. A retreat organized by other dear friends from poetry, the late Andy Parker and his wife Liz. Imagine this: he is in Texas and comes to visit dear friends, nine months after his beloved wife Liliana had died of cancer. They bring him to the retreat! I still remember the beautiful poem he wrote about the last days of his wife and also him reciting Rilke in German and then in English.

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Everything Itself Even More So – The Poetry of American Poet Dion O’Reilly

American poet Dion O’Reilly from California


Burned Body Contemplates the
Bottom Sheets

Not razors exactly, more like
powdered glass. Gunpowder.
Asbestos maybe. Superglue,
so when I moved it wrenched
the dendrites of my skin.
I had no skin. I’m sorry.
I had no skin.
What I really mean is
the sheets were slim silver
whips. As slim and silver
as millions of threads, stitching
their silver through
what shouldn’t be seen.
The undergarments of flesh
should be secret.
I mean the body is a fruit
that should never be peeled.
Never eaten by air.
Never touched behind
the thin curtain of its cover.
The sheets were touch.
Not touch. There was no
touch. There was a diamond-
bright rake and flay
I sank from. Into the dark-
red halls and caverns
of my guts. To the proper hush-
and-flow machine
of a living girl.
Breath. Nephron flow
of urine. Pancreas
ooze of insulin. The wish
wish wish of the heart
crying itself out
to the sheet.
The sheet holding me.

Dion O’Reilly from Narrative, Fall, 2020

If I had bruises from reading some of the hard-hitting poems in Dion O’Reilly’s recent poetry collection, Ghost Dogs, published last year, then from her new poems published on-line in Narrative in its Fall 2020 issue, I have more and they aren’t shadowy marks, they are purple-blue. And don’t get me wrong, these are good bruises not the ones the speaker in O’Reilly’s poem shares from Ghost Dogs. And oh the fierce cry of her escape from all that:

Her mother with whatever she used
against her children’s shining faces-
flat of the palm, butter knives,
thin branches pruned from apple trees.
Her father watching, grim and satisfied-
they can’t catch her.

Dion O’Reilly from her poem Eighteen from Ghost Dogs, Terrapin Books, 2020

Okay the bruise in me from this has purple in it, too. But it is the kind of brusing I want from a poet giving me an is-ness in her writing that makes the words burn. The kind of experience Charles Wright writes about in his poem Clear Night: I want to be bruised by God./ I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out./I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed./ I want to be entered and picked clean. Read More »

Making Poetry Out of the Poetry, The Poetic Prose, of Arundhati Roy – an Erasure Poem by Richard Osler

Arundhati Roy. Photo Credit: The Guardian 2020


An Erasure

This thing happened, a virus, yes, but more,
than a virus…the mighty kneel, the world
halts, trying to stitch future to past, refusing
the rupture, the rupture,
this terrible despair,
a chance to rethink the dooms worse than
a pandemic. Imagine a portal, a gateway.
We can drag carcasses, prejudices and hatred,
avarice, data banks and dead ideas, dead
rivers and smoky skies behind us or walk
through lightly, little luggage, ready
to imagine another world, and fight for it.

Richard Osler and Arundhati Roy based on an excerpt from The Pandemic is a Portal by Arundhati Roy, 2020

As seen below, this poem comes from an erasure
of the last few paragraphs of The Pandemic is a Portal,
by Arundhati Roy, an essay in her book: Azadi:
Freedom. Fascism. Fiction.
, Haymarket
Books, 2020

Only once in a while do I share my own poems in a blog post. But call this one a hybrid, a poem by Richard Osler and Arundhati Roy! An erasure of part of her essay The Pandemic is a Portal. Normally in an erasure poem I would want the resulting poem to be almost not recognizable from the original! But in this case that didn’t seem to work and I did want to capture some of the power of what Arundhati was saying! Let’s not miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance to make some big changes because of the pandemic.

Here is the actual erasure on the image and words supplied by Florian Gonzalez on Pinterest. Thank you Florian. And directly below it is Florian’s original image with Arundhati’s words!

Arundhati Roy from her essay The Pandemic is a Portal from her book, Azadi:Freedom. Facisim. Fiction.,Haymarket Books, 2020. Image customized and posted on Pinterest by Florian Gonzalez.

 

The Shocking and Transformative Power of Poetry – A Poem by Gregory Scofield

The Billboard at AKA-Artist Run in Saskatoon in 2018
of Gregory Scofield’s Poem: She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars

 

She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars (Nikâwi’s Song) 

She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars
She is laughing more than the men who
beat her.
She is ten horses breaking open the day.
She is new to her bones.
She is holy in the dust.

She is spitting a mouthful of stars.
She is singing louder than the men
who raped her.
She is walking beyond the Milky Way
She is new to her breath.
She is sacred in her breathing.

She is spitting a mouthful of stars.
She holds the light more than those
who despised her.
She is folding clouds in her movement.
She is new to this sound.
She is unbroken flesh.

She is spitting a mouthful of stars.
She is laughing more than those
who shamed her.
She is ten horses breaking open the dark.
She is new to these bones.
She is holy in their dust.

Gregory Scofield (1966 – ) from CBC’s The next Chapter, January 2016

An elegy. A hymn. A praise poem. The epigraph poem to this blog post, She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars, is an extraordinary poetic achievement by Gregory Scofield. He takes one of the great tragic stories in recent Canadian history (our murdered and missing indigenous women) and turns it on its head. Gives a lament a triumphant turn. Gives disempowered women an extraordinary afterlife. The hope and celebration in this poem out of something seemingly so hopeless and worthy of despair seems an apt way to begin 2021 after a such a desperate and despairing 2020. Thank you Gregory.

Gregory, a Métis of Cree, Scottish, French and Jewish descent is known for his advocacy and activism on behalf of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada. As a high school dropout he has developed a remarkable CV. Currently an assistant professor of writing at the University of Victoria, B.C., he is a poet (eight volumes) memoirist, activist and traditional beadmaker. His epigraph poem is not only a searing tribute to those women (“She”)but is particularly poignant because his aunt was one of those women, murdered in 1998.

Turn Stones into Altars and Everything Is Going to Be All Right – The Wisdom of Irish Poets, Pádraig Ó Tuama and Derek Mahon

Irish poet, community leader and theologian, Pádraig Ó Tuama

So let us pick up the stones over which we stumble, friends, and build altars. Let us listen to the sound of breath in our bodies. let us listen to the sounds of our own voices, of our own names, of our own fears. Let us name the harsh light and soft darkness that surround us. Let’s claw ourselves out of the graves we’ve dug, let’s lick the earth from our fingers. Let us look up, and out, and around. the world is big, and wide, and wild and wonderful and wicked, and our lives are murky, magnificent, malleable and full of meaning. Oremus. Let us pray.

Pádraig Ó Tuama from Daily Prayers with the Corrymeela Community, Church House Publishing, 2017

What a meditation to close out 2020 from the poet, curator of Poetry Unbound podcast and theologian, Pádraig Ó Tuama! To make altars of the trials and tribulations that trip us up! To listen to ourselves starting with our breath! To name our fears! And then his huge call out for us to claw ourselves out of the graves we’ve dug! And this: let’s lick the earth from our fingers! And to remember in spite of a wicked world it is wide and wonderful and we are murky, magnificent, malleable and full of meaning. Yes and yes and yes! Thank you Padraig for being such a light during a murky year!

Padraig who lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is becoming one of the more prominent spiritual leaders and poetry supporters in the English speaking world. He is currently the poet-in-residence for The Church of Heavenly Rest in New York where he has been leading remarkable seminars and workshops and he is the voice and commentator for the On Being’s poetry podcast Poetry Unbound! He was also a featured panelist with Marie Howe during the 2020 Collective Trauma Summit in October that drew more than 80,000 participants.

What ever it is we pray or don’t I am so grabbed by Padraig’s invocation and call out. And I hope it grabs you too! Let us celebrate our humanity and not only look for meaning in 2021 but be a source of constructive and life-giving meaning in the lives of others especially through our writing. especially through our poetry! Read More »

We Must Write Love Poems in a Burning World – The Inspiring Poetry and Prose of American Poet Katie Farris

American poet Katie Farris

 

Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World

To train myself to find, in the midst of hell
what isn’t hell.
The body, bald, cancerous, but still
beautiful enough to
imagine living the body
washing the body
replacing a loose front
porch step the body chewing
what it takes to keep a body
going—
this scene has a tune
a language I can read
this scene has a door
I cannot close I stand
within its wedge
I stand within its shield
Why write love poetry in a burning world?
To train myself, in the midst of a burning world,
to offer poems of love to a burning world.

Katie Farris from a Facebook Post, October 9th, 2020

For those of you following the American poet Katie Farris or her American Ukranian poet-partner Ilya Kaminsky on Facebook you will know Katie has been in treatment for breast cancer for a number of months. I first found this out back in October which was when I also noticed Ilya had shaved his head in solidarity with her.

We may be poets whose words can imagine so much out of air but life imposes its own forms and limitations. There’s nothing free in free verse some famous poet once said and there is nothing free in the poetry we make out of our lives. We must live within what our lives give us but we can always give it our best! And Katie is doing this with the poems pouring out of her this year. More than three hundred, she says.

I know many poets who say they have written poems that pre-figure things in their life. On the happy side of that formula a poem of mine prefigured my relationship with my dearheart Somae, my wife. In a much less happy side a poem of Katie’s prefigured her breast cancer as she writes about so movingly below.

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