“The spirit of man is nomad, his blood Bedouin, and love is the aboriginal tracker on the spoor of his lost self; and so I come to live my life not by conscious plan or prearranged design but as someone following the flight of a bird.”
Sir Laurens van der Post

Welcome to Recovering Words. And the re-designed homepage! (For current subscribers to my Blog please note it is now on my home page! Below this Welcome! Also note that the recycling poetry quotes are there on the right!)

This is a site that celebrates the craft and healing art of poetry and offers details of upcoming poetry writing retreats and workshops. And includes my frequent blog on poetry!

Not just an art form, poetry can take a life in surprising directions. Very much as the way van der Post describes his bird in the epigraph above. That bird may be called many things by many people but for me it is the mystery at the heart of my life and at the heart of poetry. It’s what seems to see me more clearly than I do; seems to be what guides and writes my most lasting words.

Jane Hirschfield, the American poet captures this so clearly: The poet, pursuing a vessel to hold something known, finds what the poem may know that the poet as yet does not. A strange paradox in life and poetry.

Please enjoy my site, comment on the articles or contact me directly with any questions.

Richard Osler

Dreadfulness and Bliss – The Genius of Rainer Maria Rilke

German Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

German Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

from Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, # 29

Let This Darkness Be Your Bell Tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.”

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,

say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) from In Praise of Mortality, trans. and ed. Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, Riverhead Books, 2005

This poem by the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: what a hymn to being consciously alive! And present. Its call to confront the terror of life, or its dreadfulness as Rilke calls it in a letter quoted below, and turn it into music, something beautiful.

And what a command at the end of this poem which is also the final sonnet in Rilke’s acclaimed Sonnets to Orpheus. To the rushing water, speak: I am. Yes, the poet seems to say, we will disappear like rushing water. But while here be in your life. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary: live in a way that declares: I am!

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To Soul or Not to Soul – Poems on Soul!

American Poet Charles Simic

American Poet Charles Simic

Oh, I Said
       My subject is the soul
       Difficult to talk about,
       Since it is invisible,
       Silent and often absent.

       Even when it shows itself
       In the eyes of a child
       Or a dog without a home,
       I'm at a loss for words.

Charles Simic (1938 – )  from THE LUNATIC, HarperCollins Publishers, 2015

Earlier this year at the Spring launch in Toronto of McClelland & Stewart’s poetry titles, one of the younger poets talked about the no no of using “soul” in a poem. How a mentor or teacher had given her that proscription. That set me thinking about all the fine poems  on the “soul” by master poets  including the much-lauded  naturalized American poet Charles Simic, who has, among many honours, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize.

There is no doubt the wrong use of soul in a poem can torpedo both poem and poet. Too easy to become a flabby cliche like I was devestated to the bottom of my s..l. But done well it can sing inside a poem. As it does in Simic small poem above.  In such a deft way  Simic deals with this abstraction by saying its difficult to talk about and then does. A wonderful poetic device.

Canadian Poet Lorna Crozier

Canadian Poet Lorna Crozier

Ironically another master poet whose poem on the soul comes to mind was at the M & S event in the Spring and from  what I remember, no one mentioned or realized that Lorna Crozier, there for the launch of her book, The Wrong Cat, had a poem busting out with soul! Here it is:

I like to think of my soul
taking on the shape of a beetle,
that is, the many shapes of what it means
to be a beetle since there are over
360,000 species of its kind.
There's the Japanese, silver and flat
as a dime so it can slip under
the thinnest detritus on the ground.
And the clicking beetle. Like someone cool
from the '50's snapping his fingers to Miles,
it flips into the air without twitching a wing.
As a beetle, the soul will do
what I can't do now
excrete wax to keep in moisture,
turn its legs into stilts to raise itself
above burning tar or sand,
drum its belly on the ground
so it's called the abdomen-talking beetle.
Imagine the abdomen-talking soul!

Lorna Crozier (1948 - ) from The Wrong Cat, McClelland & Stewart, 2015

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Poets on Poetry – WIth a Big Thanks to The Calgary Public Library

 Calgary poet Rosemary Griebel

Calgary-based poet Rosemary Griebel

The poem I want to write is impossible. A stone that floats.

Charles Simic (1938 – ) from The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks, Ausable Press, 2008

Short poem: Be brief and tell us everything.

Charles Simic, ibid

On this the last day of 2015 I wanted to share the words of poets on poetry.  I begin with the image of  Rosemary Griebel and her quote on poetry. Poetry as prayer. Something not all poets agree on but many do. And I am firmly in Rosemary’s camp on this one.

I begin with Rosemary because of the poetry quote initiative she was part of this April with the Calgary Public Library. (More from that initiative below.) But I want to take a quick detour back to the words of American poet Charles Simic which I came across a few days ago and have included above. I wanted to make sure Simic’s quotes didn’t get lost below. Especially his zinger: The poem I want to write is impossible. A stone that floats.  What a goal for any poet! What a challenge for us poets as we think of our stones from 2015 and the ones we we want to write in 2016! Here’s to impossibility: stones and poems that float!

Born in Yugoslavia, Charles Simic has lived most of his life in the U.S. He  is seventy seven and still going strong! He has won more poetry prizes than the number of books many poets publish in a lifetime and released his twenty first poetry collection this year!

Simic’s Notebooks are a treasure trove of observations and aphorisms. Here are a few more:

Only through poetry can human solitude be heard in the history of humanity. In that respect, all poets who ever wrote are contemporary.

My life is at the mercy of my poetry.

How Simic sums up the difficulty and thrill of poetry: how to make a stone that floats!  And, of course, a great short poem like a Haiku darn near tells us everything. And his idea that it is our solitude that permeates a poem more than in any other writing rings true. The best poems comes from the deep silence. They say themselves out of that silence. That’s why when Simic says: My life is at the mercy of my poetry, I can stand up and say: yes.

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Is This Really Meant To Make Me Feel Better On Christmas Eve? A Feel-Good Poem by Hans Magnus Enzenberger

German Public Intellectual, Novelist and Poet

Hans Magnus Enzenberger, German Public Intellectual, Novelist and Poet. Photo Credit: The Guardian 2010

Astronomical Sunday Sermon

Speaking of our misery –
hunger, war, murder etcetera
quite so! Bedlam! Agreed!
Still may I remind you,
with all due modesty,
that the planet on which
we have landed up, is
by and large rather comfortable.

Strewn with roses, you might say,
compared with Neptune
(two hundred and twelve degrees subzero,
wind speed up to six hundred mph
and a bloody high content
of methane in the atmosphere).
Just to remind you that elsewhere
Life can be yet more unbearable. Amen.

Hans Magnus Ezenberger (1929 – ) from Open Secret by Anthony Caro, Ivory Press, 2004

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Or so the Christmas song says! Bah humbug I want to say, what with all the murder, war, tragic human dislocations etcetera, to partially quote Hans Magnus Ezenberger in his poem above.

But Ezenberger’s poem, as I reflect on it, on Christmas Eve, 2015, gives me pause. I know he overstates his case to make his point. And I think there is a word for this in rhetoric but for now I let the poem stand as it is. After all, giving all our local concerns a cosmic perspective maybe helps, a little! Brings me closer to the hopeful message of Christmas.
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Yuletide Traditions – A Poetic Celebration By Penelope Shuttle!

Yule Tree

On the tall green tree we have hung
the little golden masks of Bacchus,
the many little grins glinting and sparkling,
‘oscilla ex alta suspendent mollia pinu’,
waving amulets from the tall pine,
as did the roman soldiers, revering
‘the cedar in its bravery’,
the sacred, ever-green, ever-living pole,
recalling in winter dark that other deathless tree
whose roots are deep in little-hell,
whose highest boughs uphold great heaven.
Sweet resins fill the house,
atop the tree stands Frau Sonne, shining one…
And here on the table is our Christmas cake,
‘geologically sound, with one stratum of icing,
and one of marzipan, the whole superimposed
on alluvial darkness’, and ‘the vast globe
of plum-pudding, the true image of the earth,
flattened at the poles’, from which the flame leaps,
as it leaps along the log of yule
by whose light we watch the year’s wheel turn.
Now from the popped and plundered
red and golden paper crackers, we eagerly unfold
and don our Saturnalian hats of crepe
and beneath the luminous Kissing Bough
of mistletoe and woven green bay,
we kiss in a pre-Copernican way;
the sun moves, not us, not our earth!
We beg her to live again, arise from her winter death!
All the multitude of Bacchus’ golden lips
move in smiling silent supplication.
Here is your tree, here are your children, Reine Soleil,
give us your gifts…

Penelope Shuttle (1947 – ) from Building A City For Jamie, Oxford University Press, 1996

What a wonderful poetic salute to the ages-old traditions of Yule Time where many of our cherished Christmas traditions, including the Christmas tree, originated. I was so pleased to find this evocation of the so-called secular moments of Christmas that I take for granted as being part of Christmas and don’t think of where they came from. But I also appreciate how English poet Penelope Shuttle doesn’t abandon the religious significance of Christmas which can disappear so easily under the onslaught of consumerism:

the sacred, ever-green, ever-living pole,
recalling in winter dark that other deathless tree
whose roots are deep in little-hell,
whose highest boughs uphold great heaven.

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The Annunciation Story – A Feminine Perspective in Paint and Words by Enjeong Noh and Jeanne Murray-Walker

Annunciation by Enjeong Noh

Annunciation (2002) by Enjeong Noh

Canadian/American poet Heather McHugh describes the quality of a great poem as being one that finds the unexpected in the over known. Well, hats off to painter Enjeong Noh, born in Seoul, South Korea and now resident in Pasadena California! A poet in paint, she has found the utterly unexpected in the Christian story of the Annunciation – the proclamation to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus, the son of God.

The Christian season of Advent which leads up to Christmas begins with the Annunciation. And if ever there was a well known, and dare I say, over known story, in the Christian bible this is it. But in Noh’s contemporary painting she turns the story as we know it, especially in paintings, on its head.  Gone is the male angel with wings, the lilly, the open book, a demure Mary fully clothed and the dove overhead. To see what I mean here is Bottecelli’s version.

Bottecelli's Annunciation

Bottecelli’s Annunciation

The difference in the two depictions is shocking. But the eye-opener for me, thanks to poet and friend, Rosemary Griebel , is that pretty well all of the best known paintings of the Annunciation are by men.

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There Will Be Trembling – And, Thank God, The Poetry of Adrienne Rich

American Poet Adrienne Rich (1929 - 2012) Photo Credit: The Washington Post

American Poet Adrienne Rich (1929 – 2012) Photo Credit: The Washington Post


There’ll be turbulence.    You’ll drop
your book to hold your
water bottle steady.     Your
mind, mind has mountains, cliffs of fall
may who ne’er hung there let him
watch the movie.     The plane’s
supposed to shudder, shoulder on
like this.    It’s built to do that.   You’re
designed to tremble too.    Else break
Higher you climb, trouble in mind
lungs labor, heights hurl vistas
Oxygen hangs ready
overhead.   In the event put on
the child’s mask first.   Breathe normally

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)  from Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, W.W. Norton, 2011

Oh how a poem can startle me back inside my byways and over grown pathways. Wake me up to places inside me I mean to keep hidden. That’s what a keeper poem does for me. That’s what American poet Adrienne Rich’s poem Turbulence did for me while I sat on the floor of  Bookends, in Kailua, O’Ahu, Hawai’i.

There I was tucked away in the front corner of the store, new books shelved with the secondhand ones and stacks of other used books waiting for shelf space on the floor beside me. Is it new or old I thought as I picked up Rich’s book Tonight No Poetry Will Serve. Neither exactly. It was a 2011 first edition priced as new. It was Rich’s last book of poems published in her lifetime and it had been nominated for the National Book Award. For a wonderful drawing of Rich and discussion of her remarkable writing life by on-line impresario Maria Popova of Brainpickings click here.

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Enlarged By Desire – The Poetry of Mark Doty

American Poet Mark Doty at the Key West Literary Seminar 2015 Photo Credit: Nick Doll

American Poet Mark Doty at the Key West Literary Seminar 2015
Photo Credit: Nick Doll




























from Messiah (Christmas Portions)

Aren’t we enlarged
by the scale of what we’re able
to desire? Everything,
the choir insists,

might flame;
inside these wrappings
burns another, brighter life,
quickened, now,

by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
Still time to change.

Mark Doty ( August 1953 – ) from Sweet Machine: Poems, HarperCollins Publishers, 1998

American poet Mark Doty embodies a deep and caring humanity that pours out of his face. Pours out of his poems. And it comes at a price: the personal suffering evident in his face and his poems. But joy is there too, earned, not naïve, joy. A joy connected to a choice he has made in his life to stay present with his suffering but also to choose joy. That joy especially comes through in his poems about his dogs and his latest book, Deep Lane, nominated for this year’s prestigious U.K.-based T.S. Eliot Award, has more of those to add to his oeuvre!

But another theme is central to Doty. It came out at his talks at the Key West Literary Seminar last January and is caught inside many of his poems including Messiah which he recited last January. It is the necessity of longing, of having appetite. I might add that longing can be its own suffering but it reminds me I am alive! For a link to a review of his main talk on desire at Key West click here.

Aren’t we enlarged/ by the scale of what we’re able/ to desire?

What a huge question and coming as it does at the end of his poem Messiah, which is included in its entirety below, it seems perfectly placed. From what comes before it in the poem I can say: yes. I can believe it. I also believe it knowing about his life. About his suffering as a gay man and especially as a gay man watching his beloved partner die of AIDS at the beginning of that epidemic in the 1980’s. With what he has suffered by longing, what courage to keep longing, and to remind us to keep longing as he does in this poem from his new book:

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Happy Birthday Tony Hoagland – Two Days Late!

American Poet, Teacher and Essayist, Tony Hoagland

American Poet, Teacher and Essayist, Tony Hoagland










from Faulkner

That is what I learned from Faulkner: there is evil in the world
like a virus, or a lingering disease
that sleeps inside the rivers and the trees—

the reason for suffering isn’t some bad choice you made,
or something you did wrong,

it isn’t anybody’s fault; it just exists,
it is a condition of this place;

and the only purpose it serves
is that it wakes us up,
at certain moments in our lives, it rouses us

to get up on our feet and find the door.


Tony Hoagland (1953 – ) from Application for Release from the Dream, Graywolf Press, 2015

American poet Tony Hoagland, who turned 62 on November 19th, just might be one of the bravest poets of his generation. I say this not just based on his past four books of poetry but especially his latest book which came out a few months ago. He has a way of challenging complacency: not just his readers’ but his as well. He has a fearlessness wrapped inside a vulnerability of feeling that makes me feel sometimes he not only sticks his own hand inside a light socket, but mine too!

I have taken the risk of excerpting the huge “tell” statement, which I use as an epigraph for this post, from Hoagland’s longer poem, Faulkner. The complete poem can be read below. (But first an apology to Hoagland and my readers. After hours of trying I cannot make WordPress keep the indents that are required in Faulkner.)

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Poetry-As-Prayer – Calgary Nov. 27th and 28th, 2015

Richard Osler At One Of His Retreats

Richard Osler At One Of His Retreats
























I sing for you.
I am made for song.
It is my purpose, to invent new music, as a kind of prayer
that everything is, a cane tapping, a child running, the way
a leaf falls in its arpeggio. Everything states “consort”,
“orchestration”, and even music is to Him what is unrecognizable
to us:
the poor conversation, the bad day; it is our forcing
of a called tune that makes us deaf. For his musics weave
like wind, taking a sudden turn, holding up leaves, blowing the
We tap into his musics and call it a page, a song.
When our will is congruent to what we hear,
we are poets,
and people of prayer.

Pier Giorgio Di Cicco (1949 – ) from Names of Blessing, Novalis Publishing Inc.2009

Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, a man of so many parts. He is or has been a urban planner, professor, priest, poet laureate of Toronto from 2005 to 2009 and author of twenty two books of poetry including his latest released by The St. Thomas Poetry Series in October – Mystic Playground.

When I think of Di Cicco, who lives north of Toronto, I think of him not just by what he has achieved but as one of the patron saints for me of the Poetry-As-Prayer retreats I lead across North America two to three times a year. His poem above, says it all; says the truth that lives at the heart of these retreats:

We tap into his musics and call it a page, a song.
When our will is congruent to what we hear,
we are poets,
and people of prayer.

For any of you reading this from Calgary I invite you to experience the reality of this at a poetry-as-prayer retreat I am leading at Hillhurst United Church on Friday evening November 27th and all day Saturday the 28th, 2015. This will be my third poetry-as-prayer retreat this year – most recently, for the seventh time, I led Surfside Poetry-As-Prayer retreat in October on the Texas Gulf Coast. For more details about the Calgary retreat please see below.

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