Welcome

“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
2013

Can Poetry Hurt Us? – Resurrection and Patricia Smith

American poet, Patricia Smith

American poet, Patricia Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
Little Poetry

He says I am gumpopper
wondrous shoulders,

evil on the days I bleed.

I can take hold of both my hands.
     He speaks cool water on me,
nudges my mood with a proverb.

I watch him undress, skin
    unto another skin, and I turn
away to keep from craving that.

By the time his hands
     touch my shoulders,
I am almost insane

with disappearing
and the thunder.

Patricia Smith (1955 – ) from Teahouse of the Almighty, Coffee House Press, 2006

To say Patricia Smith is a poetic force is like saying hurricane Katrina was a storm. If a hurricane were to be named for Smith it would be a class 10. Her poetry readings are events. She has won four world poetry slam competitions, her books of poems have won many honours and she is a celebrated writing teacher  and a tenured professor.

Her 2008 book Blood Dazzler, a word-storm of poems based on hurricane Katrina was short-listed for a National Book Award. And most recently her latest book, published in 2012, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, a poetic memoir,  won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 2013  and late last year she was awarded the Rebekah Johnson Bobbit National Prize for Poetry awarded by the American Library of Congress, one of the highest accolades for an American poet.

It’s shocking: Smith’s  transformation into one of of America’s most celebrated poets.  For two reasons:

First and this is the big-bang shocker: in 1998 Smith, an acclaimed journalist at age 42,  was also big new news but in the worst possible way. She was fired from the Boston Globe and stripped of a Pulitzer prize finalist’s nomination for fabricating people and quotes in four of her columns.  That would have been enough to deep six most people for a lifetime but luckily for poetry lovers, not Smith. For a recent New York Times article on Smith’s stunning transformation click here.

Second, she is being recognized by the formal poetic establishment even though her roots are firmly planted in the spoken word  (slam or performance poet) tradition as opposed to the traditional poetry of the written page. Yes, the distinction between the two is getting more blurred, partially thanks to poets like Smith, but a suspicion between the two traditions still remains. This is expressed wonderfully in Yusef Komunyakaa’s end page comments on Blood Dazzler: Only an echo of the spoken-word diva lingers in Blood Dazzler, and that measured presence is what approximates a necessary passion in this poignant collection. The worry, of course, is that performance poets drench their words in an emotional colouration that disguises a lack of poetic control and craft. Hence, Komunyakaa’s phrase “measured presence.” to compliment Smith’s collection.

Read More »

What Her Heart Sees – The “Man from…..” Poems of Lorna Crozier & More!

Canadian poet Lorna Crozier

Canadian poet Lorna Crozier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man from the Promised Land

He was the north wind, the west.
And I very nearly blew away with him
My limbs light as grit. He whittled me
Raised me to his lips and made me sing.
It was Bedouin, Mojave, Saskatchewan’s
Great Sandhills, the Blackfoot and the Cree.
Oh, he was good to me. I shifted shape,
Moved as he moved, our tracks filled in.
Slow sift, was he, soft slide through fingers;
The dunes of hips and shoulder blades
Gilded by the sun. He raised me to his lips
And made me sing, the mouthpiece
Of my heart parched with grief.

Lorna Crozier (1948 – ) from man from elsewhere, JackPine Press, 2013

Next month Lorna Crozier will publish her eighteenth full-length book of poetry – The Wrong Cat. It follows her best-selling book of prose poems Book of Marvels, published in 2012 and 2013 in the U.S. But Lorna managed to sneak in another “little” book of poems in 2013 – her limited edition chapbook man from elsewhere which contains a series of eleven exquisite little poems all based on the theme man from…

I have included a favorite poem of mine from man from elsewhere as my epigraph to this post. To read some other poems from the series click here to read them from Lorna’s website. (Writing a series of poems on a theme is a Lorna trademark. I think specifically of her “Angel” poems and her sexualized “vegetable” poems.)

Man from the Promised Land is vintage Crozier. Lithe and sinuous as a snake this poem sings a sensual song of longing and ecstatic union: Oh, he was good to me. I shifted shape,/ Moved as he moved, our tracks filled in./Slow sift, was he, soft slide through the fingers.

Crozier writes with such musical confidence which seems to accentuate the ecstatic nature of the poem yet I am left haunted and shaken after reading it. There is union, yes, but the poem’s first two lines seem to suggest she cannot hold him: He was the north wind, the west./ And I very nearly blew away with him. And then at the poem’s end we are left with the searing image of grief: And made me sing, the mouthpiece/ of my heart parched with grief.

Read More »

He Tasted What He Said – Poet, Philip Levine (1928- 2015)

Philip Levine former U.S. Poet Laureate

Philip Levine former U.S. Poet Laureate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Simple Truth

I bought a dollar and a half’s worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In the middle of June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me the potatoes
was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. “Eat, eat,” she said,
“Even if you don’t I’ll say you did.”
                                                      Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt-shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us betray our love. Can you taste
what I’m saying? It is onions and potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live in it.

Phillip Levine (1928 – 1015) from Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs by Charles DeNiord, Marick Press, 2011

Last Saturday we lost Philip Levine, an American poet of singular brilliance. Yes, we lost him to cancer at age 87, but his poems will continue to remind us of his unusual perspective. He spoke, not only, with the authentic voice of a man utterly soaked in the nitty-gritty of everyday working life but with a philosophical wisdom you might not expect from a man born into the mean streets of Detroit during the depression. For a wonderful recap of his life from National Public Radio click here.

Read More »

Yet We Were Looking Away – On Missing the Moment!

                                                   

 

Seamus Heaney's "Great Minds Lecture" delivered at the University of Dundee in July 2003

Seamus Heaney’s “Great Minds Lecture” delivered at the University of Dundee in July 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Self-Unseeing

Here is the ancient floor,
Footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door
Where the dead feet walked in.

She sat here in her chair,
Smiling into the fire;
He who played stood there,
Bowing it higher and higher.

Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!

Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) from Room to Rhyme by Seamus Heaney, University of Dundee, 2004

Happy Family Day in most of Canada but not B.C.! (We had ours last Monday!)

It’s been too long! A few months since my last blog post. I have lots of excuses which are simply the everyday events of a life being used as an excuse not to write instead of being an invitation to fix moments in time with words and make them last! Yes, there has been dying (my dear wife’s Dad) but today, as Derek Mahon, the Irish poet, says: No need to go into that. Yes, there has been grieving. But I don’t want to forget to celebrate the many moments of grace that still fill a day spent inside the house of grief. I want to remember not to look away!

I am grateful to Seamus Heaney who introduced me to Hardy’s poem in his “Greatest Minds Lecture” delivered at the July 2003 graduation ceremony at the University of Dundee and published in the book, Room to Rhyme. Hardy’s poem has been a comfort and a warning in recent days. And it made me think of this day designed to celebrate families. Not all family moments deserve celebrating. We know this all too well. But I was thinking of the moments worth celebrating that pass by without notice or without being fully absorbed. The memories like Hardy’s of this family moment in front of a fire. But how easy it is to realize: Yet we were looking away.

Heaney begins his lecture with lines from a Christmas mummer’s play that include the line: And give us room to rhyme. These lines  have stayed with him all his life and he comments on how they link the child in him to his older self. How they appeal to memory and open a path to further meaning. He also says: I want therefore to speak about poetry’s ability to renew and transfigure experience in another pattern, about the good of this transfiguration and the worth of it. Later on in his lecture he adds:

Read More »

The Secret Life of Things – More Poems and Poets on Paying Attention

Poet David Whyte

Poet David Whyte

 

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte (1955 – ) from Everything Is Waiting For You, Many Rivers Press , 2003

My most recent blog has created a lovely back and forth discussion with a few readers on other poems that address the mystery of everyday things we so often take for granted. In particular, my long-time friend and blogger Rory mentioned David Whyte’s poem Everything Is Waiting For You which introduces this blog post. And acclaimed poet and friend, Heidi sent me the poem The Writing Life by Charles Wright (1935 -), current U.S. Poet Laureate.

It was wonderful to hear from Rory about this poem which we both heard together for the first time about ten years ago in Vancouver at a reading with David Whyte. Since then Rory has attended David Whyte events countless times and as it just so happens (synchronicity!) Rory will be with Whyte today in an all day event in Vancouver. I am envious.

I still remember the look on Rory’s face as he turned to me after hearing Everything is Waiting For You for the first time. It did what good poems are supposed to: it surprised him (and me) and jolted us out of a so-called normal complacency in how we view the extraordinary world around us. A world we diminish when we allow it to become ordinary!

Read More »

Paying Attention – Rilke and Hirschfield

Petal of the poor man's orchid in Ossie Murray's garden in Jamaica

Petal of the poor man’s orchid in Ossie Murray’s garden in Jamaica

 

 

from The Ninth Duino Elegy

Nor does the wanderer bring down a handful of earth
from his high mountain slope to the valley (for earth, too, is mute),
but a word he has plucked from the climbing: the yellow and blue
gentian. Are we, perhaps, here just to utter: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, jug, fruit tree, window -
at most: column, tower…but to utter them, remember,
to speak in a way which the named never dreamed
they could be? Isn’t it the hidden purpose
of this cunning earth, in urging on lovers,
to realize, through their rapture, rapture for all?

Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by William Gass in Reading Rilke by William Gass, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000,

I was put in mind of the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke (1875-1926) this morning when I read today was his birthday. Specifically, I remembered the lines from his Ninth Duino Elegy which make the epigraph for this post.

In February 1922 Rilke composed the last four of the Duino Elegies and the fifty five Sonnets to Orpheus. Some literary critics say these remarkable poetic outpourings have no, or few, equals in literary history. Translator Stephen Mitchell says: The Duino Elegies are widely acknowledged to be the greatest poem of the twentieth century.

The lines in the epigraph to this post are my cold-water wake up call especially in moments of self focus, worry or grief. Those moments when I stop paying attention to the so-called ordinary things of everyday. When I no longer, as if I really mean it, say: house, bridge, fountain, gate, tower, jug, fruit tree, window.

Here in Jamaica, after the death of my beloved Father-in-Law, Oswald (Ossie) Uriah Murray, I am reminded of the names of his favorite trees and flowers from his garden. I have tried to avoid them and not say their names. They remind me too much of his absence. But now after reading Rilke I utter them: yellow Allamanda, sugar banana, guango, blue mahoe, poor man’s orchid, red ixora, red hibiscus, pink poui, lychee, mango and otaheite apple.

Read More »

Choose Life – The Gospel According to Spencer Reece

American poet Spencer Reece. Photo copyright The New York Post

American poet Spencer Reece. Photo copyright The New York Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chiaroscuro

When the ficus beyond the grillwork darkens,
when the rind cools down on the lime,
when we sit here a long time,
when we feel ourselves found, when the red tile roofs deepen to brown,
when the exhausted beach fires with blues,
when the hush of the waves reminds us of regrets,
when the tides overtake the shore,
when we begin to place God in our sentences more,
we will turn at last,
we will admire the evenings fading clues,
uncertain of what the dark portends
as another season ends
and the fabulous visitors depart in luxury cars,
we will savour the sharp light from the summer stars,
we will rejoice in the fronds tintinnabulating down these empty streets,
these beautiful streets with all these beautiful names –
Kings, Algoma, Via Bellaria, Clarendon, Via Vizcaya,
Via Del Mar, El Vadalo, Banyan, El Brillo, El Bravo, Via Marina.

Spencer Reece (1963 – ), from The Clerk’s Tale, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004

What a hymn of praise and hope. This poem has such a sense of life ebbing and receding as the sun leaves the world but it still manages to evoke the beauty that remains, especially the lovely list of names of the empty streets. Such light the poet conjures even as the dark gathers. Such a sense he creates of being in the now, of a wide-eyed seeing that leads to praise in spite of tides that overtake the shore.

If nothing else this poet does not let dark tides of despair and loss conquer him. For example, this gay man, this poet, this priest, this former Brooks Brothers salesman, Spencer Reece, figures his first book was rejected two hundred and twenty five times over fifteen years. I thought I had lots to whine about with five rejections so far of my current manuscript!

Can you imagine – two hundred and twenty five rejections! But then, former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Gluck accepted it for the Bakeless Prize in 2003. And in a wonderful twist of synchronicity his second book, The Road to Emmaus, published this year, was long-listed for the National Book Award along with Louise Gluck’s latest book which ultimately won the prize.

Read More »

Acceptance or Anger – Poetry and Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day Poppy

Remembrance Day Poppy

Prayer

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

Galway Kinnell (1927 – 2014)

This small poem may  be  the bravest, if not most reckless, poem I have read. I discovered it about seven years ago during the unexpected end of my second marriage. I resisted it. I resisted its profound and astonishing acceptance. And it angered me. How could the poet, Galway Kinnell,  be so rash? How could he dare the gods to throw a suitcase full of woes his way? For a recording of Kinnell reading the poem click here.

When I read the poem first in the shadow of a long and mostly good marriage I refused it. I did not want the failed marriage. The pain and disruption to our family. But even more I didn’t want the horrors I had seen in Africa especially in eastern DR Congo. The women there I had met before or after their fistula surgeries to repair their inside-rips from violent rape. My list of the “whatevers” I could not countenance went on and on.

And today, of all days, Remembrance Day, how can I say I would want the “whatever” of that horror: the First World War which left more than nine million dead, which ended  ninety six years ago today. Kinnell’s poem may seem simple and almost prose. But it cries out  as poetry in its repetitions, astonishing use of three “ises” in a row, and in its complexity;  the size of the emotional bomb blast it leaves behind. When this poem ends, the poetry, the argument, inside the reader, is just beginning.

Galway KInnell, American Poet

Galway KInnell, American Poet

The more I chew on this poem I see it as a terrifying praise poem. One that accepts life in all its range of joy and sorrows. We are going to experience the “whatevers” no matter what. What Kinnell does for me is to say a huge “yes” to them, to life. To say this is life. And to say I chose it. I do not deny it. I am not just a passive recipient of what it doles out. I chose it. In truth, I cannot say this whole heartedly every day. But this poem reminds me what’s at stake. Asks me if I am brave enough, big enough, to live this way.

And Galway, you who died just a few weeks ago, you,  who wrote some of the finer poems of your generation of great American writers, how can I say that your death, the what of that, is what I want?  Just that? I have no choice, I must accept it. But Galway, I never wanted it. And I never wanted the death of my great uncle in the mud of France in 1916 and I never wanted the  death of my uncle in the jungles of Malaya in 1941. And I never wanted the deaths of all those who have fought in wars, especially those who are dying today in too many places around the world.

Read More »

Where The God Waits To Eat Us – Patrick Lane’s New Poetry Collection, Washita

Patrick Lane Reading From His Latest Book - Washita

Patrick Lane Reading From His Latest Book – Washita


FOR THE WOMAN WHO DANCED

WITH THE ASHES OF HER SON

Strange how beautiful when we are diaphanous,
a bit of ripped muslin set against the sun, the wind
soft as a child’s skin. Tragedy does that to us
and we are made the greater for our smallness.
A bright pebble among the discarded shells.
There are times I am a questing mole, fierce
in my love, lost as anything alive.

Patrick Lane from Washita, Harbour Publishing, 2014 (With Permission)

Tonight, in Victoria, Patrick Lane launched, Washita, his twenty seventh book of poetry, three years after the publication of his Collected Poems and fifty four years after he began writing poetry in 1960. In his afterward to his Collected Poems Lane says: The poem asked of me that a life’s work be done, that the presence of one stone or one leaf could be paradise and that the making of a poem, the making of a beautiful thing could defeat time……The poem is, I believe, an emblem of my desire to salvage some beauty from a fallen world.

The great American poet Jack Gilbert says sing going down and Lane echoes this in the line from his poem The Beauty: And still we sing. At age seventy five, Lane is still singing. Singing for the  beauty of a fallen world. And if the making of a beautiful thing can defeat time then Washita beats it hands down as shown by the “small” large poem that acts as the epigraph for this blog post.

In this epigraph poem Lane turns the tragedy, the death of a son, into a fierce beauty as he describes the grief dance of a mother. He transforms it into something diaphanous. a bit of ripped muslin set against the sun. That mother will remain in the beauty of her raw dance long after both her and her son have been forgotten. In this way this poem becomes a poem for all mothers through time who have lost a son. And also a poem for all of us who face tragedy and in that moment are made the greater for our smallness. Greater for how we survive it. The  fierce beauty of that.
Read More »

The Kiss of a Shark and Feet of a Sparrow – The Poems of Tim Seibles

American Poet Tim Seibles

American Poet Tim Seibles

Edge

Traffic: solitude,
the city — walking around.

So many of us lost in it.
Is love the secret

nobody tells? In a small park
daylight pulled its knife

and a tree moved
toward me: what are you

doing here?
I remembered then: I lit

my eyes which had
gone out

Tim Seibles from Fast Animal, Etruscan Press, 2012

Watch Tim Seibles walk on stage and you better have a fire extinguisher handy or else you might burn up! This man has lit his eyes! Watch out. There is wildfire in his words! This is a man who embodies his passion for poetry. The words fill him and he fills the words. His rendition of Theodore’s Roethke’s poem In a Dark Time at this year’s Palm Beach Poetry festival made me hear it as if for a first of first times. Especially the last stanza:

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, Doubleday, 1963

What a definition of the soul: my soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,/ Keeps buzzing at the sill. The way Seibles delivered that line I felt the madness of my own soul! The madness of it buzzing at the sill of my body, trying to break free. And feeling that feeling Roethke’s ecstatic release, at the poem’s end, hit me like an epiphany:

…………..…I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

This poem and Seibles’ poems were an epiphany last January in Delray Beach, Florida.(For a link to Seibles reading his poem Lobster for Sale at the festival click here.) I bought three of his books and devoured them. What I hadn’t expected was to be hit by his impassioned plea for an impassioned poetry in the introduction to his 2004 volume Buffalo Head Solos. What a poetic call to arms. Here is a taste:

What the hell happened to the notion of poet as town crier, rabble rouser, court jester, priestess, visionary madman?….Writing poems in SUV-America can feel like fiddling amidst catastrophe, but if one must fiddle shouldn’t one play that thing until it smokes? And, in stirring the words with our tongues, our paws, our long nights, and the smoldering tangle of our brains, maybe we could move our general kin to listen.

Seibles, in  despair, wrote this in the aftermath of the Iraq war but he could have as easily  written it yesterday. There is a new/old war Iraq, Syria remains brutalized by violence, the Ebola virus remains unchecked in Africa and has crossed over to other continents and terrorism visited my country last week in attacks on our soldiers (claiming two lives) and on our Parliament Building. Rough days. The days he could be describing at the end of his introduction:

 These are rough days. Desperate times. Times when our language is publicly tortured and forced to mean so much less than it means. There must be a way to stop this dying, a way to make a literature that does more: a poetry with the kiss of a shark and the feet of a sparrow, a poetry at intervals beautiful then ruthless, frank but full of quickening delusions.

Tim Seibles, from Buffalo Head Solos, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2004

Read More »