What’s New

Poetry Writing Retreat in Italy – Summer 2017

I’ll be leading the retreat in Umbria from June 23 – July 3. The theme is To Discover a Wider Eye and I can’t think of a better place than Italy to have one’s eyes opened wider. Click here for details about the retreat.

hyaena-season-coverMy new collection of poems, Hyaena Season, has launched! 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.

I’m doing more launches and readings over the next few months – hope you can join me for one of those and for updates on the readings please follow the “launches and readings” link as well. Thanks to all those who have come 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”.

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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( Part 3 of 3) Gone to Soon – Tribute to Tom Lux – Have You Found It Now – the Unbroken World?

American Poet Thomas Lux (1946-2017) Photo Credit: The Paris Review

American Poet Thomas Lux (1946-2017) Photo Credit: The Paris Review

I love mystery, strangeness, nuttiness, wildness, leaps across chasms, irreverence, all the crazy stuff we love about poetry. We don’t usually love poems because they are well made, or smart, or deep. We love them for their crazy hearts.

Thomas Lux, from The Atlantic, 2004

Crazy hearts. The poems of  American poet Thomas Lux (1946-2017) had those in spades! How’s this for a crazy heart from his poem Tryptych, Middle Panel Burning:

It happened that my uncle liked to take my hand in his/ and with the other seize/ the electric cow fence: a little rural/ humour, don’t get me wrong//no way child abuse. He/ took the the voltage first….

Almost three weeks since he died and the tributes and obituaries keep coming for  Lux. You can read the New York Times obit here.

This post completes my three part tribute series dedicated to him. But for this post I make a joint dedication: to him and a man he mentored, Miles Coon, founder of the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, which just celebrated its 13th festival in January 2017. And its 14th festival in January 2018 will be dedicated to Lux. For Coon’s tribute to Lux click here .
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(Part 2 of 3) Gone too Soon – Tribute to Tom Lux – Out of the Waiting List to Zero

American Poet Thomas Lux (1946-2017) Photo Credit: The Paris Review

American Poet Thomas Lux (1946-2017) Photo Credit: The Paris Review

      for Thomas Lux

I visit the word world.

In between feeding my friends,

the alert preternaturally unafraid
of Purgatory Cove.

Wright, Franz from The Beforelife, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001

Is it a coincidence I wonder that Franz Wright (1953 – 2015), Pulitzer prize winning poet dedicated a poem to recovering addict Thomas Lux in his book of poems so packed with poems of his addiction and the start of his recovery? I don’t know but Lux too, has written about his dark days of addiction:

Loudmouth Soup

Vodka, whiskey, gin. Scotch, Red wine, cognac,
brandy—are you getting thirsty yet?—ale,
rye. It all tastes good: on the rocks, with a splash,
side of soda, shaken
not stirred, triple,
olives, one of those nutritious little pearl
onions, a double, neat,
with a twist. Drink
it up. Let’s have a drink: dry beer, wet beer,
light, dark and needled beer. Oh parched,
we drank the river
nearly to its bed at times, and were so numb
a boulder on a toe
was pleasant pain, all pain
was pleasant since that’s all there was, pain,
and everything that was deeply felt, deeply,
was not. Bourbon, white and pink wine, aperitif,
cordial (hardly!), cocktail, martini,
highball, digestif, port, grain
punch—are you getting thirsty yet?—line them up!
We’ll have a drink
and talk, we’ll have
a drink
and die, grim-about-it-with-piquancy.
It was a long time on the waiting list
for zero
and I’m happy
for the call out of that line
to other, less predictable,
more joyful
slides to ride on home.

Thomas Lux from Last Call, edited by Sarah Gorham and Jeffrey Skinner, Sarabande Books, 1997

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(Part 1 of 3) Gone Too Soon – Tribute to Tom Lux – Renderer of Life – Low and Lower – into Poetry!

American Poet Thomas Lux (1947-2017) Photo Credit: The Paris Review

American Poet Thomas Lux (1946-2017) Photo Credit: The Paris Review

Render, Render

Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle,
bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil
it down, skim, and boil
again, dreams, history, add them and boil
again, boil and skim
in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves,
the runned-over dog you loved, the girl
by the pencil sharpener
who looked at you, looked away,
boil that for hours, render it
down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom,
the heavier, the denser, throw in ache
and sperm, and a bead
f sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist
as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up
the fire, boil and skim, boil
some more, add a fever
and the virus that blinded an eye, now’s the time
to add guilt and fear, throw
logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw
two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders
used for “clearing”), boil and boil, render
it down and distill,
that for which there is no
other use at all, boil it down, down,
then stir it with rosewater, that
which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
which you smear on your lips
and go forth
to plant as many kisses upon the world
as the world can bear!

Tom Lux from The Cradle Place, Mariner Books, 2004

Thomas Lux, American poet, beloved professor and author of thirteen full-length collections of poetry and a memoir, died February 5th, aged 70. The world will become a little less amped-up, less funny even in its sadnesses,  more drear.

The wry way Lux celebrated the often over-looked: cows going to slaughter and other creatures (lots of creepy crawlies): dung beetles, Tarantula’s, Kraits (deadly snake), a moose, turtles. I, and many others, will miss his sharp eye that brought them to the page and celebrated their surprising importance!
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Singing in Dark Times – #5 in a Series – Why not Sing – Kevin Young

American Poet Kevin Young (1970 - )

American Poet Kevin Young (1970 – )

Epigraph from Motto

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

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

I think, okay, no more poems to post in this series for now and then a poem changes my mind. A poem, in this case by American poet Kevin Young. A poem that ties into my theme: singing in the dark times!

A professor at Emory University in the U.S.from 2005 to 2016 and now the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
in New York City, Young has won a clutch of prestigious literary awards and been short-listed for many others. This author of 10 volumes of poetry, a non-fiction book which won the Pen Open Book award, and editor of numerous anthologies, has become an important voice in American literature and is considered one of the finest poets of his generation.

I so appreciate the musicality of his short lines. A pithiness that still holds a compelling cadence. Read this poem out loud. You will, I hope, see what I mean! Here is a poem that says, yeah, death will come (can’t get much darker than that) but………………….but…..Why not sing!

from Book of Hours


It’s death there
is no cure for—

life the long

If we’re lucky.

Otherwise, short
trip beyond.

And below.

growing shadow.

I chase the quiet
around the house.

Soon the sound—

wind wills
its way against

the panes. Welcome
the rain.

the moon’s squinting

into space.
The trees

bow like priests.

The storm lifts
up the leaves.

Why not sing.

Kevin Young from Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems 1995-2015, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016

Why not sing. Why not. And in that singing shout out Praise! Even inside death’s shadow. But the life there!

Why not sing. That means all of us! Each in their own way!

Singing in Dark Times – # 4 in a Series – Today, a Voice That Might Have Been Banished – Emi Mahmoud

Sudanese American Spoken Word Poet Emitithal Mahmoud ( 1993 - )

Sudanese-American Spoken Word Poet Emitithal Mahmoud ( 1993 – ). Photo credit: Michael Marsland

Epigraph from Motto

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

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

In November 2015 a young Sudanese/American woman, Emitithal (Emi) Mahmoud, rocked audiences at the individual world slam poetry championships, which she won,  with her poems that brought graphically to life stories of living in war-torn Dafur, Sudan, especially her poem Mama which brought the audience to her feet before she had finished.  To listen to her perform with her poem Mama  click here and to hear her interviewed about her win on CBC’s As It Happens, radio program, click here. What a singing about dark times!

And this, a different singing. A singing of joy and belief in the possibility of a loud and beautiful start to a new future. This poem she recited in May last year to her graduating class at Yale – the annual Yale Ivy Ode delivered by a graduating student! To see the video of her performance click here.

Something Loud and Beautiful

As the snow begins to kiss my skin
I notice how dark it is,
how it sings of midnight and forgotten histories,
and I am reminded of each and every
person who has strived an entire lifetime
so we may decorate the most vibrant years of our lives so far.
This school is our beginning. So here’s the start.
To always starting something, something loud and
beautiful and unapologetically ours.
Here’s to the others. Those with us and those we’ve lost.
Here’s to our loved ones, and the
strangers we have come to call family.
Here’s to one another. To this rolling sea
of faces that has come to mean my Yale.
Here’s to the songs we have written
together and the twilights we’ve shared.
As I stand here, all ebony and
woman and still breathing,
my memories of the genocide and
the many histories we come from
lead into images of a future brimming with
the people who have walked beside us,
like a door that only opens.

Emtithal (Emi) Mahmoud (1993 – ), from a video at a Yale Graduation ceremony, May 23rd, 2016.
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Singing in Dark Times – # 3 in a Series – What Do Poets Do? We Praise

German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

Epigraph from Motto

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

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

This gorgeous, difficult, heart-breaking world. What do we poets do with it? Brecht says we must sing about it. His countryman, Rainer Maria Rilke, says we must praise it. As does Canadian poet Patrick Lane, recovering addict, who has lived through his own dark and dire times as he portrays so vividly in his memoir: There is A Season. A few years ago he wrote this:

Every poem works upon the idea of praise. There are overt poems that reach out toward direct concerns, saying that I praise this or I praise that. But every poem lifts the animate and inanimate object to the level of the mysterious and the sublime. As soon as something is named it takes on the aura of human touch. We praise the world by naming it

I lean into the idea of every poem as a praise poem. Especially if we write about the dark things – war, death, grief, break-up. The act of praising is to say no matter what, we are here, we are alive. By naming the things of the world we praise it. In dark times the challenge is not to praise just the beautiful, but also the hard things of this world! Just like Robert Hass does in this poem:


We asked the captain what course
of action he proposed to take toward
a beast so large, terrifying, and
unpredictable. He hesitated to
answer, and then said judiciously:
“I think I shall praise it.”

Robert Hass, from Praise, Ecco Press, 1979

And here is another small praise poem by American poet Greg Orr:

Praising all creation, praising the world:
That’s our job – to keep
The sweet machine of it
Running as smoothly as it can

With words repairing, where it wears out,
Where it breaks down.

With songs and poems keeping it going.
With whispered endearments greasing its gears.

Greg Orr from How Beautiful The Beloved, Cooper Canyon Press, 2004

The great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) is said by many to be one of the great poetic voices of the 20th century. In 1922, in his Sonnets to Orpheus, (which Stephen Mitchell calls “surely the most astonishing burst of inspiration in the history of literature.”) he says: Praising is what matters

The only way he can approach any kind of wholeness in looking at life is to praise, as he says in this poem written a few months earlier in 1921, Tell Us Poet What Do You Do?:

Tell us, poet, what do you do?
                             — I praise.
But the dreadful, the monstrous, and their ways,
how do you stand them, suffer it all?
                             — I praise.
But the anonymous, featureless days,
how, poet, can you ask them to call?
                              — I praise.
under each mask, to speak a true phrase?
                              — I praise.
And that the calm as well as the crazed
know you like star and storm?
                              — Because I praise.

Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. William Gass from Reading Rilke by William Gass, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000

Singing in Dark Times – #2 in a Series – Aharon Shabtai – The Poet Sings


Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai (1939 – )

Epigraph from Motto

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

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

In the second blog post in my occasional series Singing in Dark Times I feature an Israeli poet, Aharon Shabtai. A poet who sings of love and war with equal ardour and frankness.  Here is a poet who is not silent.  A poet who in the dark times, sings! About the dark times.

I have kept as my epigraph , the poem by Brecht I featured in Part 1 of this series since it is a strong echo inside one of the Shabtai poems I feature today. A remarkable talking back to Brecht by Shabtai. And in the other Shabtai poem I  feature, we see  the poet of the spirit, the heart: poet as a prayer book; poet writing a prayer of thanks for  his life! What a reminder in dark times: the people and moments in our lives we can still thank.

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