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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

My Mistake – The Correct Version of the Poem “Leaving Green” from my Post on Canadian Poet Martha Royea, Dec. 30th, 2019 – Sorry, Martha!

Leaving Green

Montreal, hot-as-hell August 1968. I lope along
an early morning side street of modest homes
wearing a black boy’s body, swinging
the biggest boom box you ever saw in one hand,
finger-snapping time with the other,
my lips mouthing Motown all around the town, oooh ya!

Oh, sure, I’m watching the boy from the third floor balcony
of the only walk-up on the street, my little earthbound
heart pulling me down, down into nothing but envy
‘til I turn around to where a husky-throat bad-assed lezzzbian
sits I her underpants at the kitchen table looking me up and down,
sweat tricking over her white breasts and a sidelong grin
like Mama knows best and I too wanna be a long-limbed
black boy, boom-boxing the world out of my way
in no-future, no-past hypno-bliss mojo.
What skinny white lesbian wouldn’t?

And me, summer-struck, I think I’m in love with this
pheromone machine who’s made it her business
to keep me at a distance, protect me from “the life”,
by whuich she means there are drugs involved,
and sex, sometimes in groups. I imagine a smoky room
all mattress, no lights, limbs and lips and moans
I’ve never met before and probably wouldn’t
want to on any dark-night side-street, or even
in the light of day – maybe especially in the light of day.
And smells. I imagine Melmac salad bowlas full os
multicolour mix n match-not jellybeans by any means.
You, she says to me, are a green girl from the country,
and furthermore far from home. This life is not for you.

It was worse than that; I was a married woman
with two children under six. I was running away from a fist
on a spring and a hand stuck to a beer glass perpetually full.
Running away to a sweat-steamy kitchen on a street where
black boys swing up an everyday feast for the eyes.,
set the beat of the neighborhood hormones throbbing
and move on, move on, medicine men in the making.

I was what, twenty eight? We shared a sun sign, it had to be fate.
It was lust; you know it! The bird in my belly went haywire
the first time I heard her speak, and that was years before
on the Canadair factory floor. Skinny boy-girl,
swaggering me invoices to copy in the photostat machine
that burned chemical holes in my clothes and made
my eyes burn red. That wicked husky chuckle,
those half-hooded eyes. Jesus, was I scared!

It’s because of you I married the bastard, I tell her.
Go home, she says. Come here, she means. Doesn’t she?
I cross the floor, cunt full of feathers, I cross the floor, kiss her on the lips.
I’m gong, I say. I’m going. Not home.

Martha Royea from because it was the fifities, 26 leaves with little bird media, 2012

My huge apologies to Martha Royea for omitting a crucial stanza from her poem Leaving Green in yesterday’s blog post! I have now corrected that mistake in yesterday’s post but wanted to feature the complete poem here as well. Too fine a poem to mis-publish.

This poem is a great example of Martha’s narrative flair. How she doesn’t sacrifice poetic craft for the story. How her craft enhances the dramatic impact of the narrative. How she keeps the tension and momentum in the poem by her skillfull use of syntax.  As an example listen to how well these lines add a dramatic colour to the narrator:

I was what, twenty-eight? We shared a sun sign, it had to be fate.
It was lust you know it!…

First an offhand question, then a statement followed by an even more declartive statement: It had to be fate. Then the lovely admission and contradiction: It was lust you know it. I also love how she adds for emphasis the music of the “t” sounds that end each sentence in these three sentences.And through this use of syntax I begin to get a real sense of the narrator. She comes alive on the page. She feels full-blooded and three dimensional.

Martha Royea – #2 in the Patrick’s Poets Series – Poets I Met Through the Poetry Writing Retreats of Canadian Poet Patrick Lane

Canadian Poet Martha Royea (1941 – )

The Return Journey
— After T.S. Eliot, The Return of the Magi

“They’re coming! They’re coming back!” I went shouting,
skirts flying and my hair not combed; I ran to the barns
to tell father, and then to the cookhouse, and then to shoo the gambling men
from the doorway again, and light the lamps, for it was almost dark.
And, there being still time, I pushed my hair up into a pretty cap and
put on a clean apron before going out to the road to greet them,
for they had complained on the way through of cold reception
and mean lodgings everywhere on their travels.

But when they were near I saw that they rode like defeated soldiers instead of kings.
They’d left here wearing fine embroidered robes,
crowns and jeweled bands and – oh, it was splendid
to see the three of them, tall and straight atop the swaying camels,
snow and mud splashing out behind them and all their men
and beasts of burden following in the slush.
“We go as kings to greet a king,” the dark one said to his grumpy camel man,
and I thought King Herod of course, knowing of no other,
but father, who travels often into the towns, spat on the ground, “Pah! Herod is but
Ceasar’s ass. A rumoured true King of Jews is what they’re looking for. Idiocy!”

And so, when they came back this way all draggled and slumped,
I knew my father was right and they had not found their king.
But they had found something; it made their faces grim,
and they were silent over their food and retired early
and the next morning they were away at dawn.
I watched them moving slowly up the long hill eastward
into the sun just rising in a sky as red as blood.

Martha Royea, unpublished, 2009

It was at Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island, about ninety miles up the coast from Vancouver in 2005, I first met Martha Royea. It was the first of many Patrick Lane generative poetry writing retreats that we both attended. And at each of those retreats our friendship deepened and my appreciation for Martha’s striking poetic voice kept growing. As did my admiration for Martha’s courage both as a poet and a woman telling of difficult things in her poems  like domestic abuse, but not in a victim’s voice, but with a self-aware and fearless clarity. How in poems Martha is able to embody the ghosts of her narrator’s and our collective past, face them and then, let them go.

And as I think of Martha and how it is she first published in her seventies I think of the similiarities between Martha and the celebrated American poet Ruth Stone who didn’t become well known until her seventies and eighties.  And I think of the similiarities in the narrative force of the writing by both women. And how their narrators so fearlessly and without any shlockiness or self pity describe painful losses. Stone , the loss from suicide. Royea, the loss from violent domestic abuse.

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Words to Rouse us (Isaiah) – Poems of American Poet Philip Metres

American poet Philip Metres (1970 – )

Solstice Prayer

In the name of the darkness,
and of the light, in the name
of the harness of winter’s ice.

In the name of the other,
and of the one, in the name
of the weather, and of the bone.

In the shame of the ache
of what I can’t tell,
in the name of the break

that will not heal. In the same
of the other, and of the one,
in the name of the anterior

and the darkness to come.
In the name of the middle,
in the snow of the gloom,

in the name of the straddle
between road and home.
In the reign of the cold,

in the name of the sorrow,
in the flame of the hark
beyond tomorrow’s morrow.

In the shame at the marrow,
in the grain of the sin
that breaks up the furrow

that I fall in. In the name
of my hands that touch
the forehead that stays shut,

then touch the sternum
that stays shut, then touch
the heart that stays shut, touch

the lungs that free the air
(what can’t be said—O ghost!—)
and then lay bare.

Philip Metres from Narrative – Poem of the Week, Dec. 15th, 2019

Solstice Prayer by Philip Metres became a triple gift when I discovered it about two weeks ago in the on-line literary journal, Narrative. The gift, first, of the construction of the poem: its rich word choice, hard and slant rhymes, cadences, musical inflections and incantatory power.

Listen to the way this poem’s repetitions cast a spell. A Solstice prayer/spell. And the way he builds up the tension in the poem by delaying the critical ask in the prayer until the twenty-ninth line! And how he introduces that verb touch three times before using it a fourth time to make his ask. The emphasis that provides to that fourth “touch”.

The second gift for me in this poem is its cry out in the darkness for some transcendent touch – unlike the touch of his hands that can’t open his forehead, his sternum, his heart – but some other touch to open him, his lungs; to help him (is he the ghost?) to speak what can’t be said and. perhaps, this way, to transform him. Change him. This cry that also calls out to me. What is it locked up in me that needs opening? Big questions from a big poem.

The third gift is the discovery of Philip Metres, poet, scholar, translator and essayist. A forty-nine year old American of Christian Lebanese descent, Metres has become a richly layered and empathetic poetic citizen of our time. A poet who pries into the world’s and his own tender places without being strident or dogmatic.

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Liz McNally – # 1 in a Series on Patrick Poets – Poets I Met Through the Writing Retreats of Canadian Poet Patrick Lane

Canadian poet Liz McNally

Collect for the Homeless

God of the broken night.
Finder of empty doorways, shopping carts,
cardboard blankets, fast food refuse, cigarette butts,
dropped coins and nick of time naloxone kits.
May your infinite attention be the thin layer of softness
between weary bodies and cold pavement, may it be a cloak
to shelter children from harm, and the old from ceaseless
walking, too fearful in the sleeve of night to close their eyes.
Because you know these fevered minds, these fractured lives
left to beg for coins, for food, a fix; for safety and succor.
Because I hurry past, afraid of their contagion, while you,
who saw them delivered to this world, embrace each one.
The stories we have read are not the truth, you do not judge.
Your home is not as palatial as we are told. It is here,
under riddled blankets, in alleyways, dumpsters and mission cots.
You live in the slender space between two bodies, curved
like commas around one another, for warmth and shelter.
May we all know your peace.


Liz McNally 2019, with permission, unpublished

On Boxing Day 2019 I am delighted to begin a series of blog posts to celebrate the Patrick Poets, poets I have come to know during the past fifteen or so years here on the west coast through poetry writing retreats with Patrick Lane (1939-2019) – great Canadian poet, memoirist, novelist and teacher. His death last March, such a blow to the Canadian poetry community and to all of those of us who studied with him.

I am so privileged to begin this series with a poem by my friend and accomplished poet Liz McNally – her fine poem above inspired by a writing prompt from another Patrick, the Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama who is gaining an increasing following here in North America. The striking impact of Liz’s poem has stayed with me ever since I first read it a few months ago.  For more on Pádraig and Liz’s poem please keep reading!

But first, some words about our Canadian Patrick (with Irish ancestry!) and what a remarkable teacher he was. And yet as I write “teacher” I find it a pale and inadequate way to label Patrick and what he inspired in his circles of up to twenty of us for four to six days at a time. But if teaching means to inspire, to motivate and to demand unflagging commitment to writing then it works as a way to describe the spellbinding impact of Patrick’s poetry retreats.
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That’s the Hard Part, Knowing the Darkness is There and Singing Anyway – The Lasting Words and Legacy of Canadian Poet Patrick Lane (1939-2019)



Canadian Poet Patrick Lane (1939-2019)

God Walks Burning Through Me

When I sleep the birds come to the garden
With their gifts of seeds. Out of ice

last year’s leaves of grass lift into night.
All my songs have been one song.

The palm of my hand and the sole of my foot
remember everything I have forgotten.

The old lantern by the pond has always been there.
Now is the time to light it.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

I begin this blog post with thanks to Canadian poet Barbara Pelman whose share of my blog post honouring the Canadian poet and novelist Patrick Lane from three years today ago brought it back to mind and also this great poem of Patrick’s I feature in that blog post: God Walks Burning Through Me. (Most of that blog post is copied below.)

And now, again, at this dark time of year I get to celebrate Patrick  but this time under even darker circumstances, in the shadow of his death earlier this year, March 7th. What a loss. What a darkness cast by his death. Yet how important Patrick’s reminder to light what must be lit! That empty lantern snuffed out in me by Patrick’s death, how I must light it. Again and again!

One way I light this lantern is to remember these lines from my most-beloved poem of Patrick’s, False Dawn (copied in full below):

……………………………The earliest birds
wake me now and I get up into what
others called the false dawn. I know it sweeter.
That’s the hard part, knowing darkness is there
and singing anyway.

Knowing the darkness is there and singing anyway. The singing we do as poets each time we write into the darkness with a poem! How I can’t be reminded too much of this! How I must sing my life, my poems, into the darkness of Patrick’s passing. This reminder to sing is what I emphazied in my blog post three years ago. And so lovely to be able to share this theme again!

As part of my mourning and healing I memorized False Dawn after Patrick died.  That way something of him stays alive in me. This poem written in his early days of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, this remarkable praise poem to life. With life’s capacity for both misery and love so evident in these lines: I think misery is mostly what we know. Yet there are days I overflow with love. And these lines with their indomitable call to live no matter what:

This morning I set out the early sprinkler
and out of the darkness robins came
and varied thrushes I thought our cats had killed.
The water from our highest mountains turned
and turned above our earth
and all the bird went under that falling
with everything they had.
Maybe that’s the measure.
Maybe in the morning light we pray
and rain falls and we lift to its falling
as if we still had feathers, as if with words
we could scrape the sky clean of every kind of pain.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

This call to lift into the falling away that life is. My falling away. Your falling away. Patrick’s falling away this past March. But my oh my, also his lifting in his recovery, his poems, his singing!

I love the hope in False Dawn. How in the poem, out of the darkness the robins come, that hope and then this hope, this metaphor of rebirth: and the varied thrushes I thought our cats had killed. This beauty not killed! Not dead. And the power of the three iambs in that line. They pound into me each time I recite the poem: I thought our cats had killed!

And I so resonate to the longing in the lines that suggest why we turn to words, why we poets sing, why we keep turning to words:

…………………………..as if with words
we could scrape the sky clean of every kind of pain. 

I had the privilege of giving a talk based on False Dawn at two Sunday morning services at Hillhurst United Church in Calgary this past October. What a joy to share this poem then. And, again, now.

False Dawn
    For Stephen & Susan

We turn towards words because there’s not much more
to turn to. I love you becomes what I used to call
the dark. I prayed this morning. It wasn’t much,
just me and the god I understand. The earliest birds
wake me now and I keep getting up into what
others call false dawn. I know it sweeter.
That’s the hard part, knowing darkness is there
and singing anyway. Becoming more
becomes less. It’s like an origami dove
chased by a flying child, a kind of solitude
so perfect you keep searching even as you know
there is no cure. I think misery is mostly
what we know. Yet there are days I overflow with love.
My friends are so fragile I’m afraid
to take their hands for fear I’ll break them.
This morning I set out the early sprinkler
and out of the darkness robins came
and varied thrushes I thought our cats had killed.
The water from our highest mountains turned
and turned above our earth
and all the bird went under that falling
with everything they had.
Maybe that’s the measure.
Maybe in the morning light we pray
and rain falls and we lift to its falling
as if we still had feathers, as if with words
we could scrape the sky clean of every kind of pain.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

Now, as promised my post from three years ago:

“God Walks Burning Through Me

When I sleep the birds come to the garden
With their gifts of seeds. Out of ice

last year’s leaves of grass lift into night.
All my songs have been one song.

The palm of my hand and the sole of my foot
remember everything I have forgotten.

The old lantern by the pond has always been there.
Now is the time to light it.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

Since the solstice a few days ago, we here in the Northern hemisphere have begun the slow movement back toward to the sun. Days will lengthen. But in practice, we remain fully locked into the darkest time of the year. Bright light at a premium!

This darkness. This time of year, this time in the world. How do I keep a light burning in face of these darknesses? I come back to Patrick Lane’s poem , again and again; it’s declarations: a stay against darkness and death. The need to sing (All my songs have been one song.) and the need to light the old lantern, the one waiting to be lit. To help bring light into the dark.

So much hope in this small poem. In a cold time, winter time, the birds come still, with their seeds. The tall grasses stand tall in spite of the ice. And once again Lane uses his signature metaphor of song, singing, as his ultimate declaration of his place in the world. His saying to the world: here I am, see me, hear me.

Through his poem Lane keeps his song alive, fashions his own light in the darkness.  In his poem The Beauty Lane says: And still we sing; in his poem  Small Elegy for New York he says: The silence of the dead is what we own. It’s why we sing. And in his poem Sooke Potholes he says:  Sometimes a song is all we have. 

A light in the dark. A cry that says I am here. I live. In spite of all threats to that living. Lane reminds all of us, no matter our beliefs or disbeliefs, to keep singing.. To go to that garden, whatever that metaphor means for you, and find that lantern by the pond. And light it. Especially now, in the dark time of the year.

On this Christmas Eve, 2016, I feel such deep thanks to Patrick Lane, award winning Canadian master poet, for this poem and all the others he has written in his fifty-five-year writing career. And for his generous mentor-ship of so many poets, including me. He has taught us to sing and keep singing no matter what. To light our lanterns and hold them up, even into the wind.


Solstice – A Midnight when Noon is Born – The Dark-Day Cry of the Great English Poet Kathleen Raine

Poet, Mystic, Scholar – Kathleen Raine (1908-2003)

from The Northumbrian Sequence – Part IV

Let in the wind
Let in the rain
Let in the moors tonight,

The storm beats on my window-pane,
Night stands at my bed-foot,
Let in the fear,
Let in the pain,
Let in the trees that toss and groan,
Let in the north tonight.

Let in the nameless formless power
That beats upon my door,
Let in the ice, let in the snow,
The banshee howling on the moor,
The bracken-bush on the bleak hillside,
Let in the dead tonight.

Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) from The Collected Poems, Golgonooza Press, 2001

The excerpt abouve is part of a longer poem that continues below. For me, I associate it with the Solstice and the Christian season of Advent, the lead up to Christmas.  This heart-cry of a poem that embraces darkness as a way to find the light! The sense of one life ending and another beginning. It’s author, Kathleen Raine was considered one of the great English language poets of her time. And I wrote a long blog post about her and her writing in 2011. For my 2011 blog post on her Raine please click here. 

Raine was many things, a scholar renowned for her work on Blake and Yeats, a poet who wrote thirteen volumes of poetry and a mystic who exlpored the spiritual underpinnings of art and imagination all her life. I first heard Part IV of The Northumbrian Sequence in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Inside that massive stone structure her words  carried a bleakness perfect for the setting. And the hope that comes out of the poem’s end seemed eeven more real and well-earned being heard in that cavernous place. I say a lot more about who read her poem that day and the extraodinary larger-than-life life of Raine in my 2011 blog post.

The rest of the poem follows below. It is for me a Solstice hymn. A cry for light and love at a darkest time. An unflinching look at darkness. Naming it. Let in the fear/ Let in the pain. That courage. What in our darkest days wants to come to birth. What in me on this 21st day of December wants to come into the light out of the dark and illuminate my coming days? What in you this day wants to come to life in you?

The whistling ghost behind the dyke,
The dead that rot in the mire,
Let in the thronging ancestors
The unfulfilled desire,
Let in the wraith of the dead earl,
Let in the unborn tonight.

Let in the cold,
Let in the wet,
Let in the loneliness,
Let in the quick,
let in the dead
Let in the unpeopled skies.

Oh how can virgin fingers weave
A covering for the void,
How can my fearful heart conceive
Gigantic solitude?
How can a house so small contain
A company so great?
Let in the dark,
Let in the dead,
let in your love tonight.

Let in the snow that numbs the grave,
Let in the acorn-tree
The mountain stream and mountain stone,
Let in the bitter sea.

Fearful is my virgin heart
And frail my virgin form,
And mist I then take pity on
The raging of the storm
That rose up from the great abyss
Before the earth was made,
That pours the stars in cataracts
And shakes the violent world?

Let in the fire,
Let in the power,
Let in the invading might.

Gentle must my fingers be
And pitiful my heart
Since I must bind in human form
A living power so great,
A living impulse great and wild
That cries about my house
With all the violence of desire
Desiring this my peace.

Pitiful my heart must hold
The lonely stars at rest
Have pity on the raven’s cry
The torrent and the eagle’s wing,
The icy water of the tarn
And on the biting blast.

Let in the wound,
Let in the pain,
Let in your child tonight.

Kathleen Raine, ibid

Whatever your spiritual or religious leanings I invite you on this Solstice day to let in this poem. Its heart cry for life and love.  For your child whatever that is for you.

Let in the wound,
Let in the pain,
Let in your child tonight.


Gem of a Short Poem and a Hugely Long Blog Post – Thanks to British poet Don Paterson!!! And Canadian Novelist Guy Gavriel Kay! And Li Po and Du Fu!

T’ang Dynasty poet Du Fu

         The Poetry
         after Li Po

I found him wandering on the hill
one hot blue afternoon.
He looked as skinny as a nail,
as pale-skinned as the moon;

below the broad shade of his hat
his face was cut with rain.
Dear God, poor Du Fu, I thought:
It’s the poetry again.

Don Paterson (1963 – ) from Rain, Faber & Faber, 2009

Making more shelf space for poetry books, my Sisyphean task more often than I like to admit, I came across the small gem beauty of a poem by distinguished U.K. poet, editor and teacher, Don Paterson. It’s the poetry again. yes, yes and yes, again! To be that immersed in this singular passion! I am not. I am not!

Maybe a small poem but when you mention the two best known T’ang dynasty poets of the 8th C you have just blown the size of the poem up into something close to endless. And when I think of these two Chinese poets, especially Li Po, I think of characters who ate, slept, drank (and drank some more and then more) and breathed poetry. Their utter attention to their world, its beauty and its ugliness. So many moon references (that beauty) and so many war references (that ugliness).

What would it be to be that absorbed in our craft and expressions of what it is to be human? For my friends and beloveds to say oh Dear God, poor Richard: It’s the poetry again. David Hinton, the well-known translator of Chinese poetry, as referenced by The Poetry Foundation, says [Du Fu] explored the full range of experience, and from this abundance shaped the monumental
proportions of being merely human. Would any of us be able to claim this! Dare to achieve this?

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She’s Not Mad – She’s a Poet – Two Poems by the Great Canadian Literary Icon Susan Musgrave

Canadian poet Susan Musgrave featured in her famous car covered in glued-on figures! Photo Credit: Barbara Pedrick

from Winter ii

Across the river, children
are eating snow, their lips
the colour of tiny kingfishers
in the numbing cold. The delight
they take in the melting of each
snowflake on their tongues reminds me
joy is there, in everything, and even
when we can’t see it.

Susan Musgrave (1951 – ) from Obituary of Light, Leaf Press, 2009

I so cherish this poem by poet Susan Musgrave. Especially how it embraces joy in spite of Susan’s many experiences with grief in her life. And how it reminds me to keep remembering to see joy in spite of today’s news headlines that seem devoid of it!

This joyous mouthful of a poem from her book of seasonal meditations carries none of the grit often associated with her poems! As an example in 2011 Toronto writer and blogger Lil Blume posed the question: What is the most wrist-slittingest poem ever? This was her answer: the MOST wrist-slittingest, where’s-the-nearest-bridge poem ever written has to be Susan Musgrave’s poem “Here It Comes – Grief’s Beautiful Blow-Job”. I have copied the full poem below and it is a wrist-slitter for sure. Filled with events in a woman’s life no woman should have to endure.
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Not for the Faint of Heart – Francesca Bell’s Poems of the Merely Bad, the Really Bad and the Dreadful

American Poet Francesca Bell


Small wind tonight
and my faced pressed
to the flimsy screen.

Owls ghost the hilltop
trees, fledglings
shrilling for food.

They eat their own weight
in rodents every night,
and shriek

although their sibling
was found, consumed.
Under their nest box,

What was left:
wings sheared intact
From the torso, a few bones,

Skull with its working beak,
Bran devoured,
Eye sockets sucked clean.

This is the world I want.
World of hunger.
World of soft breeze and keening.

Lord, let me famish,
Devour my body’s weight
In summer evening light,

Ache for the sky
And the trees outline—
A gaping mouth—

Against it. Let me be
The dark shape, sharp
Against what’s bright.

Francesca Bell, an excerpt from I, Too in Bright Stain, Red Hen Press, 2019

This poem by American poet Francesca Bell confronts me and disturbs me. And some of her other poems are even more disturbing. But if you want to feel the visceral yes/no of a world you know is out there even if it is not your direct reality, I recommend you devour her words even as they might seem to want to devour you .

Bell challenges my complacencies. Puts the grit of the world on my tongue Yet by contrast also makes the brightly lit, brightly blessed parts of my life more vivid and cherished.
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Dealing with Rejection! – Two Different Responses – Mark Jarman and Francesca Bell

American poet and Vanderbilt University professor, Mark Jarman. Photo credit: Hillsdale Collegian

from Unholy Sonnets # 34

Although I know God’s immensities can speak
In sunlight’s parallels and intersections;
although I know the spiritual technique
For finding God in all things, when I pray
It is to nothing manifest at all.
And although I know it’s merely technical,
I do not pray to nothing. Yesterday,
one of those offhand, razor-sharp rejections
The world flips like a Frisbee grazed my cheek.
It drew blood. No consoling recollections
Of having shaken off that sort of play
Helped me forget it. I could not recall
My strength, and brooded, lost and tragical,
Till, marking this blank page, I found a way.

Mark Jarman ( 1952 – ) from Unholy Sonnets, Story Line Press, 2000

What a fun quick blog post. Oh to celebrate, or not, the reality of being rejected. Mark Jarman’s poem is not speficic as to what his rejection was. I have always assumed it was a literary rejection of some sort. I so enjoy that he brings God or his higher power into the discussion. How his poem because of prayer of finding himself, his center again. I have enjoyed Jarman’s poetry and essays for years. He is both a highly respected American poet and professor.

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In the case of the bitingly-humorous and observant American poet Francesca Bell, her poem below is in response to poems being rejected.  Her poem takes no prisoners and I wonder how she might have changed her poem if it had been addressed to a female editor! Her playful use of pun after pun in the poem is so effective!

Bell’s profile has continued to grow in recent years in spite of not having a full-length poetry collection. That has been remedied with her recent 2019 collection, Bright Stain. My how her poems can bark and bite. Leave claw marks. She is sure-eyed and intense and not afraid to deal with difficult subjects such as  the sexual predatation of Roman Catholic priests. For a recent interview with Bell in the Rattle magazine podcast please click here. For a previous post of mine on Bell please post here.

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