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I was thrilled to be able to join the on-line Art Bar Poetry Reading Series on November 2nd, 2021.  I taped a twenty-five minute video! The Art Bar Reading Series is based in Toronto and they will be hosting in-person events beginning in December! My last Art Bar reading was in 2016 for the launch of my poetry collection Hyaena Season published by Quattro Books of Toronto.

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Read about my next ten-day generative poetry retreat in 2022 at La Romita School of Art, Terni, Italy.


Read a 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

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Micheline Maylor’s “The Bad Wife” – Her Latest Poetry Collection – AKA The Good Poems!!!

Canadian poet Micheline Maylor, long-listed for the 2022 Raymond Souster Poetry Award

 

From OMEN: CALLA LILIES

                                                                     ...The last
             chickadee on earth flies out of your mouth. You are that perfect. So
                   perfect that birds nest in your mouth, and I am a wolf toothed
                           she-beast panting and wild
                                          on the shore, blood-driven and stirred.


I shred you,
         a whirlwind in a wheat field. All the seeds scatter and bloom tiny
                                    calla lilies
                                                in the sky. I am the
                                                                     big bad,the big bad,
                                            huffingpuffingthehousedown.

Micheline Maylor from The Bad Wife, University of Alberta Press, 2021

I love the implied double entendre I hear in: I shred you. I hear also: I shed you! Some of the delicate wordplay that distinguishes this collection from former Calgary poet laureate Micheline Maylor. Also the lovely echo from a fairy tale. Bringing in the largeness of a myth into the end of a marriage. Nice echo in blood-driven and stirred to James Bond’s famous directive, shaken, not stirred, for a martini! Lots of layering in this collection that adds to its richness.

This is an important collection. It creates the awful “isness” of a marriage breakdown (I have had two) with searing honesty and yet, also, compassion, in spite of the title! It deserves recognition during this book awards season. And it has received its first thumbs up today when it was long-listed for the prestigious Raymond Souster poetry award from the League of Canadian Poets.

Who knows, really, who leaves who, when a marriage breaks. One of them, in the couple, may seem to be the one who breaks it, the bad one, but is it ever that cut and dried? I wonder. Technically, I have been the one left twice but I played my own role and sometimes the one leaving does the one left a huge favour. Frees them for a “better” they did not have the imagination to imagine.

In this new collection by Micheline the speaker leaves nothing to debate. She is the title of the collection, the self-called: The Bad Wife. And in spite of it seeming likely I would side with the “good husband” in this collection I really like “The Bad Wife.” I admire her courage, her wanting something more.

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Eliza Griswold (IF MEN, THEN) and Victoria Redel (Speaking About Men) – A Tough But Vital Conversation Between Two Poems

American journalist and poet Eliza Griswold.Photo Credit: Wikipedia


Prelude to a Massacre

Twenty men crossing a bridge,
into a village,
is not a metaphor
but prelude to a massacre.

Marred by violence
my mind begs forgiveness,
self-conscious at its pattern of reprise.

This old song can’t stop singing itself:

If men,
Then…

The bright clatter of boots
on the slats of a bridge,
the mustachioed laughs,
the rise of the first lime–
washed wall of the village,
and behind the wall, women
pinning laundry to a wire.

Eliza Griswold, from IF MEN, THEN, Farrar, Strause, Giroux, 2020

This chilling poem, Prelude To A Massacre, by Eliza Griswold tells one story of how masculinity at its extreme causes such pain and suffering in the world. Obviously, there are many non-violent and caring men in the world but in many places in this world Eliza’s horrifyingly suggestive line in her poem, also the book’s title, If Men, Then, lives up to its worst interpretations. We are seeing this in real time in Ukraine where stories of rape and civilian killings are being recorded daily.

The other side of this  conversation is shown with such craft in Victoria Redel’s poem I discuss  below. I discovered her poem through a workshop with Pádraig Ó Tuama, the host of Poetry Unbound, a few weeks ago. So grateful for all the poems and poets Padraig brings to us in so many different ways.

Eliza Griswold is a poet and writer with a particlar experience in conflict areas around the world including Afghanistan and Pakistan where she reported on the War on Terror. She also is a contributing editor for the New Yorker and in 2019 won a Pulitzer Prize for her book. Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, It was also a 2018 New York Times Notable Book, a Times Critics’ Pick, and won the Ridenhour Book Prize in 2019.

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They Left a Reed Basket of Wind – This Dislocated World – Two Poems by the American Poet and Novelist Victoria Redel

American novelist and poet, Victoria Redel. Photo Credit: Counterpoint Press

Garden

In the first weeks
we already knew this was history,

that you’d speak of our nakedness,
the flat grasses we wove & slipped over

each other. First there was wild onion,
the sharp tang of shoot & bulb. Later

came frills of green leaf, stalks, tips too.
Then peaches. Standing together in sunlight,

of course, praise & song. We hardly cared
that you would get so much of it wrong,

that you would always speak of an apple or claim
that one of us was so persuaded by the snake.

Darlings, we imagined you. How over & over
You would break each other & wound this garden.

Only then, still licking the dried peach juice
sticky down our fingers, did we know shame.

Victoria Redel (1959) from Paradise, Four Way Books, 2022

As I think about a fall from grace, not the fall in Victoria Redel’s lovely retelling of the Adam and Eve story, but the awful fall from the grace of peace to the catastrophe of war occurring in Ukraine as I write, I am haunted by these lines of Victoria’s which manifest thematically through the collection:

Darlings, we imagined you. How over and over
You would break each other & wound this garden.

Oh, how we keep breaking each other and this planet. Yet where we can still eat peaches and lick their sticky juice from our fingers. The joy of that. And the curse of shame! Maybe we could agree: in most cases, enough of shame already!

I am grateful to Victoria and her latest book Paradise, published earlier this year. In a recent Zoom reading she said her poem Garden came after a dry period for writing and the rest of the poems in Paradise followed. Not surprisingly the poem that she wrote next after Garden is Snake!
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Found and Erasure Poem – from an Interview with Ukrainian Writer Vladislav Kitik and Excerpts from Other Interviews in the Same Article by Ilya Kaminsky in The Paris Review, March 24th, 2022

Odesa Monument to the Duke de Richelieu. Phoito Credit: ANNA GOLUBOVSKY from The Paris Review, March 24th, 2022

AN ERASURE AND
FOUND POEM

A seagull, all fluffed up, sits
at the edge of the pier,
chest against the wind. A sharp
explosion  interrupts
its contemplation, the gray water,
it spreads its wings.

Seagulls don’t know
what war is. But after
sixteen days, the gulls overcome
confusion, learn not
to fly too far
when the sky shakes 
land-mine explosions
or cannon fire, not
to hide when they hear
the howl of sirens.

The seagulls fly
over Odesa’s streets,  usually
crowded and noisy. A rare pedestrian
leaves footprints on the untouched
snow. In silence, the famous
Potemkin Stairs climb the slope,
buried in bags filled with sand.
They hide the monument
to Odesa’s bronze soul—from malice.
of artillery. But seagulls love the sand.

The street bristles
with anti-tank devices.
something hoodlumish, cocky,
in these six-pointed crosses
known as hedgehogs. Such hedgehogs
stood here in 1941, now time
has jumped off the footboard
of the past.

The gull circles over
houses and flies once again
to the sea.

Richard Osler, from the words of Vadislav Kitik from an interview by Ilya Kaminsky, The Paris Review On-Line, March 24th, 2022

On March 24th, 2022. The Paris Review published an on-line article with interviews of writers from Odessa by the Ukrainian poet Ilya Kaminsky. In it Ilya once again celebrates his friend, the journalist Yevgeny Golubovsky, who published Osip Mandelstam’s poems after he died in a Russian camp in 1938. Golububovsly who, now famously, emailed Ilya this after Ilya asked what he could do to help when the war started: Putins come and go. We are putting together a literary magazine. Send us poems.

From Ilya’s article in The Paris Review, this introduction to a series of interviews Ilya has had with writers from Odesa during the war:


Now Golubovsky walks around the city seeing its cobbled streets covered in anti-tank devices, hearing explosions overhead. In his emails, he insists on both the importance of cultural memory and the need for new voices. At his suggestion, I begin a series of interviews with the members of Green Lamp, whose words about the first few weeks of this war you can read below. “My wish for you,” Golubovsky writes, “is to never have the experience of going about your day to the rhythm of constant air-raid sirens. The pain is experienced by the city and by Ukraine as a whole. This pain passes constantly through the writer’s breastbone.”
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How To Praise This Mutilated World? – A Post Triggered by Ilya Kaminsky’s Twitter Feed Today – In Response: Two Poems – One from American Poet Maggie Smith and One from Canadian Poet Patrick Lane, from His Posthumous Collection Released Last Week

OscarDomesticated
@OscDomesticated
A note from #Mariupol : “Dima, Mom was killed on 9 March 2022. She died quickly. Then the house burnt down. Dima, I’m sorry I didn’t protect her. I buried Mom near the kindergarten” – and the scheme where exactly. It’s so horrible that tears are freezing in the eyes.

I’ve talked so much about loving the world
without any idea how to do it.

Something about turning the other cheek?
Something, something, feeding the mouth

that bites you? The world I’m trying to love
is all teeth and need, all gray mange

but I can’t resent the wolf for pulling
the lamb down, evven in front of its mother.

I can’t be moved by bleating, a limp throat.
The wolf has her own crying young.

I’ve talked so much about loving the world-
is this how it’s done? I am offering

the only thing I have. I am holding out
my hand, feeding myself to the hungry future.

Maggie Smith from Goldenrod, One Signal Publishers, 2021

How to praise this mutilated world? My version of Adam Zagajewski’s remarkable line from his poem Try and Praise The Mutilated World. My line came to mind as I began to write the title that introduces this blog post after I saw one of the retweets of Ukrainian American poet, Ilya Kaminsky, today. This searing note of a mother’s death on March 9th in Mariupol and the instructions of how

American poet Maggie Smith:Phoito Credit: Studio127 Photography

to find the grave. I accept that the tweet from Oscar Domesticated is true coming as it does from Ilya. It would require a huge imagination to dream this up.

So, I am faced with American poet Maggie Smith’s dilemma: how do I love a world which has a story and an image like this in it? But as so many poets including Ilya tell me: I am called to love this mutilated world.  I ask myself: can I do as Maggie Smith says? I am holding out/ my hand, feeding myself to the hungry future. 

Then I read a poem from the latest poetry collection, The Quiet In Me, by great Canadian poet Patrick Lane (1939-2019), my beloved mentor. This collection has just been published posthumously by Harbour Publishing. The poem, which in a uncanny way feels like a poem written for this moment, reminds me that we praise the world by singing the world, its joys and sorrows. And I  think of Patrick’s poem as singing to that mother killed in Mariupol and to the person who buried her. Thank you Patrick. She is my burden now. And I pray for her and all the others who have died because, as Patrick writes, we cannot turn away.


Small Elegy

The silence of the dead is what we own.
It’s why we sing. The sky is clear today.
Go on, I hear my father say, my mother too,
and although they rest in sunken graves
I hear them still. The sky is clear today,
the harvest weeks away and no forests burn.
The dead sing in the rubble and the fires.
You must listen to their song.
Their burden is our lives.
We pray because we cannot turn away.

Patrick Lane from  The Quiet In Me, selected and edited by Lorna Crozier, Harbour Publishing, 2022

Ilya Kaminsky, Adam Zagajewski, Maggie Smith and Patrick Lane: this is how I love this mutilated world. I sing it. I praise it. I cry for it. I write for it. I share your voices as they sing their cries of sorrow and joy.

And Patrick, I think you were writing this poem after one of many recent fire seasons here in B.C. Your praise: The sky is clear today. And how you repeat it. Something you taught me was should never be random in a poem! It says: pay attention. I pray this evening for clear skies again in Ukraine. By sharing these poems, this blog, I refuse to turn away. As Ilya refuses to turn away.

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To Celebrate World Poetry Day – Praise and Wonder In Spite of Everything – Poems by Kaminsky and Milosz And a Kaminsky Interview Excerpt from March 15th, 2022

Lithuanian Polish Nobel Prize Laureate, Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

from The Separate Notesbooks: A Mirrored Gallery

Pure beauty, benediction: you are all I gathered 
From a life that was bitter and confused, 
In which I learned about evil, my own and not my own. 
Wonder kept seizing me, and I recall only wonder. 
I asked, how many times, is this the truth of the earth? 
How can laments and curses be turned into hymns? 
What makes you need to pretend, when you know better? 
But the lips praised on their own, on their own the feet ran; 

The heart beat strongly; and the tongue proclaimed its adoration.

 

Czeslaw Milosz, from The Separate Notebooks, ECCO, 1984

In this time of war in Ukraine I keep coming back to Czeslaw Milosz, his first hand experience of the occupation, then destruction, of Warsaw during the Second World War.  And I think of Ilya Kaminsky (he came to the U.S. in 1993) whose Ukrainian family has had lots of first hand experiences with that war and other violent outbreaks since then. And I think of Ilya’s first book published in 2004, Dancing in Odessa, with his astonishing line from his poem Envoi: Lord, give us what you have already given.

 

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At War with Words – Three Poems by the Ukrainian Poet Lyuba Yakimchuk and some More Words from Ilya Kaminsky

Ukrainian poet Lyuba Yakimchuck. Photo credit: Kate Motylova

Crow, Wheels

When the city was destroyed,
they started fighting over the cemetery.
It was right before Easter
and wooden crosses over the freshly dug graves
put out their paper blossoms—
red, blue, yellow,
neon green, orange, raspberry pink.

Joyful relatives poured vodka for themselves
and for the dead—straight into their graves.
And the dead asked for more, and more, and more
and the relatives just kept pouring.

The celebration went on.
But at some point
a young man tripped over the stretchers
at the grave of his mother-in-law,
an old man stared into the sky
and found himself missing an eye,
a fat man smashed his shot glass
and damaged the edging around his wife’s grave.
Glass fell at his feet
like hail.

Easter came.
Now a live crow sits on top of a grave
of Anna Andriivna Voronova
instead of a gravestone.
BTR-80 wheels
rest at the cemetery nest of the Kolesnykiv family,
where lie buried
Maria Viktorivna, Pylyp Vasylyovych, and Mykola Pylypovych.

What are they to me, those wheels and that crow?
I can no longer remember.

Lyuba Yakimchuk, translated by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky
from Words Without Borders, April 2016

Do you know that this poem that could be set in present day Lviv, Ukraine or many other places is set in 2014 or soon after, in Eastern Ukraine after the takeover there by Ruissian-controlled forces? I am chilled by the ironic tone here as in many places in this commanding poem, Crows, Wheels:

Joyful relatives poured vodka for themselves
and for the dead—straight into their graves.
And the dead asked for more, and more, and more
and the relatives just kept pouring.

Will there be enough vodka for all the new graves in this expanded war , some being pictured being dug in front of bombed-out apartment blocks in Ukrainian cities. The bodies going into the ground where they died. And so many more graves for crows to fight over. The dark-winged spectres of war in this poem!
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Take a Door Handle With You – Dislocation By War – Two Poems by Agnieszka Tworek

Ukrainian Refugees. Photo Credit: BuzzFeed News

Grief Runs Untamed

In one hand the exiles hold a bundle
with a blanket, medicine, and a comb;
in the other, a door handle.
They attach it to every mountain and wall,
hoping the handle will conjure the door
that will open and let them in.

Through the swamps, down the dirt roads,
through the frigid water the exiles go,
knowing they shall never return.
In their former homes, if there are still homes,
the wind wails. Spiders weave
their shrouds over the cupboards and beds.

Cats, left behind, wait to be scratched under their chins;
a dog smells the scarf a young girl dropped
and barks on the cellar stairs.
Near the road thousands took to flee,
a carcass of a cow still tied to the olive tree,
abandoned like their tea sets and pots.

A widow with children runs from the Guatemalan gangs.
Newlyweds from Syria huddle in a dinghy
in the Mediterranean, their wedding rings sold
to help pay the way. A couple from Sudan
limp along on the scorched ground with their epileptic son.

Those who survive and settle in a new place
sometimes dream at night of returning
by foot to their native homes.
When they wake up, they have blisters on their feet.

Agnieszka Tworek fromThe Sun, November, 2017

This morning I began my day by reading the Rattle’s Poets Respond Sunday poem that used the biblical story of Cain and Abel as a frame to write indirectly about the war in Ukraine. It was by a Polish American writer, Agnieszka Tworek. The poem captivated me enough I began to look for other poems by Agnieszka on-line. I thought I could find one to feature in a blog post and include her Sunday Poem as an add-on since it has already flooded email boxes today! Well, I hit the jackpot, I think! I found her poem above from the American publication The Sun in 2017. How she uses her words and images to cast a spell of the “isness” of the refugee experience she describes. You will see this again in her Rattle poem below: Abel’s Last Words to Cain.

That first stanza of Agnieszka’s poem, with the brilliant and unexpected image/metaphor of the door handle, riveted me. Talk about surprise, always so important in a poem. I think her first six lines are as fine as the best poetic openings I have come across.

In one hand the exiles hold a bundle
with a blanket, medicine, and a comb;
in the other, a door handle.
They attach it to every mountain and wall,
hoping the handle will conjure the door
that will open and let them in.

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The Necessity and Yet the Price of Photo Journalism – A Poem by Tracy K. Smith from her 2007 Collection Duende


Tracy K. Smith (1976 -) Former US Poet Laureate (2017-2019) and former host of the Slowdown

Letter to a Photojournalist Going In

You go to the pain. City after city. Borders
Where they peer into your eyes as if to erase you.

You go by bus or truck, days at a time, just taking it
When they throw you in a room or kick you at your gut.

Taking it when a strong fist hammers person after person
A little deeper into the ground. Your camera blinks:

Soldiers smoking between rounds. Bodies
Blown open like curtains. In the neighbourhoods,

Boys brandish plastic guns with TV bravado. Men
Ask you to look them in the face and say what’s right.

At night you sleep, playing it all back in reverse:

The dance of the wind in a valley of dirt. Rags and tools,
All the junk that rises up, resurrected, then disappears

Into newly formed windows and walls. People
Close their mouths and run backwards out of frame.

Up late, your voice fits my ear like a secret.
But who can hear two things at once?

Errant stars flare, shatter. A whistle, the indescribable thud
Of an era spilling its matter into the night. Who can say the word love

Where everything — everything — pushes back with the promise
To grind itself to dust?


                                     And what if there’s no dignity to what we do,
None at all? If our work — what you see, what I say —  is nothing

But a way to kid ourselves we might last? If trust is just
Another human trick that’ll lick its lips and laugh as baclks away?

Sometimes I think you’re right, wanting to lose everything and wander
Like a blind king. Wanting to squeeze a lifetime between your hands

And press it into a single flimsy frame. Will you take it to your lips
Like the body of a woman, something to love in passing,

Or set it down, free finally of the camera,
Which we all know is just a hollow box, mechanized to obey?

Sometimes I want my heart to beat like yours: from the outside in,
A locker stuffed with faces that refuse to be named. For time

To land at my feet like a grenade.

Tracy K. Smith from Duende, Graywolf Press, 2007

Refugees in Ukraine. Photo Credit: Evgenii Maloletka, Photo Journalist from Ukraine. Twitter Credit: Ilya Kaminsky March 12, 2022

When I came across Tracy K. Smith’s poem, above, a few days ago I went straight in mind and heart to Ukraine. And the vital business of telling the photographic stories of war, its brutality and destruction.  But when I think of a photo journalist I think of the result, not the eye that saw it, the finger that clicked it. We can see the toll of a war but not the toll on the witness whose job it is, is to be witness and be hugely at risk.
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The “Isness of the Agony of Displacement – Part Two – Three Poems, One by Michael Rosen and Two-in-One by Brian Bilston

Thirteen Keys in the hands of Ukrainian refugee, Dina Cierkosy, 55, forced to flee Kviv. Story and Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail

The Migrants in Me

Maybe I look as if
you could spin a story at me
about how threatening
and dangerous migrants are,
as I neither I nor you would ever dream
of upping sticks and living somewhere else
and being, you know, a migrant.
As if neither I nor you
might suddenly find ourselves
in a wrong place at a wrong time
carrying the wrong passport,
with a face that doesn’t fit,
and needing to gwet out,
move, find a safe place because,
what, is it only mad, bad, and sad people
who do that sort of thing,
and neither I nor you
is mad, bad, or sad enough?

No, don’t think you can take
the migrant out of me.
The migrants in me, tell me
about crisscrossing Europe,
about crisscrossing the Atlantic.
They warn me—
they remind me—
of long, long hours at workbenches.

They remind me of relatives
who at one moment
were as safe as houses,
and the next,
had no houses to be safe in.

Michael Rosen from On the Move Home Is Where You Find It, Candlewick press, 2020

This post on poems of migration is a follow-up to Part One which featured the remarkable Somali U.K. poet Warsan Shire. Now I come back to the U.K. poet Michael Rosen whom I featured a few days ago in this blog post.

When i read Michael’s searing words: No, don’t think you can take/ the migrant out of me, I think of Warsan’s words from her poem Assimilation: I can’t get the refugee out of my body. Talk about ywo poets echoing a truth in their bodies from their lives. Michael, made a refugee through his family displaced by WWII and Warson, displaced by war from her native Somalia.

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