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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

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

Want

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.

HyperFocal: 0

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.


I LONG TO HOLD THE POETRY EDITOR’S PENIS IN MY HAND
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My Ten-Day Retreat in Italy in 2020 is Filling Up – But Places Still Available

Poster for my next poetry retreat in 2020 at La Romita Scool of Art

Hello! I wanted to send out this reminder of my poetry retreat in Italy next year before the early-bird pricing special of $2,880 US ()double occupancy) expires in two weeks. The price increases to $3,180 US December 1st.

For more details and the retreat poster please click here.

For further details and lots of pictures (please scroll down) click here.

Hope to see you in June 2020!

 

Richard

Sex or Not – A Poem by Christine Gosnay

American poet Christine Gosnay. Photo credit: The Missouri Review


Sex

It is hard to make this choice
when the room is so small and bright,
and the outside big and deep.
But I have not taught myself
to lie on the earth and feel
how much greater it is than me.
And I can’t help following the sky
with my eyes as it moves past me,
and I can’t help closing my eyes to imagine
the boat that carries me to the middle
of a lake as dark as the gaps between the clouds.
I forget everything I have learned
about how to hold myself
at the last edges of sensation
when not so long ago I held
the small hands of a child
and taught her to play a clapping game,
when I stood before a storm of scalding water
that would have killed me
if I gave it the mistake it looked for.
After all this time, we still must love and eat,
and none of us is alone.
See why I create these places where I am a stone.
In the bed, soft against the side
where I make the dark blanket more beautiful
and the sheet a pale and magnificent drawing,
there is nowhere to wrap the part of myself
that understands the handshake of  joy
in my arms and hold her while she cries.
The sink is running in the next room
and the walls are flashed with what the world does at night.
Too much of us is evident in this hour
and I am sick with a cold fever
that hasn’t broken since I was a girl
who loved how good it was to sleep
on the floor, so near to the silent ground.
Still, the boat, and the dark water
that has its private depth.
It never tries to carry me anywhere.
It makes the wind wait in the trees.

Christine Gosnay from Poetry, November 2019

It’s unusual in this blog for me to feature a poem that seems to ellude me. A poem gorgeous with images and feelings but where an obvious meaning for me seems to slip slide away. A poem intent, it seems to me, to create a lyrical “isness” inside a tension of so many opposites. Hard, soft. Water, stone. Bright, dark. Earth, sky. Water made safe by a boat, scalding water.  Woman, child. Someone caught between opposites, perhaps. Is it an issness of someone challenged by the utter surrender sex or intimacy can be?

So why feature it? Because since I read it yesterday I have continued to puzzle over it here in Kauai where I am in a week-long writer’s residency; because the author Christine Gosnay has been getting a fair bit of attention in recent years after publishing her award-winning debut collection in 2017 and releasing her chapbook The Wanderer this year; because I want to know its bones better and in that knowing maybe learn something; and especially because the poem has so many beguiling  and arresting images and lines.  Perhaps the most compelling ones for me:  the boat that carries me to the middle/ of a lake as dark as the gaps between clouds and It makes the wind wait in the trees..

Thanks to lines and images like these above I am haunted and captured by this poem’s mood and feeling even as I am frustrated by its seeming lack of clarity. And then I hear Carl Phillips, the African American poet, telling me to trust its mystery.
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My Next Generative Writing Retreat/Workshop – In Victoria November 3rd!

Write of Passage Workshop at 1506 Burnside Road, Victoria, Sunday Nov. 3rd, 10 AM to 3PM. Lunch included. Cost $89 and lower, if needed, by request.

So happy to be leading this writing time in Victoria this coming Sunday. One or two spots still available. This time will be ideally suited for men and women searching for ways to support their recovery from addiction. And also others who want to  to recover their own hidden and waiting words. Who want to experience poetry as described by the esteemed American poet Jane Hirschfield who needs a poem like life! Her journey of falling into poetry and being held by words, by the poem:

When I start to write, I’m not a guide or teacher; I’m not even a poet. I’m a person far out at sea, and the poem is a raft made of whatever floats past in the water. Those almost accidental rescuing pieces are words, rhythms, musics, ideas, the memory that is mine and the memory that is all of ours and the memory that is held in language itself. The experience of writing, for me at least, isn’t confidence or wisdom; it’s closer to desperation. You are naked as Odysseus when he’s lost his ship and all his men, before he’s met by the courageous young girl Nausicaa—a version perhaps of the rescuing muse, who helps us find our way back into the world shared with others but only if we bring our own resourcefulness to the situation as well. There is some faint memory that this raft business has worked before, some memory of knot-tying, of the intention to live. There is that in us that recognizes: “this is water; this is land.” A poem is land found, as if for the first time. If I already knew what it would hold, I wouldn’t need the poem, and if what it holds were knowable by any other words or way, I wouldn’t need the poem.

Jane Hirschfield in Conversation with author Kim Rosen, May 23rd, 2013

 

The Wilderness Inside Us – Two Poems by Canadian Don McKay and American Ross Gay

Canadian poet Don McKay. Photo credit: Brick Books


Song for the Song of the Varied Thrush

In thin
mountain air, the single note
lives longer, laid along its
uninflected but electric, slightly
ticklish line, a close
vibrato waking up the pause
which follows, then
once more on a lower or higher pitch and
in this newly minted
interval you realize the wilderness
between one breath
and another.

Don McKay (1942 – ), from Apparatus, McClelland & Stewart, 1997

A few weeks ago, I was the at Panorama Ski Resort in eastern B.C. in the thin crisp Fall air as part of a reunion of participants from my 2017 La Romita ten day poetry retreat in Italy! During some down time I remembered the Canadian poet Don McKay’s one-sentence long poem Song for the Song of the Varied Thrush. That thin air and the two calls of a bird and in the silence between them how the narrator remembers the wilderness between one breath and another. This surprising metaphor. The wilderness we may easily forget inside us. And what we might need to remind us it is there.

For those of you not familiar with Don McKay he is considered one of Canada’s preeminent poets and poetry teachers. A prolific poet (twelve books) and an essayist McKay is also known as an avid bird watcher. And birds are not the only thing in the natural world that fascinates him. He is fascinated by geology and that interest shows up a lot  in his poetry. McKay has won two Governor general’s Award for poetry and the also the prestigous Griffin Poetry Prize in 2006. Also, he was one of the founders of Brick Books, and edited the Fiddlehead for many years.
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Provenance of a Small Poem of Mine – With Thanks to Jane Hirschfield and Hanif Abdurraqib

Autumn here and on the bench, the fallen florets of a white dahlia.

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Grief – Three Poems – Dickman, Stone & Inverarity

American Poet Mathew Dickman. Photo Credit: PoetryEverywhere Project

Grief

When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside,
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known,
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don’t ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
crying in the checkout line,
refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
all the smoking and all the drinking.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead,
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? she says,
reading the name out loud, slowly,
so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person’s body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.

Mathew Dickman from All-American Poem, American Poetry Review/ Copper Canyon Press, 2008

Grief poems ain’t nothing new! They sure are not! But I was reminded of two great grief poems by Mathew Dickman and Ruth Stone through a new grief poem that showed up in Geist On-Line last week. I enjoyed that poem, Grief, by Canadian poet, Geoff Inverarity but sure heard echoes of Dickman’s and Stone’s poems in his.  The way Grief takes on a persona, becomes a human or speaking-presence in the poem. I wonder if Inverarity has seen the Dickman and Stone poems which came out long before his. It seems possible, for sure.

Mathew and his twin brother Michael  burst into the American poetry scene in the middish 2000’s. And they continue to make waves with their poetry. Mathew’s poem Grief is typical of Mathew’s seemingly easy-going conversational style. And is one of his better known poems. Hard not to remember his image of Grief as a purple gorilla! Both brothers write about the death of their older brother by suicide and in 2016 released in the U.K. through Faber & Faber, a collaborative book, Brother, which included their poems about him and suicide. That book includes Grief.
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