What’s New

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”.

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 28 in a Series – Montale’s Tragic Prescience

 

Eugenio Montale (1925-1977) Nobel Prize Laureate 1975

Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) Nobel Prize Laureate 1975

Syria

The ancients said that poetry
is a ladder to God. Reading mine, you may
not think so. But I knew it the day
you helped me find my voice again — a day dissolved
in a flock of clouds and goats  stampeding from the bank
to browse, slobbering, on marshgrass and thorn, and the lean faces
of sun and moon fused into one,
the motor had gone dead, and an arrow
of blood on a stone pointed
the way to Aleppo.

Eugenio Montale from The Collected Poems of Eugenio Montale, trans. William Arrowsmith, W.W. Norton & Company Limited, 2012

This poem. With its eerie echo, absolutely unintentional, of the recent horrors in Aleppo, Syria. An arrow of blood pointed/ the way to Aleppo. What a coincidence. This poem written in the early 1950’s far removed from the actual Syria of today. But none the less a poetic foreshadowing. Uncanny.

Eugenio Montale is said by many to be the greatest Italian poet of the 20th Century and with a greatness on par with Eliot, Yeats and Cavafy. I was familiar with him through some of his love poems translated by American poet Dana Gioia but without a larger sense of his poetic vision.

Read More »

Bare-Knuckle Poetry – Revenge – A Poem/Letter to Trump Supporters by Elisa Chavez

 

American Slam Poet Elisa Chavez

American Slam Poet Elisa Chavez

REVENGE

Since you mention it, I think I will start that race war.

I could’ve swung either way, but now I’m definitely spending
the next 4 years converting your daughters to lesbianism;
I’m gonna eat all your guns. Swallow them lock stock and barrel
and spit bullet casings onto the dinner table;

I’ll give birth to an army of mixed-race babies
with fathers from every continent and genders to outnumber the stars
My legion of multiracial babies will be intersectional as fuck
and your swastikas will not be enough to save you,

because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming.
You just delayed our coronation.
We have the same deviant haircuts we had yesterday;
we are still getting gay-married like nobody’s business
because it’s still nobody’s business;
there’s a Muslim kid in Kansas who has already written the schematic
for the robot that will steal your job in manufacturing.
And that robot? Will also be gay, so get used to it:

we didn’t manifest the mountain by speaking its name,
the buildings here are not on your side just because
you make them spray-painted accomplices.
These walls do not have genders and they all think you suck.
Even the earth found common ground with us in the way
you bootstrap across us both.

Oh yeah: there will be signs, and rainbow-colored drum circles,
and folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them
but I won’t, because they’re my family,
in that blood-of-the-covenant sense.
If you’ve never loved someone like that
you cannot outwaltz us, we have all the good dancers anyway.

I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.
But I finally found the argument against suicide and it’s us.
We’re the effigies that haunt America’s nights harder
the longer they spend burning us,
we are scaring the shit out of people by spreading,
by refusing to die: what are we but a fire?
We know everything we do is so the kids after us
will be able to follow something towards safety;
what can I call us but lighthouse,

Of course I’m terrified. Of course I’m a shroud.
And of course it’s not fair but rest assured,
anxious America, you brought your fists to a glitter fight.
This is a taco truck rally and all you have is cole slaw.
You cannot deport our minds; we won’t
hold funerals for our potential. We have always been
what makes America great.

 

Elisa Chavez from the Blog: The Accidental Agnostic, 2016

I found the link to this poem through poet, and former Washington State poet laureate, Elizabeth Austen. This poem: a paint-peeler for sure. Chavez’s post-U.S.-election response to Trump supporters. Vitriol but poetic vitriol. Better than guns. This young woman is a slam poet and thanks to this poem the Seattle Review of Books is going to feature her weekly poems for January.
Read More »

Announcing a 10 Day Retreat in Umbria, Italy – June 23rd to July 3rd, 2017

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) 

UPCOMING RETREAT
2017

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

RETREAT OVERVIEW

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.

WHO SHOULD APPLY

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.

PRE-RETREAT WORK

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.

THE BENEFITS

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!

THE LOCATION

La Romita School of Art, located in the hills overlooking Terni, Umbria, sixty miles north of Rome and a three hour drive from Florence.

THE COST

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 unless the retreat minimum is not reached by March 1st, 2017. Final balance, non-refundable, will be owing April 15th, 2017.

THE FACILITATOR

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

TO REGISTER

Please Contact Richard Osler at osler@shaw.ca or 250 597 7875.

Endorsements

“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.

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 27 in a Series – W.S. Merwin, American Master of Small Poems!

American Poet W.S. Merwin

American Poet W.S. Merwin

EARLY ONE SUMMER

Years from now
someone will come upon a layer of birds
and not know what he is listening for

these are the days
when the beetles hurry through dry grass
hiding pieces of light

W.S. Merwin from Migration: New and Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2005

My friend Jordan Hartt, who helps organize the events for Centrum in Port Townsend, including the great poetry workshops there in the summer, posted this Merwin poem on Facebook a while ago! Thank you Jordan!

Jordan, an accomplished writer and workshop leader in his own right, is one of the founders of Kahini, an organization fostering an international understanding of poetry by hosting poetry workshops around the world. More than 500 participants in the past two years! I went to one in Uganda (fantastic) in 2015 and I will be going to another in Jamaica in March!

(And speaking of international poetry retreats I will be leading one in Umbria, Italy, June 23rd to July 3rd, 2017 at La Romita School of Art! More details to come on my website.)

Early One Summer. What an image rich and yet, mysterious little poem. Are these birds dead or alive? I may be way off but I love the idea of an archeologist coming across a layer of bird bones with no idea what songs, from bones, sang a summer morning into even more beauty, years before! Or, the idea of someone coming across a mass of birds with no idea what the songs could call from their heart!

I wonder as well if I hear an echo of these lines from e.e. cummings’s poem # 53:

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
…..

Read More »

Poetry – How you bleed! A Window Thrown Open! – Mark Frutkin and Gwendolyn MacEwen

Canadian Author Mark Frutkin

Canadian Author Mark Frutkin


There is music in the poem but the poem is  not music. There may
be meaning in  the  poem but the poem is not simply  its  meaning.
There  may be  a cascade of language in the poem but the poem is
not  simply   language. The poem is all of  these and none of these.
The  poem is  a  window  thrown open, clouds parting,  a  shooting
star. The poem is a minor spasm in the hidden corner of the heart, a 
peeling back at the edge of the universe, the revelation of a secret
that looks suddenly familiar.

Mark Frutkin from Hermit Thrush, Quattro Books Inc, 2015

I collect quotes on poetry like squirrels do nuts! Then I store them in a safe place to share them later! I was lucky enough to hear this epigraph to Mark Frutkin’s poetry collection, Hermit Thrush, in person in Ottawa during my book launch there. Frutkin is a celebrated author, (poetry, fiction and non-fiction) and his novel Fabrizio’s Return was the trillium and Sunburst awards and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.

Frutkin’s quote, a beauty all on its own, (what a line: The poem is a window thrown open, clouds, parting a shooting star) but it also puts me in mind of the three stand-out poems on poetry by Gwendolyn MacEwen, one of Canada’s heavyweight poets of the 20th century who died far too young in her 40’s. But the lines that Frutkin’s epigraph reminded me of are these ones from MacEwen’s poem You Can Study It If You Want:

Poetry has nothing to do with poetry.
Poetry is how the air goes green before thunder
is the sound you make when you come, and
why you live and how you bleed, and

The sound you make or don’t make when you die.

Gwendolyn MacEwen from Afterworlds, McClelland & Stewart, 1987
Read More »

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 26 in a Series – Patrick Lane – On Christmas Eve – And Still We Sing!

Patrick Lane Reading From His Latest Book - Washita

Patrick Lane Reading From His Latest Book – Washita

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.
Read More »

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 25 in a Series – In Praise of the Unfinished by Julia Hartwig

Polish poet Julia Hartwig

Polish poet Julia Hartwig


Feeling the Way

The most beautiful is what is still unfinished
a sky filled with stars uncharted by astronomers
a sketch by Leonardo a song broken off from emotion
A pencil a brush suspended in the air

Julia Hartwig (1921 – ) from In Praise of the Unfinished, trans. John and Bogdana Carpenter, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008

If I could leave this blog post unfinished could it accrue a beauty I do not yet see or understand? My desk: a muddle of books, most opened, face down, that would cause great cries, if they could cry, from stressed spines. Each open at a poem:

Brecken Hancock’s, Once More from Broom Broom published in 2014; Don Domanski’s Sub Rosa from  War in an Empty House published in 1982, Etel Adnan’s Conversations with my soul from Night published in 2016, Kevin Young’s untitled poem with the first line: It’s death there/ is no cure for – in Blue Laws published in 2016 and, with no spine issues, a review by Charles Simic of Jana Prikryl’s book and The After Party, published in 2016 and garnering lots of year end attention. Oh, and partially hidden, I see In Search of Duende by Lorca published in 1955, opened, upside down to his poem Farewell.

My reading of all these books, their poems, remains unfinished. And nothing, it seems, beautiful, yet, in this. Just frustration at not finding in all that reading material some poem or theme to write about. But Julia Hartwig, her book, now closed on my desk, propped up on Broom Broom did the job at last; inspired this blog post.

Hartwig  is considered by many to be in the same league as her Polish contemporaries, Milosz and Szymborska, both Nobel prize Laureates. Her poem, Feeling the Way, brought me up short. Literally, because I was looking for a short poem but also by the utter spaciousness of her poem and its captivating idea. This idea that something unfinished still retains utter possibility. And promise. And in that, becomes the most beautiful.

But tonight I wasn’t looking for a pencil suspended in the air, an unfinished poem, luring me  into a wonder of what it could become. I was looking for a smaller beauty in something finished. And ironically, found it here, in Hartwig’s poem, praising what is unfinished. And, indeed, as I think about the poem and its title, I wonder if her poem may be unfinished. As her life, at ninety five, remains unfinished. And mine, at sixty five, unfinished. The beauty in that. What great poems there are still be read, still to be written. And so much more to be said………….this post in that way, unfinished. The beauty in that.

The Bigness of Small Poems – #24 in a Series – The Poetic Wisdom of John O’Donohue

Irish Poet and one of the Wise Ones, John O'Donohue

Irish Poet and one of the Wise Ones, John O’Donohue

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding

John O’Donohue from Conemara Blues, HarperCollins, 2001

Short and sweet! This poem! And too short and so sweet: the life of poet who wrote this poem.  John O’Donohue   (1956-2008), poet, non-fiction writer, philosopher, priest ( who gave up his active priesthood in 2000). Such a wise fellow-traveller who walked along side so many of us through his writings! He was much loved for his books including Anam Cara and Beauty,  but he was also a poet whose poems I cherish more, I must confess, for what they say as opposed to how they say it, poetically!

But the little gem above feels perfect to me. Especially: Carried by the surprise of its own unfolding! Nothing sentimental here. That is a bold wish. And in his case the unfolding ended with such a surprise. Too soon.  But to trust life the way this poem suggests. Sometimes there will be rapids, or worse, cataracts, that take us under. But to live with that aliveness. That amount of risk taking! It echoes one of the great themes of  his friend David Whyte who exhorts us to live on the frontiers of our lives. Indeed! May I always be carried by surprise. Yes.

Rooted so strongly to the land and stories of his native Ireland, O’Donohue was celebrated not just for his books but especially for his many talks/lectures and workshops around the world before his unexpected death, aged 52, in January 2008. He was mourned by many including his close friend  Whyte, poet and celebrated speaker, who  included a number of poems about the impact of losing his friend in his poetry collection, Pilgrim in 2012. What a loss.

But O’Donohue’s on-line presence has not gone. Ann Cahill,  his literary executor, maintains an active Facebook page where every few days a new quote from one of his books is posted. Like this one posted December 1st. Oh, how to hear the voice of our own soul!

When you take the time to draw on your listening-imagination, you will begin to hear this gentle voice at the heart of your life. It is deeper and surer than all the other voices of disappointment, unease, self-criticism and bleakness. All holiness is about learning to hear the voice of your own soul. It is always there and the more deeply you learn to listen, the greater surprises and discoveries that will unfold. To enter into the gentleness of your own soul changes the tone and quality of your life. Your life is no longer consumed by hunger for the next event, experience or achievement. You learn to come down from the treadmill and walk on the earth. You gain a new respect for yourself and others and you learn to see how wonderfully precious this one life is. You begin to see through the enchanting veils of illusion that you had taken for reality. You no longer squander yourself on things and situations that deplete your essence. You know now that your true source is not outside you. Your soul is your true source and a new energy and passion awakens in you.

I was lucky to spend an afternoon with O’Donohue on Bowen Island in April 2007  thanks to the kindness of my friend Ross, who gave up his place at the workshop so I could go. O’Donohue seemed tired but his intensity never wavered. He had just eight more months to live. In that workshop he listed thirteen questions for us to answer inside our lives. The ones that stand out for me: number 1 and number 9. Great questions:

O’Donohue’s Thirteen Questions

  1. If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?
  2. If you have a relationship with a loved one, what would you add and what would you take away?
  3. What are 3 secret doors through which you can get out of your own way?
  4. What decision do you need to make now that you’ve been postponing? (got him on the now!!)
  5. What is happening to your face?
  6. When was the last time you went pure wild?
  7. When was the last time you sat down with yourself naked and had affirmative and affectionate body conversation?
  8. What burden can’t you let go of?
  9. What is the true face of the enemy?
  10. What dream of the body do you miss the most?
  11. How do children view you?
  12. Who can’t stand you?
  13. How would you like the view from your deathbed to seem?

To know that our true source is not outside us. To find that source and aliveness inside. An aliveness that says: you might fail but do it anyway! My wish for all of us at this Christmas time is that we hoard and do not deplete our truest essence! Now that would be a priceless treasure under the tree! To all of you reading this. Thank you for reading my blog! Merry Christmas!

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 23 in a Series – Heidi Garnett’s Poetry of Witness

Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett, author of Blood Orange, Frontenac House, 2016. Photo: Frontenac House

Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett, author of Blood Orange, Frontenac House, 2016. Photo: Frontenac House

Hatchling

A TV screen flickers blue in a darkened living room.
A man sits on a back stoop with his dog.
He scans the sky for signs of thinning cracks,
something chipping in the sky’s brittle shell
with its egg tooth. A night heron, rune for soul,
pierces a minnow with its sharp eye.
The soul’s hunger is small, but precise.

Heidi Garnett, Blood Orange, Frontenac House Poetry, 2016

Poetry has brought me many gifts. Unexpected friendships later in life. Heidi Garnett has been one of those unexpected gifts. Her commitment to the craft of a poetry such an inspiration. And her support of my writing and encouragement when the muse turns her back and words die, dry leaves on Autumn Garry Oaks that refuse to fall. And the inspiration I receive from the power of her words. Oh, how I envy this line from Hatchling: The soul’s hunger is small, but precise.

How excited I was, after I came home from two weeks away, to find Heidi’s new book, Blood Orange, on my desk.  Inside it, a collision between the new world and the old. A German family uprooted by war, love disoriented as it finds its new north in prairie Alberta in the early 1950’s. A woman trying to put back the pieces war smashed apart. Using words to discover meaning and beauty from the heart’s ravaged harvest. A woman with forgiveness and love as her only map to find her way home beyond stubborn geography and the dislocations of violence.

This book is a tour de force. A poet’s book of changes, pulled stitch by stitch from the heart of a woman who admits she has never been much good/ at saying goodbye, never much good/ at accepting what can’t be changed. But then how does she find the courage in her poems, without flinching, to bring her goodbyes, her so many losses, vividly to life? And can I not imagine that these poems are anything but a testimony of acceptance, of something more than mere survival? Of finding a way to heal in spite of what can’t be changed.

What a triumph of the human spirit this book discloses. Utter proof of how she and her family honoured what she quotes in the first poem in her book, the famous imperative of her fellow countryman, Rainer Marie Rilke: You must change your life. Faced with what they could not change they changed what they could. At great cost, but they did. Hear that cost here in this poem:

Inscriptions

My cupped hands make a poor hourglass.
Who am I to think time is my private plaything?
If I walk backwards out of life, mother,
will I find you beside the Minsky Stream
where we vowed to stay alive so the other might live?
Promises require extraordinary trust
and I’ve grown tired with remembering.
My daughter asks why we didn’t flee
before Russian troops broke through German lines.
A girl should not go naked into the world
until she has grown a third skin, a hymen
to wrap around herself. A sheet of rain
flaps over the lake and a willow holds light
the way a mother holds a newborn. I know
one can’t live on air alone, but you see how it is.
Hope stirs the mind into a swarm of wasps,
but a body is a frail thing, a house made of chewed paper
and sometimes, love is all one has left to give.

Heidi Garnet, ibid

The frisson I experienced from these words: A girl should not go naked into the world/ until she has grown a third skin, a hymen/
to wrap around herself. Something so true for a girl in Russian-occupied eastern Germany, now Poland, in 1945. Something so true still for women all over the world whether in war affected areas or not. Chilling.

The only way I could try to make sense of Heidi’s wartime experience, long before Blood Orange was published, was to write my own poem which I dedicated to Heidi in my poetry book, published one week after Heidi’s:

Her Father’s Wartime Portrait

falls out of her book of poems, The Horse Latitudes,
long after his last ship sank and long after
he swapped his German naval cap for a baker’s white hat
in Alberta.

Dead for years, what haunts him the nights he appears
at the foot of Heidi’s mother’s bed and says nothing? Love, this silence –
straight and sure as the tracks torpedoes make.

The sense the North Sea is
is nonsense for a sailor, swimming for his life at night inside it.

So many ways, in words and waves, to drown.

The sense a father is
is nonsense for a girl awake in her bed in her mother’s room,
listening to her mother’s breath, in the other bed, muffled
under the Russian officer – war’s rough weight.

So many ways, at night, to drown.

The sense a divided country is
is nonsense for a man who travels eight hundred kilometers
to rescue his wife and three-year-old daughter
inside it.

The sense Alberta is
is nonsense in the dreams a wife and mother
dreams  of 1945, eastern Germany.

So many ways, in war, to stay alive.
The sense,  for a little girl, a circus is
is madness for an elephant, four feet

balanced on a stool.

Richard Osler from Hyaena Season, Quattro Books, 2016

What an eye opener for me, growing up with the winner’s side of the story from World War II, to hear about the suffering, incredible suffering of the other side. A balancing. And how this next huge, small poem of Heidi’s, makes such images out of that suffering:

Fire

Mother braids my hair
with braids of smoke.
She plaits the strands
into scorched ropes and
ties them together
with ribbons of fire.
She wraps me in a wet sheet
kisses me on the cheek
and cries, Run!

Heidi Garnett, ibid

What an example of the fine poetry inside Heidi’s book. And a great example of a poem completely its own but with the slightest echo of another poem inside it. This wonderful family tree poems belong to. The echo I hear is from Charles Simic, also a survivor of war, born in 1938 in Yugoslavia who later, became an American. The power of witness. Only if these poems of witness could help end war!

    My mother was a braid of black smoke
    She bore me over the burning cities.
    The sky was a vast and windy place for a child
to play.
    We met many others who were just like us.
They were trying to put on their overcoats with
arms made of smoke.
    The high heavens were full of little shrunken
deaf ears instead of stars.

Charles Simic (1938 – ) from The World  Doesn’t End,  Harcourt Brace & Company, 1985

Celebrated Canadian master poet Patrick Lane (1939 – ), in his comment on the back cover of Heidi’s book says this about Blood Orange: As fine a book as you will find this year. Lane is not one to give praise lightly. Trust him. Buy this book!

 

 

 

 

 

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 22 in a Series – Cohen and Zwicky

Canadian Poet and Singer Songwriter, Leonard Cohen

Canadian Poet and Singer Songwriter, Leonard Cohen. Photo: Rolling Stone

SUMMER HAIKU

for Frank and Marion Scott


Silence



and a deeper silence



when the crickets 



hesitate

Leonard Cohen from Leonard Cohen: Selected Poems 1956-1968, McClelland & Stewart, 1968

I am home now from my two weeks away in the U.S. and Calgary reading from my new book and leading retreats and workshops. I am so grateful to all my retreat participants from the Episcopalian communities of Palmer and Emmanuel churches in Houston and St. Timothy’s in Lake Jackson and my hosts and organizers in Texas: Andy, Liz and Donna; and in Calgary, hosts Ian and Darlene and my reading organizer Rosemary and in Canmore, Alberta my hosts Patrick and Heather.

Now, I have time to take deep breaths and be present to my heart. It’s gratitude and sorrows. The grief many of my retreatants who were struggling with in the fallout of the U.S. election and another grief, quite unexpected.

On November 11, while I was in Surfside on the Gulf of Mexico my sweetheart called me and left a message. As I listened to her message my heart clenched, just from her voice. I thought, Oh My God, someone in our immediate family has died. Her sorrow, that visceral. It was only a few words later that she asked: Did you know Leonard Cohen died?

Since then the internet has been full of his passing. His poems, passed on like sacred scripts, to be touched by the inner hands of soul and heart. His early poems, I cherish them.
Read More »