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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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Guest Poetry Blog # 7 – American poet Dion O’Reilly Features American poet Jim Moore – Part Two of Two

American poet Jim Moore. Photo Credit: Joann Verburg

WHATEVER ELSE, THE PROGNOSIS IS NOT TOO GRIM – THE POETRY OF JIM MOORE

by Dion O’Reilly

Whatever Else

Whatever else, the little smile on the face of the woman
listening to a music the rest of us can’t hear and a sky at dawn
with a moon all its own. Whatever else, the construction crane
high above us waiting to be told how to do our bidding,
we who bid and bid and bid. Whatever else, the way cook #1
looks with such longing at cook #2. Let’s not be too sad
about how sad we are. I know about the disappearance
of the river dolphins, the sea turtles with tumors.
I know about the way the dead
don’t return no matter how long they take to die
in the back of the police car. I know about the thousand ways our world
betrays itself. Whatever else, my friend, spreading wide his arms,
looks out at the river and says,
“After all, what choice did I have?” After all,
I saw the man walking who’d had the stroke, saw the woman
whose body won’t stop shaking. I saw the frog in the tall grass,
boldly telling us who truly matters. I saw the world
proclaim itself an unlit vesper candle while a crow
flew into the tip of it, sleek black match, burning.

Jim Moore from Prognosis, Graywolf Press, 2021. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Jim Moore has been churning out exquisite poems for decades: author or editor of twelve books, his work appears in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Nation. A reading of his new and selected, Underground, from Graywolf in 2005, follows a thirty-year career fashioning poems that explore the lyric, awakened moment—poems with simple diction and complex ideas that tether the mind to another dimension. Sixteen years later, his latest book, Prognosis (Graywolf 2021) is a tour de force: every poem, cohesive, harmonious, and luminous with discovery.
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Guest Poetry Blog # 7 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, American Poet Poet Dion O’Reilly – Part One of Two

American poet Dion O’Reilly

Another Happiness

Publish your best work, find a decent job.
Eat some sizzling octopus, the many
kissing tentacles meaty on your tongue.
Success, you think, Joy! For a while anyway,
then it’s another mess in the papers, the endless
scroll of rapists and dead turtles, another
photo of a world leader with his corn-baked face.

So you go on a car trip north to find
some good rain. You get to Seattle,
and the lawns are scab-brown,
your old home on the lake—
a lime-green high rise.
Always looking for something.
Answer keys. Antidepressants.
More friends, another dog, another slim poetry book,
the poet pushing line after line
of exquisite description, one astonished
metaphor after another, escalating into an ecstatic revelation.

You can’t write like that.
You don’t read enough Virgil and Milton, don’t start
your day writing lines of iambic pentameter.
Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit, Detroit.
And you can’t meditate like some of the big names do.
When you sit, it feels like termites streaming in and out
of your arteries, on the screen of your inner vision,
all your arrogance, ecstasy, and gloom.

But admit it—sometimes in fall, you look up and see
an arrowhead of duck flight, lonesome and luxurious.
If only you could understand
how fungus flowers from the mind of the land,
how fractal arms of trees shard the sky.
If only you could exalt
in ash falling, the West on fire,
it would be like you’d just arrived on earth.

Dion O’Reilly from Ghost Dogs,Terrapin Books, 2020

RICHARD’S LEAD-IN FOR DION O’REILLY AND HER BLOG POST INTRODUCTION

I am so pleased to introduce the seventh guest blogger in this new series of guest poetry blog posts: California-based American poet Dion O’Reilly. Part Two of her blog post will feature the American poet Jim Moore whose eighth poetry collection, Prognosis, was published by Graywolf Press in November 2021.

Dion is no stranger to these pages. In January 2021 (please click here) I featured her new book Ghost Dogs and poems from Narrative, the online literary journal, where she was a finalist for the prestigous 2020 Narrative Poetry Prize whose winners include many celebrated contemporary poets like Natalie Diaz and Oceon Vuong. And earlier in February 2019 (please click here) I featured a poem of hers from Rattle’s Poets Respond from 2017.

I first encountered Dion through a comment shewrote on a blog post I had written three years earlier on the American poet Tony Hoagland. It was how I learned that, Tony, a favorite American poet of mine, had died while I was away on an trip to Niger and the Sahara. I have stayed connected with Dion ever since and I am so glad I have. It is no fluke that she was a finalist for the Narrative Poetry Prize.

And I am so moved to share her blog post introduction below which captures in her own hard-earned words the way poems and poetry can give voice to what should never have to be voiced; can become a critical way to survive the chaos and disorder in a life. And in her case, some disturbingly large amount of that. To say I am humbled and inspired by what Dion has written for us below would be a huge understatement.

The American poet Gregory Orr who has written a lot about how poetry can save a life says that when we read a poem of someone’s difficult circumstances, the chaos and disorder of a life, we know they survived to write what they did. And Orr says this can give us the hope that no matter our disorders and chaos we, too, can survive. Dion gives that hope. What she survived. What others might survive. And for her writing was the key.

In these two paragraphs from her introduction below she puts the rubber to the road of how poetry is not just an art form but a critical way of understanding one’s own life. And making meaning of it that can lead to a growing wholeness and self-awareness. A healing.

“No matter what, poetry fights cliché. It complexifies and links. The prevailing narrative casts events into stone, which is a lie: Truth is essentially about transition, change, and endless refinement of understanding. Poetry lives, as Rumi put it, beyond ideas of right and wrong.

Writing anything honestly, even roughly, is the start, but bringing Truth to a poetry group and opening oneself to ideas on how to shape experience is the next baby step. A good writing group or teacher will create an atmosphere of permission, offer suggestions to craft the story, deepen and explore the insight, balance darkness with an ascendent chord, or tinge the sentimental with duende.”

I wish I had had this quote when I was leading my hundreds of generative poetry groups at drug and alcohol recovery centers and at aresidential mental facility. Please, please read her not-to-be-missed introduction that follows:

DION O’REILLY’S INTRODUCTION – Craft is Only Part of It

In answer to the question: Why do you write? I often answer in my flippant way that writing is the only thing I can do. Flippant, yes, but there’s some truth to that statement.

Recently, my cousin sent me a video from one of his family’s rare visits to my childhood home. In it, I am an overweight, unbathed eleven-year old, with ragged hair falling in my face. Barefoot with no helmet, I’m showing my cousins how to operate my go-kart. I’m proud of my fancy toy, a toy I seldom operate since there are no children nearby to ride with and few places to ride—no sidewalks, no suburban streets. In the video, my British mother is flawless in full makeup, her hair, bubble cut, presiding over our eighteen-acre farm like a cult-queen, replete with English jodhpurs and a riding whip. My cousins look neat and scrubbed in knee socks and saddle shoes. Their mother, my aunt, is smiling and pleasant, but not glamorous like mine.

When I was nine, my father—an autistic, violent, high school teacher—defied my mother, and refused to belt me. Soon after that event, he became mostly absent from home, immersed in his job and liberal causes. He obsessively stocked his library-den with literature and history books. When I pulled some Kipling, Maugham, Dickinson, or Twain from the shelves, he’d say,” Dion, as long as you read, you’ll be OK.” And so I entered a different world. Soon, I was writing and memorizing poems. I had placed my father’s library inside me.

By the time I was a teenager, I’d filled many binders with poetry, but I was a mess. I suffered from a pernicious eating disorder, an addiction to marijuana and Southern Comfort; I had no close friends, and was fatally attracted to rapey jocks who treated me like toilet paper.

One morning, dropped off at school in the early darkness on my father’s way to work, I sat in the quad and asked myself, How will I survive? What can I do? Snagging men—like my mother and sister had been groomed to do—was not my future. I was too traumatized to focus on activities that challenged me, like math, science, theater, or student council. Sports were not an option for girls back then. But at that moment, when I feared I could not function, a voice came to me: You can write. I was too broken to strive for much else. That being said, I never thought I would write books, never thought anyone would read my work, but I had confidence I could be a high school English teacher and bring disaffected teenagers to literature and writing.

After thirty-five years of teaching, decades of therapy, twelve step programs, and resolute self- inquiry, I’ve improved my skills at grappling with childhood memories of violation and torture. Now, retired, I’m reading, writing, and memorizing again in a more comprehensive and mindful way.

And so, Dear Reader, I want to tell you something, not about MFAs or writing groups, although refining craft is imperative. I want to acknowledge that the voice of demoralization is cunning and powerful. I became a poet because, once upon a time, I was silenced, and I think one of the most difficult lessons is the following: even if one does not grow up under the thumb of a Sadistic cult leader, for most people, there’s a voice saying Your poems suck. You suck. You can’t make this poem work. Give up. You have nothing to say, or You’re not the right color, the right age, the right gender, the right size. Who do you think you are? Here’s the important part: facing the voice of demoralization brings content to poetry. Demoralization is a finger pointing to life’s central issues, both personal and systemic. One can admit, for example, that they’re…

Always looking for something.
Answer keys. Antidepressants.

Forty years ago, the first time I told a therapist—told anyone, really—that I was bulimic, she said, “You can get better, but you have to admit you’re angry at your parents.” And now I would say, if one wishes to write, one must admit Truth. Admit it. Let it in. Some of us are blunt; some of us come in slant, but I believe it is essential to hear the silencing voice, identify it, speak to it over and over because it is a many-headed hydra, which, in a sense, is encouraging: there’s always something to write about, and honest writing continues to evolve.

Let me be clear, this recasting of reality, this truth telling can be about anything: love, immigration, bliss, race, sex, delight in the natural world. A poem can be about an…

arrowhead of duck flight, lonesome and luxurious…
how fungus flowers from the mind of the land,
how fractal arms of trees shard the sky…

No matter what, poetry fights cliché. It complexifies and links. The prevailing narrative casts events into stone, which is a lie: Truth is essentially about transition, change, and endless refinement of understanding. Poetry lives, as Rumi put it, beyond ideas of right and wrong.

Writing anything honestly, even roughly, is the start, but bringing Truth to a poetry group and opening oneself to ideas on how to shape experience is the next baby step. A good writing group or teacher will create an atmosphere of permission, offer suggestions to craft the story, deepen and explore the insight, balance darkness with an ascendent chord, or tinge the sentimental with duende.

Ernest Hemingway said: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

So I say, Begin with Truth, within that Truth, the refinement of craft can begin, the lyric moment can unfold, which is a place to be new again, in love with the world.

Heavenly-Blue Morning Glory

You know those moments
when you’re young, dumb-
struck by the sight of something,
the air undone by mist and naked
sunlight as you pace the tracks
in Seattle for no reason,
save the oily light,
the peel of day-moon, coy
between the clouds.
Sure, you feel the same
old disaster, the same sadness
about sadness.
That’s a given, but then,
you’re hit by a fit
of chromatic blue. Hunger-
blue, blind-blue, squeezing
the high fence
like a host of baby-faced
pythons, so cerulean, so rare,
in the dripping freeze,
so necessary and painful
after months of gray restraint,
gray as the gray hair
around your mother’s near-dead face,
your hand released, finally, from her
pressed fingers, her furious fist.
It’s the first time you notice—
like the opened throat of desire,
the tapped vein—
how much you want the world.

Dion O’Reilly from Rattle

By Dion O’Reilly, January 2023

Guest Poetry Blog Series #6 – Calgary-based Poet Micheline Maylor Features Canadian Writer Kit Dobson – Part Two of Two

Canadian Writer and Teacher, Kit Dobson

MICHELINE MAYLOR FEATURES KIT DOBSON

Dr. Kit Dobson is an extraordinary professor and essayist at the University of Calgary. I call him extraordinary because he hasn’t let the grind of academia turn him into a corporate automaton. While he is not a poet, I chose his work because of its lyrical and poetic heft at the sentence level. Field Notes on Listening is a long meditation of the senses, connections, and the environment. Told in vignettes, the narrative is saturated with images and leaping fragments about family, the environment, and sound. The book represents the best of how lyric essay works to create something deep and meaningful.

Recovery as defined in part one of my own introduction is “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” When I think of recovering, I am acutely aware of sound, just as I am when I hear the music in poetry. The sound of recovery has, not a silence but a quietness an almost reflective quality. Dobson states:

Snow has tremendous sonic properties. People who live in northern climates know this fact well. Snow muffles sound. It gives city-dwellers respite from the daily hubbub. In the forest after a fresh snowfall the air is crisp, deep and silent. Snow falling from a nearby branch cuts through the air, but most distant sounds fall away. Underfoot, the snow crunches and squeaks – different pitches, intensities and sound for degrees of cold – and it whooshes down from higher up. On mountains, snow makes a distinct whumpf sound when after building up in weight it falls down upon itself. That sound comes when heavy new snow fractures the crystalline facet layers that have built up underneath. Whumpfing snows are portents of avalanches to come.

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Guest Poetry Blog Series # 6 – Introducing the Sixth Contributor, Micheline Maylor – Part One of Two

Calgary-based Canadian poet Micheline Maylor

Styx and Stones

I have a secret wilderness I keep inside, tight as spider-eggs
tucked in for the winter and waiting to be far flung, strung,
then tamped tight as a forest floor. What visions turn to currency?

Now that anger is done, I’ve devastated you like a Wall Street
Banker of a Saturday bender. We all have new traditions now.
Nothing looks like it used to. Get over it. Stuff in tight and remorse.

Hang long memories, cinch those unwanted puppies in the killing sack!
My shoes are milk-thistle kitten heels, almost remorseless almost vast.

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

Richard’s Lead-in for Micheline Maylor and Her Blog Post Introduction

I am so pleased to introduce the sixth guest blogger in this new series of poetry blog posts: Cagary-based Canadian poet Micheline Maylor. Part Two of her blog posts will feature the Canadian writer and teacher, Kit Dobson, whose collection of essays, Field Notes on Listening, was published by Wolsak & Wynne in 2022.

As Micheline says below we met at a Patrick Lane retreat quite a few years ago. Such a pleasure to hear her distinctive voice during that retreat (her memorable line: Rabbit, you fucker) and in her three books that have followed: Whirr & Click (2013), Little Wildheart (2017) and The Bad Wife (2021).

You can hear it so clearly in her small but very big poem above. The music. The sprung rhythm. Her memorable lines like her great opener:
I have a secret wilderness I keep inside, tight as spider-eggs. And the startling last two lines:

Hang long memories, cinch those unwanted puppies in the killing sack!
My shoes are milk-thistle kitten heels, almost remorseless almost vast.

I have written major features on Micheline twice before: in 2017 and in April 2022.

So glad to showcase her again in her own thoughtful and honest words. So much hard won wisdom shared below. What words can recover! Thank you hugely, Micheline.

Micheline Maylor’s Introduction

Look up the word recovery and the definition states “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.” Richard Osler’s Recovering Wordsspeaks to healing through engagement with poems and writing. When he asked me to guest blog, I wanted to think mainly of how poems aid in recovery through the act of contemplation and what Wordsworth refers to asemotion reflected in tranquility.”

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Guest Poetry Blog Series #5. American Poet Susan Browne Features American Poet Chelsea Harlan – Part Two of Two

American poet Chelsea Harlan. Photo Credit: Copper Canyon Press

Susan Browne Features Chelsea Harlan

Recently, I’ve fallen in love with the work of American poet Chelsea Harlan, currently living and working as a librarian in upstate New York. Her debut poetry book, Bright Shade, won the 2022 APR/Honickman First Book Prize, selected by Jericho Brown. I’m still trying to figure out why I’m attracted to her style. Voice, definitely. She has a completely original voice. But, then, so do many poets, or the poets I want to read. So that isn’t really it. She has some great similes, such as “Loneliness prances by like an invisible bull.” In that same poem, there are many leaps and statements that don’t seem to connect, yet they do in a different kind of way, and this adds up to a powerful effect. Here’s the poem:

Some Sunlight  

Loneliness prances by like an invisible bull
where I loll at the overgrown rodeo.
You would’ve loved it.
I dribbled orange juice all over the bleachers.
I peed in the weeds.
I sat there for hours and hours with a giant book
I didn’t read.
A gate rattled against itself in the distance.
Existence, existence.
“Incalculable Loss,” says the Times.
The warmth of some sunlight on my back.
The pizzicato footsteps of a quail in the grass.

Chelsea Harlan from Bright Shade, The American Poetry Review, 2022

In this poem, as in all good poems, there is the triangle of feeling, thinking, and imagery. Let’s start with imagery: Loneliness is a prancing, invisible bull; the rodeo is overgrown; (I take that to mean the rodeo arena is full of weeds and maybe bushes, ivy, grass, yes, kind of a lonely, haunting place, an overgrown rodeo where there used to be a lot of action); the speaker lolls; orange juice dribbles; there are weeds and pee and a giant book; the sound of a gate rattling in the distance; the touch of sunlight, warm on the speaker’s back; the sound of pizzicato footsteps in the grass. Twelves lines of poetry with lots of imagery going on in them that we can see, feel, and hear.

What is the feeling here? The sunlight is warm but loneliness is a bull (fearsome, heavy but the bull also “prances,” which is a lightness, too) and the speaker is relaxing (lolling) in an empty, (lonely, too, we can infer), overgrown rodeo arena. She says the “you” would have loved it, so we infer she loves it, too. She has a giant book she doesn’t read for hours and hours. She is just being, although she also drinks orange juice and pees like any human, what humans do, drinking and peeing are part of existence, yes. So the feeling, the emotion in this poem is complex, but overall, I would say it’s an acceptance, a resting in what is.

Existence. Existence. This is what existence is like sometimes or maybe most of the time. A gate rattles against itself. I like that “against itself.” Do we rattle against ourselves in our simple, complex, empty, full existence? I think we do. Is this a bad feeling? Not necessarily. See, I’m thinking, so what is the thought, what is the thinking in this poem? The line that really gets me thinking is, “Incalculable Loss, says the Times.” What newspapers always tell us: constant loss, and, of course, that’s existence, too. And yet: the warmth of sunlight on her back. The musical sound of that quail in the grass. A quail’s footsteps. I love the surprise of that image/sound, along with the word “pizzicato.” To pluck the strings with one’s fingers.
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Guest Poetry Blog Series #5. Introducing the Fifth Contributor, American Poet Susan Browne, Part One of Two – Infinity on Fire

 

 

American poet Susan Browne

Bonanza

Amanda shows me my bones,
A picture of my spine, ghost-like,
Snake-like, like it could rattle.
I say, Amanda, it looks crooked, why
Is that? She shrugs, You’re not the only one.
Your bone-density’s fine. You can go now.
My plebeian spine walks me toward
The mammogram room where I flop my boob
Onto the plastic tray. Flop is not exactly accurate
Concerning these tater tots.
Darlene tussles with them, trying to yank
What’s barely there & squish it under
The plate. Wait! I say, trying not to yell.
Darlene waits, complimenting me on my earrings.
I explain where I bought them in case she’d like a pair
& she asks if I’m ready & before I answer
My flesh is smashed & splayed into place,
I’m told not to breathe, the machine whirs,
My spine curves even more weirdly.
I am bones hung with a hunk
Of tissue muscle blood, I am not the only one
Who rattles & spins on the wheel of living’s roulette
& finally Darlene says you can go now as she stares
At a computer screen. Is her expression alarmed
Or maybe her mouth’s just slightly crooked? I stand
Straight & naked from the waist up except for my earrings,
The room cold slabs of concrete where the body is a dumb
Animal searching for a way out. Bloused, I elevator
From the basement & walk outside into a bonanza
Of sunshine, the crowded street, the amazing meat
Of us, the jostling bones of us, the creaking, the sloshing,
The man carrying his baby against his chest in a sash
As if he’s holding eggs while riding a unicycle,
The old lady pushing an older lady in a wheelchair
So slowly the universe could be redesigned
Before they cross the street to the storefront brimming
With apricots & artichokes. Doesn’t take X-ray eyes
To see something inside us all, like a secret
I wish we’d tell without fear, leaning close,
Nearly kissing the other’s ear.

Susan Browne from Rattle, finalist for the Rattle Poetry Prize, 2019 and forthcoming in Monster Mash, Four Way Books

Richard’s Lead-in for Susan Browne and Her Blog Post Introduction

I am so pleased to introduce the fifth guest blogger in this new series of poetry blog posts: California-based American poet Susan Browne. Part Two of her blog posts will feature the American poet Chelsea Harlan whose debut collection has been recently released by The American Poetry Review and Copper Canyon Press.

But first my lead-in to Susan in her own words that begins with her poem Bonanza, this celebration of one body, then many bodies. This celebration of what it is to be human. Our bones hung with a hunk/ Of tissue muscle blood,….And Susan’s intro ends, also, with a poem: Love Letters. A gorgeous hymn to being alive, to being able to say: I see you/ dear vanishings.

I give huge thanks to Susan for being part of guest blog series, for her poems and for these inspirational words on poetry from her introduction below:

I can never get to the end of learning my craft. It’s infinity on fire.

*

Poetry is the beauty and the burning. It’s silence to sound and seed to sunlight. A way of being intimate with all things, of praising them, a way to think and feel far into things. Poetry pinches us awake, sings to us in strange and familiar melodies. It belongs to everyone.

It’s appropriate Susan is the first American guest blogger because I first discovered her in an anthology of firsts edited by American poet Laure-Anne Bosselaar: Never Before: Poems About First Experiences. Susan’s poem was First Drink which I used for many years as a writing prompt in my poetry therapy work at drug and alcohol recovery centers. To read First Drink please click here for my August 2019 blog post on Susan and her poetry.

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A Stunning Debut – Linda K. Thompson’s 2021 Poetry Collection – BLACK BEARS IN THE CARROT FIELD

B.C.-based poet Linda K. Thompson: Photo Credit: Alberni Valley News

Pete Sillanpaa Never Loved the Moon

Aino died first and Pete lost heart.
Spent his last years at the Finnish rest home in South Vancouver.
The farm by Punch Creek: two small fields along the road,
the gooseberries, the sauna,
the green and white house with the steep pitched roof,
all sold off to someone from the city.

He said he and Aino walked together through that last night.
The moon stepping ahead, always ahead of the shadows,
lighting the rags on their shoulders. Aino’s shredded kerchief.
They came down through the birch and the pines by the river.
No lights, not a sound.
Not a horse or cow or dog.
No nightjar, no owl, no whip-poor-will.
Just chimneys, like bones of a long dead beast,
strewn before them. the stink of of everywhere.
And the moon, Pete said, the moon.

Pete had worked all over. Came to our place for digging.
Tossed hundred pound sacks all day.
Ate black bread with linden tea for lunch.
Told us about the old country. About the war.
Told us how the Russians marched his village
off to a work camp, and when they let them come home,
thaose that were left, the village was gone.

He said he and Aino walked together through that last night.
The moon stepping ahead, always ahead of the shadows,
lighting the rags on their shoulders. Aino’s shredded kerchief.
They came down through the birch and the pines by the river.
No lights, not a sound.
Not a horse or cow or dog.
No nightjar, no owl, no whip-poor-will.
Just chimneys, like bones of a long dead beast,
strewn before them. the stink of of everywhere.
And the moon, Pete said, the moon.

Linda K. Thompson from BLACK BEARS IN THE CARROT FIELD, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2021

This poem. How it looks to the past but also foretells the horrors in Ukraine. At the end of WWII so many stories, as in this poem, of razed villages and towns in Finland and other countries in Europe. And their citizens shipped off to work camps. And, now, the same thing happening in Ukraine. Ad these striking, haunting lines:

Just chimneys, like bones of a long dead beast,
strewn before them. the stink of it everywhere.

And the brilliance, too, not just of the moon in her poem but the title of Linda’s poem: Pete Sillanpaa Never Loved the Moon. How it sets a stage and takes anything sentimental or Hallmark-ish out of the last line: And the moon, Pete said, the moon. One of the most original takes on the moon I ever seen in a poem. Turns the old tropes of a romantic or beautiful moon and turns them on their heads. The utter surprise of a disdained moon in a poem. The so-many droll surprises in the poems of Linda K. Thompson.

This is my second blog post featuring Linda. Here is what I wrote at the end of my blog post on  February 19th, 2019:

I am grateful to Linda Thompson. My world is richer for her people and places she brings so alive in her poems. I hope some publisher gets real smart, real fast and snaps up Linda’s manuscript. It will be a strong book for sure!

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Poems by Frank O’Hara and Roger Reeves and Another Poem by Ocean Vuong, Plus a Generative Writing Adventure for Anyone Who Wants To Try It

American poet Frank O’Hara (1926-1966)

Katy

They say I mope too much
but really I’m loudly dancing.
I eat paper. It’s good for my bones.
I play the piano pedal. I dance,
I am never quiet, I mean silent.
Some day I’ll love Frank O’Hara.
I think I’ll be alone for a little while.

Frank O’Hara from The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972

I have been enjoying the Fifth Living Room Craft Talk by marvelous American teacher and poet Ellen Bass. On Friday she shared , among others, two poems by American poets Roger Reeves and Ocean Vuong. These two poems I featured in a generative writing adventure I prepared for a ten-day poetry retreat at the La Romita School of Art in Umbria in 2017. Both the Vuong and Revves poems owed their genesis to the lovely lyric poem by Frank Hara above. Here below is my 2017 discussion of all three poems and a writing adventure at the end.

“Often, a line from a poem becomes a great launching off place for your own poem. This is where the mystery starts to take place. The place where you let go of control. The place where another voice meets you and becomes yours. Sometimes it is the line, only, that is what you are left with. At other times it is the whole poem that becomes a template for your own. An echo of form, of line break, of syntax but your own words. Some call this po-jacking.

Back in the 1960’s Frank O’Hara, an art curator and a key member of the so-called New York School of poets wrote a small poem in the voice of a small girl, a daughter of a friend. It’s not one of his better known poems but it has come into notice through two contemporary poems published in the past few years that have po-jacked O’Hara’s poem, have used the line, Someday I’ll love Frank O’Hara or part of it, as the title in theirs.

A few months ago I came across the poem Someday I’ll Love – by the gay Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong and saw that it was after (based on a line) a poem of not just O’Hara but also Roger Reeves, an African American. Sent me scrambling to find both the Roger Reeves poem as well as the O’Hara poem. In that scramble I discovered that both Reeves and Vuong turned the O’Hara’s poem into a more personal lyric journey about their lives whereas in the O’Hara poem it is Katy, the eponymous narrator of the poem who says someday I will love Frank O’Hara.

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His Body is his Last Address – A Poem by Ocean Vuong from His Latest Book: TIME IS A MOTHER

Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong. Photo Credit: The Oxford Student

from Reasons for Staying

The October leaves coming down, as if called.

Morning fog through the wildrye beyond the train tracks.

A cigarette. A good sweater. On the sagging porch. While the family sleeps.

That I woke at all & the hawk up there thought nothing of its wings.

That I snuck onto the page while the guards were shitfaced on codeine.

That I read my books by the light of riotfire.

That my best words came farthest from myself & it’s awesome.

Ocean Vuong from TIME IS A MOTHER, Penguin Press, 2022

This excerpt from Ocean Vuong’s poem Reasons for Staying: what an ultimate wakeup call the poem is that begins with the excerpt above. And the poet,  the gay thirty-four-year-old Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong, is being celebrated, truly, as one of the important new voices in American poetry.

Ocean won the Narrative Poetry Prize in 2015, the year before his first full-length poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds was published to great acclaim and won the prestigous UK T. S. Eliot Prize and the American Whiting Award.. His follow-up book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, an epistolary novel with many echoes from his own life, was cited as one of the top ten books of 2019 by The Washington Post, was a finalist for the 2020Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction.

I heard Ocean read Reasons for Staying on a live on-line reading last week hosted by Georgia Tech and the co-host, Ukrainian American poet Ilya Kaminsky. I was so taken by it. By its courage and healing outreach. And its raw honesty. A poem, from Ocean’s recent 2022 poetry collection, that comes out of Ocean’s history of dislocation, addiction and that feels like a response to suicidal ideation. That suggestion in the title: Reasons for Staying.

Yes, this is a raw poem that includes a lot of potentially triggering references including a graphic sexual reference. This is why I begin with the excerpt before sharing below the full poem and what what could be triggering lines for some. But, and this a huge but for me, what a crying out for life, for living in this poem! What great poems do.  The poem vibrates with authenticity and emotional vulnerability. What a call, what a prayer for saying yes to life. And to someone, a reader, facing some of these challenges Ocean or his speaker has faced, what hope in this poem. That Ocean has survived his challenges. This encouragement to someone else that they too can survive!

Here is a quote that says so much about Reasons for Staying and Ocean’s overall poetics:

The language we use to communicate with one another is often one of distance and hyperbole. The risk is that we end up dismissing or, at worst, shunning the particularities of an idiosyncratic life…poetry creates a space where we don’t have to clear our throats, where we can be as strange and obsessed as we actually feel. And someone can read these thoughts and hopefully recognize their own strangeness and uniqueness as a human being. In this way, poetry is the side door to our inner selves, where we can see one another, without shame, more closely. Because maybe it’s these things that make us care for another: when we can recognize each other’s fears, vulnerabilities, joys, and histories.

 — Ocean Vuong from an interview in Split This Rock, Feb. 16th, 2016
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The Guest Poetry Blog Series # 4 – Canadian Poet Juleta Severson-Baker Features Dene/Métis Poet, Photographer and Writer, Tenille K. Campbell – Part Two of Two

Dene/Metis poet, photographer and writer, Tenille K. Campbell. Photo Credit: Flare

#807

the snow fell
light white flakes
melting on contact
fading away
like old stories
after dawn

the country twang
of heartache and loss
white noise
background
as I listened
to your heartbeat
echoing my own

my hand in yours
we swayed back and forth
under street light
moonlight
memories

I need a woman like you, you said
I’ll eat you alive, I said

Tenille Campbell from #IndianLovePoems, Signature Editions, 2017

Tenille K. Campbell is a Dene/Métis writer and photographer from English River First Nation, Saskatchewan. I stumbled across her book #IndianLovePoems in the remarkably good poetry section of Mobius Books in Port Alberni, B.C.while on a holiday in April, 2022. I read a few poems right there in the store and, by the way my heart started racing, I knew I needed Tenille’s words in my life. She writes with an exposed sexuality, a great delight in delight, toothy humour, power and punch. I devoured the book.

The final line of the epigraph poem for this post, #807, I’ll eat you alive, is the kind of self-aware and hungry female voice Tenille offers her readers all through the book. It feels exciting even if it is, strangely and sadly, surprising to read such a clear and potent claim in a world where women are still enmeshed in painful chains of inequity. Tenille is a poet who stands very clearly in her personal and political power. She finds much of that power in delight and in her own body.
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