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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

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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Three Lake Poems – Wilkinson, Paré and Stafford

Canadian poet Anne Wilkinson

LAKE SONG

Willow weep, let the lake lap up your green trickled tears.
Water, love, lip the hot roots, cradle the leaf;
Turn a new moon on your tongue, water, lick the deaf rocks,
With silk of your pebble-pitched song, water, wimple the beach;
Water, wash over the feet of the summer-bowed trees,
Wash age from the face of the stone.

I am a hearer of water;
My ears hold the sound and the feel of the sound of it mortally.
My skin is in love with lake water.
My skin is in love and it sings in the arms of its lover,
My skin is the leaf of the willow,
My nerves are the roots of the weeping willow tree.

My blood is a clot in the stone,
The blood of my heart is fused to a pit in the rock;
The lips of my lover can wear away stone,
My lover can free the blocked heart;
The leaf and the root and the red sap will run with lake water,
The arms of my lover will carry me home to the sea.

Anne Wilkinson (1910-1961) from The Poetry of Anne Wilkinson, Exile Editions, 1990

Award-winning Canadian poet Arleen Paré

DISTANCE CLOSING IN

flint-dark far-off
sky on the move across the lake
slant sheets closing in

sky collapsing from its bowl
shoreline waiting taut
stones dark as plums

closer future
flinging itself backwards
water now stippling thin waterskin

shallows pummeled the world
hisses with rain iron-blue smell
and pewter light ringing.

Arleen Paré from Lake of Two Mountains, Brick Books, 2014

Two great Canadian poets. Both with September birthdays. Arlene Paré’s today, September 14th, and Anne’s in a week on the 21st. Poets, generations apart. Anne died in 1961 in a very different time.

Some commentators feel that Anne , a woman poet who died to soon, never got her proper due. She rose to prominence along with Dorothy Livesay and P.K. Page but fell into obscurity after her death. The poet A,J. M. Smith said of her poems: a legacy  whose value can never be diminished. Arlene has risen to prominence in recent years through her 2014 Governor General Award for her book Lake of Two Mountains.

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Umbria: Poet as Diviner; Umbria: Write Poetry for Nine Days and Make Books on the Final Day; Umbria: Visit a Town or City Most Days – Umbria: Have Fun – June 21st to 22nd, 2020

Recovering Words Retreat Poster June 11 to 21st, 2020

THE DIVINER

Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions,
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till nonchalantly
He gripped expectant writs. The hazel stirred.

Seamus Heaney from The Death of a Naturalist, Penguin, Faber, 1973

Huge thanks to Terry Ann Carter and her designer Keeley for this poster promoting our June 2020 Poetry and Book-Making Retreat among the hill-towns and other word-worthy sites of Umbria in a region about 90 miles North of Rome. And I am happy to say our registration book is starting to fill in! Registrants taking advantage of the early-bird special! For more details please click here and read more about the retreat and see pictures from the three previous retreats in 2017, 18 and 19 on my website!

Some of the places we will choose from to visit: Perugia, Assisi, Spoletto, San Gemini, Todi, Narni, Orvieto and others! In many of these places we will gather on-site to read poems and write first drafts of our own poems. This writing on the spot or as painters would say: en plein air, is inspirational. A way to transform from tourist to traveler.

As you are inspired to write your poems in the history-drenched landscapes of Italy the poems we will use to inspire our own will often be authored by some the great writers who have visited or lived here before you and written memorable poems. I am thinking of poets such as James Wright, Charles Wright, Seamus Heaney, Jack Gilbert, Icheon Hutchison and Derk Walcott among others! And poems by Italian writers including, from the 16th century, Vittoria Colonna and Michelangelo and from our time, the Italian poet, Patrizia Cavalli.

I am so grateful there has been such early interest in this retreat! Huge thanks to those of you who have already registered. Registrations are through Tracy Posey in Washington D.C. (see Poster). And feel free to call me (604 836 7875) and or email me any questions you may have. I hope to see you at La Romita in 2020!

To Go Past the “If Only”! Great Wisdom from a Friend – A New Poem by Heidi Garnett

Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett

Footnote to a Letter Sent to a Friend Upon the Death of a Great Man

Strange how beautiful when we are diaphanous…
—Patrick Lane

And I wanted to add he loved you.
I hope you know this, really know it in your heart.
I say this knowing the fault was also mine
for not letting myself receive a love that big
and wholly embrace my own greatness. I say this
knowing greatness has nothing to do with others,
only ourselves. Nor is it prideful,
or even humble. It just is,
like a hinge attached to a small wooden door
set in Christ’s chest, like the left hand
typing with one finger, like love,
though not an ordinary love,
but one which Orpheus might sing of.

Today I walk the valley’s dry hills.
How strange the juniper with its stiff needles
and blue-grey berries, taste of dust,
of death, a life given,
then taken. The deer with heads lifted
watch from a distance. Frozen into mere outline,
stone, they ask nothing of me.
I shift my gaze, look beyond them
to the lake, the way water fits itself
to whatever holds it. If only
I could see without looking. If only
I could hear without listening, deaf to all,
but the merest whisper. If only
I could find the key to unlock the little door
set in my chest.

Heidi Garnett, unpublished 2019. With permission.

What a gift this poem is. What a gift when I first read it a few weeks ago. This poem by Heidi Garnett, written in response to a sharing to her and some others over my on-going sense of grief over the death of my mentor and friend Patrick Lane this past March. My sadness and confusion. And I share this here because I know others in my poetry tribe continue to mourn his death. Only a few days ago a friend emailed to say he brings Patrick along with him as he walks in the woods with his dog. That grieving.

I am grateful to Heidi’s poem for many reasons: for its consolation and wisdom, yes but especially for its skillful construction. So much poetic mastery in this poem of Heidi’s. Its construction so deliberate and precise. The shock of that first line starting as it does with a coordinating conjunction, and. This link to a conversation outside of the poem.  How that grabs my attention, Yanks me right inside the poem. And the repetitions of the indicative this. And the way the poem’s two stanza’s break the poem in half. A device that American poet Carl Phillips calls a bivalve poem. One hinged in the middle. And it doesn’t have to be hinged through a stanza break but by a shift in in the poem’s direction or leap to another way of opening up wider the meaning of the first half. And this a marvel of construction: her poem is not only literally hinged but also is a concrete reflection of the central image in the poem, the hinge set in Christ’s chest.

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The Proof is in the Pudding – American Poet Gregory Orr’s Ongoing Healing Journey Through Poetry

American poet Gregory Orr (1947- )

A Song of What Happens

If I wrote in a short story
Or novel that when my father
Was young, about thirteen,
He and his best friend
Stole a rifle from the car trunk
Of a man who worked
For his family, then took
paper plates from the kitchen
And went out into a field,
intending to toss them
Into the air and shoot them...
That there’s been an accident
And he killed his best friend.

Sad, but believable—it happens
More often than you’d imagine
In the country.
               But then I add:
My Dad grew up, married,
Had four sons, gave each
Of the two oldest
Shotguns when they were
twelve and ten
so that they could all hunt pheasants.
And when I turned twelve,
He gave me a rifle—a .22.
And that same year
We went hunting deer
In a far field in our property
And my gun, that I didn’t know
Was loaded went off
And killed my younger brother
Who was standing beside me.
Two boys, my father and I,
Barely in their teens,
Killing two others they loved
By accident—
That kind
Of coincidence isn’t credible
In fiction, much less in a poem
Where you’re not allowed
To describe too much
Or explain, or ascribe motives
Because each word is precious
And the fewer you use
The better the poem.
                    And yet,
I’m telling you it’s true,
It really happened.
                   All of us
Can you see the pattern here—
Two young boys kill
Someone they love
By accident.
            But do you
Think God planned it?
And if so, why?
Do you think my father
Unconsciously arranged
A repetition, hoping
It would end differently?

I’m happy for you if you
Can explain it
To your satisfaction.
I can’t.
       I’m only telling you
About it, because
It’s factual; it happened.
And because I want you to know
how strange life is.

Gregory Orr (1947- ) from The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write, W.W. Norton & Company, 2019

American poet Gregory Orr practices, in his own poetry, what he so often preaches, and what he most recently makes a compelling case for, in his wonderfully fine recent book – A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry: that writing and reading poems can bring order out of disorder, can heal. In his book he says: Lyric poets have always claimed that expressing emotions in words can heal, bringing a transformative sense of release and relief. And years ago Orr made similar claims in his book of essays: Poetry as Survival.

I cannot recommend A Primer for Poetsenough. A treasure chest of wisdom from forty years of teaching. It is filled with great poems,craft elements and writing prompts but it views the process of poetry, both reading and writing it, through a lens of seeing how poetry serves to hold words together – to forge them into solid but dynamic structures that contain and channel the chaotic inner and outer experience that we humans seek to express.

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The Art of Narrative Finesse – The Poetry of Susan Browne

Maddona and Child with St. Anne by Caravaggio. Credit: Galleria Borghese, Rome

Chiaroscuro

The Italian birds fly over the garden
where this morning I stood on sunstruck
tiles next to an olive orchard,
thinking how fortunate to land here,
eating the earth, drinking the vineyard,
traveling to Rome to a room of Caravaggios
that nearly stop me from breathing,
especially the painting where Mary,
her skin incandescent, leans out of the gloom
to help her young son try to crush the snake’s head,
his little luminous foot on top of his mother’s,
the details eerie and real as if I could touch each figure
and feel the plush of flesh, as if the serpent
could uncoil and slither out of the frame.
Later, in the taxi, the driver tells me about
the shooting—a nightclub in Florida—
and then I’m back in the garden,
mumbling a prayer although it’s only us
who can save us, as I watch the birds cross
the sky, sweeping the light into their dark wings.

Susan Browne from Catamaran, Summer, 2019

American poet Susan Browne

This poem, light and dark, sweeps me back to Rome and the Galleria Borghese. That’s where I first saw Caravaggio’s painting Madonna and Child with St. Anne. I was there with Susan Browne as part of a group that was attending a poetry retreat at the La Romita School of Art led by Kim Addonizio. What a great time we had in that retreat. Great poems, great teaching and excursions! But I especially remember early morning walks up a steep road, dodging cars, to a lookout at the top in a village aptly named San Libratore. Usually there were three or four of us most mornings including Susan.  We shared great stories of poetry and life on those 6 kilometer tromps!

Susan, poet and former full-time college teacher in the San Francisco area, is receiving a fair bit of press these days having won the 2019 Catamaran Poetry Prize for her Manuscript Just Living which is forthcoming in November. And yesterday morning her poem, Strange Ode, was published online by  the literary journal Rattle. But this is not new for her. Her work has been catching notice for a while. Her first poetry collection Buddha’s Dogs published in 2004 won a first book poetry contest adjudicated by the deeply respected American poet and essayist Edward Hirsch.

Susan’s poetry has a narrative simplicity that belies the heft her poems carry. A disarming wisdom there. In this way I think of her having a similar style (put perhaps more gentle and understated) to her older contemporaries Tony Hoagland, Thomas Lux and Billy Collins.  Her poem Chiaroscuro is such a good example of how she find ways to surprise her reader. And the importance of how she ends her poems. How her endings seem to shake up our expectations.
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Making the Opioid Crisis Personal – Leslie McBain and Fourteen Other “Mums” – and a Poem by Sheryl St. Germain

Fifteen Canadian Women Mourning the Loss of Their Loved Ones to Opioid Overdoses. In the right foreground, poet and activist Leslie McBain, co-founder of  Mums Stop the Harm (MSTH). Photo credit: Nicole Richard/Waxpencil.com.

Prayer for a Son

May your soul now be with the creek,
may it swell and flood in Spring, brimming
with excitement and wildness
as you sometimes were in this other life,

                         ebbing and emptying in winter
                         to reveal what had been hidden
                         in those spring floods—
                         the wounds and bones of your heart.

May the small fish that live here
nibble at your ashes, finding them
sweet and filling,
and may the dusts of your body fall

                          like pollen on the spring wildflowers,
                          deepening the pinks, yellows,
                          and lavenders of their petals
                          until their colours are like wells
                          that lead to another way of knowing.

May the insects sense the presence
of your spirit as they make trails
through your leavings,
may summer rains join with you, and
together may you enter the thin crusts
of this soil to reach the roots of oak
and cedar, juniper and cactus.

                           May you overfill their veins with that joy
                           you sought but rarely found
                           until you burst into acorn or berry or fruit.

And when the wind blows, may it catch
and scatter the dust of you on wing of bird
or butterfly, on fur of squirrel or rabbit,
coyote, cougar, or wild horse,
may you fly with them to strange places
those you have left behind can neither know nor imagine.

and when you are root and wing, seed
and flower, when you are bone and breath,
then may we be blessed to hear you

                           in song of bird and cricket, may we see
                           you again in the mad blinking
                           of the fireflies, and in the silence after
                           the poem's last word.

Sheryl St. Germain, from The Small Door of Your Death, Autumn House Press, 2018

Today the Globe and Mail featured stories on the Canadian women taken in this picture. Each woman has lost a loved one to our current opioid scourge. These women and their crosses signify the personhood of each victim. A person not a statistic.

This picture, in Knox Mountain Park over looking Okanagan Lake near Kelowna, was the brain child of Helen Jennens who has lost two sons to the opioid scourge. She wanted a way to recognize International Overdose Awareness Day that takes place on August 31st.

And as it happens I know the woman closest to us in the picture on the right: courageous and indomitable Leslie McBain who lost her son Jordan to an overdose in 2014. Spurred by that tragedy she went on to co-found Mums Stop the Harm. I met Leslie more than ten years ago at a poetry writing retreat with the exceptional poet/teacher Patrick Lane.
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Announcing My Fifth Poetry-as-Prayer Retreat at Hillhurst United Church, Calgary, Alberta

The First Sky
Is Within You

A Generative Poetry-as-Prayer Retreat
with Richard Osler

Hillhurst United Church
Calgary, Alberta
October 18th to 19th, 2019

Retreat Introduction

When we address the world with unmixed attention it’s prayer, said the artist, poet and mystic, William Blake. Simone Weil, the scholar and mystic goes further and says: absolute unmixed attention is prayer.

Another way to address the world prayerfully is through the absolute unmixed attention of poetry. Poetry as prayer. The celebrated American poet Mary Oliver says this clearly: Poetry is prayer, it is passion and story and music, it is beauty, comfort, it is agitation, declaration, it is thanksgiving.

In this retreat you will be invited to discover what Mary Oliver says in her poem Praying: just pay attention, then patch//a few words together and don’t try/to make them elaborate, this isn’t/a contest but the doorway//into thanks, and a silence in which/ another voice may speak. Again, this admonition to pay attention to hear a voice other than your own. And with this attention, you may also discover The first sky is inside you, as the Asian-American poet Li-Young Lee writes in his poem One Heart:

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born/out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open at either end of day.
The work of wings
was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Come and join fellow retreatants for an evening and a day of fellowship and poetry and experience your gift of words, words both your own and seemingly not your own. Because what are words that come to us when we write poems, if not the air from a sky larger than all skies. And discover a truth claimed by Li-Young Lee when he talks about poetry as prayer: We pray through a poem. Don’t make a god of the poem. Poetry is a gate to what contains the thing. Go to the thing.

Retreat Details

We will start at 7 PM on Friday, Oct. 18th with a brief introduction and then a reading of the poem each retreatant will bring based on the pre-retreat adventure they will receive after they register or no later than September 6th. The pre-retreat poem will be a way of each retreatant introducing themselves to the group. In addition to the writing of a pre-retreat poem each retreatant will have the opportunity during the Saturday sessions to write two more poems. These poems will be supported by full handouts with example poems and commentary.

Please Note: Whatever time a participant can give to their pre-retreat poem (fifteen minutes or days!) will be enough. My invitation is that each participant has fun with the writing adventure and doesn’t stress over it. I have found that meeting each other through their poems adds so much to the retreat.

 

The Retreat Leader – Richard Osler

I am so pleased to be returning for this 5th annual Poetry-as-Prayer Retreat at Hillhurst. I am the author of the full-length poetry collection, Hyaena Season (2016), a poetry workshop facilitator and former president of specialty money management company based in Calgary. I have conducted numerous weekend writing retreats in Canada and the U.S. and three ten-day poetry writing retreats In Italy. Also, I lead, on average, about 70 poetry workshops per year of up to three hours at addiction recovery centers and out-patient recovery clinics in Canada.  For more details on Richard and poetry please visit his website at www.recoveringwords.com

The Schedule

Friday, Oct. 18th                   Saturday, Oct. 19th

7 p.m.   to 9:30 p.m.                       9:30 a.m to 4:30p.m.

A light lunch and snacks will be provided. Please being writing material or a device to write on.

To Register

Please register through the Hillhurst United Church website under Coming Events. Scroll down to the event and click on the Register link! Or click here!

Cost

Registration fee: $87.50

Location

Hillhurst United Church
1227 Kensington Close NW,
Calgary, AB
T2N 3J6