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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

Spell bound! Looking Back at the La Romita Poetry Retreat, October 2018

Spoken Word Poets in Terni, October 9th, 2018

In Italy

IV

Road shouldered by enclosing walls with narrow
cobbled tracks for streets, those hill towns with their
stamp-sized squares and a sea pinned by the arrow
of a quivering horizon, with names that never wither
for centuries and shadows that are the dial of time. Light
older than wine and a cloud like a tablecloth
spread for lunch under the leaves. I have come this late
to Italy, but better now, perhaps, than in youth
that is never satisfied, whose joys are treacherous,
while my hair rhymes with those far crests and the bells
of the hilltop towers number my errors,
because we are never where we are, but somewhere else,
even in Italy. This is the bearable truth
of old age; but count your benedictions: those fields
of sunflowers, the torn light on the hills, the haze
of the unheard Adriatic, while the day still hopes
for possibility, cloud shadows racing the slopes.

Derek Walcott from White Egrets, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

The truth of this poem is never far away in Umbria. For the second Recovering Words La Romita Poetry Retreat eight of us felt it wherever we went. Not the sea held by arrows but large Lake Bolsena anchored down by old towers and houses. The narrow cobbled tracks of Spoletto, San Gemini, Perugi, Assisi, and on and on. And the truth that when our poems arrived, some utterly grounded in the sites and sounds of this place, we also so often brought the somewhere else of our lives. Our stories, our memories. Joys. Grief. Its what we do, we poets.

But what is not captured by Walcott was Tuesday evening in early October, 2018, when the poets and artists from la Romita School of Art made their way to  a performance venue in a restaurant in Terni. Where seven poets or should I say seven “incantatrici” or sorcerers made their way to the mic to read spell poems written en plein air the morning before in an large archeological site nearby.

Poster for Public Reading Terni – Our Spell casters or Sorceresses

Most of the poets had never read out loud to an audience. Certainly not their own new work! And yes the artists were there, another rich part of our retreat, supporting us like crazy but also others we did not know. You wouldn’t have known it. And to make it more interesting they read to musical accompaniment. The performances were confident and arresting. I wish we’d been able to fly home with the musicians and do it again at Planet Earth Poetry in Victoria.

And to cap off a marvelous night, as we were leaving someone noticed the sign on the window of the clothing store across from the venue. MyPoem! Can’t make this stuff up. If that wasn’t a photo op I will never know what is!

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No Mere Visitor to this Earth! R.I.P. Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

American poet Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
what it is going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1992

When I read this Mary Oliver poem on CBC Radio’s cross-country Morningside program in honour of CBC broadcaster Peter Gzowski after his death in 2002 I was told later that Mary Oliver’s books had sold out across the country that day. And that demand for the poem was so great CBC posted it on their website. Did all her books sell out? Really? Whether or not they did the point was made: this poem had struck home. Like so many of Oliver’s iconic poems – The Journey, The Summer Day, Wild Geese and many more.

When American poet Mary Oliver died today at age eight-three an argument could be made that the U.S. had lost its most popular and best-selling contemporary poet. Again, true or not, point made. Oliver was an extraordinary force in English-speaking poetry. And in the words of former editor of Poetry, Christian Wiman, at the time of an event about fifteen years ago: the most famous poet in America. And she won two of the most prestigious prizes for American poetry,  The Pulitzer (American Primitive, 1983) and the National Book Award (New and Selected Poems, 1992).
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Announcing My 2019 Ten-Day Poetry Retreat in Italy

“To Be Fished by Poetry –
Writing En Plein Air”

A Ten-Day Generative Poetry Writing Retreat
with Richard Osler –
experienced poetry facilitator
and author of Hyaena Season

La Romita School of Art
Terni, Umbria, Italy
June 22nd to July 2nd, 2019

Click here for all the details and how to register!

Arial view of La Romita School of Art, Terni, Umbria

In Honour of the 92nd Anniversary of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Death Yesterday Three Marvellous Rilkean Knockoffs by Vuong, Oliver and Hayes

German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1975-1926)

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), trans. Stephen Mitchell from Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, Modern Library, 1995

Yesterday was the 92nd anniversary of the death of the legendary German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. But these many years later his poetry remains potent with an aliveness that belies the years that have passed since his death.

A great example of how alive Rilke remains through his poetry today is the number of poets who have been inspired by particular poems of his and used them to trigger their own poetic responses. And one of the most famous examples of such a poem is the one above. A poem made famous by its last sentence: You must change your life.

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A Poem by Sir Geoffrey Hill In Memory of Andrew Parker – Priest and Poet

English poet Sir Geoffrey Hill in 2009.

7 Lachrimae Amantis (Tears of the Lover)

What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love? What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew
seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew.
So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered “your lord is coming, he is close”
that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
“tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.”

Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016) from Lachrimae in Broken Hierarchies Poems 1952-2012, Oxford University Press, 2014

Before he died on December 18th my friend Andy Parker had put together a list of poems he wanted to memorize. But he already had a few he had put to memory and loved to share. This sonnet from Geoffrey Hill’s sonnet sequence Lachrimae was one he knew by heart. So I share this poem in memory and honour of Andy – Priest and poet.

Sir Geoffrey Hill, thought to be one of the great English poets of his generation, was a deeply religious and spiritual poet. So it’s not surprising Andy cherished this poem and its Christian context considering that Andy was an Episcopalian priest!

For me the significance of the poem , regardless of one’s religious beliefs, is its context, set as it is in this Solstice/Christmas season. A time of deep dark but also a time when we know the light is coming back. Solstice. And a time in the Christian story when Christ, the light of the world, is born. Christmas.
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Laura Kasischke – Her Poetic Thrills and Chills!

American poet Laura Kasischke. Photo credit: Festival America


MASKS

At the grocery store today—
these meteors and angels, wise men and all
the beautiful hallucinations of December, wearing
the masks of the Ordinary, the Annoyed, the Tired.
The Disturbed.
The Sane.
Only the recovering addict with his bucket and bell
has dared to come here without one.
He is Salvation.
His eyes have burned
holes in his radiance.
Instead of a mask, he has
unbuttoned his face.

Laura Kasischke (1961 -) from Where Now – New and Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2017

I was introduced to the American poet Laura Kasischke at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival a few years ago. I knew then I was meeting an important voice in American poetry. And not just because a few years before she had won the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry for her collection Space, in Chains. Have your fire extinguisher ready when you read or hear her: her poems know how to conflagrate!

And her award for Space, in Chains hardly touches on her literary accomplishments! Three of her novels have been made into films and last year Copper Canyon Press published her new and selected poems. A poet who merits a selected poems and who writes thrillers! Now that’s a combo.

To read most Kasischke poems is to read a mixture of John Ashbery and William Stafford, meaning a a dash of plain speaking poetry (Stafford) and a dash of surrealistic images and imaginative leaps (Ashbery)! While the poem I feature here seems closer to Stafford than Ashbery it has its wonderful complexities! And big time emotional savvy!

I use this poem a lot in my poetry therapy work with men and women in recovery. And I especially like using it during this Christmas season where it is set; set in some mall with a nativity scene been enacted by kids!

What a jolt when, in simple language, the narrator of Masks identifies us, all the consumers running around wearing our emotions on our faces only to be told they are masks! The tired, the annoyed, the disturbed, the sane! That about covers all of us! This is a Kasischke specialty: to see us as we are, to disorient us in a way that orients us to a deeper understanding of who we are. And then the shock when Kasischke introduces the recovering addict! How he becomes the hero of the story. Now that’s a reorientation.

The last seven lines of this poem get to me every time I read this poem. First, the fact the narrator is paying enough attention to see the revealed face of the man in recovery, Then the first line in the third stanza: He is salvation. The acknowledgement of the extraordinary bravery and inner fire it takes to recover from a chemical addiction. And even now I receive a frisson every time I hear the last two lines: Instead of a mask/ he has unbuttoned his face. The courage of that!

Such a simple metaphor: he has unbuttoned his face. Yet, so complex and startling. And challenging. How often to we so-called “normies” unbutton our faces. Get that real. I have been privileged night after night to have clients in recovery who peel off their faces button by button. And what about me? Am I wearing my teacher’s mask. My I’m -ok mask. Or have I, too, inspired by the courage around me, unbuttoned my face? I hope so.

Now, for an added treat here is a Kasischke poem featured on the back cover of the dust jacket of her selected poems. It has an eerie quality about it, something surreal that is pure Kasischke, Also the psychological complexity. The shocking admission at the end of the poem,

The Enormous Cage

She said, I have a dirty little secret to share
with you. It

will explain everything. And then

she blew it into the beak
of a very tiny bird
in an enormous cage. The

bird, of course, slipped
through the bars and flew away—

What they took with them when they died.
What they almost said, but wouldn’t say.
Now, one or two on almost every branch
nearly every sunny day. And

also on the phone lines, even
in the rain. And some
nights I feel its miniature

feet tread my spine, then sink in
between my shoulder blades, as if

its dirty little wings were also mine.

Wow: as if/ its dirty little wings were also mine. What an admission. Owning her shadow, her own secrets. Those secrets that burden us and some of us, to death. And in this, Masks and this poem share a common theme. Our masks can cover up our secrets. And that is not salvation! I am grateful to the powerful poetics and wisdom of Laura Kasischke.

Beer-Label Poetry from Hoyne Brewing Co. in Victoria!

Gratitude Winter Warmer Ale by Hoyne Brewing Co.


A Found Poem – Gratitude

For people –
For people who are naturally given to generosity, no matter their means. 
For industrious people who build things great and small and take pride in
 accomplishment. 
For people who try to do their best, but cannot.
For people who only half believe their own stories. 
For people who are steeled inside the cage of adversity, but still sing. 
For people who laugh with ease and abandon.
For scientists and poets who drill through mountains to get at the truth. 
For good neighbors, good samaritans, strangers who show kindness. 
For people who, despite the odds, cling to hope that things will somehow get
 better. 
For people who, like Houdini, are always escaping. 
For people who grow, produce and sell our food, for keeping us nourished and
 alive, every day.
For people who relish , slowly, a beautiful meal.
For people, of all ways, who carry themselves with grace and humility. 
For musical people, who bring us the mysterious beauty of another language. 
For artists who shrug with indifference at being labeled ‘artist’. 
For people who listen slowly, with empathy.
For people with an unrelenting intellect. 
For people who carry the banner of a great cause, regardless of the weight. 
For astronauts, for confirming our isolation and fragility, and thus our need 
 for peace and sustainability. 
For people who ride bicycles, and thus stay forever young.
For people immersed in the science and art of healing.
For people who alloy their might with temperance and compassion.
For savants and mystics who defy comprehension.
For people who, like Clark Kent, disguise their inner greatness.
For people who articulate with stunning clarity, their purpose. 
For people who streak their hair, dress differently, wrap themselves in
 strangely lovely things. 
For people who struggle with the enormity of the universe and the idea of
 infinity.
For people who capture and synthesize our gentle suffering into song. 
For rumpled people, weathered people, people creased by time and circumstance. 
For people determined to get by, each and every day. 
For exquisite people, people who glide with poise and style.
For frail people, with stories that reach back to a time nearly forgotten. 
For people who tear great holes in the very fabric of our strongly woven beliefs.
For damaged people, who show us what it means to be whole.
For people happily caught in love’s sticky web. 
For people who cannot buy religion but talk to god daily. 
For people who children love to talk to. 
For gifted people who write, paint or sing, not because they can but because
 they must. 
For people who shine from within. 
For the Kings fool, who delicately tucks great truths behind his curtain of
 laughter and antics. 
For people who see angels and never tell a soul. For people.

Hoyne Brewing Co. from a label on Gratitude Winter Warmer Ale

Never expected to find a found poem on a beer bottle but I did when my daughter peeled the label off a bottle of Hoyne Brewing Co’s Gratitude Winter Warmer Ale. I was already grateful for the sultry full-mouth taste of this winter ale but my gratitude overflowed when I read the label. Words crammed together in small type. Looked like prose but sounded like a poem!

Turns out I wasn’t the only one amazed at this poetic outpouring. A beer aficionado on-line ,after a glowing review of the ale ,copied out the words on the label. Saved me a lot of time. And the prose tuned quickly into poetry when I isolated out the anaphora, the poetic description for a repeated phrase or line at the beginning of a poetic line. Presto! A poem.

Priest and Poet – Andy Parker – 1957-2018

Andy Parker – Priest and Poet – 1956-2018

The Triumph of Love

from CXLVIII

So – Croker, MacSikker, O’Shem – I ask you
what are poems for? They are to console us
with their own gift, which is like perfect pitch.
Let us commit that to our dust. What
ought a poem to be? Answer, a sad
and angry consolation
. What is
the poem? What figures? Say,
a sad and angry consolation. That’s
beautiful. Once more? A sad and angry
consolation.

Geoffrey Hill from Selected Poems, Yale University Press, 2006

Geoffrey Hill might have taken these words, a sad and angry consolation, from Italian writer Leopardi but he makes them his own in this startling description of poetry, what it should be: a sad and angry consolation. That fits for me today with the shocking death from cancer of my beloved friend Andy Parker from Houston. Andy, dead, I still can’t believe it, at 61 after a five-month fight against cancer.

And so with those words in mind, a sad and angry consolation, I share this fierce poem by Anglo American poet David Whyte. Its sad and angry consolation. The consolation from stating so poetically the truth, the isness, of his grief. I dedicate this poem to Andy. I feel the same anger and confusion at the wrenchingly quick illness that took Andy from us, as does Whyte in this poem at the unexpected death of his friend:

NEWS Of DEATH

For Tom Charlotte

Last night they came with news of death
not knowing what I would say.
I wanted to say,
“The green wind is running through the fields
making the grass lie flat.”
I wanted to say,
“The apple blossom flakes like ash
covering the orchard wall.”
I wanted to say,
“the fish float belly up in the slow stream,
stepping stones to the dead.”
They asked if I would sleep that night,
I said I did not know.
For this loss I could not speak,
the tongue lay idle in a great darkness,
the heart was strangely open,
the moon had gone,
and it was then
when I said, “He is no longer here”
that the night put its arms around me
and all the white stars turned bitter with grief.

David Whyte from River Flow – New & Selected Poems 1984-2007, Many Rivers Press, 2007

This is one of my favorite David Whyte poems. How it captures the shock and surprise of grief at the death of a beloved friend. That sense of dislocation. Blossoms like ash, fish belly up, fish as stepping stones to the dead. A world gone wrong. And this morning when I heard the news, my world gone wrong, terribly. No night to put its arms around me. No white stars, bitter with grief. Just west coast gray clouds. And rain.

When I think of Andy I can’t separate him from poetry. Nor from prayer. How he used poetry so often for devotional purposes to take him deeper into the mystery of God whom he so trusted all the way through his life as an Episcopalian priest. One of those poems was by Geoffrey Hill, a favorite poet of his, and I wish I could remember it. He had it memorized, and he recited it once impromptu with the English priest and poet Malcolm Guite in Houston.

When Andy knew he had cancer he began to meditate through particular poems to give him strength. One such poem he shared with me was this much celebrated poem by Rainer Maria Rilke as translated by Robert Bly:

The Man Watching

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke,Harper & Row, 1981

Andy and I talked about this poem a month or so ago and I promised him I would memorize it. Haven’t yet. But I will! I promise! Andy read out these lines: What we choose to fight is so tiny!/ What fights with us is so great. He went on: When we win it’s with small things, / and the triumph itself makes us small./ What is extraordinary and eternal/ does not want to be bent by us. Ouch, I say. But I wonder if he was consciously bending to a courageous acceptance of his illness? Trusting God. Trusting the deep poetic wisdom he felt in this poem.

Then Andy kept reading about the wrestlers being beaten by the angel and then read out the line he said resonated most with him: Winning does not tempt that man. I don’t remember if he finished reading the last lines. They sure get me: This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively/ by constantly greater beings.

Andy was gentle man. But oh, so strong. But not in a look-at-me way. His strength came from deep integrity inside him. It made his gentleness for me even that more admirable. I felt that strength in his choice of this poem.

Andy didn’t stop fighting when the cancer hit. He kept working and enduring the impact of his drugs with great courage. And I wonder as I read this poem again and again if he found a comfort in the idea of accepting the possibility of defeat without giving up and from this gaining a sense of spiritual strength? Now, I wish I had asked him this directly.

I so appreciate that in thinking of him hours after his death I am thinking of him in the context of a poem. Of wrestling over what it meant for him. Because it was poetry and God that brought Andy I together when we met at the Glen Writers’ Workshop in Santa Fe in the late 2000’s. There Andy invited me to lead a poetry as prayer retreat in the Fall of 2009 for his parishioners at St. Timothy’s in Lake Jackson, south of Houston, where he was the rector. A gift I will cherish always!

I led that retreat for nine years in Lake Jackson and another two in 2016 and 2017 in Houston after Andy and his wife Liz (also a cherished friend of mine and an Episcopalian priest) moved to new parishes there; Andy as rector of Emmanuel and Liz as the associate priest at Palmer Memorial. I was scheduled to lead another Houston retreat a few weeks ago but my health and Andy’s made that impossible.

In June this year Andy and Liz sent me a birthday present: a book of prayers. Many of them poems. Here is an excerpt from one by John Henry Newman:

So long thy power has blest me, sure it still
            Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
            The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

I don’t doubt for a moment this prayer/poem would resonate with Andy. Priest and poet. Not an unusual combination according to this quote by Friedrich von Hardenberg-Novalis:

“Poet and priest were one in the beginning – only later times have separated them. The true poet is however always a priest, just as the true priest has always remained a poet. Ought not the future to bring back this ancient condition of things.” In this, perhaps Andy was ahead of the times. Already priest and poet.

Dear father, dear grandfather, dear husband, dear friend, dear priest and poet. Farewell. So many will miss you.

Everything Waits For Us – A Reminder by Greek Poet Elias Polimeneas

A Typical Byzantine Church in the Back Country of the Greek Pelopenese.

What is next
Next is what is called New.

For everything is patiently
awaiting us.

- Allow me please, to make you a coat

said the craftsman’s wife.

And then…

She skillfully managed
to place inside the stiches
all the communions
of her
life.

Elias Polimeneas from Like bridges, 2012

Here in Kardamyli, Greece a paradox – churches and chapels everywhere (in one tiny village nearby more than thirty) but all of them as far I can tell, locked and closed unless a service is being held. Luckily the poet, hotelier and rancantour, Elias Polimeneas, whose apartments I am staying in, knows the local priest so I made it into a particularly old church dating back to Byzantine times. Frescoes cover every surface.

While active church-going might be great these days (one weekday service I glimpsed inside an open door only had two older people) there is a sense for me of this being a god-drenched place. Not just a Christian god but the Greek gods of the myths that hold such power in the imagination even today.

And that sense is caught so well in this poem by Constatine Cavafy (1863-1933) even now perhaps the best-known Greek poet in the West.

Ionic

For we smashed their statues,
for we drove them from ther temples,
even so the gods are by no means dead.
O land of Ionia, its you they cherish still,
it’s you their soul’s remember still.
When an August morn dawns upon you
your air is filled with vigour from their lives;
and at times an ethereal adolescent figure,
indistinct, with swift stride,
Passes over your hills.

Constantine Cavafy from C.P. Cavafy – Selected Poems, translated by David Connolly, Aiora Press, 2015

I can’t say that in my hours of hiking here I have seen a figure, indistinct, with swift stride passing over the hills, yet there is a sense of the numinous in the rugged landscape, its upheaval of gorges and mountains and thickets of dense trees and, always scattered about, the tall spires of the dark green cypress trees. And churches!

It was that unexpected sense of the numinous in Elias’s poem that drew me to it when he read it to me a few days ago. And also the surprising turn that occurs after for everything is patiently/awaiting us. The abrupt switch from the abstractions in the first four lines to the particular of a coat and a craftsman’s wife.

The sense of anticipation, the celebration of the new in the first four lines and then the narrowed focus on making a new coat. How here, the image of a new coat, carries such weight. How we cloak ourselves in the world. What we wear for protection as we travel. And this is no ordinary coat or cloak. This is one saturated with religious and spiritual meaning: She skilfully managed/ to place inside the stiches/ all the communions/ of her life.

What a loaded word: communions. The central religious ceremony or liturgy of the Christian church also known as the eucharist. The eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. The body and blood of Christ. This intimate connection with Christ or the divine or the holly or the numinous is living inside the stitches of this coat.

And what compels me even further is that it is the woman, the feminine that crafts this coat. Not a black-frocked priest. The sense of the holy I feel so alive and present at the poem’s conclusion. I would wish to wear such a cloak. Especially as each day I face the new, what the world patiently holds for me. And the new, whether or not it is joyous or troubling or utterly difficult.

And as I read Elias’s poem I heard another echo, not just of Cavafy, but from the Anglo American poet David Whyte. An almost word for word echo made even more meaningful because Elias has never heard of David Whyte let alone read his poems. The echo was here: For everything is patiently/ awaiting us.

That line so close to the title of Whyte’s book and the corresponding poem in it: Everything is Waiting for You. Here’s Whyte’s poem:

Everything Is Waiting For You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte from Everything Is Waiting For You, Many Rivers Press, 2003

Whyte’s poem carries such a sense of an invitation for a reader to fully engage in the world. To be wholly  present. And so does Elias’s poem but with an added specifically holy dimension. To wear a coat stiched through and through with the numinous, the transcendant, the holy. Now that’s a coat I would like to take with me on my travels today!

Words that Fly Through Our Minds in the Dark! Capture Them! A Poem by Denise Levertov

American poet Denise Levertov


Writing in the Dark

It’s not difficult.
Anyway, it’s necessary.

Wait till morning, and you’ll forget.
And who knows if morning will come.

Fumble for the light,
And you’ll be
Stark awake, but the vision
Will be fading, slipping
Out of reach.

You must have paper at hand,
A felt-tip pen, ballpoints don’t always flow,
Pencil points tend to break. There’s nothing
Shameful in that much prudence: those are our tools.

Never mind about crossing your t’s, dotting your I’s –
But take care not to cover
One word with the next. Practice will reveal
How one hand instinctively comes to the aid of the other
To keep each line
Clear of the next.

Keep writing in the dark:
A record of the night, or
Words that pulled you from the depths of unknowing,
Words that flew through your mind, strange birds
Crying their urgency with human voices,

Or opened
As flowers of a tree that blooms
Only once in a lifetime:

Words that may have the power
To make the sun rise again.

Denise Leveretov from Collected Poems, New Directions, 2013

A dream woke me this morning here in Kardamyli, Greece. It was early for me: 5:30. And I remembered the poem, Writing in the Dark, by Denise Levertov. The poem that stands out for me as the one that said wake up, take your writing seriously when I began to write again in the early 2000’s. The poem that said believe this: Words that may have the power / To make the sun rise again.

And its so appropriate I remembered Levertov’s poem. Because today, back home in Canada (October 24th) was her birthday in 1923. Considered one of the important English-speaking poets of her time she was a poet of astonishing range (from quiet and mysterious devotional poems to poems of protest and other social commentary).

Levertov was deeply influenced by William Carlos Williams and they had a wonderful correspondence by letters for many years which has been published. She was born in the U.K. but moved to the U.S.in 1948 where she lived for the rest of her life. She died in Seattle in 1997.

Here is what Mary Oliver says about her: Levertov was musical, fierce, absolute in her honesty and for us, her public, as indispensable as any modern poet. To young writers asking for direction Denise Levertov’s name comes to my tongue, always, among the very first of our important forbearers., Her work was, and is, a brave gift to us all.

And for the gift of Levertov’s poem I am ever grateful for Susan Wooldridge’s book Poemcrazy where I found the Levertov poem on page 185! It was Poemcrazy that inspired me to begin leading poetry writing groups even as I was beginning my own road to becoming a poet. It was how, in teaching, I began to teach myself. And then in 2004 I began taking retreats with master poets, especially Patrick Lane!

But back to Levertov’s poem. What a great reminder. Especially these lines:

Keep writing in the dark:
A record of the night, or
Words that pulled you from the depths of unknowing,
Words that flew through your mind, strange birds
Crying their urgency with human voices,

Or opened
As flowers of a tree that blooms
Only once in a lifetime:

Words that may have the power
To make the sun rise again.

And I so like the suggestion in the poem that we must write out of a dark that might not be night alone. I was feeling that dark a few days ago. The usual mind-clatter about not having the poetic chops anymore. Then I began a postcard to a dear poet friend and began a poem having no idea what to say. But the near-full moon must have been talking to me because I had just read a poem by Jack Gilbert and so haltingly line by line this poem happened, and my inner darkness lifted:

Lunar

What was the poet thinking
when he wrote: Moon is horses
in the tempered dark? Tonight,
moon is Mallory on Everest
before he fell. Tonight,
moon is nothing
more than night’s cold glare,
no canter or gallop
inside it. Tonight,
moon is not
earth’s shy concubine. She’s
flagrant, almost full-
bodied enough to bed
but not tonight, tonight
the moon’s a prayer I forgot
to pray. Desolation
painted over with light.

Thank you Denise for being with me at the start of this journey. Not as a young poet then as Oliver talks about but young in the way of being a poet and so I am so grateful that she was there as a guide and inspiration.