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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

To Set The Darkness Echoing – Seamus Heaney and Natalie Shapero

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) – 1995 Nobel Prize Laureate. Photo: Copyright John Minihan


Personal Helicon

for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

 One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch,
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it.
And one
Was scaresome for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

 Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

 Seamus Heaney from Opened Ground Poems 1966-1996, Faber and Faber Limited, 1998

May came to the Cowichan Valley where I live and dismissed, with no apologies, April and its cold days of drench. Now bright days, warmth and no more fear of frost for the new plants in the garden.

But still, now and again, a chill dismembers me without warning. Then, to use Seamus Heaney’s expression, I become full of world-worry and more specifically full of dread for the random and frightful nature of death. Specifically, the death of my friends’ 22 year-old son in a bike accident a few weeks ago.

American poet Natalie Shapero, Professor of the Practice of Poetry, Tufts University, Photo Credit:Alonso Nichols,Tufts University

These next words go a long way to saying what I feel about death these days. They are by American poet Natalie Shapero (nominated for a 2018 Griffin International Poetry Prize) from her poem Were You Lying Then or Are You Lying Now in her 2017 collection, Hard Child,  published by Copper Canyon Press in 2017:

…………That’s just like death to creep in
wherever it can, to huddle in wait
in the dooryyard of every story. Death is the best

 of the lurkers. Death is the worst

sort of lurker, the best sort of soldier of fortune.
It hardly ever refuses anyone’s offer.

Read More »

Let Poetry Speak It – Grief but Also Happiness -For My Friends Laura and Walt – Their Son Killed in an Accident

American poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil


Meals of Grief & Happiness

1

I believe in the tears of an elephant.
How they stamp the ground
and forget they are in musth—
panting—and cinnamon shrubs
or piles of sugarcane can’t tempt
them to stop their cycle of grief.
I believe I the broken heart
of an elephant. When a companion
dies, I believe in the rocking back
and forth, and dry pebbly tongue.
I believe in wanting to wear only
dust, hear only dust, taste only dust.
I believe in wanting to touch nothing
and wanting nothing to touch you.

2

I believe in the tail wag of a dog.
The toothy grin of an apple-fed horse,
the shine from the wet in the eyes
wild with joy. I like the movements
in a chimp’s fine fur as he swings
from branch to rubber tire and thumps
his companion on the head with a bright read ball.
I believe in the single sugar cube sparking
on a small ceramic dish as we sit at a café—
me sipping soda with a paper straw,
you leaning in on close to point to something
that neither of us have ever tried—but we will today.
The waiter will say good, good choice my favorite,
as he gathers up his vinyl menus and leaves us.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil from OCEANIC, Copper Canyon Press, 2018

One of the wonders of Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the feel of her last name in the mouth! That’s once you figure out how to pronounce it properly! She has poems about her name, how people mangle it. Once I figured to ignore the h after the z the name slipped off my tongue with ease. Like this: Nez-uh-kum-a-tat-hill!

I have profiled Aimee before in a blog post. A professor of English and Creative Writing in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, she has written four full length poetry collections including her latest, OCEANIC, which was released within the last few weeks.

I am part way through the collection and already I have encountered a standout come-at-it slant erotic poem based on the Lucille Bogan song, Shave ‘Em Dry. Nothing on the slant in Bogan’s song! How I enjoyed the fun, the tenderness and openness in Nezhukumatathil’s poem When Lucille Bogan Sings Shave ‘Em Dry.

But a few poems later I was arrested and frisked by her poem Meals of Grief and Happiness. Handcuffed to the poem’s teeter totter balancing point – grief on one end and happiness on the other.
Read More »

Begin Afresh, Afresh! Poems of Spring by Larkin and Limón

 

American poet Ada Limón. Photo credit: San Marcos Mercury

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Ada Limón from Poem-a-Day, the Academy of American Poets, May 15, 2017

Ah, spring. A late one here in the Cowichan Valley but spring nonetheless. So many spring poems it’s hard to write one that seems fresh and unexpected. After all, Spring and All, the 1923 book and poem by William Carlos Williams are looming presences still, after almost one hundred years.

And yet, Ada Limón has pulled off a cliché-busting spring poem. And its intrigue for me begins with the title, no spring in sight! Limón, who just turned forty-two, has become a rising force in American poetics after her 2015 book Bright Dead Things was a finalist for two of the top U.S. poetry awards.
Read More »

Saved by Poetry – Sam Hamill, Poet, Editor, Publisher (1943-April 14th, 2018)

American Poet Sam Hamill (1943-April 14th, 2018) Photo Credit:3QuarksDaily

Blasphemy

For Sam Hamill

Let the blasphemy be spoken: poetry can save us,
not the way a fisherman pulls the drowning swimmer
into his boat, not the way Jesus, between screams,
promised life everlasting to the thief crucified beside him
on the hill, but salvation nevertheless.

Somewhere a convict sobs into a book of poems
from the prison library, and I know why
his hands are careful not to break the brittle pages.

Martin Espada from a talk given at the 2012 This Rock Festival on March 22nd, 2012.

from Requiem

For Kenneth Rexroth

This dead weight we carry
like an ancient grief is ours
because we will it – the lonely burden
of the verb to be
as it becomes attached
to living or alive, day by day. So it’s not say

we can’t or won’t go on.
But on this earth, in
the middle of our trespass, we are
invisible, we are only shadows
sliding into night, pausing to give names
to things that shape our passing: saguaro
thimble-berry, madrone. Or charity.
Or love.

Sam Hamill from Habitation – Collected Poems, Lost Horse Press, 2014

Yesterday we lost another poetic treasure. Sam Hamill, poet, editor, founder of Poets Against the War in 2003 and co-founder of the celebrated poetry publisher: Copper Canyon Press.

A few years ago at the Cascadia Poetry Festival in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island I had the privilege of introducing Sam. And I introduced him through the poem Blasphemy written in his honour. I take as gospel in my poetry therapy work the poem’s first line: Let the blasphemy be spoken: poetry can save us.

Here some excerpts from a tribute to Sam (which included Blasphemy) by Martin Espada in 2013 at an event celebrating the tenth anniversary of Poets Against the War:

I am honored to speak today at this tribute to Sam Hamill and Poets Against War.

Poetry saved Sam Hamill. Poetry saved him from a life of violence, self-destruction and incarceration…Sam was born in 1942 or 1943 to unknown parents. Adopted and raised in Utah, he was beaten and abused, a runaway, a petty thief, in trouble with the law, in and out of jail.

Read More »

Catching Fire -Writing En Plain Air – An Invite to Richard’s October Retreat in Italy 2018


RECOVERING WORDS IN ITALY

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

“Catching Fire –
Writing En Plein Air”

I write from habit, not because I am on fire.
— Vittoria Colonna (1492 – 1547)

La Romita School of Art
Terni, Umbria, Italy

10 Days

Oct. 4th to 14th, 2018

POETRY RETREAT OVERVIEW

The words of celebrated Italian Renaissance poet Vittoria Colonna, dear friend of Michelangelo, grabbed me by the throat when I read them first in Tuscany in early 2018: I write from habit, not because I am on fire. And now I extend you this invitation: Break old habits. Come catch fire. Please join me this Fall in Umbria for a life-changing poetry-writing experience.

What better place than Italy, at La Romita School of Art in Umbria (click here for the La Romita website) and at many other inspiring locations in Umbria and Tuscany, to bust out of old habits, old stories and  stand in the light from the blaze of your own new words.

En plein air, Cathie and Jodi writing in Umbria, 2017

In this ten-day poetry writing retreat we will maintain a constructive balance between facilitated writing sessions, lots of quiet times for writing and our out trips to some of the remarkable places near and far-near from La Romita including Assisi, Perugia, Spoleto, Todi and some of the lesser-known towns that dot the hilltops of Umbria, each with their own special features and histories.

The structured writing sessions, many in situ, or as artists say, en plein air, at places we visit will be inspired by handouts based on meditations on craft, specific creative prompts and the poems of master poets such as Ocean Vuong, Patrick Lane, Rosemary Griebel, David Whyte, Mary Oliver, Frank O’Hara, Jan Zwicky, Roger Reeves, Ishion Hutchinson, Derek Walcott, James Wright, Giovanni Pascoli, Jack Gilbert, Seamus Heaney and many others.

The retreat will combine aspects of poetic craft with poetry’s ability to open you to surprising moments of discovery with ourselves and the world around you. This approach will help you write unexpected poems that stretch you as a person and as a writer. And you will discover the truth of these words by Canadian poet Susan Musgrave: It seems to me my poems know more than I do and are wiser than I am.

 

En Plein air, Nancy writing at Carsulae, 2017

WHO SHOULD APPLY

Open to writers of all levels of experience.

PRE-RETREAT WORK

To help prepare you for the poetry retreat you will receive a six-page introduction in early August 2018 chock full of poems and thoughts on poetics. In addition, a few weeks later, you will receive a pre-retreat writing adventure/assignment to be completed and brought with you to the retreat. The poem that comes from this will be at the core of how we introduce ourselves at the beginning of our time together.

THE BENEFITS

There is something special that happens when a poet/retreatant lives in a community of other poets for ten days. Yes, life-long friendships can develop, but even more, a synergy can occur as poems are written together, shared and revised that leads to the retreatant going home with up to ten new poems quite unlike any others they have written before.

THE LOCATION

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

THE COST

Includes room, all meals at La Romita, return airport transportation from Rome, all poetry facilitation and all frequent out-trips. The price does not include airfare to Italy.

For Double Occupancy:  US $2,500.00.  Single Supplement: U.S.$200.00. Please contact Richard Osler or the U.S.-based registrar for discounts that might be available to you.

A deposit of $500.00 is required to register. The deposit is non-refundable unless the retreat minimum of eight participants is not reached by July 15th, 2018. Final balance, non-refundable, will be owing no later than August 1st, 2018.

THE FACILITATOR

Richard Osler

Richard Osler (66) is a poet and experienced poetry writing facilitator and workshop leader who leads up to one hundred writing retreats and workshops a year in the U.S. and Canada. His full-length collection, Hyaena Season, was published by Quattro Books, Toronto in the Fall of 2016. His website, which includes his poetry blog published about fifty times a year, can be seen at recoveringwords.com

TO REGISTER

Please Contact: Tracy Posey at washington@laromita.org  phone # 202-337-3120, and cc  Richard Osler at osler@shaw.ca . For further information please contact Richard by email or by phone at 250 597 7875.

Endorsements

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.

– Tonya L., Calgary, July 2017


I first met Richard when he began coming here to the Gulf Coast, near Surfside, Texas about 8 years ago to lead an annual weekend poetry retreat. He’s a gifted facilitator who somehow manages to pull wonderful poems even from those who don’t write often. When I heard that he had been invited to Italy in 2017 I immediately signed up. And if you’ve ever written poetry, you know that just by writing, you’ve entered sacred space. So, our whole Italian adventure was “sacred”. Richard has the gift of hospitality and community-making. We experienced the flavors of Italy, toyed with the language, laughed, and feasted together. I’ll forever be grateful for our Italian experience.

– Sheila C., Lake Jackson, Texas, August 2017

 

 

Richard facilitating in Houston, 2017

Richard Osler makes poetry an integral part of his life. He is exceptionally well-read and brings to a retreat a vast reservoir of poetic knowledge regarding modern and classical poets, their poetry and their craft. These hip-pocket skills from years of practice and reading will make your experience working with him inspirational and productive. From the very first afternoon at a Richard Osler retreat, you will be brought together as a community of poets who through his guidance and your own writing practice will find pathways to possibilities that are rich and valuable.”

– David Fraser, Canadian poet and founder and editor of on-line Ascent Aspirations Magazine.

 

Poetic Healing – Poems of Grief and Healing in the Aftermath of the Humboldt Broncos’ Tragedy

The Art of Losing – Poems of Grief and Healing, edited by American poet Kevin Young

Grief

Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.

Your name was the food I lived on;
now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.
To say your name was to be surrounded
by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,
I touch glass and barbed wire.
Your name was the thread connecting my life;
now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.

I was dancing when I
learned of your death; may
my feet be severed from my body.

Stephen Dobyns from Velocities, Penguin, 1994

This poem by celebrated American poet Stephen Dobyns so captures the first bleak reality of grief. This poem, as only a great poem can do, captures the isness of the thing being written about. In this case the raw, unrelenting isness of grief. There is no amelioration. No comfort. The shock and thunder-clap finality of death and in its aftermath, its terrible companion, grief. The poem’s last line scares the air out of my lungs in its severity: I was dancing when I/ learned of your death, may/ my feet be severed from my body.

I feature this poem and three others for all those struggling with grief. I think of my two children Reed and Alex and the immediate family of my first wife, who attended the funeral of their mother, wife and grandmother, my former mother-in-law, in Collingwood today. But I especially chose this poem and the others that follow in response to the deaths that rocked the Canadian hockey community late this week.

Obviously, the death of fifteen passengers in the Humboldt Broncos Hockey team bus last night is the headline grabber not only in Canada but around the world. But also the death of Jonathon Pitre, the so-called Butterfly Boy, at age 17 from complications from his rare, unrelentingly painful and debilitating skin disease, epidermolysis bullosa, struck hard in the professional hockey, sports and media community after his death on Wednesday. He was called the Butterfly Boy in an award winning documentary because his skin was as fragile as a butterfly’s wing, The slightest bump would rip it open.

Jonathon’s passion for hockey brought him in touch with players from all across the NHL and other professional leagues outside hockey but especially those with the Ottawa Senators. His unbelievable fighting spirit was an inspiration for so many. The grief at his passing was so obvious in the many news clips celebrating his life on Thursday and Friday.

And then the horrific highway accident last night that ended fifteen lives on a winter road in Saskatchewan. And has left others in hospital in Saskatoon.
Read More »

Where Do Poems Come From? Prado and Whipple Respond!

Brazilian poet Adelia Prado, Winner of the 2014 Griffin Trust Lifetime Achievement Award

Canadian poet George Whipple

Human Rights

I know God lives in me
as in no other house.
I am his countryside,
His alchemical vessel,
and, to his joy,
His two eyes.
But this handwriting is mine.

Adelia Prado (1935 – ) trans. by Ellen Dore Watson from Ex-Voto, Tupelo Press, 2013

My Art

My art
  is not the least
     bit better
for being smiled upon
not in any way decreased
  by being blamed.

I am not ashamed  
  of what I write,
     nor boastful either
since I am not the author,
  only the blest receiver
    of words already written.

George Whipple (1927-2014) from Swim Class and Other Poems, The St. Thomas Poetry Series, 2008

First day of National Poetry Month celebrated on both side of the Canadian/U.S. border. And to honour this celebration of poetry I have chosen two small poems by two important poets. The little-known Canadian poet George Whipple (at least little known outside Canadian poetry circles) and the celebrated Brazilian poet Adelia Prado who was honoured by the Griffin Trust’s Lifetime Recognition Award in 2014.

I chose their poems to acknowledge the mystery inside poetry. To acknowledge what so many poets express: that a poem, as American poet Jane Hirschfield says, is not in service to us but we are in service to the poem. To put it another way as Canadian poet Susan Musgrave says: It seems to me my poems know more than I do and are wiser than I am. It’s what’s magic about writing.

Read More »

The Unthinkable is Thinkable – Stephen Hawking and Wislawa Szymborska

 

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author,

Somewhere in the cosmos, perhaps, intelligent life may be watching these lights of ours aware of what they mean, Hawking said. Or do our lights wander a lifeless cosmos, unseen beacons announcing that here on our rock, the universe discovered its existence?

from CNBC, March 19th, 2018

 Plato, or Why

For unclear reasons
under unknown circumstances
Ideal Being ceased to be satisfied.

It could have gone on forever,
hewn from darkness, forged from light,
in its sleepy gardens above the world.

Why on earth did it start seeking thrills
in the bad company of matter?

What use could it have for imitators,
inept, ill-starred,
lacking all prospects for eternity?

Wisdom limping
with a thorn stuck in its heel?
Harmony derailed
by roiling waters?
Beauty
holding unappealing entrails
and Good—
why the shadow
when it didn’t have one before?

There must have been some reason,
however slight,
but even the Naked Truth, busy ransacking
the earth’s wardrobe,
won’t betray it.

Not to mention, Plato, those appalling poets,
litter scattered by the breeze from under statues,
scraps from that Great Silence up on high…

Wislawa Szymborska, trans. Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczac, from Map – Collected and last Poems, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2015

The day Stephen Hawking died earlier this month aged seventy-six we lost one of the great scientific minds of our time. And not just a mind but a spirit so fierce for life he lived more than forty years past the due date he was given when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in his early twenties.

When I heard about his death I didn’t immediately think about black holes and how his theorems helped define their possibility and over the years further ideas of their physical characteristics. No, I thought of a poet whose vision somehow reminded me of Hawking. I thought of the Polish Nobel Prize Laureate, Wislawa Szymborska.
Read More »

Writing on Fire – Another Poem by Vittori Colonna

A drawing by Michelangelo around 1540 of his close friend Vittoria Colonna. Photo credit: Wikipedia


# 103

I’m afraid the knot in which for years
my soul has been bound up now rules: I write
from habit, not because I am on fire.
I’m afraid the knot is tightly tied,
and by myself: I’m proud
and therefore dull. I think
my days are useful
when in fact I waste them.
Come, then, flame of love:
sear me from within
again. Make me make my song
from silence and hoarse cries.
God listens only for my heart.
He cares nothing for my style.

Vittoria Colonna from Vittoria Colonna – Selections from the Rime Spirituali, trans: Jan Zwicky, The Porcupine Press, 2014

Oh, what I hope for! And what happens! Hoped I would post lots of poetry blogs during my 16 day residency in Tuscany! So happy that didn’t happen. Instead, discovered lots of my own poems. I say discovered because none of them had an expected outcome. All I did was face the terrifying blank page, literally, and the poems did the rest!

Now, here I am on a flight to Munich from Pisa, Italy, and I so pleased to write another blog on a poem of Vittoria Colonna (1492-1547). What a surprise Colonna has been for me especially here in Italy. Here, where she had a deep connection with Michelangelo. Was she the love of his life? Many believe so.

What a treasure, the slight book of ten bilingual poems of Colonna translated by the quietly-powerful Canadian poet, musician and philosopher Jan Zwicky. Zwicky calls her translations, versions that she hopes captures the essence of the poems if not their 16th Century style.

How spare yet complex the ten poems Zwicky translated into her versions. In a previous post I celebrated poem #56 from the Rime Spirituali. Its startling, challenging, declarations: Yet/ death is what makes space for love and in the fire of being, suffering/ is turned to light.

Poem # 103 is no less challenging. But I feel so known by the poem especially its writer’s despair over a certain kind of what I call dead-on-arrival writing! Her take on it: Read More »

The Bigness of Small Poems – #39 in a Series – Five Disorienting Wisdom Poems!

Sculptural Relief of Italian poet Trilussa, the pseudonym for Carlo Alberto Salustri (1871-1950)

Happiness

I saw a bee settle on a rose petal.
It sipped, and off it flew.
All in all, happiness, too,
is something little.

Trilussa (aka Carlo Alberto Salustri 1871-1950), ed. Geoffrey Brock, trans. John Dowd from FSG Book of 20th Century Italian Poetry, FSG, 2012

Discovered to my shock I never posted this a few days ago when I wrote it and snow was everywhere. Today thew snow is gone!!!

How disorienting to be reading about bees and flowers while everywhere I look, here on a Tuscan hilltop near Peccoli, is blanketed in snow! How pleased I am, snow or no snow, to discover Trilussa, the anagramatic pseudonym for a well-known poet from Rome, Carlo Alberto Salustri. To discover his epigrammatic small poems which so well suit my on-going series on the bigness of small poems! His poems built on images, then the thinking, the intellectual leap to the wisdom-reveal. That bigness.

I was so happy to be surprised by Trilussa’s poem Happiness. That happiness can be small not big. How much I wonder, am I influenced by a bias of the importance of bigness in my life. Am I more programmed to see happiness in big moments, big events like falling in love or winning some poetry prize! But not in the joy from a bee sipping from a flower. Yet how big is that! A huge part of the cycle of life, bees making life fruitful. Without them, an environmental crisis.

Read More »