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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

Death by Addiction – A Searing Poetic Memoir by Sheryl St. Germain

American poet Sheryl St. Germain. Photo credit: ©teake zuidema, 2107.

Loving An Addict

Yesterday the skies were troubled
gusts almost knocked us down

today the sun, the kiss of a breeze

it was always fights or lies

Maybe at the end 

         I preferred the lies

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

The absolute helplessness of of someone close to a person in the thrall of addiction. The huge bravery of Sheryl St. Germain to write about it. And the crushing metaphor inside the title of her collection of poems: The small door of your death. Small door = needle prick. Equals overdose. Equals death. Equals the death of St. Germain’s son Gray (1984-2014) almost five years ago. Equals the title of her passage through her own addiction and Gray’s and his death.

This is an astonishingly out-there book. Harrowing and life giving. Yes the contradictions poetry can hold. This book epitomizes what poetry should and could be. The huge no of addiction and a son’s addiction and death. The huge yes of recovery and moving from unspeakable grief to the release of speaking and writing about it. I can’t say enough good things about this book. And about St. Germain’s never-give-up heart.

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Two Roads to Take – One Truly Up, One Tragically Down – Poetry for Recovery

Tools of Drug Addiction

The Addiction Room

The room is dark. There are four walls
a top and a bottom. I am trapped. I can’t get out
and sometimes in that darkness I don’t want out,
sometimes I love feeling trapped, like the room
has somehow stayed safe. I cannot get out
and more importantly, no one can get in.

Somewhere along the way I’ve become the darkness,
become one with the room, surrounded by the chaos,
white noise and demonic screams. My fear fades
with the kiss of that pin-point touch, warmth flows
throughout my body and in that moment I am
untouchable but no one told me what tomorrow would bring.
The warmth that pretended to be safety was gone,
I was trapped and no longer wanted to be.
The six sides of this room mirrored the cold prison
I was living and dying in on the inside. Death was
lingering ever so closely and not that that I had
become completely unaware of it, I had stopped
fearing it. I almost wanted it and invited it. I am trapped
and all hope is gone or lost in this four-sided, top
and bottomed room.

S. with permission

I have the privilege of being midwife to the birth of fragile, restive, resilient, stand-out poems written by men and women in recovery. Given safe space and the support of other supportive published poetic voices these poems appear on the page in under fifteen minutes. Some go back to the darkest days of addiction, some celebrate the new light coming through in recovery. Others span any topic you might imagine. But what they all share is what Canadian poet Susan Musgrave says: a poem knows more than I do and is wiser than I am. And that is where the healing can happen. The writer’s own voice as counselor and confidant.

Today I write this blog with a sadness infused in between my words. S (not the initial of her first name) who wrote these searing words above during the past few years died in mid-2018 of an overdose. A courageous woman, another casualty of our on-going opioid crisis. S was happy to give me permission to use her poems in my work. And her mother has welcomed my use of them. I thank them both. But I so wish S was alive to read these poems and write some more.

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Poem as a White Raven Released from Darkness – The Poetry of Luljeta Lleshanaku

Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku (1968 – ), short-listed for the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize. Photo Credit: Guernica Magazine

Waiting for a Poem

I’m waiting for a poem,
something rough, not elaborate or out of control,
something undisturbed by curses, like a white raven
released from darkness.

Words that come naturally, without aiming at anything,
a bullet without a target,
warning shots to the sky
in newly occupied lands.

A poem that will well up in my chest

and until it arrives
I will listen to my children fighting in the next room,
and cast my gaze down at the table
at an empty glass of milk
with a trace of white along its rim
my throat wrapped in silver
a napkin in a napkin ring
waiting for late guests to arrive…..

Luljeta Lleshanaku from Between Water & Song – New Poets for the 21st Century, edited by Norman Minnick, White Pine Press, 2010

I was delighted to see that the Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku, along with her translator Ani Gjika has been short-listed for the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize for her 2018 collection Negative Space. Lleshanaku is an original voice. Plain-spoken, straight-forward but also a shape-shifter, a magician who adds a dash of mystery and magic inside her words. And sometimes a quiet eeriness.

I discovered the poem above in an anthology nine years ago and quickly included it in my collections of poems on poetry.Maybe it’s just me but the way she has written her last lines I feel a strange ambiguity. The lack of commas in the version of the poem I have from her book a child of nature adds an eeriness for me.

Is she describing a napkin in a napkin ring on a table like the glass of milk? Or is she, her throat wrapped in silver, the napkin in a napkin ring? Yikes. So much going on.

She says she’s waiting for a poem to arrive and that it will come in the details of the dailiness of her life (children fighting and a glass of milk) and it seems that it did arrive. Maybe as a late guest to her word table, word feast. It arrived with the jolt of that strange and compelling image of a throat wrapped in silver, a napkin in a napkin ring. That constraint. This sense she is wearing a choke collar. And knowing the repressive regime in Albania she grew up in is their a touch of the political in this poem? Maybe.

No matter the undercurrents running through this poem I love being able to sit inside its subtle mysteriousness and feel its bigness. Feel how it captures the elusiveness of a great poem. The reader running hard to catch up to the poem but never quite getting there.

I found this profound meditation by Lleshanaku on suffering and the healing power of poetry  in a 2017 interview in Gurenica:

Years ago, I thought that if a person had experienced injustice in her life, it meant she would be fair, because she would know what it meant to be a victim of injustice. But now I am not so sure. Experiencing injustice can also make a person dangerous. Carrying a sense of revenge and anger can make a person victimize their own self. I could easily be one of them. But writing was the thing that protected the child inside me, helped me deal with my fears, displeasure, pain, wounds. Writing was the instrument by which I discovered the beauty and meaning in the midst of misery. So poetry protected me from myself.

This idea that writing poetry, a poem,  can protect us from ourselves. Marvelous! Ah, that kind of poem would be, as she says a poem is, a white raven released from darkness.

The Incense of J’Adore. A Poem for Mother’s Day by the Sierra Lorean-American Poet Yalie Kamara

The Sierra-Leonean-American poet Yalie Kamara. Photo credit: From her website.



“I’ll be loving you until the day that you are me and I am you.”
—  Stevie Wonder

	I know that homesickness is born from distance
	and that distance cures home sickness.

	And that rage is a big calcified hut of a heart
	with one door, two rooms and a half-opened

        window. And that you both sleep on
        its floor when words are two mouths
        full of broken teeth. And that this is a lineage thing.
        From mother to daughter. I know you will awaken

        for two reasons: the whistle pitch of a ready kettle
        on the stove or the fragrance of braided flowers swaying

        at the lip of the open window. Today in Indianna,
        I felt heat rising from my pulse points.

        I spritzed both of your birthday present perfumes
        onto my body as if they would never run out.

        Lovely. I rurubbed them into my wrists unrtil my bracelets
        clanged like laughter. J’adore.

        Until I was joyful and almost bare boned. 
        Until I saw the human smoke of my good work.

        Until my arms were incense. Until your gifts lifted
        from my skin and glided on winter air, returning to you.

        Until you dreamt, until you couldn’t. And you both
        arrive in the kitchen and drink hot water. 

        And talk about the familiar scent of kin set aflame.

Yalie Kamara from A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF MY NAME in the New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tano), edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Albani, Akashic books, 2008

Every year for the past five years Akashic Books of Brooklyn, New York, has published a chapbook set of African poets edited by the black American poets Kwame Dawes and Chris Albani. As artistic artifacts these boxed-sets are a joy to touch and look at. What enjoyment to dump the contents (up to as many as eleven chapbooks in a box) and feast on the colourful and stand-out covers. What is inside is equally arresting. And in June the sixth box set in the series will be released.

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The Only Whole Thinking – Poetry! Another Farewell to a Poet – Les Murray 1938-2019

Australian poet Les Murray (1938-2019). Photo Credit: The Guardian

Poetry And Religion

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing’s said till it’s dreamed out in words
and nothing’s true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can’t pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can’t poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There’ll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds – crested pigeon, rosella parrot –
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.

Leslie (Les) Allan Murray (1938 – 2019) from The Daylight Moon, Carcanet Press Ltd, 1988

One way to keep writing blogs is to write farewells to favorite poets who have died recently! Not a way I like to choose. But what a list recently: Crawford, Hoagland, Lane, Merwin and Oliver to name a few! And now the Australian poet Les Murray. A poet who dedicated his books literally To the Glory of God, Murray could move from the transcendent to the nitty gritty of this earthy life on a dime. He could talk big ideas and then write about cows.

Murray, who died on April 29th, 2019, was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal in poetry in 1999, one among many honours he received  in his lifetime. To see the obituary in the Guardian please click here. And to see this great tribute to Murray by the poet David Mason in First Things please  click here.

Now, I want to talk about this poem above – Poetry and Religion! Such an example of big ideas and then grounding (almost!) the poem at the end with a striking physical image. And in between the beginning and the end so much abstract ideas punctuated now and then with startling images or asides: the image of the soldiers marriage bed and then a quote by Huckleberry Finn (What the heck!). But most important for me is the celebration of poetry as rising from an inexhaustible source! And that it the only whole thinking! Huge and gutsy declaration but worth considering!

I first encountered this poem in an on line course on spirituality and poetry led by the author Peggy Rosenthal whom I met through the Glen Workshop (sponsored by Image Journal) in Santa Fe. I am grateful to Peggy for this poem and many other other poems and ideas she has shared with me over the years. You can find her great blog on the Image website.
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Celebrating Death in Life – A Poem by Sam Hamill

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

The Orchid Flower

Just as I wonder
whether it’s going to die,
the orchid blossoms

and I can’t explain why it
moves my heart, why such pleasure

comes from one small bud
on a long spindly stem, one
blood red gold flower

opening at mid-summer,
tiny, perfect in its hour.

Even to a white-
haired craggy poet, it’s
purely erotic,

pistil and stamen, pollen,
dew of the world, a spoonful

of earth, and water.
Erotic because there’s death
at the heart of birth,

drama in those old sunrise
prisms in wet cedar boughs,

deepest mystery
in washing evening dishes
or teasing my wife,

who grows, yes, more beautiful
because one of us will die.

Sam Hamill from Habitation, Lost Horse Press, 2014

It’s been a few weeks more than a year since Sam Hamill died. So many beloved poets gone during this time. For the link to my post written last year celebrating his extraordinary life in poetry please click here. I came across this poem a few weeks ago and it seemed so appropriate. This terrible and wonderful dance between life and death. These conjoined twins. And in my life this dance so present. The birth of my grand daughter Eowyn during this time of mourning the death of Patrick Lane my beloved poetry mentor and teacher.

I remember Hamill reciting this poem a few years ago at the Cascadia Poetry Festival after his wife had died. The poignancy of that. And the poignant reminder to me knowing that death, too, will take me in its arms, to see all the beauty, all the life around me. Even all the death in life, some of it not pretty including wars, genocides and the dying of so much of the earth’s flora and fauna. To praise, as Adam Zagajewski says, this mutilated world!




Tender Regret – A Poem by Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) – #6 in a Series – A Way To Say Farewell and Thank You

American Poet, Teacher and Essayist, Tony Hoagland (1953-2018)


I just wanted to write and say,
in case you are hit tomorrow by a truck

or are swept from the beach by a freak wave;
or in case your ex-wife decides

to take her own life
right after taking yours;

or in case you go to the doctor,
who finds a lump in your neck,

and you are carried swiftly out onto the terrible waters
of clinics and infusions

and I never see you again —
I just wanted to say,

Bon voyage, my friend, my dear and former friend.
I just wanted to confess

how much you meant to me back then,
before I learned to hold my love in check

thanks to my tutorial with you.
Thank God I got those holes sealed shut

through which every passerby
could see my neediness,

and thank God I banished you
into that frozen part of me

where nothing moves or breathes.
And yet it’s funny, isn’t it?

Our weakness can never be eliminated;
neediness is part of what we are.

Living is a kind of wound;
a wound is a kind of opening;

and even love that disappeared
mysteriously comes back

like water bubbling up from underground,
cleansed from its long journey in the dark.

ready for someone to arrive, and kneel
and drink it in again.

Tony Hoagland from Recent Changes in the Vernacular, Tres Chicas Books, 2017

Losing long-term and valued friendships was something that happened to others, not to me! Or so I thought! Then one friendship in particular hit the rocks, foundered and has yet to be salvaged. I am not sure I am willing to bring that friendship back out of the depths but Tony Hoaglabnd’s poem encourages me to look on the relationship, me included, with more tenderness and compassion. To see my role in the relationships’ sinking and to feel the love that sustained it for years. To be grateful.

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Tonight, the Memorial for Patrick Lane (1939-2019) – This Morning, Remembering an E-Mail Correspondence from Fourteen Years Ago

Patrick Lane Memorial Announcement for April 20th, 2019

So this is it, Lane. Not a living wake, but a celebration of all your living. And this is only the beginning. Wait until you’re dead.

Susan Musgrave, editor, from You Loved Being a Stranger – 55 Poets Celebrate Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 1994

There are times when I no longer know if what I have told is truth, or is a lie, a fiction. There are times I think I have gone mad. At such times I turn to praise and its companion, Prayer and in surrender find what peace I can.

Patrick Lane from There is a Season, McClelland & Stewart, 2004

What a shock to read the lines written by celebrated Canadian author Susan Musgrave in the introduction to a book of poems celebrating Patrick Lane’s fifty-fifth birthday twenty five years ago. Sad to say, the wait is over. The grief and celebrations have now begun.

And what comfort to read the lines from Lane’s astounding memoir written in his first years of sobriety.What a reminder for me as I grieve my dear friend’s death on March 7th to remember that praise and prayer are my way to healing from this huge loss in my life.

And tonight, April 20th , we will experience what Musgrave predicted twenty-five years ago, another proof of this at Patrick’s memorial celebration at the University of Victoria’s David Lamb Theatre at 7 PM. Already the outpouring of grief over Patrick’s death on March 7th and the concomitant celebration of his contribution to the Canadian literary landscape has been huge. I am sure at the memorial gathering that sense of grief but also celebration of his life will be equally powerful.

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The Bigness of Small Poems – # 48 in a Series – Jack Gilbert and Patrick Lane

American poet Jack Gilbert. Photo Credit: The Poetry Foundation


Not wanting to lose it all for poetry.
Wanting to live the living. All this year
looking on the graveyard below my apartment.
Holding myself tenderly in this marred body.
Wondering if the quiet I feel is that happiness
wise people speak of, or the modulation
that is the acquiescence to death beginning.

Jack Gilbert (1925-2012) from Monolithos – Poems, 1962 and 1982, Alfred A. Knopf, 1982

Yellow Warbler.Photo Credit: All About Birds


I hold in my hands her yellow wings.
They are what bamboo leaves offer to the rake.
The tiny knuckles of her claws grip nothing.
They are the hands of my mother on her deathbed.
I place her beside the stupa of the fallen daisy,
cover her with a robe of white petals.
There are restraints and they are without fault.
The spirit leaves us slowly, forever.
It is the waiting I try to understand, the quietness of that.

Patrick Lane (1939-2019), Washita: New Poems, Harbour Publishing, 2016

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Bad or Failed Poems vs Bad Person – In the Age of Social Media Another Look at Tony Hoagland (1954-2018)

American poet Tony Hoagland (1954-2018) Photo Credit: Lithub

The Hero’s Journey

I remember the first time I looked at the spotless marble floor of a giant hotel lobby
and understood that someone had waxed and polished it all night

and that someone else had pushed his cart of cleaning supplies
down the long air-conditioned corridors of the Steinberg Building across the street

and emptied all two hundred and forty-three wastebaskets
    stopping now and then to scrape up chewing gum with a
         special flat-bladed tool
                         he keeps in his back pocket.

It tempered my enthusiasm for “The Collected Letters of Henry James, Volume II”
and for Joseph Campbell’s “Journey of the Hero”

Chapter 5, “The Test,” in which he describes how the
“tall and fair-complexioned” knight, Gawain,
                            makes camp one night beside a cemetery

but cannot sleep for all the voices rising up from down below—

Let him stay out there a hundred nights, 
                            with his thin blanket and his cold armor and his
                                   useless sword,

until he understands exactly how
the glory of the protagonist is always paid for
                         by a lot of minor characters.

In the morning he will wake and gallop back to safety;
he will hear his name embroidered into
                            toasts and songs.

But now he knows
        there is a country he had not accounted for,
                     and that country has its citizens:

the one-armed baker sweeping out his shop at 4 a.m.;

the prisoner sweating in his narrow cell;

and that woman in the nursing home,
                       who has worked there for a thousand years,

taking away the bedpans,
lifting up and wiping off the soft heroic buttocks of Odysseus.

Tony Hoagland from Application for Release from the Dream, Graywolf Press, 2015 (Please note this version differs from the original first published in the New Yorker in 2012)

Such a vintage Tony Hoagland poem! Funny, sad, heart-breaking. And it questions all our (my) assumptions of who is a male hero and who isn’t! Here, Hoagland, as he is so often, is poet as shit disturber and trouble maker.  Poet as seismic disturbance! Poet as changer of the lens I use to look at my accustomed world.

But there’s a risk! A shit disturber can get shit blown back all over him. A poet who sends shock waves against cultural complacency and blindness can get shaken up badly in the aftershocks. Hoagland was a shit disturber and did get blow back. Are you prepared to face that? Am I? Especially in this time of mob on-line shaming? Are you, am I, prepared in good faith to write a so-called bad poem that suddenly transforms you on-line into a “bad or shitty” person?

American poet Marie Howe said this about Hoagland a few weeks after his death last October:

Tony Hoagland tore into subjects that are not comfortable. Many think he blundered. He was not an apologist, not ever. Many believe the speaker in his later poems was Tony Hoagland himself: of course it is; of course it isn’t. He wanted to see into the shadow and to expose it. He did that, and in doing that he did what few of us are willing to risk or endure.

Marie Howe from Marie Howe Remembers Tony Hoagland, LitHub, November 9th, 2018
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