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I recently posted my video about Poetry as Prayer, from the Logos Project 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”.

Writing the Ache for God – Announcing a Poetry-As-Prayer Retreat in Calgary

Writing the Ache for God – A Poetry-as-Prayer retreat in Calgary with Richard Osler

‘I feel, like Beckett, that all poetry is prayer.’

Carol Ann Duffy from an interview with Jeanette Winterson,  www.jeanettewinterson.com.

I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation.

Derek Walcott from The Paris ReviewThe Art of Poetry No. 37, 1986

I write not for the purpose of writing. It’s worship, I think. One’s function as a human being is to praise things, which means that you have to think into them enough that you see what the good is. And that thinking requires expression for some reason.”

Anne Carson from an Interview in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), September 14, 2000

Really, all poetry is a prayer, you have to go to the center place inside you, to write poetry.

Joy Harjo from an interview: Weaving Stories for Food in The Spiral of Memory, edited by Laura Coltelli, University of Michigan Press, 1996

I guess if one considers, as I do, the true purpose of poetry to be a contemplation of the divine—however you find it, or don’t find it—then it isn’t so strange that my work is so suffused with the stuff of religion. We take the vocabulary we are given—in my case, Christian—and use it to our own ends. We try to develop and expand what we are given.    

Charles Wright from The Paris Review, The Art of Poetry #41, Winter 1989

Above are some of the many quotes I have collected by contemporary poets supporting the idea of poetry as prayer! And for almost ten years now I have led poetry-as-prayer retreats In Victoria, Calgary, Houston and Surfside on the Texas Gulf Coast. In these retreats I have witnessed such an outpouring of poems/prayers.

I am pleased to announce an upcoming poetry-as-prayer retreat in Calgary:  the third annual Poetry as Prayer Retreat sponsored by  Hillhurst United Church, Calgary. It’s happening soon:

October 20 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm & October 21 9:00 am to 3:30 pm
Registration fee: $85
Hillhurst United Church
1227 Kensington Close NW | Calgary
Register Now
Visit here::https://huc-richardoslerpoetry2017.eventbrite.com.  Or send your name, address,
telephone number and email address with registration fee (payable to Hillhurst United
Church) to 1227 Kensington Close NW, Calgary, AB T2N 3J6.

Here is what I say in the retreat brochure:

“You may not have written much for many years, you might have written but not poems or you might be an accomplished writer or poet. No matter what your writing experience come and join a group of fellow pilgrims on Oct. 20 and 21, 2017, and ask for poems as prayers to come out of the “great” heart of you. The heart under and over your heart. God’s heart. Through words, have that heart speak its words to you – of joy, of sorrow, of revelation. The surprise a poem is. The surprise prayers can be when we invite them; don’t dictate them. During this weekend retreat we will read poems – prayers – that celebrate, as Canadian poet Dennis Lee says, the miracle ache of the world. The ache that breaks and remakes us. And in that ache another ache: the one American poet Charles Wright calls the last ache in the ache for God.
Please consider this invitation and, if you accept it, bring all of who you think you are, your successes and losses, your ache for God, any sense
God is absent (that huge loss), and let your writing, as American essayist Melissa Pritchard says, address this loss, return you to the Beloved
[God] and to a sense of reunion with ourselves.”

 

 

 

 

 

Amber Tamblyn – Poet, Actor, Director – And Activist – So Done With Not Being Believed

Amber Tamblyn (1983 -), Poet, Director, Actor and author of a blistering Op Ed Article in Yesterday’s New York Times (Spet, 16th).

I have been a fan of Amber Tamblyn since I read her 2012 poetry collection Bang Ditto. Her razor sharp eye combined with a wizardry for image and metaphor. But I took her even more seriously after reading Dark Sparkler her brutal poetic expose of the imagined inner lives of female actors who died far too early often by suicide, overdose or other mysterious circumstances.  A shocking look behind the Hollywood glamour machine especially when it comes to women. Tamblyn, now thirty four  with a young child has been acting for film or television since she was 9 and had her first poem published when she 12 in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I trust this woman, her voice. Her openness and vulnerability. But don’t mistake that for weakness. As many are beginning to figure out openess and vulnerability are a rock-solid sign of strength and courage. Just check out Brenee Brown’s work to see the proof of this.

And now many are going to see just how strong Tamblyn is, she is fearless, as she is about to become really well known not because of her poetry or her roles in the entertainment business but because of her on-line battle with actor James Woods which culminated in her op ed article published yesterday in the New York Times. Not just an article, a war-cry against sexual harassment of women and worse, the brutal gauntlet a woman goes through if she is brave (foolish?) enough to expose it.

Tamblyn found herself in the middle of a twitter spat between Woods and actor Armie Hammer over his recent movie which portrays a relationship between an adult and underage boy. Woods was bad mouthing this scenaro when Hammer accused him of hypocrisy because of his relationship with a 19 year old woman when he was 60 (the woman was 20 and Woods was 66 it turns out). That’s when Tamblyn jumped in with her allegation of Woods trying to pick up her and a friend when she was 16 and unknown. Woods then twittered that her story was a lie. To read Tamblyn’s response please click here . Since the article was published twitter has other alleged accounts of Woods’ encounters with other under aged women.

To read my blog post on Tamblyn’s riveting 2015 poetry collection Dark Sparkler please click here

To read Tamblyn’s 2014 commencement address please click here

To read my 2012 blog post on Tamblyn’s poetry collection Bang Ditto please click here.

Irreverent, Ribald, Irrepressible and Grief Struck and Stuck – The Wild Heart of Sherman Alexie

Celebrated native American poet, novelist and non-fiction writer, Sherman Alexie. Photo credit: Ian C. Bates, New York Times

Hunger Games
I crave grief for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sweet grief, salted grief, I want so much
To swallow you whole. I'm a damn sinner

Who can only be saved by your fingers.
Hurry, place the sacred grief on my tongue
And consecrate breakfast, lunch and dinner—
Or maybe not. I wish I were slimmer
And more disciplined—a secular monk.
But I lust, lust and lust. I'm a sinner

Who seeds, threshes, harvests, feasts, and shivers.
Forgive me. Condemn me. I need flesh and blood
And grief at each breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I want to want too much. I know what hinders
and troubles you. But join me in this flood.
Look at me. I’m your beloved sinner.

Sit with me, please. let’s talk. Please. linger.
Let’s touch and eat everything that we touch.
Let us stay through breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Let’s become each other’s favorite sinner.

Sherman Alexie from You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, Little,Brown and Company, 2017

On stage Sherman Alexie owns his space. His is a commanding presence.He’s a natural. He wields his words like a Ninja his weapons. His stories, often off-colour, his scatological jokes, may provoke lots of laughs but often they strike home again later, but in darker and not so funny ways. Sometimes the jibes and edgy quips are self-directed, but at at other times strike hard at both the indigenous (he says Indian) and white American communities. In this he may seem fearless, almost arrogant, but underneath lurks a vulnerability that makes him  surprisingly more sympathetic than I, for one, initially suspected.

Alexie’s vulnerability, which is so evident in his non-fiction , came full focus in a very public way  through an open letter he wrote earlier this summer during his promotional tour for his latest book, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, a striking memoir of his life focused through the lens of his profoundly damaged relationship with his mother who died in 2015. Her death provoked his memoir. It’s a stomach tightening and heart-busting-open read. Grief soaks through the words. Grief not just over his direct family losses but the underlying grief for the losses in his shattered native community, one rife with  psychological and physical violence he experienced and witnessed including rape.
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Not an Elegy – A Tribute to John Ashbery (1927-2017)

American Poet John Ashbery. Photo Credit: The New Yorker

What Is Poetry

The medieval town, with frieze
Of boy scouts from Nagoya? The snow

That came when we wanted it to snow?
Beautiful images? Trying to avoid

Ideas, as in this poem? But we
Go back to them as to a wife, leaving

The mistress we desire? Now they
Will have to believe it

As we believed it. In school
All the thought got combed out:

What was left was like a field.
Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.

Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us–what?–some flowers soon?

John Ashbery from Selected Poems, Viking, 1985

In a clip of American poet John Ashbery reading a poem about Newfoundland! at the Griffin Poetry Awards in Toronto in  2008 he is described as ungraspable, inexplicable and as mysterious as the Delphic oracle! None of this stopped him from winning the  international Griffin poetry prize that year which added to his collection of prestigious awards including the three major U.S. poetry prizes in 1975. I am sure the description of his work was meant as a complement but not a usual one!

Ashbery, one of the major poetic figures of our time died yesterday aged 90. I was never a close reader of Ashbery so i have included two obituary reviews of his life and work that establish clearly his importance. For  the New York times obituary click here. And for the Guardian’s click here. To hear his Griffin reading please  click here.

I picked his poem above because it does so well illustrate his surprising leaps and startling imagery. And also because it does point toward the mysterious nature of poetry. Where do the words come from? Ashbery gave an interview on this poem which is a worthwhile read.

 

The Bigness of Small Poems – #33 in a Series – The Ah! Ha! Genius of Jack Gilbert

American Poet Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)


The Cucumbers of Praxilla of Sicyon

What is the best we leave behind?
Certainly love and form and ourselves.
Surely those. But it is the mornings
that are hard to relinquish, and music
and cucumbers. Rain on trees, empty
piazzas in small towns flooded with sun.
What we are busy with doesn’t make us
groan ah! ah! as we will for the nights
and the cucumbers.

Jack Gilbert from Monolithos, Alfred A. Knopf, 1982

His name was unknown to me when poet Heather McHugh included his name in a reading list of poets she gave me fifteen years ago. That list changed how I saw my own poetry; was what began my commitment to poetry.

American poet Jack Gilbert, oh my. His work both clear and mysterious. layered. Confident. Full of wisdom statements that only the best of poets can pull off. Statements like this one in celebration of the 5th Century Greek Lyric woman poet Praxilla and her three line fragment that celebrated among other things, cuccumbers:

What we are busy with doesn’t make us
groan ah! ah! as we will for the nights
and the cucumbers.

And most important for me fifteen years ago and today, his poems were an apologetically stubborn celebration of living ordinary life in all its gritty fullness, its fearful messiness, as he says in his poem I Imagine the Gods:

Let me at least fail at my life.
Think, they say patiently, we could
make you famous again. Let me fall
in love one last time, I beg them.
Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present. Help me find
the heft of these days. That the nights
will be full enough and my heart feral.

Jack Gilbert from The Great Fires, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994

To keep our hearts feral. Oh my. Not tame and comfortable. To want to live life that close to the bone. To be frightened into the present. Oh yes, Gilbert was a revelation. For my other blog posts on Gilbert click here. It was his poetic genius that terrified and inspired me to make poetry my passion, Yet ironically I read recently an interviewer of Gilbert who said: And Jack Gilbert surprised me with how far down the list he placed poetry on his list of life priorities. Perhaps it was all that living he practiced outside his poems that enriched them when he got around to them!

And what a challenge in this line from I Imagine the Gods: Let me at least fail at my life. That is a bold facing into the wind! A great reminder to me at age sixty-six to not stop risking. And to accept the so-called failures in my life (especially my two successfully unsuccessful marriages) and bless them for what they taught me. The stepping stones they were to get me to where I am today. Doing what I love and blessed with many deep relationships.

Jack Gilbert. Photo Credit: The Poetry Foundation

The Bigness of Small Poems – #32 in a Series – The Indefatigable Lorna Crozier – Three Poems

Canadian Poet, Lorna Crozier

WHAT THE SOUL WANTS

 A horse made out of rain (it doesn’t need a blacksmith).
A fret of dragonflies, the thin gloss of their wings.
A yellow bicycle. Outside the door
a tall coffee can full of sand for the soul’s gritty habits.
A place where trees are happy. How can you tell?
It’s the smell they give back to the world.

Lorna Crozier (1948 – ) from What THE SOUL DOESN’T WANT, Freehand Books, 2017

This juicy morsel of a poem is from Lorna Crozier’s 17th book of poems, published earlier this year by Calgary-based Freehand Books! And her eighteenth poetry collection comes out from a major Canadian publishing house later this fall.

I am captivated by the freshness in Crozier’s language and images. A horse made out of rainA fret of dragonflies… a tall coffee can for the soul’s gritty habits. This freshness is even more notable when you consider Crozier’s prolific publishing record. Somehow her imagination keeps conjuring up language magic!

Not only her freshness, I so appreciate Crozier’s courage to tackle series of poems based on the themes that could easily attract clichés. Angels, Men, God, the Soul! To tackle the soul, one of the greatest abstractions prone to cliché, is a measure of her fearlessness and poetic skill! And you can’t get much bigger in a small poem than one with a lot of soul going on!

This summer I was going through my collection of Crozier volumes and came across her collection from twenty one years ago: A Saving Grace, written in the voice of Mrs. Bentley from Sinclair Ross’s iconic book, As For Me and My House. set in Saskatchewan, Crozier’s birthplace and spiritual touchstone. Again, Crozier’s collection is full of her surprising images and turns of phrase. Feel the bigness of this small gem:

ALL THE ROOM YOU NEED

Sky: an eye that never blinks.
So much pain in me sometimes
I bend double under its gaze,
each vertebra a stone.
That is what comes of being
too much alone. There’s no end
to it here, the sky gives you
all the room you need
to grow small.

Lorna Crozier from A Saving Grace, McClelland & Stewart, 1996

A person swallowed into insignificance by a prairie sky. The isness of that expressed like this: the sky gives you/ all the room you need/ to grow small. Ouch and ouch. What a turn of phrase.  The terror in it.

And finally, this huge, small poem, also from A Saving Grace:

ONE WILLOW GROWS

By the dried-up creek one willow grows.
It knows how to douse from emptiness
its red wands, its drowsy tongues.
Bless me for I have sinned.
I have cared too much for the rain.
I have made for her a golden idol
from sheaves of wheat. Bless me, wind.
Bless me, dust. Bless me, willow.
How far in the darkness your roots must travel
to send such a speaking to the light.

Gorgeous language: dowse…red wands… drowsy tongues. The musical mirroring in douse and drowsy! Her deft echoes: I have sinned…I have cared too much…I have made… But for me it’s the last two lines that gob smack me, that keep speaking to me:

How far in the darkness your roots must travel
to send such a speaking to the light.

These are not every day lines! They speak from a soul that drinks deep from its coffee can full of sand! And Crozier is no every-day poet! She is luminous, full of a particular grace, her words how they speak to the light.

A Flood of Words – The Seriousness of Things Beyond our Understanding – A Poem by Al Purdy

An image from Houston during Hurricane Harvey, August 2017

from ON THE FLOOD PLAIN 

People have told us we built too near the lake
“The flood plain is dangerous they said
and no doubt they know more about it than we do
— but here wind pressed down on new-formed ice
trembles it like some just-invented musical instrument
and that shrieking obligato to winter
sounds like the tension in a stretched worm
when the robin has it hauled halfway out of the lawn
I stand outside 
between house and outhouse
feeling my body stiffen in fossilized rigor mortis
and listening
thinking
this is the reason we built on the flood plain
damn right
the seriousness of things beyond your understanding

Al Purdy (1918 – 2000) from The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, Harbor Publishing, 2000

Oh my. How real the devastation is to me in Texas and especially Houston from Hurricane Harvey, not just from the images, like the one above, but because of all my friends I have made in the past nine years in Lake Jackson and Houston from my poetry retreats who have been effected by this catastrophic event. Especially my dear friends who first invited me to Texas, Liz Welch Parker and Andy Parker. They were evacuated from their home in Houston last night after being stranded by floodwaters for days. I am so glad they and my other friends are safe. And I acknowledge those not so fortunate, those whose lives have been lost, those who have lost their homes or face massive restorations in the coming months.

As I do at moments like this I looked for a poem that could capture something of the impact of this natural disaster, its meaning. And it was then I remember the surprising poem by celebrated Canadian poet Al Purdy. His poem ON THE FLOOD PLAIN. Yes, it is set in a colder setting, in Canada in winter, but the message rings true for flooded Houston as well.  And how startled I was once again when I read his defiant lines:

this is the reason we built on the flood plain
damn right
the seriousness of things beyond your understanding

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Maylor Again – A Poem for 45 to Read – If He Could Stop Watching Cable News

Micheline Maylor’s latest poetry collection, Little Wildheart

If you

gaze at the stars, they turn their fiery irises
towards our wet/dirty planet and watch the tidal
motion of person piercing person
with penis, and gladius, and bullet.

A supergiant’s own combustion
sparks light, honesty. 
We merely chalk compassion
on blackboards, speak it from pulpits
without much purchase for permanence.

If you speak, remember, speech is the symbolic act
of a reasonable citizen. The white star turns back to itself,
silent when faced with this glut of gibberish and babble.
Its heart is dense with so much bad news. 

If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back 
and the stars too,
but then they must blink,
turn away: indifferent. 
They must—
having no hands to help or heal.

Micheline Maylor from Little Wildheart (Robert Kroetsch Series),The University of Alberta Press, 2017

A few weeks ago I promised a follow up blog post on Micheline Maylor’s new book Little Wildheart. A review. So call this a A Not-a-Review Review. A look at Maylor’s poetics through the lens of one poem. So I may have lied, but heck, isn’t that within a poet’s purview! The good lying poetry can be. Saying this is that to make the this more real. The sun is not a red rubber ball but it is. And next Monday (full solar eclipse) that ball gets smudged out for a minute or two. I digress.

As I combed through Maylor’s collection, one, at moments, tender (her love poem to J.K.- How to be in a garden) at others, whimsical, and at others, steely-eyed, I found a poem I had over looked, one with steel in it, one that like some missile locked in and loaded, thrust me into the acerbic and unsettling conversations dominating the news south of the border in the wake of the events in Charlottesville on Saturday. All of this amplified by 45’s subsequent remarks. (I have taken a page out of my American cousin’s books by referring to the current U.S. president as 45. Distance!)

Some say poetry is not relevant in real time, especially during unsettling current events. Maylor’s poem above proves the opposite. What a poem for today. Oh how I was skewered, not by a gladius (Maylor’s penchant, now and and then, for good-chewy words that take me to Google) but by this, by this saying, not showing, a daring move in any poem: If you speak, remember, speech is the symbolic act/ of a reasonable citizen. Wham. Oh how much has this this idea been under attack in the past few years. Led most noticeably, perhaps, by 45.
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Daily Miracles – Virginia Woolf and Robert Cording

Original dust jacket – To The Lighthouse – by Virginia Woolf

What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with the years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.

Virginia Woolf from To the Lighthouse, Hogarth Press, 1927

To the Lighthouse was a revelation for me in my last year at university. The one book I had to read for a course and write an essay on that stayed with me for years. And when I came across this quote years later I leaned into it like a long long friend. The idea of a daily miracles. Matches struck unexpectedly in the dark. Sometimes matches hard to see. Maybe only out of the corner of an eye. Then gone. Something I need to remember again and again!

This quote ties in well to my previous blog post on American poet Robert Cording and his expression: accidental loveliness. To read the previous post please click here.Beauty that flares up. Grab it before it vanishes. A daily miracle. How easily missed if we lose our capacity for wonder, for revelation. Cording’s narrative poem below captures this so poignantly. The last few lines: exquisite and painful.
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What Accidental Loveliness Are You Missing Today? – Thoughts on a Poem by Robert Cording

American poet Robert Cording

from Massachusetts Audubon Chart No. 1, 1898

I’ve come to think that what we know of our lives
often has nothing to do with understanding,
but with some accidental loveliness
we put our hopes in, the excess, say,
of a thrush fluting its elongated ee — oo – lay;
or the way a flock of goldfinches
yellow the air they fly through without asking.

Robert Cording from Only So Far, CavanKerry Press, 2015

Accidental loveliness! Those two words walloped me this morning as I was cleaning out my poetry therapy bag I take with me to my poetry writing workshops at the Cedars, the drug and alcohol recovery center where I spend time each week. As so often happens I had forgotten this poem, and those two words, by American poet Robert Cording. Grateful, now, I found it. (For the complete poem scroll down.)

How much accidental loveliness I miss. Those times I am walking and the word-clutter in my mind prevents me from seeing what’s around me. Too busy trying to understand me, my world! As happened yesterday walking with friends on a coastal path overlooking Salt Spring Island in the Salish Sea offshore Vancouver Island.

My friend, Sue, a fine poet I met through Patrick Lane’s retreats, kept pointing out the sere and yellowed leaves (in some places far enough away coloured a deep ivory white) littering the ground from the groves of Arbutus trees we walked through. (Arbutus are called Madrones in the U.S.) They are such a distinctive feature of our west coast landscape. These are evergreen deciduous trees that grow new leaves each summer and then drop the old ones and shed their notable skin-like bark, a fiery copper colour this time of year.
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