What’s New

hyaena-season-coverMy new collection of poems, Hyaena Season, has launched! 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.

I’m doing more launches and readings over the next few months – hope you can join me for one of those and for updates on the readings please follow the “launches and readings” link as well. Thanks to all those who have come 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”.

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 23 in a Series – Heidi Garnett’s Poetry of Witness

Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett, author of Blood Orange, Frontenac House, 2016. Photo: Frontenac House

Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett, author of Blood Orange, Frontenac House, 2016. Photo: Frontenac House

Hatchling

A TV screen flickers blue in a darkened living room.
A man sits on a back stoop with his dog.
He scans the sky for signs of thinning cracks,
something chipping in the sky’s brittle shell
with its egg tooth. A night heron, rune for soul,
pierces a minnow with its sharp eye.
The soul’s hunger is small, but precise.

Heidi Garnett, Blood Orange, Frontenac House Poetry, 2016

Poetry has brought me many gifts. Unexpected friendships later in life. Heidi Garnett has been one of those unexpected gifts. Her commitment to the craft of a poetry such an inspiration. And her support of my writing and encouragement when the muse turns her back and words die, dry leaves on Autumn Garry Oaks that refuse to fall. And the inspiration I receive from the power of her words. Oh, how I envy this line from Hatchling: The soul’s hunger is small, but precise.

How excited I was, after I came home from two weeks away, to find Heidi’s new book, Blood Orange, on my desk.  Inside it, a collision between the new world and the old. A German family uprooted by war, love disoriented as it finds its new north in prairie Alberta in the early 1950’s. A woman trying to put back the pieces war smashed apart. Using words to discover meaning and beauty from the heart’s ravaged harvest. A woman with forgiveness and love as her only map to find her way home beyond stubborn geography and the dislocations of violence.

This book is a tour de force. A poet’s book of changes, pulled stitch by stitch from the heart of a woman who admits she has never been much good/ at saying goodbye, never much good/ at accepting what can’t be changed. But then how does she find the courage in her poems, without flinching, to bring her goodbyes, her so many losses, vividly to life? And can I not imagine that these poems are anything but a testimony of acceptance, of something more than mere survival? Of finding a way to heal in spite of what can’t be changed.

What a triumph of the human spirit this book discloses. Utter proof of how she and her family honoured what she quotes in the first poem in her book, the famous imperative of her fellow countryman, Rainer Marie Rilke: You must change your life. Faced with what they could not change they changed what they could. At great cost, but they did. Hear that cost here in this poem:

Inscriptions

My cupped hands make a poor hourglass.
Who am I to think time is my private plaything?
If I walk backwards out of life, mother,
will I find you beside the Minsky Stream
where we vowed to stay alive so the other might live?
Promises require extraordinary trust
and I’ve grown tired with remembering.
My daughter asks why we didn’t flee
before Russian troops broke through German lines.
A girl should not go naked into the world
until she has grown a third skin, a hymen
to wrap around herself. A sheet of rain
flaps over the lake and a willow holds light
the way a mother holds a newborn. I know
one can’t live on air alone, but you see how it is.
Hope stirs the mind into a swarm of wasps,
but a body is a frail thing, a house made of chewed paper
and sometimes, love is all one has left to give.

Heidi Garnet, ibid

The frisson I experienced from these words: A girl should not go naked into the world/ until she has grown a third skin, a hymen/
to wrap around herself. Something so true for a girl in Russian-occupied eastern Germany, now Poland, in 1945. Something so true still for women all over the world whether in war affected areas or not. Chilling.

The only way I could try to make sense of Heidi’s wartime experience, long before Blood Orange was published, was to write my own poem which I dedicated to Heidi in my poetry book, published one week after Heidi’s:

Her Father’s Wartime Portrait

falls out of her book of poems, The Horse Latitudes,
long after his last ship sank and long after
he swapped his German naval cap for a baker’s white hat
in Alberta.

Dead for years, what haunts him the nights he appears
at the foot of Heidi’s mother’s bed and says nothing? Love, this silence –
straight and sure as the tracks torpedoes make.

The sense the North Sea is
is nonsense for a sailor, swimming for his life at night inside it.

So many ways, in words and waves, to drown.

The sense a father is
is nonsense for a girl awake in her bed in her mother’s room,
listening to her mother’s breath, in the other bed, muffled
under the Russian officer – war’s rough weight.

So many ways, at night, to drown.

The sense a divided country is
is nonsense for a man who travels eight hundred kilometers
to rescue his wife and three-year-old daughter
inside it.

The sense Alberta is
is nonsense in the dreams a wife and mother
dreams  of 1945, eastern Germany.

So many ways, in war, to stay alive.
The sense,  for a little girl, a circus is
is madness for an elephant, four feet

balanced on a stool.

Richard Osler from Hyaena Season, Quattro Books, 2016

What an eye opener for me, growing up with the winner’s side of the story from World War II, to hear about the suffering, incredible suffering of the other side. A balancing. And how this next huge, small poem of Heidi’s, makes such images out of that suffering:

Fire

Mother braids my hair
with braids of smoke.
She plaits the strands
into scorched ropes and
ties them together
with ribbons of fire.
She wraps me in a wet sheet
kisses me on the cheek
and cries, Run!

Heidi Garnett, ibid

What an example of the fine poetry inside Heidi’s book. And a great example of a poem completely its own but with the slightest echo of another poem inside it. This wonderful family tree poems belong to. The echo I hear is from Charles Simic, also a survivor of war, born in 1938 in Yugoslavia who later, became an American. The power of witness. Only if these poems of witness could help end war!

    My mother was a braid of black smoke
    She bore me over the burning cities.
    The sky was a vast and windy place for a child
to play.
    We met many others who were just like us.
They were trying to put on their overcoats with
arms made of smoke.
    The high heavens were full of little shrunken
deaf ears instead of stars.

Charles Simic (1938 – ) from The World  Doesn’t End,  Harcourt Brace & Company, 1985

Celebrated Canadian master poet Patrick Lane (1939 – ), in his comment on the back cover of Heidi’s book says this about Blood Orange: As fine a book as you will find this year. Lane is not one to give praise lightly. Trust him. Buy this book!

 

 

 

 

 

The Bigness of Small Poems – # 22 in a Series – Cohen and Zwicky

Canadian Poet and Singer Songwriter, Leonard Cohen

Canadian Poet and Singer Songwriter, Leonard Cohen. Photo: Rolling Stone

SUMMER HAIKU

for Frank and Marion Scott


Silence



and a deeper silence



when the crickets 



hesitate

Leonard Cohen from Leonard Cohen: Selected Poems 1956-1968, McClelland & Stewart, 1968

I am home now from my two weeks away in the U.S. and Calgary reading from my new book and leading retreats and workshops. I am so grateful to all my retreat participants from the Episcopalian communities of Palmer and Emmanuel churches in Houston and St. Timothy’s in Lake Jackson and my hosts and organizers in Texas: Andy, Liz and Donna; and in Calgary, hosts Ian and Darlene and my reading organizer Rosemary and in Canmore, Alberta my hosts Patrick and Heather.

Now, I have time to take deep breaths and be present to my heart. It’s gratitude and sorrows. The grief many of my retreatants who were struggling with in the fallout of the U.S. election and another grief, quite unexpected.

On November 11, while I was in Surfside on the Gulf of Mexico my sweetheart called me and left a message. As I listened to her message my heart clenched, just from her voice. I thought, Oh My God, someone in our immediate family has died. Her sorrow, that visceral. It was only a few words later that she asked: Did you know Leonard Cohen died?

Since then the internet has been full of his passing. His poems, passed on like sacred scripts, to be touched by the inner hands of soul and heart. His early poems, I cherish them.
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Gone So Quietly, Unexpectedly – But Listen! Her Poems Still Sing! Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951-2016)

American Poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951-2016) Photo credit: Brian Palmer

American Poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly (1951-2016) Photo credit: Brian Palmer

The Leaving

My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.
I put the peaches in the pond’s cold water,
all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands
twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors,
all night my back a straight road to the sky.
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
just after it has been rung, before the metal
begins to long again for the clapper’s stroke.
The light came over the orchard.
The canals were silver and then were not.
and the pond was--I could see as I laid
the last peach in the water--full of fish and eyes.

Brigit Pegeen Kelly from To the Place of Trumpets,Yale University Press, 1988

Easily, I could have missed the notice of the death of American poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly, except for a Facebook post by American poet Scott Cairns.  I have not been able to find any official notice of her passing. Or obituaries! A sad omission for an important poet. The only acknowledgement of her death on the Poetry Foundation website was the chilling change of Brigit Kelly is an American poet, to Brigit Pegeen Kelly was….. and a brief mention that she died in October 2016.

But I want to cry: Brigit Pegeen Kelly has died! No more new poems, new metaphors as fresh and striking as these from her poem above: I was a girl then, my chest its own high walled garden; and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses/ just after it has been rung, before the metal/ begins to long again for the clapper’s stroke.

So I am grateful to Scott for his post. Thank you. Scott included, in his post, her poem Blessed is the Field which for me is an exquisite prayer/poem! which I profiled in my blog in April 2014. To read that post please Click here.

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Intimate Poetry That Sells – And Sells – The Poetry of Toronto-based Rupi Kaur

milk and honey - Best Selling Poetry Sensation

milk and honey – Best-Selling Poetry Sensation

When my mother opens her mouth
to have a conversation at dinner
my father shoves the word hush
between her lips and tells her to
never speak with her mouth full
this is how the women in my family
learned to live with their mouths closed

Rupi Kaur (1992 – ) from milk and honey, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015

Our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
carry

women of colour

Rupi Kaur, ibid

The kindest words my father said to me
women like you drown oceans

Rupi Kaur, Instagram

It takes a broken, twisted person to come searching for meaning between my legs.  It takes a whole, complete and perfectly designed person to survive it.

Rupi Kaur from her Tedx Talk, I’m Taking My Body Back, August 2016

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The Bigness of Small Poems – #21 in a Series – Poem as Mirror and Solace

Danish poet Ulrikka S. Gernes

Danish poet Ulrikka S. Gernes


ON THE TABLE IN THE ROOM IN THE DARK
house lies the book you didn’t know
you were looking for, opened to the page
with the poem about solace you didn’t know
you needed; at first the letters,
then the words, little by little
the lines disappear as you read them
in the light of the faint dawn that trickles in
between the venetian’s dusty
slats and unites you with someone
you didn’t know you are.

Ulrikka S. Gernes, trans. Patrick Friesen and Per Brask from Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, Brick Books, 2015

This gem of a poem says why I read and write poems. It is included in a collection that made the Canadian short-list for the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize. It didn’t win but this poem has made me a fan of Ulrikka S. Gernes (1965 – ), the celebrated Danish poet, author of eleven poetry collections. I wasn’t familiar with the work of Per Brask but the other translator, Patrick Friesen is a Canadian poet I have featured in my poetry-as-prayer retreats. Great collaboration!

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The Bigness of Small Poems – #20 in a Series – Hyaena Season Launches!

Launch of Hyaena Season Tonight

Cherish This World

The daughter, for a time, who wouldn’t talk
or look at him, that daughter, tells of her days
and nights on Mandarte Island, barely more than a rock
in the Salish Sea. He touches his tongue
to the sound Man-dart-eh makes in the mouth. 
Says it again and again. Something cracks open  
in his chest. Not like the eggs broken, the dead
chicks still inside, in the pictures she shows him, 
but the others, the gull eggs busted open, 
the prisoners escaped, gone free.

Richard Osler from Hyaena Season, Quattro Books, 2016

Tonight I am so pleased to joining other Quattro Books authors at the first launch of Quattro Books Fall season. Big thanks to my editor and publisher and Allan Briesmaster who has been such an acute editor and all around support.

To commemorate this evening I wanted to include my poem Cherish This World in my on-going tribute to small poems. This poem, I wrote running along the seawall in Sultanahmet, Istanbul. I had to memorize it because I had no pen or paper. When I got back to my apartment and scribbled it down I had to dodge my drops of sweat!

This poem mean a lot on many levels. A description, yes, of time my daughter spent living on Mandarte Island with one of the largest colonies of breeding seagulls on the Canadian west coast. But more. The risks associated with things coming to birth. The chance that something incubated may not make it. Even a relationship between a father and daughter.

But tonight this poem for me is a metaphor of the long journey of my first book coming to print. All that tapping and a book busted free.

With huge thanks to all who supported me on this journey. Now, time for supper and heading off to the reading at Pressed!

A Poet/Saint! Happy 88th Birthday to Jean Vanier on Sept. 10th

Jean Vanier. Photo Credit: The Templeton Prize

Jean Vanier. Photo Credit: The Templeton Prize


I grieve to speak of love and yet not love as I should.

I ask forgiveness of the many I have wounded.
And of the many I have passed without seeing their wounds.
Pray for me, my brother.

Jean Vanier from the foreword to Tears of Silence, Griffin House, 1971

For me, it seems absurd that a man who has devoted almost fifty five years of his life in the service of others would pray this prayer/poem in the foreward to his book. But not for Jean Vanier.  Once a naval officer in the Canadian Navy (more than sixty years ago!) but now, celebrated as a theologian and Roman Catholic social innovator who has devoted himself as a friend to countless men and women around the world who live in the L’Arche federation of  about 140 home communities he founded in France in 1964. L’Arche, known as L’Arche Daybreak in Canada, is now active in about forty countries, providing warm and loving homes for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them.

I have met many people in my life but no one comes as close to the having the qualities that define him, in my heart, as a holiest of holy human. I know Vanier would bridle at that description. But I write it anyway. His compassion for others seems limitless. It shines out from his 1998 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Massey Lectures – Becoming Human (click here) – and in his three NPR interviews  with Krista Tippett (click here).
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The Squinch – An Architecture of Appetite in Poems by Hass and Kinnell

August Blackberries

August Blackberries










 


















BLACKBERRY EATING

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths and squinched,
many-lettered, on-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

Galway Kinnell from Mortal Acts, Mortal Words, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980

I first knew the word squinch defined as an architectural feature that helps hold up a structural component like a dome over a square building. And I confirmed this looking my real not virtual dictionary! The Oxford! But no matter! What a juicy word. And brought so wonderfully and deliciously to life by American poets Galway Kinnell (1927 – 2014) and Robert Hass (1941 – ). But by using squinch in a very different way. Squinch, as in compressing or closing something.

And beyond the delight in the mouth of the word squinch, Kinnell’s poem has particular significance for me. Earlier this summer at a poetry retreat in Italy, Kim Addonizio, the retreat leader, recited Kinnell’s poem from memory. Better still she recited it during a festival in the village of Il Castello Di Valle Di Nera in Umbria. What makes the location even more relevant is that this village was devastated by the 1997 earthquake and completely rebuilt! Last week’s equally devastating earthquake to the north of this area brought the reality of this into much clearer focus. Eerie for me as well. I was in Italy during the 1997 quake and just missed the most recent one by six weeks.

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The Bigness of Small Poems – #19 in a Series – David Fraser Storms the Unspeakable!

Canadian poet David Fraser

Canadian poet David Fraser

The End

The room is too small
for a serious debate between
two lovers who are no more,
but perfect for the silences
of space, the cosmos
swallowing up comment,
leaving only one exit
for both of them, each not
wanting to be the first.

David Fraser from After All the Scissor Work Is Done, Leaf Press, 2016

The life of poetry on Vancouver Island, B.C., and in particular, in Nanaimo, would be a lot leaner without the contributions of David Fraser, undaunted champion of all things poetry. Whether his own poems, or the one’s published in his magazine Ascent Aspirations, or the poems shared at WordStorm, Nanaimo’s spoken word poetry reading series he co-founded in 2007, Fraser believes in the power of the poetic word.

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