My Ten-Day Retreat in Italy in 2020 is Filling Up – But Places Still Available

Poster for my next poetry retreat in 2020 at La Romita Scool of Art

Hello! I wanted to send out this reminder of my poetry retreat in Italy next year before the early-bird pricing special of $2,880 US ()double occupancy) expires in two weeks. The price increases to $3,180 US December 1st.

For more details and the retreat poster please click here.

For further details and lots of pictures (please scroll down) click here.

Hope to see you in June 2020!



Sex or Not – A Poem by Christine Gosnay

American poet Christine Gosnay. Photo credit: The Missouri Review


It is hard to make this choice
when the room is so small and bright,
and the outside big and deep.
But I have not taught myself
to lie on the earth and feel
how much greater it is than me.
And I can’t help following the sky
with my eyes as it moves past me,
and I can’t help closing my eyes to imagine
the boat that carries me to the middle
of a lake as dark as the gaps between the clouds.
I forget everything I have learned
about how to hold myself
at the last edges of sensation
when not so long ago I held
the small hands of a child
and taught her to play a clapping game,
when I stood before a storm of scalding water
that would have killed me
if I gave it the mistake it looked for.
After all this time, we still must love and eat,
and none of us is alone.
See why I create these places where I am a stone.
In the bed, soft against the side
where I make the dark blanket more beautiful
and the sheet a pale and magnificent drawing,
there is nowhere to wrap the part of myself
that understands the handshake of  joy
in my arms and hold her while she cries.
The sink is running in the next room
and the walls are flashed with what the world does at night.
Too much of us is evident in this hour
and I am sick with a cold fever
that hasn’t broken since I was a girl
who loved how good it was to sleep
on the floor, so near to the silent ground.
Still, the boat, and the dark water
that has its private depth.
It never tries to carry me anywhere.
It makes the wind wait in the trees.

Christine Gosnay from Poetry, November 2019

It’s unusual in this blog for me to feature a poem that seems to ellude me. A poem gorgeous with images and feelings but where an obvious meaning for me seems to slip slide away. A poem intent, it seems to me, to create a lyrical “isness” inside a tension of so many opposites. Hard, soft. Water, stone. Bright, dark. Earth, sky. Water made safe by a boat, scalding water.  Woman, child. Someone caught between opposites, perhaps. Is it an issness of someone challenged by the utter surrender sex or intimacy can be?

So why feature it? Because since I read it yesterday I have continued to puzzle over it here in Kauai where I am in a week-long writer’s residency; because the author Christine Gosnay has been getting a fair bit of attention in recent years after publishing her award-winning debut collection in 2017 and releasing her chapbook The Wanderer this year; because I want to know its bones better and in that knowing maybe learn something; and especially because the poem has so many beguiling  and arresting images and lines.  Perhaps the most compelling ones for me:  the boat that carries me to the middle/ of a lake as dark as the gaps between clouds and It makes the wind wait in the trees..

Thanks to lines and images like these above I am haunted and captured by this poem’s mood and feeling even as I am frustrated by its seeming lack of clarity. And then I hear Carl Phillips, the African American poet, telling me to trust its mystery.
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My Next Generative Writing Retreat/Workshop – In Victoria November 3rd!

Write of Passage Workshop at 1506 Burnside Road, Victoria, Sunday Nov. 3rd, 10 AM to 3PM. Lunch included. Cost $89 and lower, if needed, by request.

So happy to be leading this writing time in Victoria this coming Sunday. One or two spots still available. This time will be ideally suited for men and women searching for ways to support their recovery from addiction. And also others who want to  to recover their own hidden and waiting words. Who want to experience poetry as described by the esteemed American poet Jane Hirschfield who needs a poem like life! Her journey of falling into poetry and being held by words, by the poem:

When I start to write, I’m not a guide or teacher; I’m not even a poet. I’m a person far out at sea, and the poem is a raft made of whatever floats past in the water. Those almost accidental rescuing pieces are words, rhythms, musics, ideas, the memory that is mine and the memory that is all of ours and the memory that is held in language itself. The experience of writing, for me at least, isn’t confidence or wisdom; it’s closer to desperation. You are naked as Odysseus when he’s lost his ship and all his men, before he’s met by the courageous young girl Nausicaa—a version perhaps of the rescuing muse, who helps us find our way back into the world shared with others but only if we bring our own resourcefulness to the situation as well. There is some faint memory that this raft business has worked before, some memory of knot-tying, of the intention to live. There is that in us that recognizes: “this is water; this is land.” A poem is land found, as if for the first time. If I already knew what it would hold, I wouldn’t need the poem, and if what it holds were knowable by any other words or way, I wouldn’t need the poem.

Jane Hirschfield in Conversation with author Kim Rosen, May 23rd, 2013


The Wilderness Inside Us – Two Poems by Canadian Don McKay and American Ross Gay

Canadian poet Don McKay. Photo credit: Brick Books

Song for the Song of the Varied Thrush

In thin
mountain air, the single note
lives longer, laid along its
uninflected but electric, slightly
ticklish line, a close
vibrato waking up the pause
which follows, then
once more on a lower or higher pitch and
in this newly minted
interval you realize the wilderness
between one breath
and another.

Don McKay (1942 – ), from Apparatus, McClelland & Stewart, 1997

A few weeks ago, I was the at Panorama Ski Resort in eastern B.C. in the thin crisp Fall air as part of a reunion of participants from my 2017 La Romita ten day poetry retreat in Italy! During some down time I remembered the Canadian poet Don McKay’s one-sentence long poem Song for the Song of the Varied Thrush. That thin air and the two calls of a bird and in the silence between them how the narrator remembers the wilderness between one breath and another. This surprising metaphor. The wilderness we may easily forget inside us. And what we might need to remind us it is there.

For those of you not familiar with Don McKay he is considered one of Canada’s preeminent poets and poetry teachers. A prolific poet (twelve books) and an essayist McKay is also known as an avid bird watcher. And birds are not the only thing in the natural world that fascinates him. He is fascinated by geology and that interest shows up a lot  in his poetry. McKay has won two Governor general’s Award for poetry and the also the prestigous Griffin Poetry Prize in 2006. Also, he was one of the founders of Brick Books, and edited the Fiddlehead for many years.
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Provenance of a Small Poem of Mine – With Thanks to Jane Hirschfield and Hanif Abdurraqib

Autumn here and on the bench, the fallen florets of a white dahlia.

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Grief – Three Poems – Dickman, Stone & Inverarity

American Poet Mathew Dickman. Photo Credit: PoetryEverywhere Project


When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside,
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known,
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don’t ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
crying in the checkout line,
refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
all the smoking and all the drinking.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead,
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? she says,
reading the name out loud, slowly,
so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person’s body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.

Mathew Dickman from All-American Poem, American Poetry Review/ Copper Canyon Press, 2008

Grief poems ain’t nothing new! They sure are not! But I was reminded of two great grief poems by Mathew Dickman and Ruth Stone through a new grief poem that showed up in Geist On-Line last week. I enjoyed that poem, Grief, by Canadian poet, Geoff Inverarity but sure heard echoes of Dickman’s and Stone’s poems in his.  The way Grief takes on a persona, becomes a human or speaking-presence in the poem. I wonder if Inverarity has seen the Dickman and Stone poems which came out long before his. It seems possible, for sure.

Mathew and his twin brother Michael  burst into the American poetry scene in the middish 2000’s. And they continue to make waves with their poetry. Mathew’s poem Grief is typical of Mathew’s seemingly easy-going conversational style. And is one of his better known poems. Hard not to remember his image of Grief as a purple gorilla! Both brothers write about the death of their older brother by suicide and in 2016 released in the U.K. through Faber & Faber, a collaborative book, Brother, which included their poems about him and suicide. That book includes Grief.
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2020 Italy Retreat Banner

Three Lake Poems – Wilkinson, Paré and Stafford

Canadian poet Anne Wilkinson


Willow weep, let the lake lap up your green trickled tears.
Water, love, lip the hot roots, cradle the leaf;
Turn a new moon on your tongue, water, lick the deaf rocks,
With silk of your pebble-pitched song, water, wimple the beach;
Water, wash over the feet of the summer-bowed trees,
Wash age from the face of the stone.

I am a hearer of water;
My ears hold the sound and the feel of the sound of it mortally.
My skin is in love with lake water.
My skin is in love and it sings in the arms of its lover,
My skin is the leaf of the willow,
My nerves are the roots of the weeping willow tree.

My blood is a clot in the stone,
The blood of my heart is fused to a pit in the rock;
The lips of my lover can wear away stone,
My lover can free the blocked heart;
The leaf and the root and the red sap will run with lake water,
The arms of my lover will carry me home to the sea.

Anne Wilkinson (1910-1961) from The Poetry of Anne Wilkinson, Exile Editions, 1990

Award-winning Canadian poet Arleen Paré


flint-dark far-off
sky on the move across the lake
slant sheets closing in

sky collapsing from its bowl
shoreline waiting taut
stones dark as plums

closer future
flinging itself backwards
water now stippling thin waterskin

shallows pummeled the world
hisses with rain iron-blue smell
and pewter light ringing.

Arleen Paré from Lake of Two Mountains, Brick Books, 2014

Two great Canadian poets. Both with September birthdays. Arlene Paré’s today, September 14th, and Anne’s in a week on the 21st. Poets, generations apart. Anne died in 1961 in a very different time.

Some commentators feel that Anne , a woman poet who died to soon, never got her proper due. She rose to prominence along with Dorothy Livesay and P.K. Page but fell into obscurity after her death. The poet A,J. M. Smith said of her poems: a legacy  whose value can never be diminished. Arlene has risen to prominence in recent years through her 2014 Governor General Award for her book Lake of Two Mountains.

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Umbria: Poet as Diviner; Umbria: Write Poetry for Nine Days and Make Books on the Final Day; Umbria: Visit a Town or City Most Days – Umbria: Have Fun – June 21st to 22nd, 2020

Recovering Words Retreat Poster June 11 to 21st, 2020


Cut from the green hedge a forked hazel stick
That he held tight by the arms of the V:
Circling the terrain, hunting the pluck
Of water, nervous, but professionally

Unfussed. The pluck came sharp as a sting.
The rod jerked with precise convulsions,
Spring water suddenly broadcasting
Through a green hazel its secret stations.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.
He handed them the rod without a word.
It lay dead in their grasp till nonchalantly
He gripped expectant writs. The hazel stirred.

Seamus Heaney from The Death of a Naturalist, Penguin, Faber, 1973

Huge thanks to Terry Ann Carter and her designer Keeley for this poster promoting our June 2020 Poetry and Book-Making Retreat among the hill-towns and other word-worthy sites of Umbria in a region about 90 miles North of Rome. And I am happy to say our registration book is starting to fill in! Registrants taking advantage of the early-bird special! For more details please click here and read more about the retreat and see pictures from the three previous retreats in 2017, 18 and 19 on my website!

Some of the places we will choose from to visit: Perugia, Assisi, Spoletto, San Gemini, Todi, Narni, Orvieto and others! In many of these places we will gather on-site to read poems and write first drafts of our own poems. This writing on the spot or as painters would say: en plein air, is inspirational. A way to transform from tourist to traveler.

As you are inspired to write your poems in the history-drenched landscapes of Italy the poems we will use to inspire our own will often be authored by some the great writers who have visited or lived here before you and written memorable poems. I am thinking of poets such as James Wright, Charles Wright, Seamus Heaney, Jack Gilbert, Icheon Hutchison and Derk Walcott among others! And poems by Italian writers including, from the 16th century, Vittoria Colonna and Michelangelo and from our time, the Italian poet, Patrizia Cavalli.

I am so grateful there has been such early interest in this retreat! Huge thanks to those of you who have already registered. Registrations are through Tracy Posey in Washington D.C. (see Poster). And feel free to call me (604 836 7875) and or email me any questions you may have. I hope to see you at La Romita in 2020!

To Go Past the “If Only”! Great Wisdom from a Friend – A New Poem by Heidi Garnett

Canadian Poet Heidi Garnett

Footnote to a Letter Sent to a Friend Upon the Death of a Great Man

Strange how beautiful when we are diaphanous…
—Patrick Lane

And I wanted to add he loved you.
I hope you know this, really know it in your heart.
I say this knowing the fault was also mine
for not letting myself receive a love that big
and wholly embrace my own greatness. I say this
knowing greatness has nothing to do with others,
only ourselves. Nor is it prideful,
or even humble. It just is,
like a hinge attached to a small wooden door
set in Christ’s chest, like the left hand
typing with one finger, like love,
though not an ordinary love,
but one which Orpheus might sing of.

Today I walk the valley’s dry hills.
How strange the juniper with its stiff needles
and blue-grey berries, taste of dust,
of death, a life given,
then taken. The deer with heads lifted
watch from a distance. Frozen into mere outline,
stone, they ask nothing of me.
I shift my gaze, look beyond them
to the lake, the way water fits itself
to whatever holds it. If only
I could see without looking. If only
I could hear without listening, deaf to all,
but the merest whisper. If only
I could find the key to unlock the little door
set in my chest.

Heidi Garnett, unpublished 2019. With permission.

What a gift this poem is. What a gift when I first read it a few weeks ago. This poem by Heidi Garnett, written in response to a sharing to her and some others over my on-going sense of grief over the death of my mentor and friend Patrick Lane this past March. My sadness and confusion. And I share this here because I know others in my poetry tribe continue to mourn his death. Only a few days ago a friend emailed to say he brings Patrick along with him as he walks in the woods with his dog. That grieving.

I am grateful to Heidi’s poem for many reasons: for its consolation and wisdom, yes but especially for its skillful construction. So much poetic mastery in this poem of Heidi’s. Its construction so deliberate and precise. The shock of that first line starting as it does with a coordinating conjunction, and. This link to a conversation outside of the poem.  How that grabs my attention, Yanks me right inside the poem. And the repetitions of the indicative this. And the way the poem’s two stanza’s break the poem in half. A device that American poet Carl Phillips calls a bivalve poem. One hinged in the middle. And it doesn’t have to be hinged through a stanza break but by a shift in in the poem’s direction or leap to another way of opening up wider the meaning of the first half. And this a marvel of construction: her poem is not only literally hinged but also is a concrete reflection of the central image in the poem, the hinge set in Christ’s chest.

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