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I was thrilled to be able to join the on-line Art Bar Poetry Reading Series on November 2nd, 2021.  I taped a twenty-five minute video! The Art Bar Reading Series is based in Toronto and they will be hosting in-person events beginning in December! My last Art Bar reading was in 2016 for the launch of my poetry collection Hyaena Season published by Quattro Books of Toronto.


Read about my next ten-day generative poetry retreat in 2022 at La Romita School of Art, Terni, Italy.


Read a 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”.

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Three Poems for Mother’s Day 2024 – Osler, Dunn and Vuong

A giant peony from our garden. In loving memory, on Mother’s Day, of my mother, Dorothy Elizabeth (Betty) Osler, an angel of flowers.

Today, this Mother’s Day

he will write a different poem. Peony soft
with big-enough curves to wrap around the moon
when it’s full. A poem with photons enough
to light up any night free of clouds and rain.

But it is easier to remember the place a mother might sit
looking over her garden. The one, that day
littered with tulips as if cut down in a hard wind
but worse, the hard wind anger is in a boy
with sheers in his hand.

But in a place where
a mother might sit looking over her garden
could a boy, now a man, inside a poem,
bring one red tulip to place in her hand. And leave
forgiveness out of the story. Maybe it would be
enough – a man, once a boy and a mother – enough
that a tulip might be offered and a hand might be
open enough to receive it.

This, a difference
and, perhaps, enough.

Richard Osler, May 12th, 2024

Mother’s Day 2024. And I wanted to pull out some favorite “mother or grandmother” poems. Instead, first, I wrote my own poem for this Mother’s Day. An unexpected variation on a poem I have written countless times of the moment, in a blind rage, in my early teens, I cut all the heads off my mother’s prize tulips.

I trust that boy enough that he had due cause for that rage. Some way his mother did not understand or see him. Some way she accused him of something that was not true for him. But no matter the reason, the violence of that act haunts me still. A violence I still want to come to terms with. And out of this, a poem. Perhaps enough, or not.

And I don’t want my poem to have the last word. I don’t want to lose the chance to share other poems for mothers on this day made special for them. And I think, first, of the American poet Stephen Dunn’s unforgettable poem for his mother with its unforgettable lines: When Mother died/ I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
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I Did Not Know I Would Turn from the Stream… Quotes and Poems on the Tragedy of Losing a Spiritual Connection to this Earth

 

Journalist and climate change specialist, Rod Oram (1950-2024)

New Zealand journalist Rod Oram’s answer in an interview on a question on willingness for individual action on climate change recorded a few months before his death March 19th, 2024:

I don’t think we’ll do enough until we care enough and I don’t think we will care enough until we have some kind of spiritual relationship with the living earth and creation. And you can express that whatever way is most meaningful to you. It could be a walk in the woods or bush and beach where you feel sometime kind of oneness, of kinship with nature. Or you could have very strong faith or spiritual relationship which transcends any organized religion or you can be very active in one of the great faiths of the world.

Rod Oram from The Religious Diversity Center Podcast, December 10th, 2023

American author and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams.Image by Cheryl Himmelstein, © All Rights Reserved

If I choose not to become attached to nouns – a person, place or thing – then when I refuse a intimate’s love or hoard my spirit, when a known landscape is bought, sold and developed, chained or grazed to stubble, or a hawk is shot and hung by its feet on a barbed wire fence, my heart cannot be broken because I never risked giving it away.

But what kind of impoverishment is this to withhold emotion, restrain our passionate nature in the face of a generous life just to appease our fears? A man or woman whose mind reins in the heart when the body sings desperately for connection can only expect more isolation and greater ecological disease. Our lack of intimacy with each other is in direct proportion to our lack of intimacy with the land. We have taken our love inside and abandoned the world.

Terry Tempest Williams from Winter Solstice at the Moab Slough, Pantheon Books, 1994

 

Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache

one

We come into the world.
We come into the world and there it is.
The sun is there.
The brown of the river leading to the blue and the brown of the
ocean is there.
Salmon and eels are there moving between the brown and the
brown and the blue.
The green of the land is there.
Elders and youngers are there.
We come into the world and we are there.
Fighting and possibility and love are there.
And we begin to breathe.
We come into the world and there it is.
We come into the world without and we breathe it in.
We come into the world and begin to move between the brown and
the blue and the green of it.

Juliana Spahr from WELL THERE THEN NOW, Black Sparrow Press, 2011 and Poetry Daily: What Sparks Poetry, April 8th, 2024

American poet Juliana Spahr

In the days and weeks since the tragic death of my beloved friend and celebrated New Zealand journalist Rod Oram I have been haunted by a remark above he made in Dubai during the COP 28 climate change conference. His assertion that we will not demand necessary changes to climate policy without having a spiritual connection to creation. (I know this is a long post. But I invite you to try to make it through. Especially to read Juliana Spahr’s long poem.)
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Guest Poetry Blog Series # 27 – Part Two – This “Constant Self of Being” – Tryphena Yeboah features Mahtem Shifferaw and Ada Limón

Mathem Shifferaw, writer and visual artist from Ethiopia and Eritrea currently living in the U.S.

War

I have been described by it, often
seen it rise up the mouths of strangers,
as if to say all things foreign – note: referring
to me, or, my body, as a thing; an object – are
made of war, or: things infested by war.
This thing, I also notice, comes within
language: that which we use to define
our own, or not; the knowing we choose
to acknowledge, that which we ignore;
this thing, is also a fruit: thorns on the outside,
bleeding meat on the inside, quenching
a thirst, a cry, nostalgia for simpler days.
War, I find, is also this: constant hiding,
home within invisibility, or worry, or
brokenness. Not knowing what to do
or say to the grief-stricken. Having to explain,
amidst tears, or bewilderment, the difference
between the immigrant, and the refugee. I am
inclined to think: wretched, once there, now
here – lost. The constant loss, coating our skin
like thin ash. Having to beg – see me, see this
humanness in me. The knowing of our new selves:
as an alien – again, a thing, an object. Having to count
our fears too; that of assimilation, that of
unbelonging, that of a new death, imminent threat.
Knowing the gendered histories of our bodies too,
and shaping a way to forgetfulness – to survive
this thing – note here: not an object, but a
constant self of being.

Mahtem Shifferaw from World Literature Today, May 2018

It’s hard to pick one poet to write about because there are so many of them whose work I admire, and return to over and over again, and in different seasons. I love Mary Oliver’s poems “Wild Geese” and “Worry.” Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me” is a memorable one and of course, I’ve been so touched by Kwame Dawes’ “It begins with silence” and “After the biopsy” from his recent poetry collection, Sturge Town. For this Recovering Words Guest Poetry Blog Series, however, I want to highlight the work of two poets I’ve been following for years: Mahtem Shifferaw and Ada Limón.
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These Wounds of Loss – Poems of Kwame Dawes in Memory of Rod Oram (1950-2024)

On the Island of Iona, March 19th, 2024. A memorial mandala for Rod Oram (1950-2024)

from IRIE ITES

…………………………………………………….
I consider the vertigo of my days.

as if I am still mourning my sister’s death, the deepest
absence that will not relent. When I said :”All is changed,

my self, known and loved, is gone, ‘ I was opening  my heart’s
hunger to the persistence of these wounds of loss.

I sway with the calm of one awaiting the news
of the end of things; it is now a matter of moments,

every sun-dazzled day a miraculous gift, the brawta
of a man’s life: the extras, the unearned mercies, the gifts.

………………………………………………………………………………….

Kwame Dawes from Sturge Town, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., 2023

I am so grateful to Ghanaian poet and Recovering Words guest poetry blogger Tryphena Yeboah for her interview with Ghanaian Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes on his latest book of poetry Sturge Town. So many lyrical explorations of loss and sorrow in many of those poems.  These doorways for me to walk into the grief of yet another huge loss of a friend in my life. Rod Oram, gone to soon at age 73. He was sure he would make 100. And I believed him. He was that kind of a man, seemingly unperishable spirit.

Journalist and climate change specialist, Rod Oram (1950-2024)

And the poem excerpt above, how it captures as deep sense of disorientation, a loss of a previous self-sense from wounds of loss. In my case, too many recent deaths of friends. But how it also carries amidst the paralyzing sorrow a reminder that each sub-dazzled day a miraculous gift, the brawta/ of a man’s life: the extras, the unearned mercies, the gifts.

In September I lost my first romantic beloved and life-long friend, Kathy; in October my Calgary business world soul-brother Ian and in January deep-soul companion Ross. And, now. after a horrific bicycle crash, beloved colleague from my journalism days back in Toronto, who became a life-long friend, Rod Oram.

These words from his death notice sum up so much of this man, a man of immeasurable integrity and equanimity: Active for justice, lover of kindness, who walked humbly with his God. We won’t do enough until we care enough and we won’t care enough until we have a spiritual relationship with the planet and its people.

Rod, a former journalist with The Globe and Mail, Financial Post, Financial Times of London, Auckland Herald and for many years a celebrated free-lance print and radio columnist based in Auckland, N.Z. well known for his devoted attention to, and research on, climate change. His view of it as a frightening real near and present danger.
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Pádraig Ó Tuama – Some Poems and Reflections Before a Retreat With Him on the Island of Iona, Scotland

Poet, Podcaster and Memoirist, Pádraig Ó Tuama (1972 – )


How to Belong be Alone

It all begins with knowing
nothing lasts forever,
so you might as well start packing now.
In the meantime,
practice being alive.

There will be a party
where you’ll feel like
nobody’s paying you attention.
And there will be a party
where attention’s all you’ll get.
What you need to do
is talk to yourself
between these parties.

And,
again,
there will be a day,
— a decade —
where you won’t
fit in with your body
even though you’re in
the only body you’re in.

You need to control
your habit of forgetting
to breathe.

Remember when you were younger
and you practiced kissing on your arm?
You were on to something then.
Sometimes harm knows its own healing.
Comfort knows its own intelligence.
Kindness too.
It needs no reason.

There is a you
telling you another story of you.
Listen to her.

Where do you feel
anxiety in your body?
The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?
The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing
or the clutch of gut like falling
& falling & falling and falling
It knows something: you’re dying.
Try to stay alive.

For now, touch yourself.
I’m serious.

Touch your
self.
Take your hand
and place your hand
some place
upon your body.

And listen
to the community of madness
that
you are.
You are
such an
interesting conversation.

You belong
here.

Pádraig Ó Tuama from On Being, November, 2020

This poem by Pádraig Ó Tuama. One I cherish and use often with my clients in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. One that has been wonderfully made into a video poem which can be found here on the On Being website. The understanding love and compassion in this poem. The last lines continue to inspire and comfort me:

And listen
to the community of madness
that
you are.
You are
such an
interesting conversation.

You belong
here.

I have been following the life and career of  Pádraig for many years now and he defies easy categorization. He has a theology degree but has had struggles (especially in his early years in Belfast) with some Christian structures because he is gay. Now, he says he is an agnostic. He is as at home with contemporary English-speaking poetry on both sides of the Atlantic as he is in the bible. He is a poet, podcaster (the Poetry Unbound podcast through the On Being project), storyteller, memoirist and author of Poetry Unbound, a recent collection of 50 of his podcasts featuring 50 contemporary poets with his commentaries.
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Touch the Pencil First – Guest Poetry Blog #27 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Ghanaian Poet and Fiction and Non-Fiction Writer Tryphena Yeboah – Part One of Two

Ghanaian poet, fiction and non-fiction writer, Tryphena Yeboah

GENESIS

I listen for a sound, a voice, a whispered word
swept in by the wind to get me from here to there—
where the page before me becomes
more than its blankness, its white silence.
But it is all quiet and awfully clean
here too, with my dishes washed and dried,
my clothes folded and tucked away,
my wooden floors swept and polished,
and my desk, this very one, emptied of its little
distractions of photographs, cards, and letters.
Having gotten in my way by filling my time
with the boring, necessary stuff of life, I sit at last.
The sun’s intrusive glare cuts through
my dusty window and I am now at my point of despair.
Anything can happen. I touch the pencil first,
one finger along its body, before I lift it.
This is me giving the day one small hopeful attempt.
This is me slowly returning to a stubborn first love.
I listen and the only sound is that of movement
as I inch myself toward the page and begin.

Tryphena Yeboah, previously unpublished

RICHARD INTRODUCES  GUEST POETRY BLOGGER # 27, TRYPHENA YEBOAH, AND PART ONE OF HER TWO-PART SERIES

There are a lot of poems out there about writing. But this one, Genesis, by the Ghanaian writer Tryphena Yeboah, seems to capture the fear of facing the blank page with a special acuity. The first four lines of the poem espcially draw me into the “isness” of what she is describing:

I listen for a sound, a voice, a whispered word
swept in by the wind to get me from here to there—
where the page before me becomes
more than its blankness, its white silence.

The lyrical magic of Tryphena Yeboah, which you can see in her description of a blank page as white silence, gobsmacked me when I first encountered it in her 2020 chapbook, A Mouthful of Home published as part of one of the chapbook sets in the acclaimed series: New-Generation African Poets edited by poets Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani. Tryphena’s book was included in the 2020 chapbook box set called Saba. The ninth set titled, Tisa, was released last year.

To see my post from April 2023 on Tryphena please click here and to see my post from October 2021 please click here. Born and raised in Ghana, Tryphena has been studying in  the United States since 2019. A productive and creative time for her including winning the prestigous 2021 Narrative Prize awarded to trhe work of a new or emerging writer published in Narrative the preceding year. Past winners include notable younger-generation writers in the US: Ocean Vuong, Paisley Redekal, Javier Zamora, Natalie Diaz and Michael Dickman among others.

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A Speaking Out, Again – Poems and Quotes in the Aftermath of the October 7th Attacks on Israel and the War in Gaza

Flags of Palestine and Israel painted on cracked wall. Photo Credit: Gilnature, iStock.

NO SUCH THING AS THE INNOCENT BYSTANDER

Silence rides shotgun
wherever hate goes.

Andrea Gibson from You Better Be Lightning, Button Publishing Inc., 2021

I was grateful to find this poem by the American spoken-word poet, Andrea Gibson. Her charge, her claim, that silence is hate’s quiet partner. And how I see this in the tragic catastrophe that Gaza has become. Born out of the tragic historical consequences of two peoples in one land: made a named true home for one but no named true and independent home given for the other. And how silence seems easier when support for one side of the other can lead to extreme abuse or worse. One “I am right” damning another. The use of incendiary and polorizing language. Easier, it seems, to stay silent.

And so this blog post. One to break silence, again. A post I have been imagining for months but that felt vital to finish and post now after I read the searing account of the desperate starvation conditions in Gaza described in a a piece in The New Yorker last week by Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha. A piece of writing that bears witness to the unbearable. To read my January 2024 post on Mosab please click here. And thanks to Mosab’s piece in The New Yorker I wrote a poem a few days ago inspired by it. I include that poem below. Also, poems by Jasmine Donahaye, Yehuda Amichai, Tal Hever-Chybowski, Refaat Alareer and quotes by Ursula Le Guin and Primo Levi.
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Beloved on the Earth – A Poem in Honour of, and Two Poems Written For, Ross MacDonald R.I.P.

Beloved Friend. Ross MacDonald (April 4th, 1945-January 19th, 2024)

Late Fragment

And did you get what
You wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver (1938-1988) from A New Path to the WaterfallAtlantic Monthly Press, 1989.

He was a big man. Broad shouldered. When I hugged him, not easy to get my arms around. But, my oh my, it was easy for the arms of my heart to get its arms around him. Ross MacDonad, dear friend of more than twenty years.

The day I heard Ross recite Raymond Carver’s poem Late Fragment was a somber day. The day of the funeral of the fiancé of one his beloved two daughters. The funeral of a young man who had bravely, whole-heartedly, journied through illness as Ross did before his death this January. That day Ross was celebrating the life of a man who embraced life and his dying with a whole heart.  Ross’s assertion through Carver’s poem was that there was a completion to this young man’s life even though he died far too young.

And for me this poem becomes now an ever so apt epitaph for man who in his honesty, his fierce regard for truth in himself and others, in his unflinching generosity, untouched by sentimentality, stood tall among all whom he walked among. And, and how, fiercely he loved. Gave himself to others he cherished and believed in. I count myself lucky to have been loved fiercely by him.  How in that love he held me accountable to him and to my better self. I can insist, as Carver’s poem insists: Ross was beloved on this earth. And I trust he felt that same way as he faced his death a few weeks ago.

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Guest Poetry Blog Series # 26 – Part Two – Thanks To My Literary Saints – John Terpstra celebrates John Steinbeck, Richard Wilbur, Christopher Fry and John McPhee

American poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2016)


Love Calls Us To the Things Of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
              Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

  Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks; but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

  Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                             The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
          “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

  Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises, 

  “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
               keeping their difficult balance.

Richard Wilbur from Collected Poems 1943 – 2004, Houghton Mifflin, 2004

American novelist John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

Before I ever wrote a single poem (which was in Grade 10), a girl in the grade above me handed me a copy of The Red Pony one day as we were standing together in the school library. “Here,” she said, “you should read this.” She was a friend and I trusted her, and so I took the book home and read it. And was hooked, and went on to read as much John Steinbeck as I could get my hands on. He became my first author, especially with the shorter works like Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. Years later, I wondered how he did that to me, and so I reread those two novels.

Steinbeck is a poet. Cannery Row is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. He also writes from the side of utter compassion, of loving your neighbour as you love yourself, with all of the neighbour’s (and your own) very obvious flaws and frailties. These two qualities together won me over.
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Making Beauty Out of Wood and Words – Guest Poetry Blog #26 – Introducing the Latest Contributor, Canadian Poet and Woodworker, John Terpstra – Part One of Two

Canadian cabinet maker and poet, John Terpstra

The Kind of World We Live In
—lines for Lent

The kind of world we live in
is fraught
with where and when the next outbreak
will occur,
which passenger aircraft
the missile will hit,
whether the children will be freed
from their cages
to go find their mothers and fathers, if they can,
and what we’ll all do next,
after the last iceberg has melted
into the waters that lap against our e-car doors.

The kind of world we live in
feels as though it’s reaching a pitch,
and here I sit,
cinching up the hiking boots
for another 40-day wilderness trek,
another round
of walking over rock,
talking to trees,
and hoping for blessed nothing to happen
while I’m out there alone.

The world is on your shoulders,
it’s in your backpack,
which just happens to get lighter and lighter
the farther you go,
the deeper you delve into these woods,
the closer you come
to losing it all
for love
of the kind of world we live in,

while fasting on
the roots and berries of a wild hope.

John Terpstra from Wild Hope – Prayers & Poems, The St. Thomas Poetry Series, 2020

RICHARD INTRODUCES GUEST POETRY BLOGGER JOHN TERPSTRA AND PART ONE OF HIS TWO-PART SERIES

I am so pleased to introduce one of Canada’s important and accomplished literary figures, John Terpstra from Hamilton, Ontario. John, who began his writing career forty-five years ago is not just accomplished as a poet, non-fiction writer and recording artist but as a cabinet maker and carpenter. Truly, a maker in all senses of the word. A man of wood and words.

And John continues to make beautiful things out of wood for exisiting customers and not only published a new poetry chapbook in 2023 but, through the wonderful Gaspereau Press, is coming out with a new non-fiction work in the Fall, detailing his life in writing and woodworking.

While I am thrilled and honoured to have John join the Recovering Words Guest Poetry Blog Series I have a touch of sadness because the literary journal where I first met John’s work, and the journal that celebrated him ten years ago as one of the top fifty contemporary writers of faith, has just announced it will cease publication this summer after thirty-five years.
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