Writing Poems for Wholeness and Self-Discovery – A Richard Osler On-Line Session with Huge Thanks to Micheline Maylor and Mount Royal University – February 16th, 6:30 Pm Mountain Time

Upcoming On-Line Generative Poetry Session through Mount Royal University – February 16th, 6:30 PM Mountain Standard Time


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, 2016

Tomorrow night 6:30 to 8:30 PM MST (5:30 to 7:30 PST) I will be facilitating a two hour on-line generative poetry retreat as described in the brochure above! This retreat is being sponsored by Mount Royal University in Calgary. Huge thanks to poet, editor, university teacher and former Calgary Poet Laureate, Micheline Maylor, for this invitation. The retreat is free and I am hoping it will be a lot of fun in the serious and revealing way writing new poems can be! To register please click here.

I have showcased the Ulrikka Gernes poem above from her 2016 Griffin-prize short-listed poetry collection above because I think it explains not only what can be revealed to us when we write a poem but what can be revealed to us when we write one. These can be equally surprising surprises! My most impactful poems seem to write me and not the other way around.  What a concept: that reading a poem, as Gernes says: unites you with someone/ you didn’t know you are. And I would add that writing a poem can unite you with someone you didn’t know you were or who didn’t remember you were!

I think of the retreat as a concert in words: the singing out of the words in the poems I share and in the two poems each participants will be invited to write! Some of the poets whose poems I will be sharing include Greg Orr, Gwendolyn MacEwan, Katie Farris, Patrick Lane, Caitlin Maude, Jelaluddin Rumi, Nazim Hikmet and Danez Smith.

I love collecting quotes of poetry but especially quotes that strike to the heart of the healing nature of poetry. The way our own words can connect us to ourselves and to others in profound ways. Here, some insights by the American writer Emily Bernard:

“Tellers need listeners. “I write for myself and strangers,” Gertrude Stein said. I write from the stranger in me to the stranger in you, from my discomfort to yours. I write because there are things I don’t know—even about myself—that I want to find out, and because I believe there are others out there in the same situation: People who feel confused and afraid and alone; people who are broken and want to get whole. Emily Bernard from Image Journal, #106, Fall 2020

Love this idea of writing from one discomfort to another and finding wholeness. Same can be true of sharing joy in a powerful and unexpected way! Now, this quote by the celebrated British writer Janette Winterson is a long time favorite. Rings so true for me.

If I break a leg, I’ll go to a doctor. If I break my heart or if the world breaks my spirit, I will go to a poet…. for me, primarily, poetry…..cuts through noise and hurt, opens the wound to heal it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself.” Jeanette Winterson from her Website, February, 2007

Two and half years ago I had the privilege of attending a two day retreat with the Irish poet, peacemaker and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama. A man with a healing heart and healing words and now becoming well known for his fabulous Poetry Unbound podcast through the On Being website. I found this quote in Padraig’s introducti9on to his podcast. This crucial idea that poetry can deepen our conversati0ns with oursleves. That’s my hope for the poems that will be created tomorrow evening!

One of the invitations of being alive is to come into friendship with yourself and I know that can sometimes be very difficult. Often we can be in some kind of distress with ourselves or we can judge ourselves and the question for me is how can you find a kind and gentle relationship with that person? Poetry opens up a door and offers the possibility of a conversation you can listen to and deepen your conversation with yourself. Pádraig Ó Tuama  from an introduction to Poetry Unbound – An On Being Podcast, January 2020.

What an extraordinary healer and writer is Rachel Naomi Remen. If you haven’t read her book Kitchen Table Wisdom do yourself a favour and read it. Huge wisdoms to be found there including the wisdom of this quote I have seen so often come true in poetry therapy circles. How by reading and writing poems suffering can be lessened.

Writing poetry together heals loneliness. What is true for someone on the deepest level is often true for us all. Reading a poem aloud and listening to the poems of others can heal the alienation which is so much a part of our world…..Poetry wears no mask. In taking off the masks we have worn to be safe, to protect ourselves, to win approval, we becomes less vulnerable. Less alone. Our pain becomes just pain. It is no longer suffering.”  Rachel Naomi Remen M.D. from Kitchen Table Wisdom –  Stories That Heal, Riverhead Books, 1996

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