Cancer Songs

Cancer Songs



About the book

A moving journal in verse, Cancer Songs is poet Richard Sommer’s response to his diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer. Often, these are songs of newly discovered yearning, courage and awe; they are songs of refusal to go under, to surrender to the undertow of the disease.

There is no discounting the pain and suffering in the process, but as many “victims” of cancer know, there can also be a heightened intensity of perception, a kind of awakening. These poems celebrate that sharpening of awareness and the richness that it discovers; and celebrate, too, connections with others going through parallel ordeals.  Sommer discovers hitherto unrealized resources in himself and a deepened appreciation of the embrace of surrounding life: the friendship and loyalty of dogs, the astonishing physical grace of cats, wildlife, music. And once recognized and acknowledged, the love and help of other people are sources of nourishment and complex delight, giving him the strength to accept pain and to express the immense gratitude that comes folded in adversity.

About the author

Sommer, Richard

Richard Sommer taught myth and poetry at Montreal's Concordia University for many years, served three decades as a volunteer game warden in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and led a citizens' environmental group in a seven-year battle, ultimately successful, to save the Townships' Pinnacle Mountain from developers. Sommer's previous books include Homage to Mr. Macmullin, Blue Sky Notebook, left hand mind, Milarepa, The Other Side of Games, Selected and New Poems, Fawn Bones, and The Shadow Sonnets. In 2004, Sommer was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the verse journal, Cancer Songs, has been an important part of his response to this challenge. He lives on a dirt road outside Frelighsburg with his wife of more than forty years, dance improvisationalist, teacher and artist Victoria Tansey. They have three grown children, three grandchildren, and currently three cats.


The Real World

Obstinately wordless
this morning is.

Pale crystal sunlight
cracks & breaks everywhere.

Rain last night, but now
ice crunches under boot.

Dog is at her ease,
lying on the driveway ice.

All seems untranslatable.
No one thing stands for any other.

No thoughts that might become words.
No words taking sudden fire

so nothing is what's happening
& you could get lost in there.


Morning after long night's rain then freeze
the steady rain sound a part of sleep

& now as I close
the back door behind me

tiny crystals scattered on the ground
wake up to light or dharma or a god or

whatever you want to call it; in any case
I am stepping carefully among them.


Poet Richard Sommer taught poetry writing at Concordia University in Montreal. He has several slim volumes to his credit, the best known of which is Sky Blue Notebook. Much of his works is in the pared down style characterized by… >>

— Portlin Cochise Doctor's Review

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