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We are so looking forward to stretching our muscles with you in Italy in 2015, both physically and creatively!

Gubbio Gubbio wherefore art thou Gubbio?

I knew nothing of Gubbio prior to this trip, aside from some vague connection to Francis of Assisi. My loss, apparently. Gubbio is a wonder of terraces, cathedrals, palaces, palazzos, ancient stone, a surprising treasure in the form of a golden fountain spigot in the shape of a duck head, Roman ruins, and sweeping views into a broad green valley.

After our morning of yoga, breakfast, and a shift in perspective with James leading the writing practice, we ate yet another exquisite lunch and climbed into taxis with the enthusiastic (and handsome) Marco and Stefano. The ride was quicker than we imagined and full of swoops and dodges, as we careened through the Umbrian hills to Gubbio. Continue reading

Spring light in new leaves

Spring has sprung in Umbria.

Each morning on a Radical Restoration retreat we begin at 7:00 a.m. with some gentle, self-compassionate yoga that helps us get in dialogue with our bodies and our Selves. We breakfast in companionable, communal silence to allow that dialogue to continue. And at 10:00 we are welcomed back to our voices in the two and a half hour writing workshop. After lunch, which so far this trip has been delicious – as every meal here has been so far (we’ll leave that for another post), we’re free to do whatever takes our fancy.

Today three of our troupe hiked for five hours along the old Franciscan pilgrims’ trail, through the spectacular Umbrian countryside, ending up at the Cathedral of Saint Francis in Assisi. The rest of us hiked more locally, napped, rested, and soaked in the Italian spring sunshine. Continue reading

James in Mallorca 3

From Poet Kate Marshall Flaherty: James Dewar is an innovative, creative, and affirming workshop guide and host of literary events. It was his inspiration to exclaim “give me a line!” for audiences to give positive feedback to poets after readings. It was he who imagined taking writers to the museum to write about the artifacts and historic sites.

It has been my great pleasure to work with him as a host at his HotSauced Words series, the most popular literary event series in all of Toronto! It has been a joy to be at his workshops, where he gives creative prompts for writing, insightful comments on editing, and truly exceptional guidance into the craft of poetry.

It is my pleasure to recommend James Dewar as the one of the most motivational workshop guides I have ever worked with.


From Poet Ron Potter: I trust James. With his guidance and critique of my writing I always find myself in a new place with many “ah ha” moments. He engages with my writing at a level that fascinates me.


From Poet Annabelle Murray: James Dewar was my editor and publisher for my two chapbooks of poetry. Before he even reviewed the poetry, he spent time getting to know me and my vision for my book. He handled my poetry in a considerate yet clear-eyed manner. He evaluated each poem within the context of the whole work, lending an objective eye, yet also respectful of my artistry as a writer. By the time we got to my second book, we had developed an easy poet/editor relationship and the whole thing was a piece of cake. James has an easy manner, a great sense of humour, and really understands how to help a writer let their own voice shine through the writing.


From Editor and Poet Susie Berg: As a professional editor, I was very curious to experience the editorial process from the other side, and James did not disappoint. His editorial work on my first full-length collection demonstrated to me how each person has a role in the creative process, and proved that a good editor sits with the work a while before encouraging it in the best direction it can go. James was a joy to work with. We talked through the poems and identified the spots that needed pressure; James then offered the tools that allowed me to step back and break through to make each poem better. Those tools have now become part of my regular toolbox; I think of his suggestions each time I work on a new poem.

07 Alma Morning

Terry: Alma de Hatillo is Paradise!  Sabina is lovely and supportive and flexible – as are all the staff.  The accommodations are wonderful and the food is amazing.  I eat so well here.  There are just the right number of activities available for after yoga and writing. Highlights: The yoga and writing; the zip-lining; kayaking in the mangrove swamp; surfing (despite the fact I didn’t get up off my knees!); the birds and critters and William’s dog; the pool; the amount of time we spend outdoors; trips to the ocean; the town of Dominical and the beach vendors; the interesting, lovely people in our group.

Jude: Everything we need is offered here:  fresh ingredients are used by Deedee for her delicious meals.  This is not meant to be a five star resort, but the rooms are clean, the pool is refreshing, and after two weeks, I feel like I am leaving family behind in Costa Rica when I go back to Canada.  When I came back this year, it felt like coming home. Highlights: Costa Rica is hot, but it doesn’t stop one from being active.  Shopping in Dominical or Hacienda Baru, ziplining, surfing, kayaking or lazing by the pool make for a delightful vacation.  The people are friendly.  Their English may not be great, but they work hard to understand your needs.

Theresa: My experience of staying at Alma de Hatillo? Welcoming hostess, friendly staff, beauty abounds.  Day trips available, pool refreshing, and welcome Internet. Highlights: Time to write and get back into that headspace is what I wanted and received.  A couple of visits to Dominical and a couple of dips in the pool rounded out my time.  Quiet and alone is my trip’s time.

Nancy: Jungle and peace.  Progress?  The fruit was great – almost fat-farmish.  The days are full and 8 p.m. seems to be okay to retire and a non-Best Western to wake. Highlights: The highlights were – put some thoughts on paper (thank you Sue), getting up on a surfboard, yoga in the morning and ziplining with Esther and April, Carlos and Juan.

Jon: A homecoming, both a re-living of previously experienced delights – the universal pineapple, the cooling pool, Sabina’s warm presence and new adventures – exploring the trails and the hillside, practicing my Spanish with the patient and helpful staff, new bird sounds and old. Highlights: – being a part of a group in which I enjoyed every individual, where everyone was fully accepted.  Returning to the sacred arches of the mangrove swamp, standing my 65 year old body up on a surf board, discussing questions that I had dwelt on too long over dinner and receiving insights and perspectives of huge value.

Sue: I was grateful for the lazy, rotating fans, the salt water pool, the distant heartbeat of the Pacific throbbing underneath all of it.  The cacophonic soundscape that was almost too much at times but underscored the profound sense of LIFE in this place, the verdant prana-filled world of Costa Rica.  And always the care, concern and nurturing of the staff at Alma – Deedee, Mauricio, William and of course the irrepressible Sabina.  I felt so looked after! Highlights: The food at Alma – especially breakfast every morning – the papaya particularly, and the local cheese.  The silent mornings – so precious to me. The Beach Art experience – interpreting my creativity in the different ways that Jon encouraged. The night we spent at the little corner restaurant with the fabulous Tex-Mex food; margarita night at Hacienda Baru with friends who had, in three short days, become intimate companions.  Those long-table dinner conversations where I could turn to the right or the left and discuss entirely different subjects.  Zip-lining, the eeriness of the mangrove swamps, that fantastic conversation about art with Jon, Deepam and others around the table.

Suzanne:  Terrific!  Excellent food, impeccable cleaning, fantastic host – even enjoyed Carmella the lizard with whom I shared my bedroom.  The salt water pool, the socialization opportunities and the places for quiet reflection and meditation – I can’t think of a complaint to save my soul. Highlights:  This place!  Not what I expected (and I did expect a good time) but oh so much better.  The people, the welcome, the ocean, the breeze caressing the jungle;  my only disappointment was no way for me up the mountain so I could go zip-lining – but getting older ain’t for sissies and I loved body surfing in the waves, discovering how much greater my capacities were in yoga, writing and alcohol consumption!

Sharon: Warm, inviting, extraordinary, a gem in the jungle, the green one and away from the so-called jungle of hotels and money making machines.  I quiet respite from the world.  Wonderful hostess and staff – beautiful people – good homemade food. Highlights:  Eye-opening, fun, hospitable, beautiful;  the beach where only we go – so serene and a feast for the eyes – unbelievable in its emptiness of people and fullness of beauty. Esther: The gardens and pathways lead to amazing food and the company of friends.  This is truly paradise within the jungle. Highlights: The ocean.  Stretching out endless and warm, the ocean took me back in time – carefree in the waves, the push and pull of a massive force made me feel part of something magical.

Esana: Sabina welcomes you, spoils the senses with the food of the land:  mangoes and star fruit, chocolate creamy with vanilla and spice.  Deeply caring where all concerned, gently willing smiles that I will carry home with me. Highlights:  My experience of Costa Rica is one of a smooth, slowly flowing and yielding river.  All aspects of my stay rolled off the tongue, the skin, the shoulders and whispered love abounds.  Excellent, caring organizers and presenters!

Colleen: Sabina and Deedee and all the staff embody hospitality itself.  This location is pure joy.  I can’t take my eyes off the miracles of nature and the earth.  It is such a gift that fits so well with the warmth of these accompanying travellers. Highlights:   The area is very quaint, the people seem altogether charming.  The beach and the markets are exotic and fabulous.  The zip-lining and playing in the waves were my very favourite memories.

April: Quaint and unpretentious, friendly and peaceful – this place made this experience true versus other canned vacations I’ve been on.  Allowed for privacy when needed, yet many social gathering spots always filled with laughter. Highlights:   Zip-lining has been on my bucket list for the past decade.  To go whizzing through the jungle and pass a giant, two-toed sloth is an experience I can’t capture on film, but maybe on the page (if I keep up with my writing practice J  ).

Deepam: Silky air, silence and laughter, a bumpy jaunt to the beach, a late-night naked float in warm salt water, the whir of the juicer, tears, all hands reaching for tissues, William watering the plants in the morning, glistening green.  So many greens, shapes of green, the shock of red – a flower, the wing of a bird, a splash of paint on the side of the shed.  Mauricio there with what you need, before you even ask. Highlights:   Beach art.  Rolling through the surf.  Sand stuck between lining and shell.  Where I am happy is here – doing what I love best with the people I love best in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  And being warm in February.

Dawn: I found the accommodations to be clean. The food was wonderful.  The surroundings are beautiful and it is so nice to swim in the salt water pool that overlooks the ocean.  Sabina is an amazing hostess who works hard to make sure everyone’s needs or wants are met. Highlights:  Some of the highlights for me were surfing, shopping in Domical, going out to dinner with the group, and kayaking in the mangrove swamp.  The beauty of the surroundings and being able to take the time to enjoy the wildlife.

James: Alma de Hatillo is a lovely gated estate on the side of a jungled hill. Farms and fields spread out along the ridge of hills and on towards the Pacific Ocean. The beautiful friendly village of Hatillo is a 10 minute walk away. There are Cantinas near the highway and the fabulous surfing mecca of Dominical is just down the highway. The accommodations, food and service at Alma de Hatillo are splendid. The owner, Sabina, takes personal care to ensure everyone is happy. It is common to see several beautiful birds each day. We spent many hours in the shaded swimming pool on the hot afternoons before we’d all head down to the Pacific to watch the sunset. Highlights:  Spending two whole wonderful weeks with my partner Sue. The afternoon Jon lead us all in a Pacific beach art experience at sunset (a remarkable moment of connection through art that I’ve never experienced before.) Learning the wonderful role that restorative yoga can play in feeling good about myself. Writing lots of poems and stories. Taking photographs (I can’t believe I didn’t get neck strain). The zip-lining adventure at Hacienda Baru. Visiting Dominical, bartering with vendors on the beach and watching the surfer dudes (mostly Australian). Another highlight was the first drive along the highway into Costa Rica, and the flight over the mountains on the way back.



Although she is modest and shies away from taking credit for her students’ successes, the truth is that writing with Sue Reynolds has resulted in contest wins, publication, and a two-book deal with a major publishing house. I believe this is on account of a particular, (ironically) ineffable magic that happens when she launches a circle of writers down the writing road. Sue Reynolds leads the daily writing practice in Valfabbrica, Italy this April:  http://radicalrestoration.ca/yoga_writing_retreat/italy/
Who knows, a piece begun in the ancient hills of Umbria could put you in the winners’ circle. In fact, if you come, that’s exactly where you’ll be.

Terry: Sue’s writing group took me to places I did not think I was capable of going.  I was worried about being able to write anything at all and was pleased to discover I could.  The whole format is very gentle and supportive – I felt I could really expose my “narrator” and feel very safe.  I used the writing to explore my creativity and to do a little therapy on myself, knowing all of this was okay.

Jude: The prompts offered by Sue engaged my imagination.  The encouragement and support of the other writers led me to dig deeper, to share more.  My writing is richer than when I came.

Theresa: My experience of the writing group?  Pressed together, pressure of pen against that always blank page to create something worthy.  Soft words lead, blank mind struggles to follow.

Nancy: The writing group was an awakening experience.  I was able to put a few thoughts on paper and laugh about it.  I found another new hobby!

Jon: Each day unfolding freer, fresher, deeper.  A venturing into dark indigo corners, a bursting forth into rhythmic flow of unexpected images.  Instructive too!

Sue: I was deeply grateful for the way the entire group showed up day after day and gave their entire hearts and minds to the practice, engaging with the material of their lives on the page (in memoir, fiction and poetry) with the same kind of focus and commitment they brought to any standing position or seated meditation.

Suzanne: Acceptance and understanding – words flowing like a river – raucous laughter and the acceptance and release of tears and fears and joy and sorrow.  My only thought would be a couple of yawn and stretch moments to breathe.

Sharon: Hard, easy; silence helps to stimulate the brain cells.  Learning to keep the pen to the paper and the butt in the chair!  Listening to the readers, including self, with absolute confidence of acceptance, with no criticism; learning what works for me.

Esther: This group is like a warm hug of support.  Their words – music and waterfalls.  Their voices – laughter and sorrow.  I feel altered, grown anew, and blessed by their hearts.

Esana: A quiet space of listening and hearing the heart song.  That song that sometimes sputtered out of my own reluctant pen, that danced on the tongues of my beautiful fellow travellers.  My ears delighted to take in the love.

Colleen: Energized me, inspired me and gave me the seeds of new skills.  I felt myself unplug from mourning and pour forth unexpected things.  I also got unblocked from where I am in my novel.  Everything started to flow again.

April: Catapults all writers, new and seasoned, to look deep within themselves to find, either through story or experience, words that lift you off the page.

Deepam: Diving down into the ocean of words, images, sensation, memory surfacing like old friends from the depths.  In the safety of the circle, we offer our ears, our hearts, our shoulders, each to another.  The magic emerging from those who believed they could not.

Dawn:  I really enjoyed the variety and depth of the writing prompts.  I also enjoyed listening to everyone else’s pieces and giving and receiving supportive feedback.

James: Nobody encourages deep writing and brilliant writing better than Sue Reynolds. I came back with five good poems and four short stories that have great potential. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of producing new work. The best aspect of the writing component is sitting with the group and sharing our stories and poems. I am always so impressed with how some of the writers go into painful places and produce gifted works of art. They set an example that encourages everyone else. And Sue creates the safety that makes it all work so well. New friendships abound.

06 The practice begins

Terry: Esana’s yoga is sublime, relaxing, grounding;  prepared me well for writing.  Each time I went a little deeper and was able to stay more in the moment.  She is, by far, the best yoga instructor I have ever had.  I never feel like I have to push my body beyond what it is capable of—she is very gentle.

Jon: Esana’s yoga – like yogic ecstasy blanketed in the rising of the sun on banana leaves and pierced by bird song and the beat of butterfly wings.

Jude: Esana’s yoga classes:  I came to yoga class with a sore left knee and a tight hip restricting my movements.  As I listened to Esana’s soothing voice I allowed my body to slowly unwide, to move as best it could.  This was so much better and longer lasting than any medication a doctor could prescribe.

Theresa: My experience of Esana’s yoga class?  Stretching, bending, breaking, clearing out the sludge and slime til finally the centre that is enough was visible.  And seeing that maybe even I might one day believe that.

Nancy: Esana’s yoga classes were extremely relaxing—gentle stretching with lots of options and adjustment.  The deep touch of Esana’s hands—thank you Esana!

Sue: Sitting in a deep well of peace.  Esana’s yoga classes are like coming home to myself.  The most deeply self-compassionate yoga practice I have ever encountered (and I have encountered many wonderful yoga classes and many gifted teachers.  Esana is the best.  Ever.).  Sometimes I would find tears in my lashes as we practiced – tears of gratitude, tears of tenderness for myself and for the whole world.

Suzanne: Experience of yoga love, yoga caress – no stress. Esana’s complete understanding of everyone’s varied experiences and in the joy of inner healing and focus.  I guess you could say amazing – even if the roosters and dogs kept asking if they could join in!

Sharon: Thoughtful, invigorating, added to feeling of youth and well-being.  Just the right length – about 2 hours – first timers might think it would be too long, but it’s not.  It flies by.  The ringing of the bell, the poetry, the words, the touch of hands – gives a very lovely, spiritual feel as you sit in the jungle, leaving you peaceful and tranquil when it’s over.

Esther: Breathing in the jungle with Esana’s beautiful voice took me beyond myself and left me open to possibilities and poetry.

Esana: Every morning I awakened to an embracing space that held and cradled the body, the heart of all who dared to join with themselves, with each other, and with the generosity of the land, sky and air.

Colleen: A wonderful way to wake up; realize your special relationship with life and soul and the earth.  Pay homage to the body while stretching out the stiff places in preparation for the day – a pure gift.

April: My body yearned for the tug and pull of both body and spirit after the first day.  The jungle is the perfect setting to come together and be whole.  What added to the tranquillity was Esana’s soothing song at the close of the morning’s practice.

Deepam: Stretching inward, the poetry of motion and stillness, the dance of here now, wiping away sleep’s mist to see with fresh eyes, hear with new ears, find my feet, my sine, my fingers, remember my belly, my place, my beloved self.

Dawn: I thoroughly enjoyed Esana’s yoga classes.  Here gentle guidance allowed me to participate at a level that was comfortable for me.  Time seemed to stand still and the magic was over too soon.  Her chanting sings to my heart.

James: I had never been to a climate this hot before, nor had any experience with yoga. I arrived with perennial aches in my shoulders and left knee. They have always been there, it seems. As a man in a yoga/writing retreat filled with a small minority of males, I admit I felt intimidated. But I am thrilled to say that Esana, our yoga instructor, was amazing. By the end of the two weeks all of my aches and pains were gone and my body and mind felt joined in a warm harmony. There is a sweetness to waking up and spending the first 90 minutes of the day in a state of community with nature, each other and one’s own self. I learned a way to love myself despite my failings. Every man my age should experience this unique method of pursuing fitness and health.

james dewar

James Dewar

is a publisher, producer, emcee, editor, teacher and writer. As the publisher of Piquant Press he has edited and published over a dozen books and co-edited six poetry anthologies. Through Creative James Chapbook Publishing and Stone’s Throw Publication Services, he has guided scores of writers in the editing, design and publication of their books.

James was awarded the Teaching Excellence Certificate from Durham College for teaching advanced creative writing. He also teaches poetry and fiction workshops throughout Metropolitan Toronto and Durham Region. He has been a Contributing Editor for eight years with Metroland Media Group.

His first book of poetry, The Garden in the Machine, was published in 2007 by Hidden Brook Press. His poetry and short fiction have been published in several anthologies and literary journals. James has performed his work live on CBC, Rogers TV and several university radio stations, and is regularly invited to read his poetry at Toronto reading series. He produces and hosts his own poetry performance series, Hot-Sauced Words, now in its seventh year.

He offers personalized mentorship services for emerging writers. He is a Past President of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region and is working on a new book of poetry and a novel.