"...fast-paced adrenaline rush"

QUILL & QUIRE

"...prepare to be transformed"

Anne Simpson

"...distinctive and brilliantly bizarre"

                                     Sylvia Legris

..."one almost longs for Cult Life to be a fleshed-out novella" ARC POETRY

"...a woman who can make words bow to her will"

Susan Sanford Blades

SHORTLISTED for the 2021 ReLit Awards
& The Victoria Butler Book Prize!

ABOUT CULT LIFE

Enlightenment may not be on everyone's bucket list, but for the three hundred devotees of the Master, "awakening" was their singular purpose. Cult Life follows three years in the life of the author as a twenty-something single mother whose spiritual devotion stood in juxtaposition to her search for worldly love. All the marvelous peculiarities of coterie life are laid bare through the voices of strange characters and the poet-narrator's own unflinching honesty. Cult Life is a crucible where philanthropists and sociopaths, artists and misfits, dare to seek the mystical, transcendent, something that calls from the realm of the soul.

"...it's unflinching and unbelievably honest...you have to get all the way to the end thinking: Did this happen? How did it happen? Thank god she got out! It's almost like a thriller in verse"

~ Dymphny Dronik CJSW Radio

Cult Life, Pedlar Press 2020
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Dorm Room 214

 

Under the blown glass angels with gold-dipped heads strung up by their haloes, a poster of Rossetti’s Lilith, Klimt’s Kiss, all magpied from The Barn—our swap shop, where almost anything you imagine miraculously appears soon after you think of it. Like the soda shoppe chair in front of the window where the Pole likes to fuck me, at night, with the lights on. And the sprawling threadbare chaise behind the gauzy sarong wall, where one night, three of us completely ignored Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, discovered what yoga was really for—two Aussie girls and that French cyclist with River Phoenix hair. This Dutch guy says my place reminds him of a Turkish bazaar, a harem, a Babylonian shrine. He likes to play harmonica in the shower, admire his chest in that mosaiced mirror above the sink, where the German wrote ich liebe dich with my daughter’s alphabet stickers, and I thought German had a dirty ring. Half the place bed-hops. So hard to say no. To say no seems... ungrateful. Like refusing Godiva’s chocolates, silk wedding saris, a foot massage. The ashram in-words: merci and oui, tak, ja, sí, surebaby.

READ AN EXCERPT

PRAISE FOR CULT LIFE

Kyeren Regehr’s bold, knife-edge poetry is always “looking right at you.” Cult Life offers a world richly peopled with characters, yet Regehr explodes this light-filled realm, showing us another side of the master, the devotees, and the ashram itself. In her poems, the extraordinary curls up inside the ordinary, a hidden dimension, revealing how “if you bend your ear / you might hear what it is to be whole.” What a wonderful book of poetry—prepare to be transformed.    

                                  

—Anne Simpson

Recipient of the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Atlantic Poetry Prize

I read Kyeren Regehr's Cult Life in one "speed-firing" swoop and after had that woozy-spinning-exhilarating disorientation you feel when you stumble out of a roller coaster. These poems, a pushme-pullyou chronicle of life inside an ashram, of a poet seeking and ultimately leaving a "New Religious Movement" in order to find herself as poet, are ones I never could have imagined. Cult Life is astonishing and Regehr's poetry, distinctive and brilliantly bizarre, "basks in the felicity of sound.”

— Sylvia Legris

Recipient of the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Pat Lowther Award

For the past nine Sundays I've been eagerly anticipating the latest episode of the HBO about the NXIVM cult. But Kyeren Regehr's, Cult Life, is the real deal. The story of a cult from a woman who can make words bow to her will. Regehr can describe succinctly what a nine-episode docuseries could never pin down. The mind-set of a cult? A  The mind-fuckery of a cult leader? This book, which could be described as a novel in the form of poetry, takes us deep into the heart and mind of a woman in an ashram, to a place of empathy, anger, vulnerability, and strength. It goes beyond describing what it is to be a woman in a cult--it describes what it is to be a woman in the patriarchy (to be a woman, period), in which all of our minds can be twisted to believe that "to say no seems ... ungrateful."

—Susan Sanford Blades, author of Fake It So Real

Reading Kyeren Regehr’s Cult Life feels like hearing a friend explain their abusive relationship, a conversation starting with Irish Breakfast Tea but likely ending with whiskey or wine.... Cult LIfe is a troubled beauty of three parts... Kaleidoscopic, phantasmagoric, spiritual refrains... Regehr’s themes of dislocation, transcendent light, judgement and sensuality reverberate throughout... she brings the reader on this visceral and often roughshod spiritual journey with aplomb, showcasing her range of poetic skill.

— James K. Moran for ARC POETRY MAGAZINE

A Gallery of the Book Launch at Munro's Books

Literary Accolades for Cult Life

The collection was shortlisted for the 2020 ReLit Awards

The title poem, Cult Life, was longlisted for the CBC Literary Awards

Dorm Room 214 received 2nd place in The Fiddlehead's Poetry Award

Dorm Room 214 was also chosen to appear in Best Canadian Poetry, 2015

Self Portrait received 1st runner up in PRISM International's Poetry Contest

Heart Sutra was longlisted for The Montreal Prize

Other poems from the collection have been published in The Literary Review of Canada,The Rusty Toque, Room Magazine, Arc Poetry Magazine, The Antigonish Review, and Plentitude Magazine.

Listen to an excerpt on SoundCloud

 

recorded by Monica Kidd

I Talk about Cult life

 

with Caley Byrne

from the Victoria Festival of Authors

 The Personal Side Of Cult Life

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1999, when I left for the ashram on Australia's north coast. I had no real idea of what enlightenment wasit took another twenty years to get a quasi-accurate hold on that idea.

Questing (from Cult Life)

To lose a long-haired surfer go somewhere he'd never daydream his board. I mean who plans to run away to Mid-Western America? Who flees a beachy barefoot paradise to Nowhere Rednecksville with six suitcases,a fold-up Fisher Price dollhouse and a three-year-old child? I'm not really leaving, I promise, indulge me another pilgrimage. Like my half-baked trip to India, and the crystal healing cacoethes, those Vipassana silences, Kriya Yoga initiations... And my mothershe doesn't want to know we've landed at a ramshackle resort the ashram owns. Doesn't want to know we're safer away from him in a building that's never locked, keys in all the dorm room doors, ghosts and other darknesses slugging the basement, sinking cornerstoneswill we ever get back home? At night I'm running North with my daughter, through snow. The sky glows white, everything's white; maybe it's sand not snow, maybe it's Shangri-la or a billowy formless Nirvana.

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WHAT'S IN A NAME?

I chose not to name the ashram for two reasons, firstly, although the main U.S.A.facility (far left) had long been demolished when I began writing, there were still devotees of the Master living and teaching and working  at another facility. It felt necessary to protect their lives from the public eye. But I also wanted the written story to stand apart from the story that happened in the "real" world, because in the process of writing it, it became another version of itself. Here's what I wrote in the acknowledgements:

 

"... emotional truth and narrative arc must sometimes trump factual truth when crafting life stories into (what one hopes might be) literature."

As the narrative grew, some people began to blend together and become composite characters; they fit better that way. And some threads of the narrative didn't fit. The ashram's theater productions and it's music and bands didn't make it into the book. I was involved in most of it, but the narrative felt too bulky with those experiences (which were huge stories of their own). My work in a local ballet school, with all of it's performances and wonderful children, barely gets a mention. And the many outreach expeditions or "light teams" as they were called, where we traveled to other cities, or countries, to "spread the message"... this was all far too unwieldy to include. As I began to find the narrative, those elements no longer fit; they felt like the extended DVD version, and my narrative shoved them right out.

 

The restaurant still exists (far right), and the Healing Center (middle), but I sheltered them a bit too, shifting their names so they became literary versions of their worldly selves. I changed the names of the people in the book too:

"Some names used in the book are names given by The Master (or in some cases by previous gurus), others have been invented to represent composite characters. The names listed in “The Master Attempts to Christen Me” are all names he bestowed. Unless permission has been given, all real names have been changed out of respect for privacy." (Also from the acknowledgements.)

My husband named the book. And he named it long before I wrote it. We originally conceived of it as a screenplay, or a sitcom, but we both knew it was a story to be told. James K. Moran, in his review for ARC Poetry Magazine, said  there was "no shortage of material" and that he "almost long[ed] for Cult Life to be a fleshed out novella", and honestly, that was a real temptation. I was in the middle of my MFA in writing when I wrote "The Guru's Feet"; I scribbled it on the back of a grocery list in a coffee shop, then the floodgates opened. It came out as prose, but it had the density and music of poetry, probably because I was writing a lot of poetry at the time. Almost all of the initial writing was short prose, but it began to take shape very quickly as a kind of genre-bending narrative in poetry. I knew it was a book, and it already had a name.

Read James K. Moran's full review
for ARC Poetry Magazine:

cult life is many things, but in the end, i came to think of it

as very strange kind of love story...

Heart Sutra (from Cult Life)

 

           

My child plucks petals in the Secret Garden Cafe on the eve of my wedding,

fills her plastic beaded handbag, the one my father bought her—my parents

 

            at the ashram! My fiancé’s mother from Regina, his Harvard-genius brother.

            The awkward conjunction of genetics and our desire to transcend the world.

 

                        The musicians hover at that place between science and art, tuning their instruments

                        by ear, by heart. They can measure its frequency now, the heart—

 

            not the sound of its rhythmical pulsing, but a finer resonance, something

electromagnetic—the slow hail of a rose swelling. My bridesmaid hunches in giggling fits

 

when she’s nervous. My daughter fidgets the silk flowers on her shoes,

my father checks his cufflinks and we head towards my groom. The garden blooms

                                   

            with touchy-feely devotees, flying in and out of standing meditation

            under fading September skies—gone, completely gone. The Guru hasn’t shown—

 

                                                He’s beyond the world, in some sort of altered state

                                                by sundown. Fairy globes sparkle on the deck, illuminate

 

all the glittery paper hearts pinned to the backs of chairs, railings, tree trunks. Love notes

shining on table legs, swinging from thorns on the primrose vine. Hail the seva of sweetness

 

                        on the buffet table, devotional offerings: rosewater lassi, toffeed profiterole tower,

                        passionfruit pavlova, marshmallowy ptasie mleczko—the enlightenment of sugar

           

                                    waiting beyond the ceremony, on the other shore. Our best man sobs,

                                    clutches the podium as he reads, his comb-over strands

 

                                                lifting in the breeze. Our vows hail the elusive sound

                                                of the heart—in Sanskrit anahata means unstruck,

 

            unharmed. They say a roomful of people in heart mediation creates a silent

field others might fall into. My daughter scatters petals on our feet—my love

 

sinks to one knee, asks my child to be his child. If we could

peel away the facade of the world, all we’d see is light.

 

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On my wedding day at the ashram, Sept, 2002

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Listen to a CJSW Radio interview of me talking about the ashram and the book.

Dymphony Dronik is the interviewer

and her program is called Writer's Block

(click on the icon above!)

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