"...fast-paced adrenaline rush"
QUILL & QUIRE
"...prepare to be transformed"
"...distinctive and brilliantly bizarre"
..."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
FINALIST for 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
He’s got my grandfather’s lilt to the left, tool belt
slumped one side, shadows strung like helium
balloons from his torso—swaying, cawing.
His forearm on the doorframe, scoping my room
over my head, faint grit of solder fluxing
from his denim. Pestle and mortar knuckles,
smile like a split open geode, cave of agate
Throat nicked, oxidised,
telling me each galloping footfall, every song
and howl from my child agitates below, nettles
the walls. At first they dug into his skull,
those wallops and bellows, tracked through
dreams—kids swinging truck tires, rutting his ceiling
with their dress-up heels.
Didn’t like to complain
so each day he knelt, prayed. And then a revelation—
all those honking cries, every rollick and wail
was joy. Joy! Now he basks in the felicity of sound,
her squeals are his music, his elysian booze.
But he’s been wondering why I don’t play
tunes, lifts a 90’s boom box from the hall—
mined from the dumpster, wires tweaked
and fused now, double cassette, CD and radio,
speakers scotch-smooth. Says my joy is his joy.
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.
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 2021 ReLit Awards
and a finalist for the 2021 Victoria Butler Book Prize
The title poem, "Cult Life", was longlisted for the CBC Literary Awards
"Dorm Room 214" received 2nd place in The Fiddlehead's poetry contest
and was also chosen to appear in Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2015
"Self Portrait" received second runner up in PRISM International's poetry contest
"Heart Sutra" was longlisted for The Montreal Prize
Other poems from the book have been published in The Literary Review of Canada, The ReLit Journal's inaugural issue, ARC Poetry Magazine, Prairie Fire, Room Magazine, The Rusty Toque, Plenitude Magazine, Riddle Fence, and The Antigonish Review.
The Personal Side Of Cult Life
1999, when I left for the ashram on Australia's north coast. I had no real idea of what enlightenment was—it 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 mother—she 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 cornerstones—will 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.
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.
On my wedding day at the ashram, Sept, 2002
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!)