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Read an Excerpt from Richard Sanger's Final Poetry Collection, Way to Go

Orange banner image with cover of Richard Sanger's Way to Go and text reading "Can you explain, in your own words, what you think your diagnosis is? Excerpt from Way to Go, Richard Sanger's final book"

Facing a terminal diagnosis, poet, playwright, and translator Richard Sanger had to decide how to use his final days – and how he felt about the end. In time, he decided to do what he'd been doing all along: sharing his powerful, irreverent, deeply original voice with his readers. His fourth poetry collection, titled Way to Go (Biblioasis) in a turn of the self-aware cheekiness that often showed up in Sanger's work, showcases a man in the rare position of being fully conscious of the fact that they're taking a truly final inventory of, in Sanger's case, a life well-lived.

Witty and wise, shot through with achingly vulnerable longing and love, Way to Go is joyful and honest, and what tender sadness it contains is predicated on the loss of a carefully built world of family, intellectual curiosity, and laughter. In facing the final and ultimate loss, Sanger guides readers through the concept with playful and nimble linguistic leaps, offering a hopeful roadmap for our one universal experience. 

British born and Canadian raised, Sanger published three acclaimed collections previously, including Dark Woods, which came out in 2018, 16 years after Sanger's previous collection, and was named one of the top ten poetry books of the year by the New York Times. 

We're proud to share an excerpt from his final work here today, courtesy of Biblioasis.  

Excerpt from Way to Go by Richard Sanger:

Hop Hornbeam

The late writer Richard Sanger (1960-2022), credit Richard Sanger credit Rita Leistner

It’s March, tender one, and still
you cling to your feelings,
these precious leaves of yours
you won’t let go. Remember the fall
when the big trees unbuttoned,
unburdened themselves of all
that gaudy trash they dash off?
How it fluttered down and collected
in the ditches and gutters,
yellow and orange and hectic red?
You skulked in their shade,
tut-tutting at their profligate ways,
how they spend themselves
before it’s even November,
as you wait, wait for the right breeze
to launch your little babies...
You’ll be like Borges’ scholar,
so enchanted by the magic
of words on a page, you end up
leading a life as thin and pale
as the paper between your fingers—
these whispers of worn parchment,
the leaves you can’t bear to part with
that tug and tatter in the breeze.


Way to Go

for Natalie

Up a slope in early spring, into a stand
of hardwoods, last fall’s leaves now black
and spongy underfoot, the way ahead
not exactly dark or difficult, but gone.


The doctor has spoken with you.
Can you explain, in your own words,
what you think your diagnosis is?


Spores, fungi, mycelia, frilly bonnets,
tuberous new growths, elaborate arabesques
and turkey tails sprouting from old trunks...
The intestines of the forest digest
the news: what’s outside also grows inside us.


So haul out the artillery, hook me up
and chemo carpet-bomb the rebel zones
into submission... All set? Here we go.


The Olds, The News

Old folks, propped up, watching the news,
and it doesn’t get any newer, does it,
the usual head administering the same steady drip
of outrages to worry about, the images
spilling catastrophically across the screen,
bombs, borders, airports, oil tankers,
London, Jakarta, Lagos, a frantic parade that stops,
returns us to the head, still perfectly coiffed.

...And on the sofa, this other head, nodding off,
eyes closed, mouth agape, sojourning
in some happier realm, briefly dead.
She stirs herself to life, to pick up the thread
of this plotless mess, as if taking on
the weight of the planet’s latest sorrow
might somehow anchor here a moment more
a spirit restless, hankering to depart.


Richard Sanger (1960–2022) grew up in Ottawa and lived in Toronto. He published three poetry collections and a chapbook, Fathers at Hockey (2020); Dark Woods, was named one of the top ten poetry books of 2018 by the New York Times. His plays included Not Spain, Two Words for Snow, Hannah’s Turn, and Dive as well as translations of Calderon, Lorca, and Lope de Vega. He also published essays, reviews, and poetry translations.

Buy the Book

Way to Go

A jubilant, irreverent, generous collection by a poet facing terminal illness.

Following his New York Times Best of the Year Dark Woods, Richard Sanger’s fourth and final book is a clear-eyed and big-hearted inventory of the passions of a life well lived. Understated, tender, archly funny and achingly generous, Way to Go is a joyful catalog of Sanger’s loves and a last gift from an irrepressibly jubilant poet.

So many springs and falls and pounces,
So many vintages crushed
And dripping through our fingers,
So many nights and letters ending love,
You’d think we’d long since drained the cup.