Reading from Two Minds at Planet Earth Poetry Friday, February 5, 2016: 7:30 p.m.

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I will be reading from my book of sufic ghazals, Two Minds, on Friday, February 5, 2016, at The Planet Earth Poetry reading series at Hillside Coffee and Tea, 1633 Hillside Ave (across from Bolen Books), in Victoria. The evening begins at 7:30 with an open mic.

I am looking forward to sharing these poems and stories of being initiated by the Sufic spirit Khedr (that’s him on the cover, from a pleasure palace in Saxony) on my pilgrimage to the Northern Orient in 2010.

 

Readings in Regina, Edmonton and Calgary in the fall were a lot of fun. I hope you can come out.

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Khedr

The poems began in 1977, with conversations with P.K. Page and the rich trove of Eastern material she poured into my head in those few weeks she taught at UVic and I was lucky enough to be there. These are the poems I wrote for myself for thirty years, and which fell into place when I was living in Campbell River in 2008, between the mountains and the sea. Thank you to the B.C. Arts Council for the grant which brought three decades together like this.

On February 7, I will be reading at the Centre for Spiritual Living in Yaletown, Vancouver. You can read about that reading here.

Reading from Two Minds at Centre For Spiritual Living Yaletown, February 7

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BC Poet Harold Rhenisch presents at Centre for Spiritual Living, Yaletown, 1131 Howe Street, Vancouver, 10 a.m. February 7, 2016

The Centre for Spiritual Living in Yaletown will be hosting me at 10 a.m. on February 7 to talk about my most recent book of poetry – Two Minds. Here’s a spiritual review of the book, by Susan McCaslin. Fellowship begins at 9:30 a.m.

The book is a meditation on Sufic verse inspired by my travels on the northern Camino passage through Europe. The event includes opportunities to experience affirmative prayer and meditation, and takes place Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Centre’s weekly Intention Service held at the Cinematheque theatre at 1131 Howe Street.

“Last year we launched our series Inspired Word, which highlights authors whose work in some way touches on spirituality in whatever form it takes,” says Rev. Karin Wilson, Spiritual Director of CSL Yaletown. “Harold Rhenisch’s Two Minds provides us with a window on Eastern spiritual traditions that are often overlooked.”

TwoMinds_Cover_May20-195x300I was introduced to Sufic verse by one of my literary mentors P.K. Page, who received the Governor General Award, and was awarded the Order of Canada for her poetry. My book of lyrical poetry, known as ghazals, arose from his transformative experience while walking the German portion of the Camino in 2008 and again in 2010 where I met Khezr, the Hidden Prophet also known as the Green Man of Sufism.

“This section of the Camino is quite different from the south,” I told Karin. “You’re going into these dark places and receiving unexpected guidance. What I experienced on that pilgrimage led directly to this book.” In truth, it changed my life.

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I have published 12 full length books of poetry, edited the posthumous poetry of Robin Skelton, and won the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize as well as the CBC Literary Award for poetry and the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature for his book The Wolves of Evelyn.

“This event is designed to awaken and connect us to our ancient heart, which is universal and knows no boundaries,” Wilson says. “It’s often through literature that we get to access these truths. We’re very honoured to have Harold come and share his words and images with us.”

I’m thrilled to be going. I hope you can join us.

For more information, please contact Rev. Karin Wilson Ph: 778-877-2883 Email: <revkarin@telus.net>.

Review of My “Two Minds” by Susan McCaslin

This review just appeared in Dialogue. It’s so great to have a reader like Susan and a publisher who will give space to a thorough review like this. I am deeply honoured and grateful.

“Two Minds, One Household,”
A Review of Harold Rhenisch’s Two Minds (Frontenac House, 2015)
by Susan McCaslin, Fort Langley BC

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Harold Rhenisch’s recent volume of poetry, Two Minds, is a unified long poem composed of a series of aphoristic ghazals, variations on the Persian classic form. To enter this sequence is to step inside a place where history, myth, language, and the poetry of the natural world converge. In these gnomic utterances, inner realities mirror and contain each other in a way that suggests everything is interconnected with everything else.
The “two minds” of the title are at one level the thinking-feeling individual mind and a more unified consciousness that includes and transcends it. Only a trickster mind capable of embracing apparent opposites can fearlessly hold such paradoxes as this:

The whole world and all of time can be seen,/ 
even by the smallest child, even in a Rufous hummingbird,/ / hanging, bronze, on the tip of a spring willow—/
once only, and again once only, and again. Only once. 

(from “Everything and Nothing”)

The “two minds” appear in some contexts as the post-Enlightenment rationalist mind versus the shamanic mind, which is not to be confused with mere madness, but is a form of “divine mania”: “Sometimes a man is locked up for being of two minds. Sometimes he e capes” (from “Remembering Paul Celan”). The shamanic presence that haunts these poems is not merely the poet himself in his personal identity, but a presence we all have the capacity to become: “10,000 years ago, a shaman tracked deep into the night. /Now he is coming back. I meet him at the door. I open” (“Instructions for the Winter Ceremony”).
Reading the Contents pages is like reading a series of short poems held together within a longer one. Take this title, for instance: “As the Riverbed Forms Itself Into a Trout, It Swallows the Sky.” Rhenisch throws everything he has into this cauldron of a volume. The “I” speaks from a dark-light shamanic ground far beyond the world of the Cartesian subject-object split. Some- times it is as if Earth herself rises to speak:
One yellow chrysanthemum with brown leaves burns in the white world. Ah.”

(from “Song of the Earth”)

Rhenisch’s ghazals lead us through diverse landscapes and cultures of Northern Europe but also encompass British Columbia and the Cascadia region of the Pacific Northwest, as, for instance, when he writes about the Nootka Fault line. The speaker is a global traveller, a pilgrim following the Northern leg of the Camino de Santiago, who pauses to see seeing, touch touching, lis- ten to listening. In his “Pilgrim’s Song on the Road to the East” he enters sacred space just as he is:
I have mud on my shoes.
This is how I enter the cathedral: on foot.
On this journey the monotheistic Judeo-Christian-Islamic God mingles with Paleolithic and pagan gods and goddesses. Rhenisch is not afraid to use the word “God” and alludes to the dynamic of time’s intimacies with eternity (“Where Time Ends and Eternity Begins”). His God is a mystery both transcendent and immanent. Christ is “a blooming Dionysus.” Even the Trinity is imaginatively revisioned in “The Day We Re-enacted the Story of the Trinity.”
Bach stands in the doorway of a church shaped like a woman,
but we are the ones who push the inner door open.
This volume seeks to restore the depths of western religious and mystical traditions, recovering Christianity’s lost roots in older, indigenous cultures. Yet clearly the Celtic Green man of the cover design is the unifying presence of the volume. The first poem in the book, “The Man with the Head of a Stag Speaks,” is followed later by “Green Man Rises.”
On his blog, Rhenisch explains the Celtic and Persian (Sufic) origins of this ancient forest spirit and how the Green Man mythos, inscribed in art and architecture, ties to the Islamic prophet Khezr (also called Khidr), who is said to have had the power to initiate seekers who have no guide and to rescue lost wanderers. Khezr clearly becomes the speaker’s primary poetic guide on his journey.
(See the poet’s commentary: http://haroldrhenisch.com/2015/10/06/khezr-the-hidden-prophet- and-my-two-minds/ )
In Rhenisch’s ghazals, each couplet stands on its own, yet resonates within the poem as a whole, which in turn resonates within the entirety of the book. Each couplet is to the volume as a star to its constellation. Some of Rhenisch’s couplets may at first appear cryptic or opaque to linear reasoning. Like Zen koans, they invite you to knock your skull against them. Often a slight shift opens the reader to a larger gestalt: “The world that is the world begins/ with the ladder of integration, which has no rungs” (“All Fall Down”).
One classical rhetorical device Rhenisch employs fre- quently is chiasmus, a stepping forward and back within the structure of the lines. These surprising reversals and mirrorings allow us to bring two perspectives together. Through them Rhenisch develops the theme of the “two minds” which are held in tension as one. Things we think separate are revealed as indwelling each other. Some examples:

Cold determines nothing. Nothing determines the cold.”
(from “The Return to the Trees”)

I walk out into the mountain dawn. The mountains walk in.”
(from “For Children’s Eyes Only”)

The mind in its shell, thinking: the shell in its mind.”
(from “The Shell Game”)

Recurrent themes run wave-like through the whole. One that stands out is that trees are elders and sentient beings (“The Return of the Trees”). The first line of the first poem in the volume takes us “outside the forest of words,” but soon we are returned to the inside of actual forests where we feel “the frog pulsing within the scales of a cedar” (from “The Shell Game”). As Rhenish puts it, “[T]he old language is spoken solely by trees” (“The Weight of the Sky Over a Shaman’s Fire”). In the world of the forests, human power hierarchies like that of Shakespeare’s Macbeth become irrelevant: “Trees are rooting in my feet; there is no longer a king” (“Everyone in the Script is Macbeth’). Or as Rhenisch puts it later, “This forest belongs to the trees.”
Another recurrent configuration involves the presence of the philosopher Plato. Surprisingly, the poems about Plato and Socrates are not abstract, but contemporary, jazzy and playful, with titles like: “Socrates Wears a Black Collar with Silver Spikes,” “Preliminary Notes to a Translation of Particle Physics Into Platonic Light,” and “Walking Out of the Cave Is Not the Same as Wisdom.” Rhenisch’s Plato is not the Plato of the “divided line” between time and eternity, but the Plato of Socrates’ shamanic teacher Diotima, a bearer of feminine wisdom: “Plato heard women’s voices singing among stones—/and wrote them down, so now it’s still there…” (from “Petals Drift Upon the Stones of a Mountain River”).
Rhenisch’s book isn’t only philosophical and shamanic but political in the deepest sense, addressing our current environmental crisis. He notes that “Clear cut forests recede into blue hills/ in sheets of smoke, which they enter as they reenter light” (“Where Time Ends and Eternity Begins”). And in a particularly poignant ghazal he laments that “The mountains are being taken down and loaded on rusty ships” (“Conservation and Rebirth”).
Rhenisch has created a shamanic dream book that lifts us out of our destructive anthropocentrism, but not out of who we are within the playfield of the all-encompass- ing natural world. A mysterious music plays through these poems that is and is not merely the individual poet. The author takes risks in exploring what some post- modern philosophers have rejected: transcendence. However, in this context transcendence does not entail abandoning the body for a “higher world,” but leaving boxed-in knowing to move toward fuller integration. The poems’ force field is larger than its ideas and concepts, and in harmony with the music flowing in, around, under, and through the words.
Review by Susan McCaslin  Dialogue.
About Harold Rhenisch:

Harold Rhenisch has published 12 full-length books of poetry, including the spiritual precursor to Two Minds, “The Spoken World” (Hagios), and 26 other books of poetry, memoir, essay, and environmental writing. His The Art of Haying (Ekstasis 2015) completes the process of Two Minds with 200 photographs from Iceland and Germany. Harold studied with P.K. Page, Charles Lillard, Robin Skelton and Zsuzsi Gartner, has taught poetry and fiction writing at Vancouver Island University and has been writer-in-residence at both Okanagan Regional Library and Douglas College. He has won a CBC poetry prize, two Malahat Review long poem prizes, and a George Ryga Prize, among other national and provincial prizes for poetry, drama and journalism. Harold lives in Vernon, BC. ♣

Dialogue.

Launching Iceland in Victoria on November 19

On Thursday, November 19, I will be launching my book of photography about Iceland. Haying CoverThis is the life of the book after the end of the age of the book. It embodies the sufic tales of my new collection of ghazals, Two MindsThe Art of Haying is full of trolls, elves, horses, tricksters, street art, alternate forms of creativity and the state of books today. It steps off of the Northern Camino into the possibilities that come when you live past an entire age of the world as a pilgrim and wake up one morning in love all over again. It’s a beautiful book. I hope you’ll come. If you’ve never been to Iceland, that most beautiful and quirkiest of countries, this is your chance!

7:30 p.m., Thursday November 19

Martin Batchelor Gallery

712 Cormorant Street, Victoria, B.C.

There’s a special treat. D.C. Reid will expand the sufic theme by launching a new book of glosas: The Spirit of the Thing and the Thing Itself. Dennis and I have gone on the road with books many times before. It’s always a lot of fun and a thrill to be reading with him again.

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See you there!

Sufic and Other Wisdom Poetry in Vancouver on November 11

Might I see you here with my sufic poems?
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Wednesday Nov 11, 2015
Pandora’s Collective Presents
TWISTED POETS LITERARY SALON
with: Harold Rhenisch and Joe Denham
 Cottage Bistro, 4468 Main St, Vancouver, BC
Time: 7:00 – 9:30 pm
Hosts: Lilija Valis and Leanne Boschman
Open Mic sign up at 7pm. Readings begin at 7:30
I plan to make my reading a gesture of peace between East and West.
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I will also read selections from my previous book, sw
The Spoken World, a book of blessings for the earth,  and the world the helps us speak from lands on both sides of life and loss. These are conversations I had with Robin Skelton after his death in 1992. They are about poetry as a wisdom path.
I hope to see you there for this Two Minds and Two Hearts show!
It’ll be a treat to read with Joe. I’ve waited for that for years.

“The Liberation of Prague” Makes the CBC Poetry Prize Long List

The CBC Poetry Prize has announced its 2015 Long List and I’m thrilled that my poem “The Liberation of Prague” is one of the 25 on the list. It’s a thrilling day for poetry across the country. I’m thrilled that my poem gets to share company with all the poems of all these great poets.

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That’s the CBC’s image of the poets on the long list. You’ll find an image of me in there. What the CBC hasn’t shown is all the other poems, and the writers they have brought to light, who aren’t on this list. If we had that image, I think the perspective would be something like this:

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That’s not white space around our little group of 25 poets, by the way. That’s what all the colours of all the poems of the country come to when they shine out all at once. Yeah, you thought that was winter snow? Na, it’s poems. It’s great to be in that company, too. I know some of those poets, and some of those poems, and I admire them no less than the ones who have made the list. I’m sure it’s the same way for the judges. Judging is hard, as you can see from these birds eyeing my feeder from my cranberry carageena hedge this afternoon.

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Almost a year ago, it was a lot colder than this. I was flying back from the maze of mirrors, the old Jewish cemetery, and all the ghosts of Prague. I wrote this poem on the plane, with Kafka in mind, all my Bohemian ancestors, the years behind the Iron Curtain, and a half hour I spent with Maria in a black church on Kafka’s square, thinking of my mother, Dorothy, who was on her deathbed back home. I was going home to her. dorothyharoldbaby

 

Here we are together, back in 1958.

The trip to Prague was a break in the middle of editing my new book of ghazals, Two  Minds, which came out this September. It’s a Sufic work, inspired by Khezr, the Green Man of Sufic tradition. You can read the surprising story about that encounter here. In Prague, I encountered something else. I encountered my Doppelgänger. I even got a picture of him. Look at the guy!

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Nice coat!

A ghazal is a poem that works in unseen ways, to lead to illumination. I didn’t know that I’d met this guy in Prague until I saw my image among those of the other nominees and went looking through my files to find an image to share with you. There he was. He looks like he’s looking for a poem. And the lion? Holding his portrait? I don’t know about that yet. I bet Khezr does, though.

Khezr, the Hidden Prophet, and My Two Minds

Welcome to my new book, and it’s amazing, unexpected story. The book is Two Minds, a collection of ghazals, an ancient Persian poetic form steeped in mystic sufic tradition and pop song. There’s a story about the ghazal form, which is beautiful to tell, but first, surprise. I feel carried in the palm of God’s mind. I know, not a literary thing to say, but let me tell the story, and then you can decide. To get started, here’s the cover:

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That, I told my publisher, is the Green Man of the Schönfeld Dream Palace, a kind of pre-modern theme park north of Dresden, in Saxony. I was there in 2010, and took this snap. The Green is ancient, a human figure with leaves growing from his tongue, sometimes, and from his hair, eyebrows, moustache and beard, always. The original human, in the Middle European forests, an ancient god that the Celts brought with them as they migrated from ancient Persia, a symbol of aristocratic right, peasant groundedness and, in the 19th century, German national aspirations. You’ll find him on coats of arms, public buildings, cathedrals and furniture from Wales to Poland, and down into Hungary and, no doubt further. Here he is in the German city of Görlitz, on the Polish border:

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This is a new green man, for a city proud of a renewed German identity after the communist years. In Schönfeld, though, he’s a lot older. Pleasure palaces like Schönfeld (which means “Beautiful Field” were installations erected by the aristocracy of the Baroque period, where they could escape their stinking cities for the weekend and conduct business by flirting, playing games, including steeplechase, leapfrog, croquet and badminton, plus gambling, tea-drinking, flirting, and lots more. The palace at Schönfeld survived the communist period roughly. Time stopped.

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The buildings are in terrible disrepair, the botanical garden has gone wild,

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and picnic tables replaced any attempt at class.

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Even so, weekends are weekends, lovers came for decades, and left signs of their love in the Green Man’s trees. A little crossing out and then re-gouging, perhaps, but love can be like that.

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And the Green Man is still there. Look at him below, wearing his jester’s bells. Traditionally, those would be acorns, but the Baroque Age was full of wit.

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He’s not alone, either. He has a friend. Here he is:

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Look at him! Goatish horns, a goatish beard, like the hull of an acorn, and those drunken eyes, eh! This is Pan himself, god of wine, dalliance and pleasure palaces everywhere. He’s also a splendid Green Man, with full oakish hair and moustache, and no acorns because he’s one himself. Well, I read from my book, Two Minds, and talked about my experiences on the Camino, not the one in Spain but the northern one, that goes from Saarbrücken on the French border to Görlitz on the Polish one, and how I got lost, and found myself through a series of epiphanies, with the sense that I was meeting figures out of spiritual mythology on the road, and they were acting as guides, to show me the story that I couldn’t write because it was already there. Here’s Artemis, for example, pointing my way.

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It was profound and life-altering, and when I came home (if I ever really did) I wrote my ghazals. They were joyous things. I laughed a lot those days, in the delight of making them, or, really, being present at the moment they came to light and revealed themselves. Here I am with Goethe on the road.

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Goethe brought Islam into modern German culture, way back, two hundred years ago. I should have noticed that. I should have realized that the road to the Northern Orient was going to make me in its own image, just as it had made Goethe and Germany and European culture. Islamic scholars, diplomats, philosophers and holy men walked it regularly a thousand years ago, and there I was in Edmonton, and a listener at my reading gave me a note. “You should read this,” he said. Early in the morning, I did. The floor fell out from underneath me. I was still on the road. What he had given me was the heart of my book, which I had carried for seven years without a name, and now it had one: Khezr, the Hidden Prophet, Trickster Cook of Alexander. Khezr is one of the afrad, the Unique Ones who recieve illumination directly from God without human mediation; they can initiate seekers who belong to no Order or have no human guide; they rescue lost wanderers and desperate lovers in the hour of need. Well, that was me in the East. Here he is:

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Source.

Riding that fish, he could be Merlin. There’s a good chance that he is. He’s always a bit of a spy. One of his functions is to convince skeptics of the marvelous, to rescue those who are lost in deserts of doubt and dryness. Do read the whole essay. It’s marvellous. Click. And how do I know it’s Khezr I found on the Camino? Easy. Take a look at the dragon wings he has instead of oak leaves for hair. With claws, and everything. And my wonky shot taken by reflex as I was coming back up from the river.

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That’s because in Sufic tradition, there is no separation between St. George and his dragon: they are one. This one-ness between wildness and civility, that is Khezr. It is mediated by Wisdom, or the illuminating power of God. The dragon doesn’t have to be killed. There is no dichotomy between viewer and viewed, humans and the earth, people and God. Khezr gets you there just like that. What you need is wisdom, not your own, but the light of intelligence itself, and that’s where the ghazal comes in. It’s a form that is built out of witty couplets of loosely connected ideas, which click together to form an image, a moment of beauty, of wit, of intellectual insight, or of spiritual truth. It then dissolves, and makes room for another couplet, and for at least three more, all differing from each other, seemingly with no connection at all, like a chain of droplets of light falling from the sun, until they settle in a pool at the bottom of the poem, and come together, miraculously, into unexpected union and insight, revealing the unity behind their difference, and then that, too, dissolves, leaving way for another another incarnation of light. That’s the way of the ghazal. It’s also the way of the pilgrim who lets himself get so lost that Khedr picks him up and carries him home — except that home is not where he started out. That’s my story. That’s my book. You can find it here, at Frontenac House: Two Minds. I can send you a copy. Just send me a note and we’ll work out the details.Your favourite bookstore will order it, of course.

Salaam Aleikum!