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:


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:

green man goerlitz

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.


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


and picnic tables replaced any attempt at class.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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:



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.


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!

Reading from My New Books “Two Minds” and “The Art of Haying”

My new book and I are going on the road. These are ghazals in the tradition of John Thompson, P.K. Page and Robert Bly. They’re a lot of fun, and for me one way in which poetry is an act of attention within the world.twomindssm

Vernon, British Columbia, on Thursday, September 10, 2015, at 7:30 pm. Let’s celebrate our two minds together at Gallery Vertigo, 3001-31st, Vernon, upstairs (door around the corner) above the NDP office.

Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday, September 12th, 2015,  from 2-4 pm  at the Frontenac House Celebration, Harcourt House Gallery, 3rd Floor, 10215-112 Street, Edmonton, AB


Calgary, Alberta, on Sunday, September 13, 2015, from 2-4 pm, at the Frontenac 2015 Quartet Launch hosted by Micheline Maylor at the Memorial Park Library, 1221-2nd Street SW, Calgary, AB. Here’s the full Quartet.


Changelings by Calgary poet/storyteller Cassy Welburn;
Two Minds by B.C. author, Harold Rhenisch;
Niche by Nova Scotian visual artist and poet Basma Kavanagh;
ClockWork by California based poet Zaid Shlah

Regina, Saskatchewan, on Monday, September 14, 2015, 7:30 p.m., Vertigo Reading Series at Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar, 1925 Victoria Avenue, Regina.


Lethbridge, Alberta, on Sunday, September 20, 2015, at 1 p.m., Main Branch Lethbridge Library, 5th Ave and 8th. St. South, Lethbridge, with a signing to follow at the Book Publishers Association of Alberta table at Word on the Street.


hayingFor the Regina and Lethbridge readings, I will also be presenting my new poetic essay on the future of the book, set in Iceland and lavishly illustrated with photographs from journeys there in three seasons.

Special Opportunity! Do you see how there’s time to invite me to come and read, talk to a class, speak to a writing group, or help you find the heart of a piece of writing, between the 14th and the 20th? Send me your ideas.




Two Minds: A Book of Ghazals

I am thrilled to show you the work of thirty years: Two Minds, a book of playful, spiritual poems in the Sufic form of the ghazal. She’s beautiful. To welcome her readers, she wears the mask of the Green Man I found in a ruined pleasure palace deep in East Germany, on my pilgrimage on the Northern Camino.


This a book of finding the hidden country between seeing and dreaming. I kept finding it in the act of turning away, which I realized, with time, was the real way to turn towards light. I learned that if I turned around in the thickets of the everyday world musically enough, there it would be, for a moment, revealing itself yet holding still, like a deer in the willows. The ghazal form I’m following here is the Canadian one, pioneered by John Thompson in At the Edge of the Chopping There Are No Secrets and Stilt Jack (1973 and 1976). Here’s a great little essay at ARC Magazine, in praise of Thompson’s pioneering work in this exciting form: click to read about the Canadian ghazal. In this tradition, a poem consists of pairs of ideas, usually five pairs, which only tangentially relate to each other, yet succeed in creating a new, unified, living presence that supersedes them both. This is the way a child is the result of the union of its parents, and soon walks on its own. What I discovered in the long process of writing and then honing this book was how these techniques form both a writing practice, a unique set of editing interventions and openings, and a spiritual practice beyond black & white thought. The book also honours the tradition of epigram and wit I learned from Robin Skelton, and the trickster tradition that I have been writing in for twenty years. These are poems of presence in the world. Here’s what poet Nancy Holmes has to say about these dances with the world, from the back cover:



Poet Laurie D. Graham picks up on another motif of mine — the act of writing from the world itself, beyond the Western idea of the nuclear self. This is also from the book’s back cover:



We’re going to be launching the book in Calgary on September 13, as part of this year’s Quartet of poetry from Frontenac House: four books, related by vision, across widely varying styles and themes.

From Clipboard


I am working up a BC tour for the fall, and hoping for a national one in the spring, in both literary and spiritual communities. If you have an idea of how we can share a moment in the world of Two Minds, drop me a line. I’d love to work with you.

Poetry to Open Vernon City Council, Monday April 13, 1:30 pm.

As part of the national Mayor’s Poetry Challenge, I will read a poem about steam punk at the Vernon City Hall Council Chambers on Monday, April 13, 2015, at 1 pm. Everyone is welcome!


What is the Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge?

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere challenges his fellow mayors across Canada to have a local poet read a poem at the opening of their Council meetings in March or April. The challenge is a celebration of UNESCO’s World Poetry Day (March 21) and National Poetry Month in April.  The purpose is to celebrate poetry, writing, small presses and the contribution of poets and all writers to the cultural life in our communities. It also celebrates libraries, and the work of so many mayors and municipalities to promote the Arts, culture, and literacy and reading.  Click here for the FAQ.

Come and Hear about My New Steam Punk City Project. Vernon from the ground up!


Poet at Work

Schroedinger’s Box

I have started a little site to record and focus a series of explorations in technology and the path of reading in a post-book age. I hope to range widely through cultural, scientific and technological material. The site is, and the first post goes like this …

Book Vs. eReader: The Quantum Gist

To find a path to uncertainty, Schroedinger’s Box and Quantum theory, a little cultural background is in order. Today, devices for managing this interface, old and new. Next time, the implications for the development of Quantum Theory. Which are you going to choose? The book?


To keep your interest, this device for programming your mind comes in many colours and textures.



You can continually refresh your book identity with the illusion of newness.



The book itself is a representation of your body, but a body made into a mind object.

Book of Hours

By monks. You contemplate it. It is a mirror.


Note the Christ on the left: mind and body in one. That’s the idea.



You contemplate it. There are two ways of doing that. You can do it to something. For instance, you can think about the body of the book intently and at length, or you can just think intently and at length for spiritual reasons, without it being about the book. In the first case, you are absorbing the form of the book. You become the form, or, rather, lay down a template of bodily form in your mind, which will then fill, according to its shape.



Like this:



(The glass is the book. It is ready to receive… but don’t try putting the wrong thing in there.

Running giraffeIt won’t take. You’ll wind up having to remove it.)


This is one of the dangers of book programming. Its fit with the world is imprecise and biased towards textuality.


In comparison to a physical giraffe, the above representation (or reading) is much like the image below, to be used by children, who get to “colour it in”:



They use a physical representation of embodiment (training the body to become the book), which looks like this:


For people who have become books, it is a lifelong pursuit, as the technology of transposing the book self in the place of the world requires continual refreshing.



The book tries to make the experience enjoyable and new.


In the second case, you are meditating on the content specifically, and letting it wash over you or fill you. This is called “reading”, but it might be called “being written”, as the matter of the book is being laid down in your memory.


If you open it, you get stuff like this:


As you can see, the individual pages of the book are a series of screens, each of which represent the same materialization of spirit as the book as a whole. The example below is the same as the one above. The content is interchangeable.


It’s like fractals. To refresh your mind, here’s a definition:

fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. Wikipedia.


Romanesco Broccoli: A Natural Fractal. Source

And then there’s the eBook. It presents itself as a book, but it’s an entirely different body. Notice in the image below how its first characteristic is not to be a body but something a body reaches out and touches.


What it touches is this:



In other words, it is touching an image of a book. It’s not just any image, however, but a particular image of the body of a book called its content, and a specific form of that content which is like an analog tape …


… which continuously unwinds past an observer, which picks up information in the unfolding time-frame dictated by the speed of revolution of the tape reels. This is an expression of Christian time, but a different form of it than seen in the book. In the book, time was represented as a continually repeated series of eternal, timeless body images, or images of incarnation. On analog tape, or the eBook, it is represented as a span of time removed from the world, and given a non-physical beginning and end, an Alpha and Omega, a Genesis and Apocalypse. This is one of the great Christian revolutions, and it is contained and promulgated in the eBook in the form of morphable, or changeable, representations of type, like this:


This is the eBook version of a human body-representation called “Treasure Island”…


The eBook image of this body contains a morphable function, which allows a varying interface. For example, the large clunky text above can be rendered smooth and, well, teeny, like this:


… and anything in-between, in three shades, and a sliding scale of brightness, to make the physical reception of the text fit varying biological characteristics or preferences of the receiving human. Nonetheless, it has replaced the fractal function of the book (a series of screens, leading from “book” down to “page” down to “paragraph” down to “sentence” down to “word” down to “earth”) with a simplified image of fractals (big text or small text), leaving the body, the “reader”, inviolate. It is, in other words, a secular reading of Christian time, which accepts as a characteristic of the universe the unrolling analog tape of the Christian story, written in the earth and not in the perceiving human body, and positing the human body as something not of the world but separate from it. (How else would it remain constant, while controlling the fractals, however simplified they may be?) Fascinating stuff. Where then, in an eReader is the human body? Well, of course, it’s right there all along:


The image above shows a variety of human bodies. You reach your finger forward (it is a kind of physical eye), right into the substance of the mind, and you use the finger to control the rate and appearance of the scroll of time. All things are representations of their age. In the case of the eReader, the content you scroll through is, understandably, given the medium, rented, not possessed, and commercial, rather than given to a body of knowledge. You won’t find an eReader in a hotel room drawer, like your heart in your opened chest.


It is not a heart. It is an interface into a collective group. A book can afford to say “I”. An eBook says “we”, a changeable term, meaning “all people who like broccoli” (for example, strange as that may be), or, more usually, “all people in the world.” “I”, on the other hand, is a scientific representation of a portable scientific point of view, which eliminates other points of view, to turn the world into a representation of its own rules — yes, the book. There are implications of this for quantum theory. More on that next time.