The Art of Being Human

The poet Daniela Elza has generously invited me to continue a conversation about books, called “The Next Big Thing.” Her opener is here. This is the second of six projects in response, each written by a different writer, within the community who go by the name of Harold Rhenisch. Harold, the author of 25 books, did not return from East Germany. He was burnt away. This is the new world now. I think this project was written by a man called Harald Johannesson. The irony, that the Age of the Book is over, is not lost on Harald.

What is the working title of your next book?

The project comes in two parts. The first is The Art of Haying. It’s a series of meditations about the world past the Age of the Book. I’m serious. It’s time to make the future now. It is illustrated. The second is An Expedition to Iceland. It’s about Old Norse and English. Here’s a short sample from The Art of Haying…


….You may, if you want, listen. You may, if you wish, hear yourself think.


The Rain is Falling!

In the first instance of the rain before a downpour, the stones rise up. They stay there.

 You may, if you go out into the dark, hear the crackle of the Aurora over Husavik when the sun has gone down behind the hill. You may, on the other hand, if you go into your libraries, rediscover the world of books, and accept their invitation to dinner. If you choose that route, go without fear. You will feel no pain; that you have made that choice indicates that you already left your body long, long ago. Somewhere, wherever it is, it has made a life for itself without you: you who are a character in a book it wrote and set free.



In South Iceland, sheep have view property. Humans, acclimatized to the mountains, stay where they belong.

 Harold is going back to the horses. He left something there, something he would love to spend his life finding, and talking to.


Five Horses

 find their troll.


An Expedition to Iceland came after a second trip to Iceland and an attempt to unravel the ancient technologies of string and line and the Norse roots of English. As its premise, it starts from the realization that the physical words of English are Old Norse and Anglo Saxon, and contain corresponding forms of earth knowledge. I wanted to explore what a book of poems would look like that went deep into this strata of the language.

 Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was working with Richard Rathwell on a project called Human Nation, which was a translation of his book of poems into a post-book format. In writing an introduction to it, I was exploring the territory it proposed: that there is a thing called social poetry, made out of texts and social networks, and a thing called human poetry, made out of human experience from outside of the world of the book. It was combined with a trip to Iceland to produce The Art of Haying. The string sequence from that manuscript …


This is Iceland. Here there is a technology appropriate to people who work with their hands and with the things of this earth: from stone a line, from a line an arrow, from wool a thread, from thread a yarn, from yarn a net, from a net a fence, a sweater, a snare, a hair, a brush, a line on stone, from all a flow, from flow a weaving, a this, a that, in air, with fire, on hide, of water, a current, on paper a river, a stream, a fall, a braid, a pool, a lake, a sea, and on the sea a shore.

planet A New Planet on the Shore

 3:30 p.m. July 20, 2010.  A new planet washes up on the shore on the edge of the black basalt cave just west of Vik, Iceland. The child appears to be doing well.


led to the second, in which paths, the lines men follow, are laid by sheep … and other creatures…


 What genre does your book fall under?

Dicht, a German term for a kind of poetry that is the spirit of the world. It is a concentration, in the manner of wine-making, or the concentration of rain into a river. The German term for poetry, Dichtung, and for a poem, Gedicht, come from this root. In English, the word poetry holds these meanings, but without the linguistic clarity.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Eivor (do click on her name, the song makes living on the world come alive, and note her powerful exit), Arnar Jónsson

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The cultural and linguistic roots of English are found outside of the book, in a relationship with a physical world including trolls, elves, and ancient, magical technologies such as scythes and strings.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Time will tell. Electronic, perhaps.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Two weeks, one week each. The prep took much longer.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Malcolm Mooney’s Land, by W.S. Graham. Any of the later novels (aka meditations on subjectivity) of Peter Handke.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Thirty five years ago, the poet Robin Skelton mentioned one afternoon that the roots of English were in Anglo Saxon. That was in the late 1970s, and he was working at the time on a series of books (Limits, Openings, Distances) which explored this idea. I edited his posthumous works in the late 1990s, and then a Selected Poems (In This Poem I Am). The result of that was my book, a posthumous conversation with Robin, The Spoken World. The result of that was this project.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

troll2An Icelandic Parliamentarian

 Staring out of the walls of the Mid-Atlantic Rift at Þingvellir, Iceland, a troll waits for parliament to reconvene. From 930 to 1789, the Icelandic parliament met under the witness of this troll and his companions. Officially, the site was chosen from a short list of four locations, as it lay at an intersection of the walking trails that crossed the island, and had a ready supply of firewood and water. It was likely on the list at all because of the trolls.


Tomorrow: the next project … The Book and The Goat: platonic dialogues between a book and its critic. A trickster romp. Again, Thank you, Daniela, and, again, my apologies for so thoroughly bending the challenge, but it was like that on my pilgrimage in the East.


1 thought on “The Art of Being Human

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s