Harold Rhenisch was born three months early, in a blizzard, on January 5, 1958, and grew up on an orchard in Cawston, in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley, the second son of German immigrant Hans Rhenisch and second generation Canadian Dorothy Leipe. He started writing poetry when he was 15, under the dramatist Bill Greenland. From 1976-1980 he studied Creative Writing at the University of Victoria, with Charles Lillard, Derk Wynand, P.K. Page, W.D. Valgardson, Dave Godfrey, and Robin Skelton. From 1981-1992 Rhenisch worked in the vineyards and orchards of the Okanagan and the Similkameen, eventually running his own pruning, grafting, and nursery business. In 1992 he moved to the Cariboo plateau, and in 2007 to Campbell River on Northern Vancouver Island.
Rhenisch’s poetry explores the land on which he lives and where he grew up in an immigrant culture developing orchards and vineyards in the fertile Okanagan Valley. In the juxtaposition of new European cultures and an ancient land, Rhenisch sees again the Kenya of the 1920s portrayed by Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. After waiting in vain for a V.S. Naipaul to write of the colonial plantation cultures of the Okanagan, Rhenisch turned his sense of the land into a vehicle capable of speaking for a complex contemporary world: the autobiographical fiction of Out of the Interior: The Lost Country.
For over thirty years, Rhenisch has striven to create an authentic literature for the silent rural parts of Canada, to place their images and dialects on an equal footing with those of the modern urban world. At the same time, he has been a student of Ezra Pound, post-modern German literature, and trickster mythology. For Rhenisch, the work of starting a new literature is paramount, centred in the workings of consciousness and mythology.
Rhenisch has been an arts columnist for the 100 Mile Free Press and in 1996 won the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association Award for Best Arts and Culture Writing. In 1980, the University of Victoria awarded him the Rosalind Hewlett Petch Memorial Prize in Creative Writing, and he won Arc Magazine’s first (1991) Confederation Poetry Prize, as well as their 2003 prizes for best long review of poetry and for poem of the year. He has won The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize (twice), and the CBC Literary Prize. His The Wolves at Evelyn won the George Ryga Prize for Social Responsibility in British Columbia Literature in 2007. He has given many lectures on poetry at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, and has conducted workshops for teachers and elementary and secondary school students throughout British Columbia. In 1996 he was writer in residence at Douglas College in New Westminster, and in 2003, 2004, and 2007 taught Work In Progress and Memoir workshops at the Victoria School of Writing. He has been the education chair and communication chair of the League of Canadian Poets and has worked as a member of the B.C. Ministry of Education Fine Arts Curriculum Overview Team. He actively mentors and edits writers from across North America.