About Harold Rhenisch


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.

rhenisch reid poster2
See you there!


Sufic and Other Wisdom Poetry in Vancouver on November 11

Might I see you here with my sufic poems?
Wednesday Nov 11, 2015
Pandora’s Collective Presents
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.
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.

Longlist collage

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:


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.


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!


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:


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