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.

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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:

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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:

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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!

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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!

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Poet at Work

Two Minds

I am thrilled to announce that my book of ghazals, Two Minds, will be released, possibly in September 2015, by Frontenac House as part of their Quartet 2015. As part of the quartet, it will be linked in a dynamic sequence with Basma Kavanagh’s Niche, Zaid Shalah’s Clockwork, and Cassy Wellburn’s Changelings. Two Minds is a collection of poems written in the North American ghazal form pioneered by John Thompson, Phyllis Webb and Robert Bly. This non-rhyming variation of the classical persian and Urdu song form much beloved of Rumi and the sufic mystics coalesces out of the intersection between expressed and intuitiive logic into moments of simple clarity only achievable, perhaps, by such a dance. We haven’t settled on a cover image yet. Until I have one to show you, here’s the Green Man of Görlitz, an old companion, to hold the book in mind.greenman

 

Nature Morte: A History of Apples in the Okanagan Valley

I have the good fortune of being a part of Christos Dikeakos’ new photography project documenting and deconstructing the death of fruit growing as an aesthetic and cultural response to land in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Here’s a handsome photo of windfall apples on the cover of the book:

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They look rather like Empires, one of the varieties I grafted a lot of back in the 1980s, as we tried to save this industry from the death wish caused by existence in a non-agricultural nation. My role in the book was to write the text, which I call “Okanagan Delicious”. Here are Christos and I meeting at the reception.

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Photo: Pauline Petit

And here I am with Kelowna Art Gallery curator Lyz  Wylie. It looks like she’s trying to rein me in, but, really, it’s her tricksterish intelligence coming through.

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Photo: Pauline Petit

Here’s a tiny sample of the text:

The summers [in the Okanagan] are dry, yes, but what makes them so is not so much the sun but the seasonal weight of the air. The rain that drizzles out of heavy air in November or March, or which pours in day-long floods in June, or dumps down in five minutes of lightning-induced hail in the nearly weightless air of August, all adds up to about five centimetres a month. That’s not all the water there is, of course. Much more than that falls from the clouds, but it’s reabsorbed by the pressurized dry air long before it strikes the ground. The effect makes for sensational sunsets, with red, orange, yellow and deep purple light undulating in watery sheets against pastel blue mountains. It’s easy to watch it mesmerized for hours. The plants that thrive in these conditions of vanishing water are adapted to cold, heat and drought; they survive by water conservation, careful choice of location or season, speed of maturing, or special cell structures. The Turkish, Georgian, Armenian and Chinese fruits that were spread throughout Europe by the monastic cultures of the Middle Ages — grapes, apples, quinces, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots and plums — lack these adaptations. The vineyards of France, Switzerland and Germany, for example, aren’t planted in the heat; they grow in the fog. Apples thrive best in humid New York, England, Denmark and Germany, not here.

 

You can get a full introduction to the show at the Kelowna Art Gallery website, or by skipping across the street from that cultural district anchor, the Casino. Here’s a link. The beautiful, full-colour exhibition catalogue is available at the gallery, or at Art Books Canada. Here’s the link, where you can purchase your copy. This is a very beautiful work by a great  Canadian photographer, with texts by Jeff Wall, Claudia Beck, Liz Wylie and Harold Rhenisch.

 

 

 

 

 

I am Reading at Pulp Fiction Coffee House on May 12

Pulp Fiction Coffee House, Kelowna 

What? Who? Where? Whaaa? Click here. All will be revealed. When? Aha …

7pm. Monday May 12.

What?

I read my stuff. The audience reads their stuff. Perfect. Especially if we talk. We will talk, right? Good, that’s settled.

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Good gawd, bring your camera. Let’s get a better picture. After all, my Facebook picture looks like this:

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And that’s a funeral picture. In a dead man’s suit. Imagine what I look like in Real Live Kelowna. (By the way, I meant the green to reference the Green Man. You know the guy. Before Darwin, he held the fort.

 

 

Here he is putting in yeoman service for anyone leaving the private gallows of the civic chambers of the German city of Görlitz, on the Northern Camino.

greenmanTempted to show  up? I’ll read my poem about Fish Lake. The one with the hee hee na. Or, rather, I think I’ll get Coyote to read it for me. What are friends for, right?

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I dunno about Pulp Fiction, but I’m working on a manuscript about the Okanagan that lets Coyote have his say.

Here’s Pulp Fiction’s teaser…

pulp1Gosh, you like being teased, right? I came back to the Okanagan for a reason. It has to do with putting an end to the American Civil War. Is that enough of a tease?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How about this, then? People like Pulp Fiction!  I like Open Mics. Do come.

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See you there!

 

 

 

 

 

Vernon Public Library Writer in Residence 2014

Looking north …P1070930

… or south …P1070992

…this is exciting!  The Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library is bringing me in from February 14 to April 11, to put writing at the heart of downtown. We have 1970s era statues that are like books down there ….

P1080005 and poetic trees.

P1080010… and whatever else we make together. It will all kick off at 3 pm. on February 14, with a talk and a discussion about writing today, about where we’ve come, where we are, and where we might be going. It’s called Writing Community. See you there, across from the rowan tree of Ancient Wales.

 

Presenting the Haig-Brown Lecture

Tomorrow, I’m off to Campbell River on Vancouver Island, to present the 4th Annual Haig-Brown Memorial Lecture in Environmental Writing. I will be arguing that this Icelandic River lies at the heart of Canadian political and environmental traditions, and is a place to situate our government.

p1430251The New Canadian House of Parliament

 Talking with the earth and including it in our social group is not a new idea. It is at the root of English. In fact, it is at the root of being human. If we, the people, reclaim that language, the government will follow. It will take time, but over time, we will speak again. Some of us will even speak like this.

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Harold Thinking Out Loud in East Iceland, April

When I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.

Talking Green Water

On Tuesday, September 17, I will be presenting words and images in a discussion about green water and new agricultural opportunities in the Okanagan Valley. Green water is water that passes through plants, rather than flowing in streams and pooling in lakes. It’s story is quite surprising in the Okanagan and, I think, quite exciting. The images come from two years of daily explorations of the grasslands of the Okanagan, the Cariboo and Washington. The presentation will take place outdoors at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre in Vernon. Time 7:30 pm. We’ll move indoors if the weather makes that a really grand idea.

Allan Brooks Nature Centre

On Allan Brooks way, off of the Commonage Road to Predator Ridge. The best view in the valley.

See you there!

Talking About Talking About Art

I believe that the writing of the future is here and it is largely present in the world of art writing. I say this in response to the many records of linguistic adventuring recorded in contemporary art writing. It seems to me that readers of art  have begun to apply their reading of images to a reading of language, without dropping the Height of the 19th Century language of popular culture. The result is a kind of century-wide gulf that art writers are filling with a cornucopia of undocumented approaches and techniques, while literary traditions are still largely back there before World War I. In one sense, this makes sense: the writers are supplying the background line, on which the art writers are scripting their texts. In another sense, though, it suggests that literary writing will soon be replaced by the new traditions being built up currently and almost out of sight. I think there’s a great opportunity in inserting some dialogue into this divided tradition. On the one side, literary craftspeople supply a pre-modern groundwork, vying to return 20th century literary experimentation to 19th century street ballad populism, such as this:

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“Canada Reads” 19th Century Redux Populist Debunk-the-Book Event on CBC Radio Source

On the other side, artistic commentators riff off of them into texts that participate in the socializing and de-socializing effects of contemporary art practice. Since the future is being created in this maelstrom of divided roles, my suggestion is that some chat back and forth, in which everyone’s truths can be shared, will lead to a rich, literary future. If such dialogue does not take place, I foresee a future in which the knowledge of the literature of the last century, and all of its powerful engagements during the political throes of the end of the Age of the Book will be lost.  I have been reading these magazines for a few years, tracking this new literary genre. Today, an article in Toronto’s C Magazine struck my eye.

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Jimmy Limit, Green Liquid with Yellow Bag of Mandarins on Green (…) 2012  Source

Well, to tell the truth, Limit’s image is not the image here. The real image is the magazine, the bar code, the paper it’s printed on, and everything. It is a sculpture.

The words of Stephen Horne’s article, “On the Doing (s) of Art Criticism, are a sculpture, too. He begins with a ritual nod to the current art world practice of preferring processes over objects, and observes…

I’ve been trying to think about what art criticism is, what criticality is — or could be.

Observes is a good word for this kind of thing. It is not that he is thinking. In fact, thinking eludes him, but observation stands in its place. That revelation is worth the price of the magazine alone. It only gets better. Two pages in, we get:

If one admits that there is no “outside,” the terrain becomes more interesting and, paradoxically, less familiar.

Did you observe what is happening there? No thinking, and no meaning at all. In fact, thinking, argument and meaning are not the strategies here. Those are literary strategies. What is important here is observation, and a dance with ritual amulets. Doubt me? Take a look at what happens when the text is gently pushed with some basic literary interventions …

If two admit that there is no “outside,” the terrain becomes more interesting and, paradoxically, less familiar.

If three admit that there is no “outside,” the terrain becomes more interesting and, paradoxically, less familiar.

If four admit that there is no “outside,” the terrain becomes more interesting and, paradoxically, less familiar.

One could, of course, go on. With each of these tiny manipulations, the text reveals the preference given to singular identity, held at the illusion of an objective distance, although there is no distance in a literary object that has not observed its workings beyond the most superficial level. Distance, in other words, is not the goal here, but closeness. The words are being painted, for their emotional resonances and their ability to constrain thought, rather than the literary goals of extending and developing it as part of a tradition. But that probably sounds like gobbledy-gook. Here, visually this is kind of what I mean:

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“Pintura Habitada” (Inhabited Painting) ~ Helena Almeida, 1975. Source.

This is more or less what Horne is doing with his words: by laying down quick brush strokes, he defines a reader’s approach to the white page. Almeida was doing it with the white backdrop to a photograph. You could do it with a white canvas, or with something like this (although no blue is involved) …

P1080795Signed Building, Kelowna, British Columbia

Take a look at the previous signings that have been painted over by the building’s owners. They are important here.

Just as the building’s owners in the above image have missed the purpose of this art, to claim the public image of the building which inhabits the private space of the person not wishing to be erased by its occupation of space (and thus using indelible pen to leave a trace of his or her own public image, a name), literary readers might easily miss that Horne’s article is not a piece of criticism at all, but a painting, using as a palette a series of resonances. The way in which literature can speak to that is, thus, not in the realm of argument, but in the realm of physical manipulations of the space of the painting (which uses the medium of text and is called “On the Doing(s) of Art Criticism by Stephen Horne.” Again, gobbled-gook. Here, the following should be clearer. First, Horne’s image:

Making suggests a certain way of regarding time: it builds an object, moves from a plan (concept) towards completion and end-product, with the result being a material object that already ‘gives’ a market relation.

All the important social gestures of the art world are there.  But look what happens with even an initial treatment of it as text rather than as paint:

Timing suggests a certain way of regarding making: it deconstructs an object and moves to a plan (concept) from completion and end-product, with the result being a market object that already ‘materializes’ a given relation.

Same syntax. Same words, but now the capitalist underpinnings of the approach are revealed more strongly, although very little else of the apparent meaning of the sentence is changed. Meaning is, in other words, a ghost. You can do anything with it that you want, and are not limited to Horne’s approach. Now, in literary writing, this is all a kind of red flag: if the syntax is allowing any meaning to be plugged into the various slots of a sentence, then the writing is just coasting. You could take this to an extreme and get this (which can be completed any way you like, and arrive at more or less the same end, which is predetermined by the syntax):

—— ——– – — — ——— ——: — ———— — —— — —– — – —- (——-) —– ———- — ———-, —- —- ——- – ——- —— —– ——- ‘————‘ – —– ——–.

 

Some forms of poetry do just that. The thing is, though, that this is a century-old observation. More interesting is that cover to C Magazine. Here it is again:

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An Art Object that Is Actually a Magazine Cover

Compare to a book cover. Here’s Lisa Moore’s February, which “won” the Canada Reads verbal boxing match for pop culture literary championship this last February:

hot-ticket-Lisa-Moore-CaughtWords Are Used to Lead to Image

The process of reading entangles word and image. 

It’s all designed to catch, rather than enlighten, a reader (although that’s not Moore’s intention, of course, but this is a book, not a manuscript, and it has several faces). Now, here’s another by Lisa Moore:

February_Lisa-Moore

See how the text has been laid over the image in the same way as the USB code in Limit’s C Magazine Cover?

twoNow, one more manipulation should make this interesting indeed. I’ll add a text from the High Age of the Book, to show you how much has changed (and stayed the same)…

threeSee that? Both types of image represent their underlying syntax, or the technology that they were reproduced by. What’s more, we’re no longer in the age of text, but in an age in which text is image and image is text. Reading is now a visual experience, and the reading of Horne’s essay is also one. In fact, I suggest that his concept of “art criticism” is a form of painting. Rather than creating meaning, he is inhabiting the world that the poets of 1914 were working towards, as they tried to get beyond the limitations of argument. Well, it worked. It started with stuff like this:

The apparation of these faces in the crowd;

petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound

Now, that attempt to replace “meaning” by a sudden visual knot, looks like this, in the robotic, populist literary genre called Wikipedia, which represents an attempt to transfer the concept of meaning from the old textual world to the new visual one. Intriguingly, the use of robotic and electronic technology has a big effect, as the writer attempting to “define” Pound’s poem, winds up hectoring and saying banal and irrelevent things..

metroStill, the splicing work of turning it into a visual object, reveals more than the text did. In this new universe, it is Horne’s approach, and that of art criticism (remember, it is painting, not argument, in the sense of a painter laying down brushstrokes over brushstrokes over time to create an immediately perceivable illusion) in general, which is the most honest. Horne makes a comment which speaks well to this point. Here it is:

If ‘waiting’ is conventionally understood to be passive while ‘doing’ is active, the space that is art disrupts the binary in favour of a space that is in play.

Applying a literary manipulation (an active reading, in the sense of the Creative Writing school that Robin Skelton tried to start in Victoria in 1967, in which creative response was the communication, not intellectual analysis … a bit before his time, he was) to that text-image, we get:

If ‘writing’ is conventionally understood to be passive while ‘painting’ is active, the space that is art criticism disrupts the binary in favour of a space that is in play.

And that’s pretty much what Horne is doing. One can go further:

If ‘writing’ is passively understood to be conventional while ‘painting’ is active, the space that is art criticism disrupts play in favour of a binary that is in space.

It means the same thing. In other words, meaning is not the issue. Criticism like this could be presented in a gallery setting, as a kind of variation on a theme, so popular back in the days in which painting and art were mostly synonymous, before art moved into reading. It could, however, also be presented in a book, and what is a book but a gallery space, or a theatrical space unfolding in time. And what’s that, but a sculpture? Here’s one:

P1080762Alley, Kelowna, British Columbia
Note the painted-over graffiti on the right. No, you an’t see it, but the grey paint reveals that somewhere, deep down, it is there. Keep that grey paint in mind as you read on.

Do you see? This photograph is a sculpture of time and space. It has been selected by the eye (mine), which has recognized a conjunction forces, in the syntax laid down by a machine meant to mimic the human eye: a camera. A camera is a creator of human spaces. The human who operates that machine is sculpting them, out of a flow. As long as it flows, it’s not time or space, not in the new visual understanding that Horne lives so well within. Now, there’s a lot more to be said about this intriguing photographic space, but I think one more image will do for this introduction to the future.

P1080763Alley, Kelowna, British Columbia

The many layers of concrete, plaster, signage, brick, windows, and so on, on this wall are no different than the work of a sculpture or of a painter on canvas, or of Horne, who uses words in their place. Even the building owner who tried to assert ownership over the public image of his back wall by painting it with grey paint, was living within this visual universe. Only the art critical writers, like Horne, have found the language that speaks to this new world, of a new century. That’s where the literary spark has gone now. Fortunately, for those skilled in words, in a textual sense, there is much that literature can add to this new genre. There is much good work that we can do together. I, for one, am working on it by creating books that work as photographic-textual sculptures that unfold in space and time.  They’re not written; they’re sculpted, as are blogs, such as this.