Changelings: Story Telling at Cottage Bistro in Vancouver on February 28, 2016

Changelings_FC-275x413Cassy Welburn and I are story-telling at Vancouver’s Cottage Bistro on Sunday, February 28. From  fairies to a waitress at a truck stop who

calls out orders
over the sound of retarder brakes
and exhaust,

Cassy’s startling and life-affirming stories rise from the Celtic tradition after long experience as a performer and story teller. Click here for a review of Cassy’s book. Cassy and I were on stage in Lethbridge last fall and had a blast telling stories with each other. It’s your turn to be charmed. I will be telling stories from my book The Art of Haying: a Journey to Iceland,Haying Cover including encounters with elves, trolls, the Green Man, a dragon and others on a pilgrimage through the German forest and escape to the volcanic remnant of Atlantis in the North Atlantic. This is a love story and a tribute to the beauty of Iceland. I’m bringing a collection of photographs from the book to show you all the top of the world.

The performance is at Cottage Bistro, at 4470 Main Street in Vancouver. Their phone is 604-876-6138.

The show is at 5 pm. We’ll have you home in time for dinner with the elves.


Cassy Welburn







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.

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.

What is Art?

Seriously. I ask, because there’s this: How Food Replaced Art As High Culture. Don’t be fooled. In its musings, that article from the New York Times doesn’t give the explanation it suggests that it might, but it does say this:

But food, for all that, is not art. Both begin by addressing the senses, but that is where food stops. It is not narrative or representational, does not organize and express emotion. An apple is not a story, even if we can tell a story about it. A curry is not an idea, even if its creation is the result of one. Meals can evoke emotions, but only very roughly and generally, and only within a very limited range — comfort, delight, perhaps nostalgia, but not anger, say, or sorrow, or a thousand other things. Food is highly developed as a system of sensations, extremely crude as a system of symbols. Proust on the madeleine is art; the madeleine itself is not art.

You can be forgiven if you are confused by this point, or if you sense that the article is a wee bit patronizing, because it is. Here, I’ve boiled it down for easier understanding:

The Red Herring Within the Text

In a culture based upon advertising, partisan debate and rhetoric, expect fish.

Yes, everything in the article is true about food. Food really isn’t art, as least as the article presumes it is. That’s not the question, yet here’s how the article puts it, with its unstated assumptions:

Art, as WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ sees it. Food as he doesn’t.

Art is story, idea, symbol, and evoker of emotions. Food is food and a sensory pleasure. That’s what the man says.

Can he really have it both ways? Can he reserve all these categories of thought for art and none for food? So far, classified within the thingamajig he calls art, Deresiewicz has fiction, philosophy, mathematics, and emotional doodad. I promise, tens of thousands of artists, writers and thinkers across the world would be happy to refute every one of those points. And that’s not even getting to the poets, who seem to be strangely left out of Deresiewicz’s universe. In fact, any broad collection of happy thinkers and cognitive and cultural workers would dismantle Deresiewicz’s thesis in endless profusion. And would still be a red herring. The question would be better put as this:

The Real Question

Now we’re getting somewhere. Take a pear. It has a history. It has colour, to which people respond. It has nuances of flavour and shape. Has a context and provides a context. It has social, political and ethical connections. It provides personal and cultural meaning. It must be cultivated, can be produced industrially yet tastes far better and does better social work if produced artistically. It  does the soul good. It is alive. Those aren’t art, exactly, but they’re parallel to it, which means that, yes, they’re art, just for a different class of people, within a different intellectual, social, and aesthetic context.

Horticultural Watercolour of a Vicar of Winkfield Pear

When illustrations such as this were made a century ago, watercolour painting was not considered art. It was considered a technique for the accurate rendering of colour and shape in medical, botanical, zoological and agricultural specimens.

Artists moved on, and showed how watercolour technique could develop a rich language of textures and gestures. When it did, it was accepted as art, although one could point out that it was art before that as well. The pear, on the other hand, was industrialized. That was a cultural choice, not something inherent in pears. Pears today, remain as that cultural choice. Anything we do with pears is in dialogue with such cultural choices. And not just pears…

1930s California Orange Crate Label

A century before the art and illustration within horticultural paintings parted cultural ways, pears and art had not been separated from each other yet. The planting of pear trees and the growing of pears was considered high art indeed. It was all craft, which included the crafts of painting china, writing poetry, dance, painting portraits, and growing pears, just to give a few examples. There was a time in which this mattered. Here’s an image from that time. This statue looks out over the botanical garden towards the greenhouses of a baroque remake of a renaissance city residential palace in Fulda, Germany:

Agriculture, Stadtschloss, Fulda

Here is her consort:

Mathematics, Stadtschloss, Fulda

They were a a pair. Through applying the spiritual and intellectual force known as the art of agriculture, in conjunction with applied mathematics, known as land surveying, a prince could run his kingdom, through applied art. The only difference between that and Deresiewicz’s conception of art as a high craft is that the focus has moved from the leading of kingdoms through the integration of all sensibilities in the court (and especially in the body of the prince) to the administration of constitutional democracies through the development of those characteristics within all individual citizens. It’s not the prince who develops thought through balances between various emotional pressures in Deresiewicz’s world, but everybody. It’s not the balanced administration (hopefully) of a kingdom that is the goal, but the balanced development (hopefully) of individuals, who can then contribute their deeply developed energies to a common pool of energy. The conclusion Deresiewicz might have drawn is that these people, given an art that granted privileged status to universal feelings of social and political connectivity through narratives of the individual and his or her emotions, have now accepted that, and have moved into it. The circle is complete. No, the new food culture that is the result is not ‘art’, as Deresiewicz defines it, but it does what art does, for a new people, looking for an expanded sense of ethics able to more accurately reflect the complex interconnectivity between citizens.  And why not, when the kind of connectivity that comes out of Deresiewicz’s art world leads to manipulative discussions, such as Deresiewicz’s own? Here’s an image of what I mean:

Wild Cherries Left on the Branch …

…against a backdrop of colonial era orchards. Early November. Okanagan Landing, BC

The fact that pears, or apples, or peaches are even grown is very much a series of cultural choices, which meant that other cultures, such as, in the image above, the Sylix plateau culture, were suppressed in order to grant it ascendancy. It’s all politics. It’s all ethics. It’s all art or the suppression of it. As the East German dissident writer Stefan Schütz said, after being stripped of citizenship and booted out to the West (in paraphrase), I will look for  creative energy wherever I find it, even among the criminal classes, if that’s where it is, because it is invaluable and I’ve seen too often what is there when it isn’t. He meant, even among the political elites. He meant, even in the sanctioned artistic classes.

Public Art Installation (Electrical Power Box) Okanagan Landing

This is what official, public art looks like when politics and art have been divorced. That the people are asking for them to be reunited in the context of food is a good thing. Let’s run with it. The confluence of energies produced a whole world once, the world we’ve been living in for a couple centuries. We can do it again. Art’s not dead. It’s just gathering its breath for a new flowering.

Why not join the conversation? I’ve been exploring these ideas for over a year now, in my blog Okanagan Okanogan. For a summary of the story so far, click on the .pdf file at the bottom of this page.

A Journey into the North

A few weeks back I came across a stunning piece of music. Little did I know it would take me into a poem I’ve been travelling towards for a long time. Here’s the music that first enchanted me. It’s in Norwegian, but it is beautiful in any language.

Then next step in this journey was this post in Sigrun’s Norwegian Blog about nature, reading, writing, and home: Sub Rosa. I was quite taken by the wooden nature of the translations (done by prominent 70s-era poets), and asked if there might be an audio version. Sigrun generously replied, with this post, which contains some evocative imagery, and this reading, by the poet Olav H Hauge:

And what do you know, that’s the poem that Sinikka Langeland was playing and singing, that first enchanted me! That got me to thinking further, and with the help of YouTube, I quickly found a stronger reading by Hauge, although not of Det er den Daumen. Here it is:

In this reading, I got a feeling for this man’s work in poetry: wit, coupled with colloquial changes of rhythm, and great brevity. When I listened to Det er den Daumen again, I heard complex rhythms in his final sentence, which matched his thought but which the English translations just steamrolled right over. So, I offer here, as a part of a process of unfolding thinking, this version (it’s not a translation) of Det er den Daumen, which steps out of the hybrid modern vocabulary and simplified grammar of late twentieth century English into a more complex syntax, married with English poetry’s roots in spell craft and English’s Old Norse and Anglo Saxon vocabularies for the physical and spiritual world. I post it here for Sigrun, with my thanks. I don’t know if I did the poem any justice, but I think some music and wit found me in that last line, and that’s at least something:

It is the Dream

And so my journey north, into the heart, continues. You can download an mp3 reading of a slightly earlier version of this poem here.

Where Mountains Flow into the Sea

In some countries, it’s the other way around, but in Iceland it’s the mountains that are on the move. The sea is absolutely still.

Of course, on other days it breaks over the rocks with a vengeance, trying to wash the island away. So far, it has failed, but the sacred dance continues. I have brought it home. I  left Canada, convinced that it was no longer possible to write a memoir using the character “I”. I return with the literature of the earth, and with these trolls and ogres, dwarves and elves. More on that in the days to come.