A Delicate Fire


Sono Nis Press, 1989. ISBN: 1-55039-014-7. 6 x 9, 132 pages. $8.95

Bookman Summary2

Lyric, narrative, and comic poetry, including the long Zen poem, “The Koan”.

Bookman reviews2

Harold Rhenisch’s poems are intensely gothic, sensual and profoundly perceptive. His thorough understanding of the natural world enables him to write both with precision and with an intuitive grasp of the forces beneath the surface. His portrayals of human relationships are subtle and he continues to meld together the profoundly philosophical and the wickedly funny. These poems have an enormous range and an impressive intellectual strength as well as emotional power. With this new collection, Rhenisch establishes himself as one of the leading Canadian poets of his generation.” Robin Skelton

There is a great range to these poems — narrative, descriptive, reflective, meditative — and they speak with a naturally powerful voice, an authority many of the best poets do not achieve until halfway through their careers. George Woodcock, B.C. Bookworld

Rhenisch consistently displays his most memorable, unique gifts….his long presence and work on the land weave eloquently and seamlessly with erudition, high discourse, and the central issue of language….With these poems, Rhenisch joins the company of such elegant writers as Robert Hass and Linda Gregg, Don Coles, Sharon Thesen and John Smith, even Thomas Merton. Richard Lemm, Event

What gives Rhenisch’s work its uncommon depth is the constant tension between the natural world and the world of words and ideas in which he is equally at home. “The land as we hold it in words” he says, “is the land that words can hold,/but it is seen through loss/and not possession”. From the understated compressed stories of the “He and She” and “This Land” sections, through the playful witty anthropomorphisms of Coyote and Crow to the culminating Canto-like synthesis of “The Koan”, Rhenisch grafts intellect to intuition with the rigorous patience of a craftsman who finds the grain and works with it instead of just chopping wood. John Moore, The Vancouver Sun.

bookman excerpts2


The filbert bush along my fence
blossoms all witner
and gives fruit,
which when dried and cracked
can be eaten
to give the taste of the wood,
the blindness within the root
of the filbert,
the black lone-ness of the soil;

the apple,
when plucked from a black, wet limb
three days after the first hard frost
that has withered the tomatoes
into their blight, and cupped
with the blossom end to the fingers
in the palm of a man’s two hands,
can be cracked in half
to bring to light flesh
that has not before seen light,
which is white,

and there within,
in a star-shaped, fibrous tissue
which is the womb of this tree, a few brown
and bitter seeds:

so too is the mind not only a flower
that can open
and so provide a small bowl
for light,
said Chuang Tzu
after a lifetime of concentration
on concentration,
but is also a seed,

a flower that closes upon itself
and, old and brittle,
its petals withered and scattered,
loses all shape of itself,
so forming a kernel
that can crack the teeth.

The painter
grows into his craft:
he spends a lifetime above the lake,
and so over time learns
or rather re-learns—
light, as it pours down over the hills
and lights even the depths of the lake:

yet it is not the mind
that burns within his canvas,
illuminating it,
but the thick residue of those years
of the sun pouring over his face:
he is like a block of wood
set aflame: by concentrating the light
through the forms of his art,
he so intensifies it
that he is burnt away:
there is no kernel,
no completion.

Similarly, it is not a useless acticvity
to page through books
to find the breath of living men,
for you will soon find—yoor eyes going black
with the realization—that it is a useless activity:
it is better to go out and stand
in the flood-raked,
snapped-off stalks of sand-bar willow
below the abandoned bridge
of the Great Northern Railroad
over the mercury shadow
of the Similkameen River
in the wind, your jacket snapping about you,
the whole earth in motion,
and clouds dissipating,
in the force of the wind,
directly into sky: it is a great
industrial construction above you
and blocks out the better part
of the sky, but it is there:
it is best, as Kung said,
to do something in particular.

The prophets of Greece
before the invention of writing,
claimed to have had, while sleeping,
their ears licked out by snakes,
and so were able to hear
the speech of birds;

the koan sets before you
a purpose and the means
to achieve that purpose,
whereas the purpose itself
is to have no purpose,
and to strive to no end,
but to be a receptacle,

and so forces the mind
to snap,
and if there is no kernel there,
it is because it is the world.


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