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:

nancy

 

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

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 schroedingersbox.wordpress.com, 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?

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To keep your interest, this device for programming your mind comes in many colours and textures.

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You can continually refresh your book identity with the illusion of newness.

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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.

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Note the Christ on the left: mind and body in one. That’s the idea.

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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.

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Like this:

 

water

(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.)

Giraffe

This is one of the dangers of book programming. Its fit with the world is imprecise and biased towards textuality.

neck

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”:

images

 

They use a physical representation of embodiment (training the body to become the book), which looks like this:

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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.

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The book tries to make the experience enjoyable and new.

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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.

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If you open it, you get stuff like this:

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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.

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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.

Fractal_Broccoli

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.

e-reader

What it touches is this:

Sony_reader_showing_pride_and_prejudice

Source

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 …

analog-tape-recorder-130718

… 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:

 ti

This is the eBook version of a human body-representation called “Treasure Island”…

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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:

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… 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:

ereaders

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.

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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.

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.

 

What is Art For?

My friend Sigrun, who lives in a harbour in Norway and writes about art on the inspiring web log, Sub Rosa, has posed an intriguing question: Is Art Therapy? It’s not Sigrun’s question, actually, although she wrestles with it as openly as she does many challenging works. It comes from her reading of Alain de Botton & John Armstrong’s book Art as Therapy, which proposes that art, rather than having transcendent goals, metaphysical roots, or philosophical underpinnings, or even proto-scientific experimental methods, is a form of therapy. This proposition would mean, I think, that artists look like this:

Sigmund Freud

The Artist Formerly Known as Sigmund Freud Showing Off His Wrist Flexes

Some no doubt do. I am writing this today not to challenge Sigrun. Her open intelligence needs no challenge but only the respect that it gives to the world and all things in it. I’m writing this to challenge de Botton and Armstrong. I’m doing so, because according to their proposition, this is therapy…

vincent_van_gogh_-_branches_of_an_almond_tree_in_blossom_f671

Almond Blossoms, Vincent Van Gogh

It’s preposterous, really. Yes, Vincent was on an uneven keel, and this painting, despite the beauty of its colours and the intricacies of its forms, is a bit bonkers and smells of the kind of clarification out of anguish that early 21st Century culture recognizes best as therapy, but logically that doesn’t mean it’s therapy. For one thing, Vincent pursued his self-immolation or self-re-assembly, however you wish to put it, through a series of strategies that have come to be called art. Art, however, in the sense of artifice and the making of useful or decorative articles, came long before it was given a name as an aesthetic activity, the one that fills galleries and university Fine Arts departments. That aesthetic form of art is a creation of science, which needed something to separate itself from, and like science it is an abstraction built out of an earlier form of unified work. What was there before aesthetic art? Art was the means by which the aristocracy designed and ruled their estates, for one thing, and for another it was the capacity of humans to integrate a set of learned procedures into gestures of great subtlety and grace. Such gestures might include the art of fencing, or the art of arrow-fletching, or the art of good talk, the art of cooking, or even the art of creating symbolic objects with a language of their own, in social conversation with the aristocracy, but not of it. Objects like this:

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The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David.

The sentence of death of the Greek philosopher Socrates and the courage with which he faced it (in this image, he is reaching for the cup of poison decreed by the Athenian court, as punishment for leading the young men of Athens away from marriage and into orgies of gay philosophy and kalamarika), is one of the central images of romantic humanism (well, short of the gay reference). The only thing is, the figures in the above image are wrong, and the old man sitting at the foot of the bed, Socrates’ pupil, the philosopher Plato, should be young in this image. Well, that is if it were an image of time and place. It isn’t. It is an elaborate social gesture. It was through such sleights of hand that the painters of the pre-industrial tradition maintained a conversation with each other, beneath the noses of their noble and bourgeois patrons. Is it therapy? Well, it’s an image that could be used in therapy, because it is almost endlessly narrative, but why is it so? Because of the arrangement of space and colour and line, at their junction with an arrangement of history and time. Is that therapy? Hardly. It is politics. It is an embodiment of Christian symbolism and ethics. It is artfulness. It is a gesture. It is all of these things at once. To suggest that this is therapy is to suggest that early 21st century understanding and concepts are the measure of all of human history, or that early 21st century deconstructionist art and art installation is the pinnacle of all of the human capacity for art in all of time. That’s just silly. Art is human. Humans are art. The whole world’s going to show up there. It’s a language.

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The Language of Art is Continually Reinventive

So is human-ness. They are the same. Art is a mirror.

Art is a mirror? Well, that’s not exactly the same as therapy, is it. Still, there can be art in therapy and therapy in art, and as the authors of this discussion point out, and Sigrun so generously lays out for us:

The authors see art as a tool, which has the power to extend our capacities beyond those the nature has originally endowed us with. While traditional tools often are extensions of the body, art is an extension of the mind. Art, says the authors, help us with psychological frailties.

Oh well, so much for poets and musicians and barrel wrights. We are only speaking about intellectual art here, the art of the mind. But that’s a bit sly. This tradition was invented for practical purposes, and holds within it that gesture of deliberateness. Every human who confronts it has to accept or reject or somehow come into conversation with that structure of power. What’s more, every gesture of paint on canvas has been made by the body as much as by the mind. They come together in the art. It is a language exquisitely not of the mind. To apply to all of art a definition of art rooted in Enlightenment ideas of the primacy of intellect, just because they share the same name (art), is plain silly, but so it is in a contemporary kind of rhetoric that substitutes partisan debate for discussion. Sigrun, in her generosity and endless curiosity goes on, to explain the authors’ thesis:

The seven functions of art are:

  1. Remembering
  2. Hope
  3. Sorrow
  4. Rebalancing
  5. Self-understanding
  6. Growth
  7. Appreciation

These are to be understood as therapies. Well, it’s the function of memory to remember, of hope to hope, of sorrow to grieve, and so it goes, on and on. These capacities come before therapy and remain a part of daily human life. They’re just words, that’s all. It’s a dangerous thing to do as these authors have done and to transfer the words back onto the world. That’s rather artless. Might it not be that rather than art being therapy, therapy and art both are drawn from life, and that there’s a bit of therapy in art and a lot of art in therapy? Might it also not be that if any particular approach to art tips over that threshold and becomes therapy, that it is indeed therapy, just as the author’s suggest, without changing the definition of forms of art that have not made than change? Of course, it might be. The real question presented to us here is whether there is a line that has evolved over time, of which only the leading point of that line can be called art; anything else is an echo of art. Well, if one wants to define art that way, sure, but this remains:

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 Toad Wishing I Would Just Go Away

Humans may have evolved far past toads, but toads are still better toads than humans. It’s not a contest. It’s not a value judgement. What’s more, this image, although documentary in nature, is so because of the artfulness in it: the long tongue of green extending from the toad to the lower left, anchoring the image in the foreground, although the toad is off balance to the right, and so on. That’s not therapy. It’s how the human mind works. It lives in the same territory as therapy, and it can be used for therapy, just as therapy can be used for art, but it’s just not the same thing at all. There is no dichotomy here between popular sentiments set up to be knocked down like straw men. There are toads, and there are humans, and there are our particular ways of being, on this planet in which almost all life forms come together from two genders and create life from their coitus, their being together, their union. Art is like that. Like humans, it is very much of the earth and of bodily experience. Like words, it is a language. It can be used for many things, including therapy… or not.