The Shamanic Journey – “A word is a magical device for the manipulation of the physical world.
The poem is a structured, precise, magical container, the weaving of a circle of power, into which we bring the representations of objects and watch, as analytically as a physicist observing the tracings of colliding and disintegrating atoms in a cloud chamber, how they interact with each other, and so make ourselves of that process, as if we could live completely in that transitory, illusory moment and through that act alone expand it to fill all of time. (from Fusion)
The Colonial Legacy – “I am working to rise out of a colonial past and to actually live in this landscape, not a safe image set within the landscape.”
I used to live in a house called Harold. The view out the front windows was very beautiful: the mountains and orchards of the Okanagan Valley, sweeping white clouds, blue sky. One day I couldn’t stand the distance any longer, opened the door and walked out into that view.
The Technology of Consciousness – “Each poem is a device for re-configuring the mind.”
The form of the poem, the particular placement of the speaker within the ground of the poem, and the ability for this new placement to resonate within the mind of the reader, determines what the mind can perceive through the lens of the poem. The earth, perceived through a different lens, becomes a different earth.
Metamorphosis – “Basic to poetry is renewal and metamorphosis.”
In the moonlight that once washed through their nights like sap and the mixed tastes of stone and grass, the old ones bound the earth inside ‘tree’ and ‘river’ — circles drawn with a hazel cane on a salt-washed wooden floor. After that, the magical things themselves — a twig of rowan, a hard black stone — were brought in, and Earth’s power released from them: cold fusion. The mountains splashed up under the moon like waves. The earth buckled up, shivering with delight, arching her back. Today, inside words, captured there, penned, in circles of power, the mountains and the moon vibrate — like quartz crystals — and we move through them, enclosed, never touching the wild, untamed name of the goddess. We are invisible and live outside of her power. It takes only a small concentration of matter, sufficiently isolated, to have massive strength. The sun brought down to earth is too strong for us to stand, in any form.
Language is a robotic technology, a tool — of spiritual manipulation, manipulating that point where the forsythia springs out of fire, where the pink, frost-scarred blossoms on the peaches, and the frozen, morning crystals of ice on the branches, from sprinklers set on them all night to glove them from the frost, are given us: vast machines, industrial packing lines, combines moving across the golden grainfields of ancient seas. (from Fusion)
The Use of Literature – “I live in a lost colonial country nominally called Canada.”
The Interior of British Columbia is a country with few if any historical, literary, philosophical, or aesthetic traditions, other than the stories we tell each other over coffee. To avoid repeating the colonial trap of importing the tools and metaphors of a foreign life and never moving into this corner of the earth, I have worked towards the organic development of these traditions, out of the strong oral culture which pervades this place.A culture that cannot ensure its survival and cannot pass on its forms and knowledge is not a healthy culture.
Colloquial Language – “The language of everyday speech needs to be forged into a sophisticated tool.”
Literary criticism is not about literature
after all, but about a choice of tools:
a Black and Decker variable speed reversing
or a brace and bit.
They both make holes.
(from “A Layman’s Guide to Literary Criticism”, in Taking the Breath Away)
A Definition of Terms – “The country I live in is not on any map.”
The Nicola River empties into the Thompson at Spences Bridge. With its acacia-shaded motel, three gas stations (two boarded-up), and tumble mustard growing between sun-faded houses, Spences Bridge is nothing. The experiment of civilization failed there. The town is completely engulfed by the silence of the earth, the bighorn sheep that drift across the highway in sagebrush-coloured clouds, the purple cliffs, the thin willows lining the gravel bars. The traffic that passes through Spences Bridge on the week-long haul from Toronto to Vancouver moves through this silence at high speed. As you stand at the roadside and watch the roaring trucks and cars, the wind that kicks up behind them scatters fine sand in your eyes — history, moving by. And away: after the whine of the tires settles, after the screeching of the trains, the wild, wheatgrass wind blows in the deep mountain valley, with the rising and sinking of the earth to the sun. It never stops. (from Tom Thompson’s Shack)
A New Criticism – “I am working from a literary criticism which stands solidly in place.”
Ezra Pound who was a poet who dreamed of fairies among the trees and who abandoned us and the grass and the pines roaring in the wind, for London, and under the pressure of the Great War that took all the young men away from us, invented modern poetry in the image of gun barrages and barbed wire and artillery posts in the towers of churches, once said of poetry that it is good to have one or two poets whom you have discovered yourself in old books of which no one else knows — you could read them while you were tying trout flies. Well, I think so. You know, it’s really not all that hard, now that hardly anyone has heard about Pound! I have taken his big orange Cantos out and read them at coffee time under the apple trees, in the dandelions. I knew then what it means to be no longer fighting a war, as bees ranged through the clouds of white and pink blossoms and even got tangled in our hair as we grafted there with our white buckets of scion wood, our brad hammers and cigar box nails, our cans of latex rubber and our sharp chisel-bladed knives. (from Tom Thompson’s Shack)
A Creative Criticism
Literary and cultural criticism is at a point in its development at which it can become a creative art in its own right. Developing this tradition from the ground up is exciting work of the first order, as Harold has done in his phenomenological science-poetry blends and most especially in his work at Skriðuklaustur in Iceland.
The Language of Perception – “There are languages for our perceptions, languages for the silent lives we live when we live on the earth.”
Modernism and post-modernism and a host of literary schools have dominated the literary story of the 20th century, in a linear questing after the definition of a tradition exactly paralleling the mechanization and dehumanization played out at the same time in social and political terms. I see the work of the 21st century as the work of forming a bridge between traditions, of picking up the dropped threads of our broader traditions and sewing them together with the remaining threads of the aboriginal traditions we suppressed to gain our position and our land. My goal is to strengthen our ability to speak and think clearly, and to speak and think clearly simultaneously in time and space.
The Reversal of the Conscious and Subconscious Minds – from “The Ancient Way” in The Blue Mouth of Morning
It is not to be understood.
It is to be entered through the silence
on the far side of language,
separating one word from the next,
the air between the trees
in a forest.
The Reclamation of Mythology – “This work with reclaiming mythology culminates in a vision of “Dioce”, Pound’s city of paradise, in the mind.”
Sometimes a whale breaks
in front of the church
with a thunderous roar
and the whole section of town
rises and settles
for hours after she dives again.
(from “The Living City” in The Blue Mouth of Morning)
The Civic Vision – “There is only one history.”
There is no dichotomy between rural and urban life, just as there is no dichotomy between postmodernist and mythological poetry. They are all civic visions. To bring them together — and to move forward together— is the real work.
Poetry and Magic – From the Salmon Bay Review
I used to believe that poetry’s old roots in magic have now only a secular life. To be honest, I did come to poetry through Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Andrew Wyatt, Robert Graves, Wallace Stevens, Al Purdy, Robin Skelton, Ezra Pound, and a thousand others, but I also came to poetry by pruning fruit trees when I was a boy and becoming the trees and air: in short, I came to poetry from the things of this earth — mountain, tree, leaf, and river–and from an almost hallucinogenic sense of their presence. In the last two years these old sources of poetry have become increasingly important to me and the literary context of poetry has receded into the shadows, like the background noise of the stars. These remarks are probably very cryptic, so I will try to explain….
(The rest of this essay is on Harold’s Essays page.)
Up Against the Wall – “A tribute to P.K. Page, artist, poet, teacher.”
The text of this essay is on Harold’s Essays page.
First Words – An essay, originally published in Event Magazine, advocating a literature based upon colloquial language and the oral language forms of our daily lives.
The text of this essay is on Harold’s Essays page.
We are all indigenous, whether we are native to a place or part of a colonial legacy. For some of us, this indigenous identity is tightly bound with the earth. For others, it is tightly bound to language, which at its roots is tightly bound to the earth. There is much common ground there, through our ancestors, who still speak through us, in the words we have inherited from them.
Writing is Sculpture
Writing sculpts social and cognitive and textual space. 3-D sculpture sculpts social and cognitive and bodily space. Social sculpture sculpts social and cognitive and individual space. Now that culture has become deeply visual, the sculptural nature of writing is being released from the texts and books that once held it in place, and can inhabit imagery, as a new set of words. New forms of the book follow this realization.
The Tradition is Known and Unknown
Much has been forgotten in the last hundred years, since the battles of the Chemins des Dames and the Somme. Before that butchery, Western literature was largely a blend of Slavic, German, English, Nordic and French influences, in more or less equal proportions. After the butchery, only English and French remained. The lost roots of traditions are not deeply buried, and much that remains obscure in the literature of our time and the time of our fathers and mothers is actually crystal clear when returned to its broader narratives. This is important work, because it separates aesthetic and intellectual drives to allow for new perceptions and definitions which match the developing spirit of the age.
Philosophy is New
A clear examination of literature and culture in the present age leads to many concepts not in classical dictionaries of philosophy: vagueness, uncertainty, creativity, edges, zombies and ennui, among others. In past ages of the world, including 1970s Kenya and 1930s Greece, it was the task of poets to create new words in ancient languages, to express new concepts. This path is open to poets today. The words are needed to describe these states. Peter Handke is doing it in German, from Paris. In English, it is being absorbed into fiction. Pretty well every day, Harold asks himself, “Why is that?”
Speculative Fiction is Not Fiction
Few art forms describe the contemporary world better than speculative fiction. Harold has been working at bridging nonfiction forms with the tools and motifs of speculative fiction, to help reveal the contemporary world.
Art Writing is the New Literature
“Writers,” Harold loves to point out, laying his art magazines across his garage sale teak table, under the watchful eye of his poetry shelves, “look at what the artists are doing with words. They have the ball now.” Fortunately, he also points out, everyone can join them.
Writing is Art
It’s not an art. It’s art.
Poetry is a Part of the Universe
Humans didn’t invent it, but they can sing. What’s more, they are being observed.