This is a beautiful book, that holds 51 years of my personal tree pruning experience, and a few thousand years of ancestral experience behind it. This hand-made book is just out from Gaspereau Press.
And about 55 years of conversations with my father about trees and the world. This is a book close to the heart. Look at what this blog has given us to share.
Isn’t that the truth. Fruit tree pruning is not about shaping a tree, nor is it about dominance. It’s about making space for light. One is really making a path for the sun. Trees will follow that. So do I.
Forty-seven years of poetry are in this book as well, and close to sixty years of experiences with the Earth, as she has raised me and sent me on, from the industrial orchards of my childhood and youth, to my work today, rebuilding lost Indigenous orchards, one graft at a time. This spring, I pruned a transparent apple tree for a bear, even. That was the deal.
years, as bears, horses, human traders, bluebirds…
..and my family, the Leipe’s, the tree people, have brought old knowledge forward into the present.
hem before I learned to write poetry. Unsurprisingly, when I started to write poetry, I was really pruning trees. This book is the story of that path. Its insights into poetry, and tree pruning, come from a deep path, in a sculptural art form in which one must see into the future through the body of another living creature, and work with her to help her thrive.
The Tree Whisperer: Writing Poetry by Living in the World is in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau’s essay Wild Apples, which he wrote after the Battle of Shiloh during the U.S. Civil War in 1862. It was a book about the apples he loved, as is The Tree Whisperer…
us in this conversation, as you have joined the 153,000 visitors to this blog, because this is a book about the environment, cultural reconciliation, education, poetry, our common past and our common future. In 1937, my great grandfather gave my father a garden …
Hopefully, a long way. You can order The Tree Whisperer from a bookstore, or click on my button on the top of this page and I’ll personally send you a signed copy, with my blessings.
This fall, I will be completing a guide for poets, readers and writing teachers, to illustrate the techniques of my new book Landings: Poems from Iceland and guide you into its language. This is ecological poetry, in many forms. I’d like to share a draft of one of these introductions with you today. This one is for my poem, The Way Home. I’m hoping this guide will help pass these techniques on and illustrate some old techniques of poetry in new love poems. Each gives some background to the poem, discusses some of the techniques that power its shape and help it achieve its effects, and presents a few exercises for practice and enjoyment (I hope!) The Way Home is a circular poem. The discussion begins with the Old Norse concept of world, a spherical space. You can get a glimpse of it in the mouth and eye of the ogre below, on the Arnarstapi shore,
The guides will discuss everything from Old Norse’s influence on English as an Environmental Language to the psychological roots of elves, and from the use of couplets, double rhymes, cross-stitch chiming effects, pass-it-on rhymes, to oral effects on the page, kinetic verse and symbolism. You can download the file below. There are 16 pages in the full file. This one discusses the journey words make from the throat to the lips to the ear, and the use of soft rhymes following hard internal chimes and rocking wave patterns to shift the emphasis of language away from reportage to embodiment.
A century ago, the myth was strong in Iceland that it was part of the lost continent. Gunnar Gunnarsson, the novelist in whose house much of the book was written, even took a cruise there in 1928. That’s three landings, I think: Gunnar’s to the Canary Islands, mine to his house, Skriðuklaustur, and this crowd’s on the Icelandic shore:
Let me show you a few pictures from Iceland, to illustrate the introduction to my new book Landings: Poems from Iceland. First the introduction. I call it The Way Home.
We are in the open Atlantic. Every poem about to open before you springs from a place and bears its name. At each of these wells, the earth speaks through human and animal life. Flowers bloom and knock around in the wind. There is always wind.
And just like that, you are in an island in the North Atlantic. In his great anti-war novel The Shore of Life, written in anguish immediately after the Battle of the Somme in World War I…
… Gunnar Gunnarsson noted that the land is ringed with a deadly surf, that one must cross, either for fish or for the world, and must cross back home again for shelter, I think he had Iceland’s eider ducks in mind. Look at them here in Neskaupstaðir, fishing with their chicks in the surf.
Some of the chicks get tossed a metre into the air, and then dragged down a metre under the waves.. If I’m right, this is Gunnar’s image of World War I. So much has gone into portrayals of its butchery and horror and senselessness, yet to deal with his own horror, Gunnar chose an image of life, and one at the heart of the Icelandic soul. That choice is at the heart of this book, too. This is a book of hope, and of coming home. As I point out in the introduction…
1100 years ago, Icelanders settled this volcanic island in the middle of the ocean. The place is not so much a land as a landing, that moment when the keel of a boat hits shore and is lifted and held up, suddenly solid and free of the grey sea.
The days of going out into the open ocean to catch a few low-value fish are over, yet the knowledge gained from the experience remains, and has found its way into words here.
These poems are the moment when the land lifts you up: not an object but an energy and a process. Here’s a central passage from my poem “The Meeting Place”, one of the book’s Landings:
As speakers of English, we are all home here in Iceland. Landings is a map. It’s not in bookstores yet, but I’ll get you a copy. I have a few maps, too. Just ask. Drop me a line on Facebook, at www.haroldrhenisch.com, or @hrhenisch. We’ll be talking soon.
A decade-long love affair with Iceland fills my new book with poems and prayers that are lifted by place and magic. This is a book for people who love the Earth, told in a language physically anchored to the roots of English in the old sea-going North.
It is also full of trolls, elves and other land-based understandings of consciousness the Norse brought from Norway 1100 years ago. In Iceland, even a man or a woman could become a troll, even while living, as the word originally described only the relationship of a person to a specific place. Only? Well, it’s a lot! Here’s one of my favourite haunts.
It is always good to know where the neighbourhood volcano is.
Here’s how Sharon Thesen describes the book:
It is, as you can see, a work of love. The “Landings” of the title are those moments when the earth lifts up the keel of a boat and holds it steady, where just a moment before it was rolling at sea. It is an energy that precedes “land” and more accurately describes human relationships to it. In other words, it is a book about being home on the Earth, and is the culmination of decades of work exploring the roots of English to function fully as an indigenous language. Here is Petursey, Peter’s Island, one of the elf cities of the Icelandic south.
These are simple poems of wit, grounded in experience. They come with a rich glossary of names, giving the story of each place in which they are set. As the publisher says:
Here’s an example from the glossary:
Hallormsstaður / Hawthorn Farm
This old parsonage houses a children’s art school within an arboretum of exotic trees from the global North, and a guest house in the dormitory of a girls’ boarding school, where the girls of the district were taught Icelandic embroidery as part of the project of freeing the country from Denmark. It worked. Never underestimate embroidery.
I spent a month just up the fjord as writer in residence in 2013, talking to the local thrush. Here’s Ljósárfoss, The Waterfall of Light, in the Birch and Hawthorn Forest the girls embroidered a country from:
And the embroidery? You can tromp through the hills and still pick these flowers today. The poems in the book are like this, too, following sheep and farmers through the heather and the grass.
In addition to a textual table of contents, the book’s frontispiece is a map as well, showing the whole country as the book.
Thanks to my editor, Daniela Elza, for urging us to make this deep ecological guide.
Those girls are one of my inspirations. The book is a woven artefact, like the lines that sheep make wandering through the Icelandic summer, which are spun and knitted again into the charms we call sweaters to keep us warm together in the winter dark. Here’s how Patrick Friesen describes this approach:
This is the poem craft I have learned after forty seven years at this game, written out of love and in honour of all that Robin Skelton taught me of poetry, magic and the weaving of silence in among words. This is not a poem of the past, though. Its songs are of the present and the future, physically grounded. It’s not just the horses grazing on the old turf house ruins at Eiðar, the farm called Fate, that stretch across a line of verse but don’t break it…
… but words as well. Here is the ending of my poem Findings, contemplating the Syrian exodus from the lost harbour of Stapavík in the Icelandic East.
Here’s the view from the Stapavík Trail, looking north over black sand and the dunes of the bird sanctuary between the Seal River and the Glacial River itself.
The beach, though, is not for humans, and that’s about right.
These are poems for living voices. Here’s how Marilyn Bowering describes them:
In this time that seems to want to drive people apart from each other and the land, I found myself in Iceland, writing a book about coming home to a renewed Earth and feet solidly standing on it. Sometimes those are the feet of a thrush, those curious birds that follow you around, stare you in the eye, and always on the verge of speech.
This is the work of a poet, as I know it. Here’s the first half of my poem “The Poet’s Work.”
The first half of writing this book was to build a musical language of spirit embodied in the Earth. The second half is to share it with readers and listeners. Thanks to my publisher Byrna Barclay of Burton House Books, for finding the love poems in my travels and bringing them into print for us all. The best way to buy this book in these strange times is from me, or from Burton House. Or order a copy into your local bookstore, and gently suggest that we do a reading together.
And, please, be in touch. We’re open to any ideas as to how I can bring these poems to voice and ears and keep us all close as we start to heal our broken Earth, one word and one landing at a time.
Let’s talk soon. Here’s the book details your store will need.
In 2003, I wrote a series of 365 poems in 6 weeks. The series included several of my poetry books, including my favourite, The Spoken World (Hagios Press [Radiant] 2011). As no one has seen that book, or the speech between the living and the (so-called) dead, through the gates of love and Earth, here’s a small spell for stepping into the Earth’s embrace, that seems to have been written for these times.
Poet, editor, blogger, Harold Rhenisch has written more than twenty books in different media. Born near Cawston, BC, he grew up working in the orchards of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, and has drawn lifelong inspiration from his native terroir.
In all his prolific writing, tireless blogs and breathtaking images, Rhenisch has been striving “to create an authentic literature for the silent rural parts of Canada, to place their images and dialects on an equal footing with those of the modern urban world.”
Harold Rhenisch was the 2007 recipient of the annual George Ryga Prize for Social Awareness.
Event Type: Author Reading
I have put together a slide show, to circle around my poem Saying the Names, and its roots in the land and the work of poets Al Purdy and Pat Lane. There is a story of many of us walking together. This festival is a celebration of the legacy of one of these joined voices, the playwright George Ryga…
Again, here’s how the festival puts the story:
About George Ryga
Writer & Playwright
George Ryga, considered by many as Canada’s most important English language playwright, lived in Summerland from 1963 until his death in 1987.
His prolific multifaceted writings includes stage plays, radio, TV and film scripts, novels, short stories and novellas, critical essays, travelogues, music and song lyrics, and poetry.
Most of Ryga’s creative output originated from his home in Summerland, including The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, which was published to critical acclaim in 1967 and remains the best-selling Canadian play of all time.
Born in 1932, Ryga was raised poor in the Ukrainian farming community near the town of Athabasca. Despite having to leave school at the age of 13, he soon won a scholarship to the prestigious Banff School of Fine Arts on the strength of one of his very first stories.
George Ryga first found national fame when CBC television produced his play Indian, and soon two of his novels were published in England. In 1963 he and his wife Norma brought their young family to Summerland, where they bought a small orchard on Caldwell Street. It was here that Ryga came to write his most famous works, including The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1967), which awakened a nation celebrating its centennial to the continuing tragedy of its Indigenous Peoples. Two years later the play was revived to open the new National Arts Centre in Ottawa, an event attended by the prime minister and all ten provincial premiers. As the late great director John Juliani wrote, George Ryga should be remembered and celebrated for “bringing the contemporary age to the Canadian stage.”
I will be talking about one place where all of this comes together, the heart of the Plateau, Palouse Falls:
Since before its first occupation 8,000 years ago, this has been a living human space. We serve ourselves well to enter it. I hope to see you in Summerland!
My poem “Saying the Names Shanty” is part of a book-length manuscript of songs for being at home in the west beyond the West, and especially in the grasslands between the mountains, and of following the road across the mountains and prairies to the east. To which, with respect and thanks for the syilx people, whose land, whose Nxʷɘlxʷɘltantɘt, this is, I add the Okanagan Nation declaration:
“We are the unconquered aboriginal people of this land, our mother; The creator has given us our mother, to enjoy, to manage and to protect; we, the first inhabitants, have lived with our mother from time immemorial; our Okanagan governments have allowed us to share equally in the resources of our mother; we have never given up our rights to our mother, our mother’s resources, our governments and our religion; we will survive and continue to govern our mother and her resources for the good of all for all time.” https://www.syilx.org/about-us/syilx-nation/okanagan-nation-declaration/
To all syilx people, yours are the names. Thank you for keeping them alive and for sharing them. Your act of sharing has given me life, and a chance to sing of love. The woman whose hands are on the wheel in the poem, is the poet Linda Rogers,
who introduced me to Al’s poem “Say the Names” by reading it to me late at night in her kitchen in Victoria, with, if I remember correctly, a whoop of joy. I sure felt one, at any rate. Thanks, Linda. All of us, and the poet Pat Lane…
…whose poem “Similkameen Deer”, which begins with a road sign like this …
…Driving through the Similkameen valley
I watch for deer on the Road.
Miles roll out beneath me….
… probably below the screes and Mount Mazuma Ash at As’nola Mouth, where the waters of the Pasayten Wilderness and the Cascade Range meet between Hedley and Keremeos, began me on this journey four decades ago, have, among others, made this poem together, although the words came to it through me. Friends, poets, brothers, sisters, words and spirits, thank you. This moment is yours, a gift for you for the gifts you’ve given. Thank you, CBC, for the chance to share it.
Cassy 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,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.