February 28: How to Escape Slavery to the Book and Thrive in the Wild

Humans, are you feeling trapped by the book? Are you tired of trolls like this?

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Well, there’s help. I’m giving a talk about all this at Cottage Bistro in Vancouver on Sunday, February 28, at 5 pm. Here are some slides from the book, with their original captions.

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Do you feel that books fill your heads with thoughts and lead you down the garden path to a field choked with thoughts and then locks the gate and you can’t even figure out the darned latch?

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Do they not even bring you any sugar cubes anymore?

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Well, you’re not alone.

The performance is at Cottage Bistro, at 4470 Main Street in Vancouver. Their phone is 604-876-6138. The show is at 5 p.m., Sunday, February 28.

Here’s a hint of the story I’m going to tell from my new book, the Art of Haying.

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I didn’t find this story. It found me on the Camino through the dark forest of Germany, where I lost my identity right about here …

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…was give a temporary identity to ride to keep me going, now that I didn’t have a book to hold me …

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… and then met the Afrad (one of “The Chosen Ones”) Khedr when I was completely emptied out. He appears now on the cover of my new book of poems, Two Minds, a series of sufic ghazals, conjuring consciousness out of the winds of the world. That’s what Khedr does. He is the force of the world.

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I’ll be talking about him on Sunday. He dropped me in Iceland a few days later.

artofhaying.001 I made new friends.artofhaying.080

They taught me that humans build farms under the cliffs, and keep sheep, and that this is a form of writing but writing in the world, not writing on sheepskin or paper. They taught me that I already knew this, and that there are creatures who are keeping these farms, so that humans keep sheep, because these creatures love sheep. They me that I am a kept thing, within these books. They taught me that I am prey.

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And so in Iceland I learned to see the pens and fenced pastures of the book. Here’s a collection of such books, including human house, abandoned turf houses, elf house and farm, and in the background, looking out over the fjord, a troll.

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Here’s a young Icelandic reader learning her craft with a machine that is killing her, while gentler machines on display in this agricultural college are calling to her: “Go get a horse, dear!  We can do that for you.” But she doesn’t hear over the machine.

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And so I learned the way out of the pastures of the book into a new wildness.

artofhaying.047 I learned old forms of creativity that are still new on Iceland.artofhaying.062

I learned to read the modern creative individual, the kind that Creative Writing programs are designed to craft (somehow, it didn’t take on me) …

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… and the lures that book set to draw humans into domesticated fields …

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… and I met many people, many ultra modern people, of the book’s fields. This guy in Reykjavik, for instance. Yes, he is a blockhead.

artofhaying.015 The Spirit of Reykjavik, too. Well, actually a film-maker’s Norse curse on the Americanized Reykjavik across the harbour from his encampment.artofhaying.024

And this woman in Seyðisfjörður, after her body set her aside to dry in the sun after a hard day shovelling snow.

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I learned that identities can be put on and taken off when they come to the end of their usefulness for the book trolls who run the farm. Here’s an art gallery of human book identities in downtown Reykjavik.

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I also learned there is something else that is stronger than that identity and remains when it is stripped away, as mine was on the pilgrimage path through the German Revolution of 1989, and the Celtic Revolution of … well, long before that.

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There is a form of creativity that predates the modern age and is stronger than it. It is still alive in Iceland. Khedr led me to it. It’s time to talk about these things. There’s a way out of that field, my friend.

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Does that look like you, living on an elf hill, sniffing the grass in my hand, as I stand beneath the sacred rowans of the graveyard that is always beside an elf hill? Yes, it is! Come on, let’s go to Iceland. I’ll give you the key to that gate.

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Reading from Two Minds at Planet Earth Poetry Friday, February 5, 2016: 7:30 p.m.

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I will be reading from my book of sufic ghazals, Two Minds, on Friday, February 5, 2016, at The Planet Earth Poetry reading series at Hillside Coffee and Tea, 1633 Hillside Ave (across from Bolen Books), in Victoria. The evening begins at 7:30 with an open mic.

I am looking forward to sharing these poems and stories of being initiated by the Sufic spirit Khedr (that’s him on the cover, from a pleasure palace in Saxony) on my pilgrimage to the Northern Orient in 2010.

 

Readings in Regina, Edmonton and Calgary in the fall were a lot of fun. I hope you can come out.

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Khedr

The poems began in 1977, with conversations with P.K. Page and the rich trove of Eastern material she poured into my head in those few weeks she taught at UVic and I was lucky enough to be there. These are the poems I wrote for myself for thirty years, and which fell into place when I was living in Campbell River in 2008, between the mountains and the sea. Thank you to the B.C. Arts Council for the grant which brought three decades together like this.

On February 7, I will be reading at the Centre for Spiritual Living in Yaletown, Vancouver. You can read about that reading here.

Reading from Two Minds at Centre For Spiritual Living Yaletown, February 7

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BC Poet Harold Rhenisch presents at Centre for Spiritual Living, Yaletown, 1131 Howe Street, Vancouver, 10 a.m. February 7, 2016

The Centre for Spiritual Living in Yaletown will be hosting me at 10 a.m. on February 7 to talk about my most recent book of poetry – Two Minds. Here’s a spiritual review of the book, by Susan McCaslin. Fellowship begins at 9:30 a.m.

The book is a meditation on Sufic verse inspired by my travels on the northern Camino passage through Europe. The event includes opportunities to experience affirmative prayer and meditation, and takes place Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Centre’s weekly Intention Service held at the Cinematheque theatre at 1131 Howe Street.

“Last year we launched our series Inspired Word, which highlights authors whose work in some way touches on spirituality in whatever form it takes,” says Rev. Karin Wilson, Spiritual Director of CSL Yaletown. “Harold Rhenisch’s Two Minds provides us with a window on Eastern spiritual traditions that are often overlooked.”

TwoMinds_Cover_May20-195x300I was introduced to Sufic verse by one of my literary mentors P.K. Page, who received the Governor General Award, and was awarded the Order of Canada for her poetry. My book of lyrical poetry, known as ghazals, arose from his transformative experience while walking the German portion of the Camino in 2008 and again in 2010 where I met Khezr, the Hidden Prophet also known as the Green Man of Sufism.

“This section of the Camino is quite different from the south,” I told Karin. “You’re going into these dark places and receiving unexpected guidance. What I experienced on that pilgrimage led directly to this book.” In truth, it changed my life.

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I have published 12 full length books of poetry, edited the posthumous poetry of Robin Skelton, and won the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize as well as the CBC Literary Award for poetry and the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature for his book The Wolves of Evelyn.

“This event is designed to awaken and connect us to our ancient heart, which is universal and knows no boundaries,” Wilson says. “It’s often through literature that we get to access these truths. We’re very honoured to have Harold come and share his words and images with us.”

I’m thrilled to be going. I hope you can join us.

For more information, please contact Rev. Karin Wilson Ph: 778-877-2883 Email: <revkarin@telus.net>.

Review of My “Two Minds” by Susan McCaslin

This review just appeared in Dialogue. It’s so great to have a reader like Susan and a publisher who will give space to a thorough review like this. I am deeply honoured and grateful.

“Two Minds, One Household,”
A Review of Harold Rhenisch’s Two Minds (Frontenac House, 2015)
by Susan McCaslin, Fort Langley BC

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Harold Rhenisch’s recent volume of poetry, Two Minds, is a unified long poem composed of a series of aphoristic ghazals, variations on the Persian classic form. To enter this sequence is to step inside a place where history, myth, language, and the poetry of the natural world converge. In these gnomic utterances, inner realities mirror and contain each other in a way that suggests everything is interconnected with everything else.
The “two minds” of the title are at one level the thinking-feeling individual mind and a more unified consciousness that includes and transcends it. Only a trickster mind capable of embracing apparent opposites can fearlessly hold such paradoxes as this:

The whole world and all of time can be seen,/ 
even by the smallest child, even in a Rufous hummingbird,/ / hanging, bronze, on the tip of a spring willow—/
once only, and again once only, and again. Only once. 

(from “Everything and Nothing”)

The “two minds” appear in some contexts as the post-Enlightenment rationalist mind versus the shamanic mind, which is not to be confused with mere madness, but is a form of “divine mania”: “Sometimes a man is locked up for being of two minds. Sometimes he e capes” (from “Remembering Paul Celan”). The shamanic presence that haunts these poems is not merely the poet himself in his personal identity, but a presence we all have the capacity to become: “10,000 years ago, a shaman tracked deep into the night. /Now he is coming back. I meet him at the door. I open” (“Instructions for the Winter Ceremony”).
Reading the Contents pages is like reading a series of short poems held together within a longer one. Take this title, for instance: “As the Riverbed Forms Itself Into a Trout, It Swallows the Sky.” Rhenisch throws everything he has into this cauldron of a volume. The “I” speaks from a dark-light shamanic ground far beyond the world of the Cartesian subject-object split. Some- times it is as if Earth herself rises to speak:
One yellow chrysanthemum with brown leaves burns in the white world. Ah.”

(from “Song of the Earth”)

Rhenisch’s ghazals lead us through diverse landscapes and cultures of Northern Europe but also encompass British Columbia and the Cascadia region of the Pacific Northwest, as, for instance, when he writes about the Nootka Fault line. The speaker is a global traveller, a pilgrim following the Northern leg of the Camino de Santiago, who pauses to see seeing, touch touching, lis- ten to listening. In his “Pilgrim’s Song on the Road to the East” he enters sacred space just as he is:
I have mud on my shoes.
This is how I enter the cathedral: on foot.
On this journey the monotheistic Judeo-Christian-Islamic God mingles with Paleolithic and pagan gods and goddesses. Rhenisch is not afraid to use the word “God” and alludes to the dynamic of time’s intimacies with eternity (“Where Time Ends and Eternity Begins”). His God is a mystery both transcendent and immanent. Christ is “a blooming Dionysus.” Even the Trinity is imaginatively revisioned in “The Day We Re-enacted the Story of the Trinity.”
Bach stands in the doorway of a church shaped like a woman,
but we are the ones who push the inner door open.
This volume seeks to restore the depths of western religious and mystical traditions, recovering Christianity’s lost roots in older, indigenous cultures. Yet clearly the Celtic Green man of the cover design is the unifying presence of the volume. The first poem in the book, “The Man with the Head of a Stag Speaks,” is followed later by “Green Man Rises.”
On his blog, Rhenisch explains the Celtic and Persian (Sufic) origins of this ancient forest spirit and how the Green Man mythos, inscribed in art and architecture, ties to the Islamic prophet Khezr (also called Khidr), who is said to have had the power to initiate seekers who have no guide and to rescue lost wanderers. Khezr clearly becomes the speaker’s primary poetic guide on his journey.
(See the poet’s commentary: https://haroldrhenisch.com/2015/10/06/khezr-the-hidden-prophet- and-my-two-minds/ )
In Rhenisch’s ghazals, each couplet stands on its own, yet resonates within the poem as a whole, which in turn resonates within the entirety of the book. Each couplet is to the volume as a star to its constellation. Some of Rhenisch’s couplets may at first appear cryptic or opaque to linear reasoning. Like Zen koans, they invite you to knock your skull against them. Often a slight shift opens the reader to a larger gestalt: “The world that is the world begins/ with the ladder of integration, which has no rungs” (“All Fall Down”).
One classical rhetorical device Rhenisch employs fre- quently is chiasmus, a stepping forward and back within the structure of the lines. These surprising reversals and mirrorings allow us to bring two perspectives together. Through them Rhenisch develops the theme of the “two minds” which are held in tension as one. Things we think separate are revealed as indwelling each other. Some examples:

Cold determines nothing. Nothing determines the cold.”
(from “The Return to the Trees”)

I walk out into the mountain dawn. The mountains walk in.”
(from “For Children’s Eyes Only”)

The mind in its shell, thinking: the shell in its mind.”
(from “The Shell Game”)

Recurrent themes run wave-like through the whole. One that stands out is that trees are elders and sentient beings (“The Return of the Trees”). The first line of the first poem in the volume takes us “outside the forest of words,” but soon we are returned to the inside of actual forests where we feel “the frog pulsing within the scales of a cedar” (from “The Shell Game”). As Rhenish puts it, “[T]he old language is spoken solely by trees” (“The Weight of the Sky Over a Shaman’s Fire”). In the world of the forests, human power hierarchies like that of Shakespeare’s Macbeth become irrelevant: “Trees are rooting in my feet; there is no longer a king” (“Everyone in the Script is Macbeth’). Or as Rhenisch puts it later, “This forest belongs to the trees.”
Another recurrent configuration involves the presence of the philosopher Plato. Surprisingly, the poems about Plato and Socrates are not abstract, but contemporary, jazzy and playful, with titles like: “Socrates Wears a Black Collar with Silver Spikes,” “Preliminary Notes to a Translation of Particle Physics Into Platonic Light,” and “Walking Out of the Cave Is Not the Same as Wisdom.” Rhenisch’s Plato is not the Plato of the “divided line” between time and eternity, but the Plato of Socrates’ shamanic teacher Diotima, a bearer of feminine wisdom: “Plato heard women’s voices singing among stones—/and wrote them down, so now it’s still there…” (from “Petals Drift Upon the Stones of a Mountain River”).
Rhenisch’s book isn’t only philosophical and shamanic but political in the deepest sense, addressing our current environmental crisis. He notes that “Clear cut forests recede into blue hills/ in sheets of smoke, which they enter as they reenter light” (“Where Time Ends and Eternity Begins”). And in a particularly poignant ghazal he laments that “The mountains are being taken down and loaded on rusty ships” (“Conservation and Rebirth”).
Rhenisch has created a shamanic dream book that lifts us out of our destructive anthropocentrism, but not out of who we are within the playfield of the all-encompass- ing natural world. A mysterious music plays through these poems that is and is not merely the individual poet. The author takes risks in exploring what some post- modern philosophers have rejected: transcendence. However, in this context transcendence does not entail abandoning the body for a “higher world,” but leaving boxed-in knowing to move toward fuller integration. The poems’ force field is larger than its ideas and concepts, and in harmony with the music flowing in, around, under, and through the words.
Review by Susan McCaslin  Dialogue.
About Harold Rhenisch:

Harold Rhenisch has published 12 full-length books of poetry, including the spiritual precursor to Two Minds, “The Spoken World” (Hagios), and 26 other books of poetry, memoir, essay, and environmental writing. His The Art of Haying (Ekstasis 2015) completes the process of Two Minds with 200 photographs from Iceland and Germany. Harold studied with P.K. Page, Charles Lillard, Robin Skelton and Zsuzsi Gartner, has taught poetry and fiction writing at Vancouver Island University and has been writer-in-residence at both Okanagan Regional Library and Douglas College. He has won a CBC poetry prize, two Malahat Review long poem prizes, and a George Ryga Prize, among other national and provincial prizes for poetry, drama and journalism. Harold lives in Vernon, BC. ♣

Dialogue.

Sufic and Other Wisdom Poetry in Vancouver on November 11

Might I see you here with my sufic poems?
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Wednesday Nov 11, 2015
Pandora’s Collective Presents
TWISTED POETS LITERARY SALON
with: Harold Rhenisch and Joe Denham
 Cottage Bistro, 4468 Main St, Vancouver, BC
Time: 7:00 – 9:30 pm
Hosts: Lilija Valis and Leanne Boschman
Open Mic sign up at 7pm. Readings begin at 7:30
I plan to make my reading a gesture of peace between East and West.
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I will also read selections from my previous book, sw
The Spoken World, a book of blessings for the earth,  and the world the helps us speak from lands on both sides of life and loss. These are conversations I had with Robin Skelton after his death in 1992. They are about poetry as a wisdom path.
I hope to see you there for this Two Minds and Two Hearts show!
It’ll be a treat to read with Joe. I’ve waited for that for years.

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:

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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.