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:


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.


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.


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.






Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation and You, My Readers and Friends

This post starts with a personal note and then some deep and troubling thoughts on the future of communication and culture within Canada in a time of revolutionary change.

Dear Readers,

I am writing to ask you for your support. I am not asking for money, only for our continued ability to speak with each other in the common space of our country. On July 1, 2014, new Electronic Commerce Protection Regulations in Canada will restrict the ability of writers, artists and musicians in Canada to publish and communicate with their audiences, in a variety of ways, some blunt and some subtly-nuanced. You can read the regulations by clicking here. (I warn you, they are confusing, though.) After July 1, it will remain legal for me to post here, on my other blogs, and on social media, but it will be illegal for me to communicate individually with any of you who are not my direct personal friends unless I have your express written permission, no matter where on Earth you live. The Canadian Radio and Television Commission has the right to determine if you are or are not my personal friend, by seizing my personal computers and, if they deem it necessary, by locking me out of my residence for an unspecified length of time. It’s kind of the opposite of house arrest. If you would like to receive private communications from me, or announcements of future books, readings, or events, please reply to this post or by email to <<rhenisch at telus dot net >> (Be creative with your punctuation and that will work tickety boo.) I will then contact you with a permissions email that meets full legal requirements (Nothing much: It will contain my full address and email address and an opt-out procedure, that’s all, but no need to post that here.) Until then, here are some things to consider:

• Foreign corporations and individuals are exempt from this law. I expect that within a few years a solid percentage of Canadian publishing will be replaced by American publishing, as the new law gives American firms a solid marketing advantage within Canada. Canadian publishing was a 1.8 billion dollar a year business in 2012. (It is currently in a 5-10% decline per year.) Expect that decline to accelerate. By the way, Canadian publishers (including Canadian authors, artists and musicians) will not have the right to market in an unsolicited manner to the United States or any other country, although the Americans will have that right in their dealings with us.

Be assured, I will continue to write from this place and with integrity, and will never resort to spam activities to promote my books. I wish only to be part of a conversation, and hope to continue it with you, my friends and readers, as a part of the cultural life of my community, my country and the world community.

• I think it is reasonable to assume that if Canadian publishing is increasingly American publishing, Canadian authors will increasingly write books of interest to American culture and American readers in order to be sold in Canada, which will be a minor part of their market. This was the case before the Canadian publishing revolution of the 1960s. I think it is reasonable to expect this pattern to be reborn, and Canadian culture to be profoundly transformed by it.

I support writing that is of interest to American culture, but am deeply disturbed that the cultural life of my country is at great risk of being controlled by another country. I will continue to write material that seeks ways forward from this colonialism.

• New marketing methods will arise, perhaps in the form of non-profit societies communicating with their members, or in the form of online magazines. These are allowed to continue communications of a commercial nature (any communication from a writer or artist is liable to be construed as a commercial communication, because it implies some future possible economic activity, such as the sale of a poem, someday, to someone), provided that no single member of the group receives a wage, honorarium, cup of coffee or bouquet of flowers from the organization. Should that be the case, then the groups will have to passively solicit contacts for direct email communications; membership in the organization will not constitute a legal right to receive communications from the organization. Until an alternative form of communication arises, we can expect participation at Canadian literary and artistic events to decline. Once a new form is found, however, I think we will see a new samisdat culture arise, that communicates important arts news without contravening government legislation or incurring extravagant fines and penalties. i expect it will result in a renewed, albeit transformed culture. Creating new communication lists will be slow and difficult, as artists, writers and musicians work on very small incomes and rely on open communication to take the place of large marketing budgets. We will have to learn to work very closely together.

I will continue to research and support new forms of communication as they arise, and will keep you apprised of them. This is another reason why your support, in the form of permission to continue to communicate with me, should prove beneficial to us all.

• I expect that we will see a decline in Canadian participation in non-profit societies which have any kind of a commercial presence (including volunteer art galleries, publishing societies, and so forth), as the economic and personal penalties for even one inadvertent email are so severe as to make the personal risk for community work too great, and the insurance to cover the risks are likely beyond the grasp of tiny non-profit budgets. I don’t expect non-profit work to disappear in Canada, but I expect it to radically change its shape, in order to escape $10,000,000 fines and seizures of personal and group property.

I foresee a new form of communication-only society being born, which will lead to new forms of publishing. The transition, however, will be difficult, hard work, and slow. I hope to be a part of continued change, in some small way.

• I expect to see an increasing commercialization of Canadian magazine publishing, as only magazines with large revenue streams will be able to pay for the print and media advertising required to create subscription lists. However, I expect as well innovative work-arounds, but these will take time. They will, I expect, include greater cooperation. There is irony in that. In most countries in the Western world, state support exists for publishing distribution and infrastructure. This new legislation threatens to greatly weaken the effectiveness of that support in Canada, in favour of a totally commercial model (in an environment of prohibitive mailing rates and aggressive foreign ownership and competition.) If I am right, though, the legislation will also result in informal, extra-governmental systems of support — a kind of alternative government to a government that is abdicating its responsibilities to its cultural survival. As a British Columbian, I expect interest in a cross-border alliance and the formation of a culture of Cascadia, including the entire American and Canadian Pacific Northwest, to receive greater artistic interest, despite its inherent dysfunctionality (more on that some other day).

We are in a revolution. Expect continued surprises, but expect as well continued human inventiveness and desire for connection.

• I expect a renewed interest in Facebook, or other social media sites, with, perhaps, increased functionality, to provide non-punishable information-sharing environments.

That ought to be interesting. The change is long overdue.

• I don’t expect to see a mass emigration of Canadian artists, writers and musicians, except, perhaps, those few with high enough incomes and large enough international audiences to allow them to take out foreign citizenship and leave Canada behind. What I do expect is a chill within Canadian cultural production for Canada, and a diminution of artistic production within Canada in reaction to increased barriers of entry for young artists. The ability to create art for one’s own culture on one’s own cultural terms is a birthright of most world citizens. We will have to fight to maintain it (or even regain it) as one of our own.

Please help the conversation by allowing me to contact you from time to time. Send me a note, and I’ll make that easy for you. I think you can tell from the number of times that I have contracted you personally already that you won’t be inundated with mail. I’m too respectful to violate your trust and to humble to start shouting in your ear.

• Maybe, just maybe, the country will survive.

I hope, actually, that we, the people, will somehow find a way to thrive and that in the end the experiment that was Canada will remain strong enough to continue to add something to world culture and to the preservation of the earth and human interactions with it. The planet is worth every effort.

Best wishes,


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.


I read my stuff. The audience reads their stuff. Perfect. Especially if we talk. We will talk, right? Good, that’s settled.



Good gawd, bring your camera. Let’s get a better picture. After all, my Facebook picture looks like this:










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?




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.










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…


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:


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.


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:


 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.

Presenting the Haig-Brown Lecture

Tomorrow, I’m off to Campbell River on Vancouver Island, to present the 4th Annual Haig-Brown Memorial Lecture in Environmental Writing. I will be arguing that this Icelandic River lies at the heart of Canadian political and environmental traditions, and is a place to situate our government.

p1430251The New Canadian House of Parliament

 Talking with the earth and including it in our social group is not a new idea. It is at the root of English. In fact, it is at the root of being human. If we, the people, reclaim that language, the government will follow. It will take time, but over time, we will speak again. Some of us will even speak like this.


Harold Thinking Out Loud in East Iceland, April

When I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.