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Spring, 1982

photo by Robert Chatfield

Harold Rhenisch



Fall, 1998

photo by Diane Rhenisch

Harold Rhenisch lives in the Cariboo country, the high volcanic plateau between the Thompson and Fraser rivers that drain theBritish Columbia Interior. Rhenisch's poetry explores the land on which he lives and where he grew up in an immigrant culture developing orchards and vineyards in the fertile Okanagan Valley. In the juxtaposition of new European cultures and an ancient land, Rhenisch sees again the Kenya of the 1920s portrayed by Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. After waiting in vain for a V.S. Naipaul to write of the colonial plantation cultures of the Okanagan, Rhenisch turned his sense of the land into a vehicle capable of speaking for a complex contemporary world: the autobiographical fiction of Out of the Interior: The Lost Country.

For nearly twenty years, Rhenisch has striven 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. At the same time, he has been a student of Ezra Pound, post-modern German literature and trickster mythology. His forthcoming prose work, Tom Thomson's Shack, combines the immigrant's sense of displacement with perennial images of life on the land. For Rhenisch, the twentieth century -- the century of war and slaughter -- is over, and the work of starting a new literature is paramount, centred in the workings of consciousness and mythology.

Harold Rhenisch was born three months early, in a blizzard, on January 5, 1958, and grew up on an orchard in Cawston, in B.C.'s Similkameen Valley, the second son of German immigrant Hans Rhenisch and second generation Canadian Dorothy Leipe. He started writing poetry when he was 15, under the dramatist Bill Greenland. He attended the University of Victoria Creative Writing Department from 1976-1980, where he studied with Charles Lillard, Derk Wynand, P.K. Page, W.D. Valgardson, Dave Godfrey, and Robin Skelton. He married Diane Dalgaard in 1981. They have two daughters (Anassa, b. 1985, and Leandra, b. 1991). From 1981-1992 Rhenisch worked in the vineyards and orchards of the Okanagan and the Similkameen, eventually running his own pruning, grafting, and nursery business. In 1992 he moved to the Cariboo plateau where there is no pruning, grafting, or nursery business at all. In 1984 Rhenisch learned classical Greek. In 1987 he learned German. Since 1986, has travelled three times to Germany and Western Europe. His discovery there of family, language, and history has had a profound effect on his writing, moving him from poetry about the land into poetry opening that land-sense into history and imagination. He has passions for new music, concrete verse, satyric verse, mythology, gnosticism, and poetics.

Rhenisch is an arts columnist for the 100 Mile Free Press and in 1996 won the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association Award for Best Arts and Culture Writing. In 1980, the University of Victoria awarded him the Rosalind Hewlett Petch Memorial Prize in Creative Writing, and he won Arc Magazine's first (1991) Confederation Poetry Prize. He has given many lectures on poetry at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, and has conducted workshops for teachers and elementary and secondary school students throughout the British Columbia Interior. In 1996 he was writer in residence at Douglas College in New Westminster. He is the education chair and communication chair of the League of Canadian Poets, has worked as a member of the B.C. Ministry of Education Fine Arts Curriculum Overview Team, and is the editor of the book review magazines The Milestones Review and Wireweed.

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©Harold Rhenisch, 2002

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