29 September 2021

Landings: Poems from Iceland
by Harold Rhenisch
Published by Burton House Books
Review by Toby A. Welch
$20.00 ISBN 9780994866967

It is very clear from page one of Landings that a piece of the author, Harold Rhenisch, will always be in Iceland. He first travelled to the island in 2009. Four years later, he served a stint as a writer in residence there. Rhenisch has been to Iceland numerous times, including a trip in 2019 when he dealt with frigid 220 kph wind gusts and ate lamb shanks for Christmas dinner. This book is not the author’s first work about the island that he clearly has a passion for. 

Landings contains 52 gorgeous poems that Rhenisch wrote as he toured around Iceland. The poems are divided into five sections: Loom, Warp, Weft, Cloth, and Shawl. As with any book of poetry, some pieces speak more to each reader than others. The Track touched me. While poets can intend a different meaning than readers interpret, I felt the poem explained how in a quest to find yourself, taking a well-travelled path may not be the ideal route. And in a similar vein, people shouldn’t follow your path to find out about themselves. Passage is another poem that called to me. It started simply, with the story of a knock on the door from a frantic man looking for help with his wife who was giving birth. That morphs into ponderables about whether there are others around or just the people we know and see. We question whether doorways and hills and the sun are merely that or are they passageways? I’ll admit I didn’t always understand the poems but I enjoyed and appreciated all of them for their simplicity and beauty. 

One of the most valuable things in Landings is the map of Iceland two pages into the book. Instead of listing cities as most maps do, Rhenisch has a dot where he wrote each poem in the book. It’s very cool to read a poem and then see where the author was in Iceland when he wrote it. Another bonus is the Guide to Icelandic Names near the back. As someone who doesn’t know much about the Icelandic language, I appreciated that Rhenisch took the time to detail 57 Icelandic terms and include vivid descriptions about each. 

Rhenisch is a prolific writer. A former writing instructor at the University of Vancouver Island as well as the Victoria School of Writing, he has published 26 books of poetry, fiction, translation, and nonfiction as well as three poetry chapbooks over the last four decades. He has won numerous awards for his writing. 

Anyone who has even a passing interest in Iceland and can appreciate beautiful and creative poetry needs to get their hands on a copy of Landings. By the time you reach the end of the book, you’ll feel like you’ve been on a thrilling adventure. 


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