Monday, July 16, 2018

Watermark: Cootes Paradise, Natural Urban and the Urban Natural Environment.

I’m in a small cove, a bight, a calligraphic curl in the shoreline, amidst lily pads, floating logs, water striders and the intermittent glurp of surfacing fish. I’m trying to remain as quiet and still as I can. I’m kayaking in Cootes Paradise, a kilometre from where I’ve lived in Hamilton, Ontario for nearly 30 years. 

Lake Ontario Waterkeepers has a project, The Watermark Project where they invite people to write something about a body of water that is important to them. I've written about Cootes Paradise, a marsh that is near to where I live and where I hike and kayak and about in interconnectedness of the urban with the natural world.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Refugia: The Ontario Election, the Griffin Prize, Billy-Ray Belcourt, and a poem about rage.

The news in the current Ontario election is terrible, but the news from the Griffin Poetry Prize—that Billy-Ray Belcourt won the Canadian prize (and his heartfelt speech) was such a salve. This is the Canada I want, not what happened in this election. My friend, the artist Svava Juliusson, asked me to "Write me a poem about trying to hold on to the rage (that other place), the alternative is seductive (a future gone)." Here's a first attempt, a beginning of something perhaps. The poem is after Billy-Ray Belcourt's Ode to Northern Alberta with awe and admiration and, I hope, with non-appropriative humility. Thinking and learning about how the body -- the queer Indigenous body certainly, but also any body -- is embodied, embodies history, time, and power relations.


“the future is already over…that doesn’t mean we don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Billy-Ray Belcourt

Here, no one is ready

for the morning’s fist
I kill myself

likening myself to the physical
or the future
We worship the act of worshipping

the difference between
get used to getting used to it
and burning that shit down

My body imagines what isn’t there
tremors a nest of bees in a beatless heart
We wrap our rage in a warm bed

set the house on fire
Now we can’t tell the difference between
a warm bed and a burning house

Look to the smoke
The sky is not near
a forest made of ash and smoke

and yet we build houses
history made of ash and smoke
and yet love and anger survive

I refuse the body they give me
or the names for the space around it
I refuse the mind
this morning, evening, burning day


Thursday, April 19, 2018


I ask myself what am I remembering? And why? There’s an ocean to remember, a storm at sea, and I’m telling the story of a single wave. Now to make these words a boat for the reader and me. Then we both dive in. Oh there goes my perfect hair. Then my skin is washed off and I’m all bones, bobbing around in the surf. Reader, help me gather my bones.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Mud steps and birds: Escarpment as Muse

Cornelia Peckart, Tor Lukasik-Foss, Amber Aasman, Donna Akrey, Lisa Pijuan-Nomura and me have created Escarpment as Muse, an art project involving an installation of works inspired by the Niagara Escarpment and culminating in a multi-media performance. I'm performing text and music works and I also composed the above piece of music based on samples that I recorded on the Bruce Trail (the Escarpment). Some of those I translated (using a pitch-to-MIDI converter) and made piano and marimba parts. There's lots of squishy mud sounds as well as birds. Lisa Pijuan-Nomura will dance to the work.

The whole shindig takes place in the Hamilton Public Library's Central Branch on April 15th. Here's the link to the event.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Anna Akhmatova: Instead of a preface

Instead of a preface:

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months in the prison lines of Leningrad. Once, someone "recognized" me. Then a woman with bluish lips standing behind me, who, of course, had never heard me called by name before, woke up from the supor to which everyone had succumbed and whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):
     "Can you describe this?"
     And I answered: "Yes, I can."
Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.

Anna Akhmatova from Carolyn Forche's anthology Against Forgetting.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Two New Chapbooks!

A two-chapbook day! Just released: collaborative work with Tom Prime and published by ’s above/ground press

if you want to order via the publisher, paypal rob mclennan $6 (or, outside of canada, $7) at and he'll "totally send you a copy."

Interviewing Peter Carey

Last Monday, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Peter Carey about his latest novel, A Long Way from Home.  I thought the novel was fantastic and Carey in person was warm and relaxed, thoughtful and funny. The interview was part of the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon series at the Toronto Reference Library. It'll be posted here soon.

Here's how I introduced him before the interview:

I’m so pleased to be here tonight.  Thank you all for coming for what I’m certain will be a marvellous evening with the marvellous Peter Carey.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that we’re on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, Anishnabe, and Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, and home to many diverse Indigenous peoples. The territory is also part of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant. We are grateful to have the opportunity to live and work on this territory.

And perhaps I should also acknowledge before our conversation, that, it’ll be two white guys who amongst other things will be talking about indigenous issues.

Peter Carey is the author of fourteen novels, including Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of the Kelly Gang both of which received the Booker Prize. Among other honours, he has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. 

He was born in the town of Bacchus March in Australia — coincidently, the very same place that the Bobs family in his new novel call home. And it’s a further coincidence that, like the Bobs family, his parents also owned a car dealership in the town in the 1950s. Peter Carey has, however, lived in the US for many years. 

In Oscar and Lucinda, we read about Oscar’s father, Theophilus Hopkins. We learn that “You can look him up in the 1860 Britannica,” but “it does not tell you what he was like. You can read it three times over and never guess that he had any particular attitude to Christmas pudding.”

Peter Carey’s new novel, A Long Way from Home doesn’t tell us about anything about his attitude toward Christmas pudding, but, the novel, which he says “is the novel he spent his whole life not knowing how to write” explores some of the perennial themes of his writing: parenthood, love, journeys into urban spaces, the bush and the outback, history, legacy, ideology, settler colonialism, immigration, and the nature of power, identity, knowledge, truth, loss…and car dealerships. In many ways, it is the culmination of his previous concerns, but also marks a  new concern: a deeply thoughtful and sensitive reckoning with Australia’s brutality toward the continent’s Aboriginal people.

To quote the author, “I am 74 years old. It’s about fucking time I did this. I could have had a heart attack last week, or last year, or two years ago and would’t have done it. I prefer to have done it.”

But the proof is in the pudding. A Long Way from Home is hilarious, moving, and profound, filled with compelling characters and vivid and captivating storytelling.

Here’s a quick intro to the book, lifted from the publicity materials. A Long Way from Home opens in 1953 with the arrival of the tiny, handsome Titch Bobs, his beautiful petite wife, Irene, and their two children in the small town of Bacchus Marsh. Titch is the best car salesman in southeastern Australia and has an overbearing father. Irene loves her husband…and loves to drive fast. Together their enter the Redex Trial, a brutal endurance race around Australia, over roads no car is designed to survive. With them is their neighbour and navigator, Willie Bachhuber, a quiz show champion and a school teacher who’s been fired from his job. He calls the turns and creek crossings on a map leads them without warning away from the White Australia they all know. And then…well… I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s say the car doesn’t hits an iceberg and sink and they don’t drop the ring into avolcano and save the world. But perhaps we can talk about what develops toward the end of the race.

I’m truly honoured that we have the opportunity to have Peter Carey with us tonight to talk about the book. He’ll begin with a short reading and then we’ll have a chat and after that, there’ll be an opportunity for you to ask him some questions. 

Please join me now in welcoming Peter Carey. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Reading at Moon Milk!

Write lightning shoots out of our skinless heads!

Hamilton reading with S.K. Hughes. 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Art Exhibition: Quantum Typography

Very happy about this: My QUANTUM TYPOGRAPHY series is now an art exhibition at the Central Library at Hamilton Public Library. (The book, published is available at Mixed Media Hamilton) and from Timglaset.) Thanks to Nancy Anne McPhee

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

New poem: “we make our lives by what we love”

Very happy to have this new poem up at Toronto's all poetry bookstore knife | fork | book site.

It involves John Cage, love, sex, loss, sparrows, Merce Cunningham, Medieval Chinese texts, and an anechoic chamber. 

Thanks to the inimitable Jeff Kirby for posting it. The John Cage line, "we make our lives by what we love," put me in mind of Kirby. 

Monday, February 19, 2018


A new poem of mine up on George Murray's always interesting

I wrote it  after the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

And yeah, “poetry makes nothing happen” but it is one part of us processing things and thinking through the experience together.

And if you haven't seen it, watch the remarkable speeches and interviews by the teen survivors of the shooting, powerful voices calling for change and refusing the status quo attitude that its a political gridlock. The link also links to ways that one can help.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Broken Light (an art exhibition), the Hebrew Alphabet and How Letters Unmake the World

Last night was the opening for my art show, Broken Light, an exhibition of images bases on letters from the Hebrew alphabet. The show was curated by the great Lisa Pijuan-Nomura in the Reading Room of Bryan Prince Bookseller in Hamilton.

I've created a webpage of all the images and how to order them as well as webpage of my talk about the exhibition, the Hebrew alphabet, mysticism, and how paying attention to letters can unmake the world

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Canadian Parliament, the Criminal Code novel....

Sometimes I'm surprised by what Google search turns up on my auto-vanity search.

For example, this mention of my novel in a discussion of the Criminal Code Bill C-51 in Parliament from June 15, 2017.

Tom Kmiec, Calgary Shepard, AB: "Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to be joining the debate on Bill C-51, this late in the night...I was so pleased today to hear you, Mr. Speaker, mention in the House Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin, who is one of my favourite authors.

Everybody in the House knows I am a big lover of Yiddish proverbs, and I have one also for this legislation. It speaks to our pinch points. Everyone knows where his or her shoes pinch. I will explain the pinch points I have in this legislation..."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Two new serif of nottingham chapbooks: beaulieu and Porco.

Cover spreads from the new chapbooks

I'm so delighted have had the opportunity to publish two chapbooks by two of my favourite writers.

Alex Porco's poetry manages to combine sophisticated wit, irony and wry humour with great emotional incision as well as with an energizing and perceptive take on the zeitgeist.  His work is also keenly aware of what it is to use language, to create a poem, to attempt to make or represent meaning. "The Low End Theory" is part of his ongoing serial poem "The Minutes." Here's the beginning of the poem:

I am in
Room #513 at
The Aloft Hotel
In Atlanta. I
Have fears. Real
And particular. But
Also unreal and
Particular. I’ll get
To ’em in
One sec. First,
I’m thinking about
Naming this poem
“Poem about Fears,”
But am worried
That’s too on
The nose. I
Like my nose.
I do not
Fear it, and
You shouldn’t either.

derek beaulieu's "Koloss" is part of his continued investigation into the concrete materiality of language, the nearly tactile experience of thought and semiotics. These works use the cosmos of  Koloss typeface letterforms as they appear in a Letraset sheet. Some of the letters have cracked, their fractures rivershaped neural branches, the suggestive materiality of time and meaning as it becomes ghostnoise in the sign.

The cover is a visual piece that I created by combining and manipulating derek's images. In laying out the inner pages, I tried to place derek's individual pieces in dialogue with each other and with the page. Blank space is a sign, too. 

Both chapbooks can be ordered directly from me for $8 including postage. (US$ or CDN$—the conversion covers mailing costs.)

himself  {at}  garybarwin  {dot}  com

Monday, October 23, 2017

Remarks from the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards about Yiddish for Pirates

I made these brief remarks at the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards last week.

One of the inspirations for my novel was a historical figure, a pirate from a family of rabbis who came out of retirement for one last exploit: to retrieve some treasure. What was the treasure? Some Jewish books. To me, this seemed like such a perfectly Jewish way to be a pirate.

In my novel, I quote a Yiddish proverb. The tongue is not in exile. No matter where Jews found themselves—when we were forced to leave our homes, through immigration or expulsion or persecution—and we had to leave often without any of our possessions—we could always bring our language: our stories, our teachings, our jokes and sayings. The tongue is not in exile. So wherever we went, we brought ourselves with us. I don’t know if language is our shadow or if we are language’s shadow, but to me to be a Jew is to believe in language and to believe in books.

So it is a very special honour to receive this recognition from the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards. Thank you to the clearly very wise jury and to everyone else involved in organizing. I’m really very honoured. And congratulations to my fellow award winners, and especially my old friend Stuart Ross. It’s a thrill to be here with him. We’ve been friends and writing colleagues for about 35 years. And thank you to my family, for making the book—and everything else— possible: my wife Beth, my parents,  in-laws and my kids.

And you know that old joke which asks, “so when is a Jewish fetus viable?” So, when is a Jewish fetus viable? After it graduates from Law or Medical school. But now I’m hoping that winning this award has finally made me viable.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

It's Never Too Dark to Read: On Reviews and Unread Books

Very happy to have an essay published in the Hamilton Literary Review, a great online publication that comes out of Hamilton, Ontario (where I live) created by an editorial board of excellent Hamilton writers.

My essay is  It's Never Too Dark to Read: On Reviews and Unread Books.  I had to laugh when my Google vanity search sent me a link to Rob Taylor who said that this essay is
Gary Barwin going full-Gary-Barwin (or at least 3/4s) 
I don't quite know what that means (we're always the last to know!) but I thought it was hilarious. He quotes a bit from the essay, including:

However, I would like to take this opportunity... to thank those who have never bought or never heard of my books — all those on this planet and all those lifeforms extant in other places of the present, past, and all possible universes. You help make my books mysterious, unknown, a sanctuary for initiates and cognoscenti. You maintain the notion of my books as places of infinite possibility, as thought-and-feeling machines of limitless potential energy. You make special dogs of those who have dog-eared my work, those who have actually read it.

His entire blog looks fascinating and has excellent discussions and interviews.