Wednesday, May 31, 2006

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong.


I was talking to Hugh Thomas the other night about the alphabet and math in regard to such things as the square root of minus J, irrational letters, or the lowest prime letter.

There are relationships between numbers: 2 + 2= 4, at least when it is dark and the one –armed man is smiling. I always have the sense of impending relationships and patterns that I might not have discerned, vast numerical territories that I need a mathematical Heraclitus to chart for me, to mythologize.

And of course there are associations with numbers. I once lived at 1756 Eglinton Ave. W. Mozart was born in 1756. And 7, 5, and 6 have a two step backward, one step forward relation. My cell phone number is 531-0681. The first three digits are descending odd numbers. 0681 is 1860 backwards. Didn’t something important happen in 1860? At any rate, it seems historical. My number on Eglinton was 789-3456. It took my dad ages to phone me. He’d forget which number to start the reordered ascending sequence and have to try every beginning digit.

This kind of number play reminds me of bpNichol’s letter play in the Martyrology.

Is grammar the mathematics of the alphabet? Semantics advanced math? Spelling arithmetic? When I was a kid, I learned my L times tables, but could never get the hang of S.

Metaphors are some kind of equation, or maybe calculus. A trig is just a sonnet with angles. All of human writing is Pi, going on forever, just broken into segments. With it we can calculate a circle that isn’t unbroken.

7 9

4 3

0 0 0

n

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Another breath of fresh air from Hamilton, Ontario


I’ve been living in Hamilton for almost 16 years now. I didn’t really plan to live here, it was just the closest place to my grad school (SUNY at Buffalo) where my wife, starting out as a criminal lawyer, found a job. And we just stayed. (Co-incidentally, she was born here, and her family is here, and that became significant once we had kids.) Now we own a home here, my wife has a very established legal practice (she knows most of the criminals in Hamilton – and there are many!), I teach here, and my kids are settled in various schools.

Hamilton, in addition to being the centre of operations for Gary Barwin Industries, the Gary Barwin Foundation, and Gary Barwin Investments and Progeny Corp. and the home to sixty-odd waterfalls and, at least in one part of town, a Blade Runner skyline, has a literary community.

There are some very good writers here. As anywhere, there are some not good writers here. There are some writers who have a sense of the “big picture” (i.e. the world outside Hamilton) and some whose view is strictly thumbnail.

Yesterday, I attended the launch of a new periodical called “Street.” (More about that below.) I gots to thinkin’ about the Hamilton Literary Community. I’m sort of part of it, sort of not. I usually identify with the Toronto scene, if anywhere. (I mean, other than my buds, Keats, Yeats, Dave McFadden, Rod McKuen, and Anna Akhmatova.)

Thing is, I really like the scene here. It’s quite small and, though most of the people are sophisticated and knowledgeable, most importantly the scene is (at least in my experience) entirely unpretentious, earnest, and warm. At the reading, David Hillen’s widow, Janet, read a poem of David’s. She very movingly introduced the poem by thanking those assembled there for their part in her late husband’s life. She spoke of how important the literary scene was to him, how he loved the people in it. She thanked them for their “community.”

My writing doesn’t really fit in here, but no one seems to mind. It has a small town welcoming feel. There is an acceptance of such diversity as exists here (I guess we’re the local characters. Klyde Broox does dub, Jeff Seffinga does post-beat, Chris Pannell and Kerry Schooley and their “The New Phrenologists” text and music ensemble, etc.) I generally relate better to Toronto, have conversations that have more to do with my writing concerns there, however, Hamilton, at this point, does feel like coming home.

Certain people in the community are constantly resourceful, coming up with new ideas to promote writing in the city. (I remember reading in the food court at the downtown mall on a Friday night. Large packs of teens, neither particle nor wave, moved before us. I remember reading in a cramped little used clothing store, at Festival of Friends, of going to the east end to participate in having my picture taken as part of a group photo of “writers in Hamilton.”

It’s like Hamilton’s version of that famous portrait of all the musicians in Harlem. There are quite a few people who organize cool things. Of late, Francis Ward has been running Hammered Out magazine and sending out a mailing with a list of what’s on. And Kerry Schooley has been organizing things for years.

Kerry’s latest venture, in cooperation with Kairos Literary Society, Bob Megans and (see what I mean about Hamilton!) the downtown BIA, is Street magazine. To quote from the press material: STREET, [is] a new periodical reflecting our shared, urban experience. The prose and poetry is lifted from the printed page and placed in shop windows in the International Village from Wellington to Mary on King St. E. My poem is at “Ya Man! Caribbean Cuisine,” 315 King St. E., Hamilton.

At the launch, we sat on the bluster patio right on King St. at the BIA office and the BIA provided us coffee and apple strudel replete with custard and whipped cream from “The Black Forest Inn,” an amazing German restaurant that can’t have changed since the fifties. The last wienerschnitzel I had there was as big as Richard Wagner’s ego. We read as buses passed and passersby looked at us curiously.

The various poems scattered about downtown windows include work by Klyde Brooz, Chris Butler, David Hillen, Gary Kristiansen, John B. Lee, Matt Firth, Chris Butler, Chris Pannell, Bernadette Rule, Jeff Seffinga, and Ed Wood as well as my own.

As my favourite Hamilton writer, David W. McFadden once wrote as a blurb on my Outside the Hat poetry book (Chbooks.com) – “Another breath of fresh air from Hamilton, Ontario.”

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Blind Poodle's Eye



I have a dream where the moon catches fire and destroys a small European country. I think it was Monaco. A Viking, playing cards at our kitchen table, begins to smolder.

The Viking, an indistinct shape engulfed in a leather-scented fog, shuffles the deck, places the Ace of Spades over our blind poodle’s eye and laughs darkly. He never much cared for Monaco.

The phone rings. The Viking has not completed his homework, did not properly shade his fjords, and besides, it is against school rules to pillage the principal’s office. He will not be allowed to traverse the whale-road with the crest-riders, will have to keep one eye closed during the film-strip about Valhalla’s winter swans.

Smoke detector, cloud-siren, wisps of Viking curl through the ground floor, cause the family to wake. Our driveway, car-hoarder, unwanted-flyer-bed, is filled with the keening of fire fighters, their hands covered with birds. The chief, his beard itself a grey-curled cloud, climbs a ladder, shatters glass and climbs in, one stringy leg after the other. A whistle and bird shadows enter the bedroom, darken the lights, the baseball pennants, the posters of girls and guitar gods. The blind poodle begins to howl from beneath the Ace of Spades, my grandmother from beneath a shampoo-conditioner blend.

I’ve a sweatshirt halfway over my head and I bump my knee on the radio.

“Take an alternate route to the highway while you still can,” the announcer says. “Remember flowers for your mother.” The birds knock my wife into our wedding picture, and there’s confetti, but this time, it’s glass.

“Daddy, I smell axes, broadswords, and serpents of blood,” my daughter says, breaking through her door with a stump of Barbie-torso. We gather in the hallway, crouch beneath the portrait of Odin, try to remember our fire safety plan, the route to outside.

“Where’s Grandma?” we ask, but then we see her riding the swimming pool as if it were an eight-legged horse, twin wolves howling on the diving board.

“The world is a single eyebrow furrowed on the forehead of a wondrous yet forgetful God,” she says.

“My homework is my shield,” my son says. “No firefighter’s bird shall stop my path into life. I will not be sacrificed so that others can live beyond the need for memory.”

“Or to ensure the spring,” my daughter adds.

Then the fire chief is upon us, his beard bright with shrieking thunder, his eyes dark with the rumble of lightning, the stairs shaking, white stucco falling from the ceiling above. My son brandishes his geography textbook, the corners of An Introduction to Physical Geography sharp and battle ready.

“For Monaco!” he shouts and dives toward the chief. Birds flash. The knives of smoke are cruel and blood keen. My daughter brains the chief with her Barbie campervan and the sink in the upstairs bathroom overflows.

In a thousand years, where will be the teeth of my ancestors? Will there be the marks of a bright spade on the grave of my poodle? Will the same stars shine in my family’s den?

I worry for Monaco and for Vikings of smoke. The world will have shifted, changed beyond description, beyond what even An Introduction to Physical Geography can explain. Will the upstairs bathroom sink have been unplugged, the winter swans all turned to ash? Will I see the principal in a golden deckchair, surrounded by coloured fjords and pencils sharpened by students not yet born? Will the Viking warrior fizzling in a bathtub, read the Prose Edda on his PalmPilot? Will I see the birds of the firefighters nestling besides the firemen’s puppies, the fire chief’s donated organs in the small plain bodies of guitar-playing children?

I worry for the driveways, but sleep, hoping that somewhere around the bright table of heaven, my children will be the secret second Ace up the sleeve of time’s single blinkless eye.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Choreographies of the Readable

Bangla (Bengali)
Bengali
Brahmi
Brahmi




Myanmar (myanma sa)
Burmese/Myanmar
Cham
Cham


Devanagari
Devanāgarī
Ge'ez (Ethiopic)
Ge'ez (Ethiopic)


Gujarati
Gujarāti
Gurmukhi
Gurmukhi (Punjabi)


Pahawh Hmong
Hmong
Javanese (Huruf Jawa)
Javanese


Kayah Li
Kayah Li
Karosthi
Kharosthi


Lanna
Lanna
Lao
Lao


Limbu
Limbu
Lontara
Lontara/Makasar


Manipuri (Meetei Mayek)
Manipuri
Modi
Modi


Oriya
Oriya
'Phags-pa
'Phags-pa


Redjang (Kaganga)
Redjang (Kaganga)
Sharda
Sharda


Sinhala
Sinhala
Sorang Sompeng
Sorang Sompeng


Soyombo
Soyombo
Syloti Nagri
Syloti Nagri


Tagbanwa
Tagbanwa
Tai Dam
Tai Dam


Telugu
Telugu
Thai
Thai


Tocharian
Tocharian
Varang Kshiti
Varang Kshiti




Check out this site. It has a remarkable selection of writing systems, from abjads to syllabaries, with information about the languages. I was particularily enthralled by Armenian punctuation. And also how beautiful they seemed, mysterious little choreographies of the readable.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

EGG


two little poems for David W. McFadden


first, the irises
then there are semi-colons:
birds punctuate the blue sky

*

write little poems
birds say, throw out your novels
hide humans in trees

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

TRYING TO USE OUR WOMEN'S PARTS




Out here on the uncharted spiral arm of the great golden Horseshoe, I've just got wind of all of the ugliness going down recently in certain parts of the Toronto literary scene, and in particular, some ad hominem nastiness.

I have always appreciated the enthusiasm, creativity, commitment, intelligence, and lively centre that the Toronto scene has represented for me since I first moved to Toronto and enrolled at York University when I was 17.

Heck, in my first creative writing class I had Kevin Connolly, Jason Sherman, Julia Steinecke, and Cathy Steadman. And, oh yeah, bpNichol was teaching. Stu Ross was over at the school paper typesetting while having discussions with people. Frank Davey, in my second year, suggested that I head down with a little chapbook I'd made to the forerunner of "The Toronto Small Press Fair," which was called "Meet the Presses" and which Nick Power and Stu Ross had organized. It was a discovery of community for me. Of writers who became my peers and who inspired me. Of writers who introduced me to worlds of writing, publishing, and ideas. There was lots of writers whose writing I didn't really like. I had lots of discussions, but I don't remember anything being nasty, bilious, or vitriolic.

The goal of criticism is to be insightful not spiteful. It is to inspire more informed and better writing. It is to open up the possibilities and to engage the issues. Arguments should be won through intelligent discussion. And I don't buy the idea that anyone, no matter how brilliant or convinced of their correctness, should consider themselves the arbitor of "objective" quality. It doesn't exist.

This doesn't mean that everything is entirely relative. One can articulate one's preferences, one's strongly held aesthetics. The discussion doesn't have to be namby-pamby, where everyone gets blandly patted on the back. But what has to be implicit is everyone's right to respect, to their own right to try to create what they value, to their own right to succeed or fail as best as they can.

Hurtful, boorish, bullying behaviour isn't the same as clear-eyed, forthright, articulate, and courageous criticism. I'm objectively sure of that.

One can "pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps." One can also "hang oneself."

But I don't believe in pariahs. Even if someone want to be. It's just not helpful. For anyone.

*

Once, when my wife was pregnant, she went to see the Doctor. The doctor examined her and then he pronounced, "Dear, you've got an infection in your woman's parts."
"Oh," my wife exclaimed. "You mean my brain?"

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Gideon's Chapbooks

I've been travelling lately and have noticed that there is this strange gravitational pull toward the bedside table drawers of hotel rooms. I always check to see if there's a bible. I somehow always find myself flipping through it. I particularly like to check the opening few pages (no, not the part where The Almighty makes tacos from the special sauce left over after His First Burger) but the part where it suggests readings for particular emotive states. For loneliness read such and such a passage. For adulterous thoughts sleep with the bible between your legs. That kind of thing. I do like the idea that there are books, readings, left in hotel rooms.

But why should there only be bibles in hotel rooms? I would like to start a Gideon's Chapbook series. Shouldn't travellers be able to read poetry and fiction. If you're feeling ectoplasmically surreal turn to page 23 of the chapbook. If you have an overwhelming sense of technocratic phallocentric corporate consumer priviledge, turn to...

I'd like to encourage writers to create their own chapbooks and leaflets and leave them in the bedside tables of the world's hotel rooms. Perhaps interleave them in the bibles. This is about dialogue. It's late at night. You've turned off the TV for the National Chewing Tobacco Spitting Contest is over. The Seventh Seal has finished. The landscape is even bereft of "Everyone Loves Raymond" Reruns. You feel drawn to the bedside table drawer. You reach out, open the drawer. Inside is "The Endless Future Chicken Pecks at Spacetime as if History were a Cosmic Seed and We Humans were Tiny Farmers Praying for Rain," the latest chapbook by Bikini J. Dogwood, published by Insatiable R. Libretto Press. You turn to page 11 because you need help for those without socks.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Wound-induced Name

(from Barwin)
Barwin is a basic protein isolated from aqueous extracts of barley seeds. It is125 amino acids in length, and contains six cysteine residues that combine to formthree disulphide bridges PUBMED:1390663, PUBMED:1390664. Comparative analysisshows the sequence to be highly similar to a 122 amino acid stretch in the C-terminal of the products of two wound-induced genes (win1 and win2) from potato, theproduct of the hevein gene of rubber trees, and pathogenesis-related protein 4 fromtobacco. The high levels of similarity to these proteins, and their ability to bindsaccharides, suggest that the barwin domain may be involved in a common defense mechanism in plants.
Description text from InterPro entry IPR001153