Sunday, June 07, 2009

Diaspora of the Mouth / Imaginary Word Scrabble

My grandmother, Bella Reisen (on the left)
with her brother and sister, and their nanny.
A picture taken in about 1918 in Ukraine.

When I joined Facebook, I gave myself a pseudonym. Partly, I didn't understand how it worked and I didn't want to be constantly bumping into my middle school students. Partly, I was intrigued with the idea of how one might represent oneself online, how one might control or manipulate the available identity information and observable behaviours. However, my interest lapsed, finding it more interesting to connect with people that I knew, or with old friends, and with wanting to interact with various communities that I am involved with. My name has been "Moribund Facekvetch." I didn't realize how longstanding my interest in ridiculous pseudonyms were until I was reminded by an old high school friend (who found me on Facebook) that I had created a character called "Cosmic Herbert," and used to make collect calls using the name, as well as using it as a pseudonym of sorts.

Actually, I created the character in Grade 6 for my very first publication, "Cosmic Herbert and the Pencil Forest," which I sold at the Grade 6 White Elephant Sale. The book, as I remember it, was an illustrated surreal fable about Cosmic Herbert who was a cross between the 2000-year old man and Gandalf, but with the sensibility of someone from the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

Over the years, I've used many ridiculous names in many contexts. Sometimes I register as Borklesshaunch Shameshoes. I used to do a cartoon for the university newspaper my first year at McGill under the name Ed Applebutt.

I am fascinated by names. My own name is an Anglicization of Borwein or Borweinis -- Jewish Lithuanian, though in fact, Jews didn't have last names until they were made to for tax purposes sometime in the late 19th century. I was always entranced, as a kid, by my middle name. I don't have one. The absence of a middle name seemed to be some kind of marker for my identity.

I've never consciously written a character in a poem or story that is consciously supposed to be my alter ego. Today, trying to revise a poem, I stuck in the name "Moribund" and it felt freeing. It felt like it pulled in a lot of association and feeling without actually being me. It felt connected somehow. It reminded me of the richness of Stu Ross' Razovsky poems, how he is able to have that character be Everyman (or Everymensch) while at the same time being Stuart, his father, his grandfather, and...

Last night, I attended the Hamilton Jewish Literary Festival. They were launching an anthology "From Sinai to the Shtetl and Beyond: Where is Home for the Jewish Writer?", edited by Ellen S. Jaffe and Lil Blume. I had a little piece in it. It was a lovely night, though I had to leave before the Klezmer singing, playing, and dancing. I'd never really thought about the concept of 'home'. Someone said that home for many Jews is in the book (the Torah/Talmud) but also in books. In language, culture, thought.

I don't know if I'll write more 'Moribund' texts or even if this will keep Moribund as the ostensible protagonist. We'll see.


Moribund climbs
the fence around the century
falls into a river
a handful of stones on his head

the head
filled with tiny hot things

the river flows in one ear
how long will it be before
it flows out the other?


My daughter is playing Scrabble with her friends. They've made up new rules. Each word played on the board must be entirely made up. I'm listening to them decide which words are real and which don't exist, in which case, they can be used in the game.

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