Saturday, December 23, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Antinomy for the Eclipse

A vispovid, which, admittedly, sounds like some kind of insect.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


A short poetry video.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

a Becomes

A vispo / music poem film that I created. About 1'30"

Still from A Becomes

This is a still image from a short vispo video entitled "A becomes," where 'a' morphs into 'B'. I remember my friend Bob once taking a picture of himself and a picture of his dad and then freaking himself out entirely by creating a video where he gradually turned into his Dad. I once created a composite image of my two sons -- the imagined third son that I might have had. Something powerful about playing with such images.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Books are Closer Than They Appear

Poem/Image for Bryan Prince, Bookseller on the occassion of the expansion of his bookstore, Westdale (Hamilton), Ontario.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


This is a little video I made of my story/poem "Click," from my book Doctor Weep and other strange teeth The sound is a little degraded as a result of the compression format, but you can get the idea.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Yiddish Xmas

Some amazing Hebrew & Roman typography from Oded Ezer, the link courtesy of Sharon Harris.

I learned how to read Hebrew as a child -- in Hebrew school and for my Bar Mitzvah. Of course, I have hardly any idea what most of it means. Though it would be fantastic to be able to have access to another language & its literature, I also really relish the fact that I can 'read' this script, pronounce it, even have a strong emotional attachment to it, but don't have any idea what it says. I guess I should get out my "Negative Capability" t-shirt and bumper sticker for this one. In the synagogue, I find the mysterious, heterophonic chanting completely captivating, the non-Gregorian scales, the melismatic singing style with its origin in a tradition outside the West, a in opposition to the chorale/hymn model that we know from churches and Bach/Western common practice. In both the chanting and the text, I prefer not knowing what it actually means, allowing the mysterious allure of the sounds and shapes to conjure for me all types of numinous associations.


And while we're on the subject of things Jewish, check out this amazing CD, "Oy to the World." It is traditional Christmas songs performed in Klezmer style (Jingle Bells is even sung in Yiddish.) They also throw in a few surf guitar licks, some Cream, and a few other anomalies. Thing is, the playing and the arrangments are brilliant and are not actually parodies, but just other versions. The cognitive/culture dissonance is entrancing, not to mention hilarious. The band is the Klezmonauts. The site and playable examples are here.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


bend over flower

the spring rain

is fallen and

the breadbox of lips is

singing haberdashery

the sparrow of our bones

has become cloud

and the carousel we make is:

O bonus trumpets

indestructible various broadloom light

O eight

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Kafka Safety Helmet

"A little known fact about this period, reported by Peter Drucker in Managing in the Next Society, is that Kafka invented the safety helmet. He received a medal for this invention in 1912 because it reduced Bohemian steel mill deaths to fewer than 25 per thousand employees. "

from Wikipedia on Kafka.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


This from Discover (August 2006):

"Poets who committed suicide were much more likely to have used first person singular references like "I," "me," and "my" and fewer first person plural words like "we," "us," and "our" in their poems than did nonsuicidal poets, according to a study publised in 2001 in the Journal of Pyschosomatic Medicine. (----What's that?)

"Using text-analysis software, researchers Shannon Wiltsey Stirman of the U of Pennsylvannia and James W. Pennebaker of the U of Texas at Austin compared 156 poems by nine poets who committed suicide. Suicidal poets, they found, also tended to use fewer terms like "talk," "share," and "listen" over time, while the nonsuicidal poets tended to increase their use of such words. To reduce the influence of other factors, poets in both groups were matched as closely as possible by nationality, education, era, and gender. For example, American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide at age 30 in 1963, was matched with her contemporary Denise Levertov, who died of natural causes at age 74 in 1997."

I don't know that this research means anything. Does it mean only that depressed poets often feel isolated and are overwhelmed by their own issues? Are they struggling with a sense of self and their place in the world? Do they feel increasingly cut off from meaningful communication and interactions? Does this kind of analysis only apply to certain kinds of writing, and assume an identification with between the poets' personal issues and their writing? Is it possible to have writing that doesn't reflect your personal/psychic life, even indirectly?

To write anything is, I think, a triumph. A sign of hope and the belief in the non-futility of one's actions, of the importance of one's own expression or creativity. Writing, even privately is an action of belief in, of faith in creativity, art, communication, expression. You don't have to use the word "listen," "talk," or "share," in a poem. If you write anything, you must believe in those words. If only that you are listening, talking, and sharing with yourself as a reader, a person, a writer.


Yesterday, at my school -- which is over 100 years old -- in a very solemn and beautiful Remembrance Day service, an old master of the school (he's about 80, I think) read the 47 names and ranks of the "old boys" who died in active military service. It is always very moving, looking around at the hall full of kids some of whom are just a couple of years away from the age of those remembered. The act of remembering, of naming the dead is powerful. He also read the famous Binyon poem:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

This was especially moving as this old teacher has read the names at this service for the last 50 years at the college. And has become increasingly aged and weak, walking with a cane, helped by his son (one of my teacher colleagues) even if he still has a magnificant and moving stentorian voice.

The widow of an alumni, read a poem about the dead veterans in her family including her husband. It was remarkable. This frail old woman who had to be helped to the podium reading this poem that she had written, listing the many places her family had served in to a room full of young kids. There are many kinds of poems and they speak in different ways and for different audiences and occasions. I don't deny authentic connections.

I was aware at this service of how those involved were connected to the life of the school. Current students' grandparents were among the 47 dead. Letters, flags, crosses, photographs, and medals were displayed that belonged to vets who were the parents and grandparents of current parents and teachers. My friend John played the pipes for the ceremony. Our students sang, read, and laid wreathes. Two fainted.

The whole ceremony was a solemn act of hope, I think. Making meaning. And I think, it went beyond whether or not one supported war. (For me, there was both the shadow of current wars and the memory of my family and friends of the family helped in the Holocaust.) The ceremony was an articulation that life was important. That a life is important. That life is important. Simple but eloquent.


I shall not grow old

as the part of me that’s left

grows old

rage shall not weary me

nor the damn years

yes, and in the sunset

in the morning

and all afternoon

and for much of the night

I’ll remember me.


Now, I hear my new phone ringing. It doesn't ring. It only moos. Simple yet eloquent.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Book of Scissors

This arrived in the mail today:

"Plop Around the Clock," a chapbook published by Ryan Bird as it says in the colophon "in a limited-demand edition of 1 copy for Gary Barwin, October 29th, 2006...These poems were shamelessly ripped off from the book frogments from the frag pool by Gary Barwin and derek beaulieu. They created the book of scissors, & Ryan Bird merely ran with it."

How completely cool. Also flattering of course. But really part of writing is to interact in some way with readers. Having a book of responses is exhilarating. And it's part of why derek and I wrote our book -- to respond to Basho and to other Basho responders.

The book is a series of haiku bouncing off derek and my book. Here's a couplefew:

Basho, Lettuce & Tomato

(bun) sky
(meat) frog (meat)
pond (bun)

Day 3 (from 7 Days at Basho Park)

mud plumes
separate new frogs
from old sounds

Day 6
boy fart
old pond sound
funny bubbles

Ryan is publishing up a storm these days through his fantastic mag Twaddle and through his Um, Yeah Press. He has an inventive, off-kilter wit (like that line about running with the book of scissors up there.) He's one to watch fer sure.

So, thanks Ryan. I'm totally delighted. Now I'm gonna make me a cereal fort just like you. Aint never gonna come out til the milk stops fallin'.

The Usual Greetings and Salutations

jars of octopus
small dreams
giving my 110%

November 2, 2006
a butterfly slams into a tent peg
I feel about average

this cup of coffee
has too many of me
a thousand blinking wings

"New Year's Day-- / everything is in blossom! / I feel about average." (Issa, trans. Hass)
"The jars of octopus-- / brief dreams / under the summer moon" (Basho, trans. Hass)

Sunday, October 29, 2006


This is a picture of my two sons from ten years ago. Their pants are down and they are squatting. I thought that they were pretending to poo. My wife reminded me that they were actually trying to give birth.

Did they become the five and three year-old fathers of tiny humans scurrying across the floor?

Last night my son, aged 15, dreamed that there were doctors in the walls and that Muddy Waters had installed a doorbell in the drywall.

When I went with my Grade Six students to Camp Wanakita, we told them that there were leprechauns in the woods. We told them what signs to look for and how one must say ‘Top O’ the Morning to Ya,” to greet a leprechaun. We had them build tiny amusement parks out of twigs and leaves. I was horrified by how much they trusted us and believed what we said. I couldn’t help but think of pedophiles. I was shocked to have so much power, yet charmed by my students’ willingness to imagine and to believe.

I have an agreement with my 9 year old not to tell her mother that Santa doesn’t exist.

Sometime in the last ten years, tiny human children removed my wings and replaced them with arms.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


how the world was clear
that’s when I noticed
I’m waiting

I wait
on this chair
and I sit
how I wish

how I wish
I could talk

the children sleeping
the pavement cool
the night outside

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006



inside H

it is dark and soft

the world is a towel

a little priest raises his arms

he will speak with an open mouth

a glimpse of the planet

its fleshy inner core

plush H towel people

we mist the sky

with our blue plum lungs

make the heavens heron dark with our breathing

we fog the limits with spirit and our blue breathy sound

in each of us

lungs that are H

for we the people

to the air belong


I say


for it is a pleasure and a surprise to breathe

Friday, October 13, 2006



in the far north

of Toronto

my son and I

see a hammer

lying in an intersection

when I think about

the future

I tend to smile

we destroy a shipping crate


a wooden horse

put the horse

& bits of smashed crate

into the car and

drive home


through the traffic

and at night

no one

climbs out of

the horse

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fish of Rage

Every year, I have my Grade 5 music students write and record raps. They can write about whatever they want. We brainstorm many ideas, but I'm always surprised by what they come up with.

Last year there were raps about "If I were Headmaster for the Day," rap renditions of "In Flanders Fields," some strange Oedipal Starwars mashups, lists of favourite foods, sports, and a group of kids who were rapping cool about their peeps hangin' down in Ancaster.

One group wrote this rip-roaring rap introducing another student who went by the handle "Fish," and for his rap was using the name "The Fish of Rage." The rap built up this larger-than-life figure, "The Fish of Rage," something along the lines of "When the Fish of Rage is gunna get here, the Fish of Rage is gunna roar!" When the Fish finally did step up to the mic for his solo, he was quiet and meek, a skinny, giggling little boy who was too shy to finish his rap. But what a great phrase, "The Fish of Rage."

And thus the poem written below., which I wrote when I was with them at Camp Wanakita where my school goes for a week for an eco-awareness/science/outdoor education experience. (More on that later.) I got to sit in a Muskoka chair on a point of land facing Koshlong Lake while the kids were writing in their notebooks in their "Magic Spots." The poem has nothing to do with the actual boy who is the municifent Fish of Rage, but I'm sure he would grant me the dispensation of using the phrase for greater literary glory.


O Toaster of the water, Toaster of the water, your bread is a mystery amidst the reeds.

O slotted henge for fish, fins brush your dials in love and wonder. Your pushed lever is set to darken all underwater with fire.

This in a lake far from the counters of the city & the fish of rage which slide the tarmac river: A narrow page of toast breaches the crenellated surface, dolphins in the new ears of morning, the long united ears of morning which say hurrah, hurrah. A square of darkness jubilant and remembering night.

Monday, October 02, 2006


The elves have left my shoes alone in the night, however Plunderboy has been at work. Here are some images based on The Obvious Flap, a collaboration that I'm working on with Greg Betts.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bookstealing Teenagers of the Apocalypse

Tomorrow night begins the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It's a time to 'atone' for one's trangressions. It would be like an all-day once-a-year Catholic confession, except that you don't confess to anyone, but acknowledge within yourself the deeds that you wish to atone for. I really like the opening service (Kol Nidrei) mostly for its seriousness and the solemn beauty of the music/chanting. I don't resonate with the idea of asking for forgiveness before God, but acknowledge that it is a healthy thing to take stock of one's deeds of the past year and consider them in a reflective light.

In the last couple of days, a book appeared in our downstairs bathroom. I guess my eldest son put it there. I recognized it as one of the books that I stole when I was about 14 from people whose kids I was babysitting. There are four books I remember stealing when I was a young teenager. To wit:

1. The Existential Imagination. A great anthology of short stories, including work by Kafka and Beckett.
2. Psychoanalysis and the Existential Imagination.
3. & 4. The Collection Works of Shakespeare (two volume edition). This I especially liked because of the etching of a pastoral English scene on the front, all those puffy clouds, stone buildings, and rivers running through millwheels.

From almost thirty years after the event, its fascinating my choice to steal these books. Firstly, it reveals that I was a strangely precocious, nerdy, and serious 14-year old. I also remember buying Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite on cassette using a handful of silver dollars. Secondly, the idea of stealing two books on existentialism is mesmerizingly ironic. It begs the question of how I conceived of my personal moral code. I do remember thinking of all those books in these houses as a beguiling array of worlds of thought and fiction for me to discover. As far as I recall, I didn't steal anything else from any other houses. Once I did try a drink of "mead" from a bottle. Again, that was because it seemed so redolent an entry into another world, mead recalling to me probably the same time in England that the Shakespeare illustrations did.

If a kid stole a book from my shelves, would I be upset?


tree forgive me

shoehorn forgive me

five forgive me

blue sky forgive

forgive noun

forgive verb

forgive tonsillectomy of sky

replace my bones with words

& walk

replace sounds with sky




the open mouth of my sorrow

is sorrow

the closed dime of my spent troubles

is raingear when the rain

has stopped falling

instead has absolved my worry

has allowed me to dance

endowed the buckwheat of my bones

with new numbers in the lawn of peachy certitude

the certificate of silent deer

the war of the day

an amnesty of quiet

Saturday, September 16, 2006


This past week, our old poodle got sicker and sicker. It had been suffering from lymphoma. By mid-week, it was gasping for breath and its heart was beating frantically. At about 2am on Wednesday, we made the decision that we had to put it to sleep. We woke one of our sons – the one we knew would want to be there and could cope with it – and went to the vets.

The dog was my old friend, and of course I felt sad, but I was aware of all the humans I know who have suffered and are suffering. And, frankly, I was relieved that it was our dog and not my wife or children. I felt lucky that I have known little loss or grief in my life. I didn’t cry until my son started weeping, holding the dog and whispering to it.

We carried the dog home in a large coffin-like box that the vet provided for us and stowed her downstairs. As soon as she woke, Rudi, my 9 year old daughter wanted to know where the dog was, and was distressed to think that Pepper had died in the night without her. And that we didn’t take her with to be there.

The next day it rained all morning and afternoon, but by suppertime, it stopped. Ryan, my eldest son, went out back with a shovel and dug a hole. Then my younger two, Aaron and Rudi went back to enlarge the hole. They wanted to make sure that it was right.

My wife opened the box and let Rudi see the dog. They both spoke to her and patted her. We carried it out to the hole and lowered her in. Then –as is done in Jewish burials—slowly put spadefuls of earth on top of her. There is that sound of the earth falling on top of the coffin, or in this case, the dog.

All that day, I wanted to write a poem for the funeral, something that would make meaning, something that would speak for us, help my kids, and I guess make sacred this scene: my family gathered around the grave of this sort of member of the family. Or reflect how any passage from life to death is big, is connected with something completely fundamental. Of course it is. At the same time, I felt that the impulse to write something, to involve pet-loss solemnity was ridiculous.

I had once been asked to write – by Aaron when he was five and dealing with his first loss, that of his goldfish “Sharky” – a funeral poem. It was very important to him that we do something ceremonial, something ritualistic, something that would give appropriate meaning to his loss. “Dad, you’re a writer. And you play music. Please do something,” he pleaded. I wrote a poem, a blessing really, for his fish and I stood in the backyard and played something elegiac on a flute for his fish. Soon after, my grandfather died and we gathered again in nearly the same spot to plant a fruit tree in his memory.

I am ambivalent about how language, about how ceremony can express our feelings, but, particularly when standing with my family, and enacting our own family rituals, it seems right, if a bit ridiculous. At the unveiling for my grandmother (in Jewish custom, the mourners gather at the grave a year after the funeral and ‘unveil’ the headstone; until then the grave has no stone) my mother asked me to read a poem/story (“Freezer,” in my Doctor Weep) that I had written when she died. It was one of the few times when I felt that my writing spoke for others about something important and without calling attention to itself. It performed a function, it was ‘useful’ and meaningfully right for the ritual moment.

I looked at Mark Strand’s wonderful “Five Dogs” sequence from his A Blizzard of One book. Some beautiful dog-centric writing there.

For instance, here’s the first poem

I, the dog they call Spot, was about to sing. Autumn
Had come, the walks were freckled with leaves, and a tarnished
Moonlit emptiness crept over the valley floor.
I wanted to climb the poets' hill before the winter settled in;
I wanted praise the soul. My neighbor told me
Not to waste my time. Already the frost had deepened
And the north wind, trailing the whip of its own scream,
Pressed against the house, "A dog's sublimity is never news,"
He said, "what's another poet in the end?"
And I stood in the midnight valley, watching the great starfields
Flash and flower in the wished-for reaches of heaven.
That's when I, the dog they call Spot, began to sing

Still I didn’t find anything appropriate to read and instead we just shared memories of our dog. I remembered Ryan at age 3 ½ sitting beside the dog, reading him stories. And all those walks. Losing the dog was also a reminder of how we have lost those times in the life of our family. My boys aren’t little 3 and 5 anymore using plates to be the steering wheels of imaginary airplanes. It’s ten years later, and though I delight in what they are now, I have lost what they were, except to memory.


I dug a hole in the grass

my son took the spade
and dug the hole deeper
big enough for his sister

then she made the hole
big enough for him

we gathered around it
unsure of what to say
but we spoke anyway

the hole said nothing
it listened


It is interesting to observe how different elements in a poem can alter the speed at which it reads. The tempo of the poem changes, the style of movement. A processional changes into a jitterbug. Certain notational, grammatical, semantic, formal or thematic gambits can influence the rate at which the poem draws you through it. Here are two versions of a draft poem (all the poems I post on this blog are draft poems!). The second version is diverges from the first by its non-standard grammar – many of the subject/object agreements don’t. This deviant grammar (OK, it’s not too deviant) slows down the reading and creates a toothsome effect.


Chickens have no arms
Neither do chicklets

But when the moon is bright
The fingers of the ancient beaks

Revise their flickering mattress
And wisk the fearless lottery

In the swampy dust.
O arms of doubt

Jawlight of twine
Dollar signs jitter in the eyes of the thrush

We are happy here in our Beowulf helmets
Making sparks from toast

A television from an overbite.
A no-see-em in the loaf of brain

Exits from our left nostril
And hurrah we shout hurrah

We have honour in the meadhall
And the biceps of fire

Punch the air like a touchdown.
O love, joy, peace, nouns

The remembering ducks
When we have dead.


Chickens has no arms
Neither does chicklets

But when the moon are bright
The finger of the ancient beaks

Revise their flickering mattress
And wisks their fearless lotteries

In the swampy dusts.
O arms of doubt

Jawlights of twine
Dollar signs jitters in the eye of the thrush

We is happy here in our Beowulf’s helmet
Make spark from toast

television from an overbite.
Some no-see-em in the loaves of brain

Exit from our left nostril
And hurrah we shout hurrah

We honours in the meadhall
And the biceps of fire

Punches the airs like a touchdown
O love, joy, peace, noun

The remembering ducks
When we have dead.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


I wrote three little poems shortly after 9/11 and posted them to I was responding to posts by an American who felt that we shouldn’t be talking about or writing about anything else, that this single event should recontextualize everything. Of course I understood (or could only attempt to imagine) people’s horror, grief, and trauma of both the many individuals and their families who suffered and the people of NYC and the US. However, I also responded to the notion that America’s issues necessarily should define the paradigm for the rest of us. We are free to choose our paradigms. Indeed, I think we must insist on it. That doesn’t preclude compassion and understanding for others.

Where is the centre (or center) of the world? It is where each of us is standing.

As far as I understand it, the American writer was so offended by my poems (as well as posts by some others) that he left the list.

Here are the poems:

the twin towers fall

I still cannot find my sock


the trade center crumbles

people who were already dead

or will be dead

are still dead


what comes after 9/11



The meaning of the second poem has shifted as time as passed.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Big Noise, Nations! (Psalm 2) is a fascinating site, whether the Bible is your book or not. It is a completely searchable site which has about 100 different translations of the Bible, including 21 different English versions. It is extremely interesting to compare different English versions of the text, from the modern freeverse breezy "The Message" translation to the lovely knobbly old King James. "Young's Literal Translation" makes for some intriguing circumlocutions and whatever the grammatical equivalent of neologism is.

Here's Psalm 2 in "The Message" version:

Why the big noise, nations? Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth-leaders push for position,
Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks,
The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers:
"Let's get free of God!
Cast loose from Messiah!"

Here it is in King James:

1Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

2The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,

3Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

4He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision.

5Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

6Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

And finally, in the literal translation:

1Why have nations tumultuously assembled? And do peoples meditate vanity?

2Station themselves do kings of the earth, And princes have been united together, Against Jehovah, and against His Messiah:

3`Let us draw off Their cords, And cast from us Their thick bands.'

4He who is sitting in the heavens doth laugh, The Lord doth mock at them.

5Then doth He speak unto them in His anger, And in His wrath He doth trouble them:

6`And I -- I have anointed My King, Upon Zion -- My holy hill.'

It's possible to flip between versions (there's a drop down menu) to compare meanings, tones, choices of form, etc. It makes for a fascinating lesson in the use of language -- what do the non-semantic elements of language convey? What constitutes "translation"? etc.

My grandfather was a polyglot. (Man, he was hard to clean up after -- ask my grandmother.) He was not a religious man, but was fascinated by religious texts and knew Hebrew, Afrikaans, English, Yiddish, French, Russian, some German, and bits of other languages. I remember arriving one night late and seeing him have about five different bibles open in front of him, comparing the texts. He would have loved

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


O Dark Warp of Back Pain, the Control Cheese Golem has once again performed an astonishing evocation of lost islands, all the while concealing from the brash accountant the blood red cowlicks of the Clown.

O dread Banjo Guardian, make the ballpoint phantasm of the lemonade stand appear to sign the deaf warrant on at least one of the triplets. Their feet are mired in escape breath, their lips are Aunt Alice’s sandwich shield. O Death Anteater, Devil Sheep, you are the Ethereal Ritalin Colossus gibbering Koala in the Homunculus Theatre of Miniature Thespians. The corn sheds its brazen husks, brandishing keen niblets of fear for the balsa milkmaid. Hear now! The flatulent beam of the Lounge Singer is bereft of warts. Beware the detergent wall!

But wait! The Kleptomaniac Jazz Djinn rises from my Underworld Drawer, mimicking a Manic-Depressive Succubus, the Spoon Ghost sinking deep into the staircase moon. By the Oubliette of Grammar, I call upon the Mighty Brain Peacock! O baths and feathers, O intoxication of pants! How can the Perfected Breakfast Monument halt the Pig-slop Jewel?

By The Five-fisted Toothbrush Grail, I call upon the Crowns surrounded in a nimbus of plastic teeth. I invoke the Evil Road where toes can find a finger, where a finger finds the flaming torus of noise. May the head flakes of the chimney sweep dispel the grim babysitters of the Coffee Blob, the Vaseline maelstrom of the Meat Giant. May the illuminated ooze of the clever dead absorb your thieving adulation, abjure your compassionate wolf toast in its sinuses. The mattress of ectoplasmic tartan shall lose itself in the howling milkshake mailbox, the used-car fantasy of your nomadic lungs. You shall find pinstripe famine in the grisly prismatic snail of your own nylon misery, while I, in the dark prehensile spats of my bean-jeweled flowchart shall return home, the litigious scudding of military rugburn turning my flagpoles to chariots, my fingers into the magnetic antennae of morose gymnastic nametags waving aside the glorious parade of firechiefs igniting their scrotal placentas in inclement victory.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Grandpa was standing outside the barn, his arms spread, his tongue poking out. The snow fell around him. His loose dressing gown blew behind him like an open road. His eyes were shut. His hair was crows.

All of us were there. Billy, Sandy, all the uncles, cousins, aunts, the whole family. A fire blazed in the fireplace, a bustling in and out of the kitchen brought cakes, cookies, coffee to the table. Becky and Matt, my niece and nephew played a board game on the rug. Will and Ricky ran through the house playing some unintelligible chase game. My wife and her sister sat in the kitchen laughing over the story of a family camping trip when they were kids.

We looked all over the house, in the bedrooms, and the basement bathroom, even the garage where he kept his tools, but we couldn't find him.

It was Becky who noticed. "Grandpa's outside!" she said, her hands cupped around her eyes, face pressed to the back window. By this time, only the wet shine of grandpa's head was visible, the tips of his fingers held up towards the dark sky. We ran to the back door, opened it wide. "Grandpa, grandpa!" Becky shouted. And then he began to move. Arm over arm, Grandpa began to swim first toward the house, then out into the fields, the forgotten cornstalks buried deep in snow, raised arms appearing above the drifts. “Those who are dead will still be dead. Those who will die, still will die,” Becky said, her breath making mist as she spoke.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Everything is dark. As if life depended upon a lump of coal in the sky instead of the sun. As if my seeing were a black fog. I am huge and cold.

And I can’t breathe. My mouth is scarce. My nose is rigid, a carrot, a turnip, a stone. My arms, never athletic are twigs. And my feet have disappeared.

I am a snowman.


I am a snowman. Perhaps the only snowman. In the sharp air, I imagine butterflies shouting one to another over the blue shadows. And I know that in a blind world, in the land of seeing eye dogs, there is infinite regression, each blind dog relying on another blind dog to lead it forward through the velvet gardens.

I can switch my eyes, the left and the right. I can replace my eyes with the stones of my mouth. I can replace the vast ball of my legs with my torso ball. My sad head can roll down the hill and become enormous and quick as it descends. Such a large head can imagine great things. Melting, for instance. The weeping of small children as they squash living things. The possibility that my family, in their small boat, shall cross the sea, that Timmy shall fight the lion with his toy car and thus save Miranda from her smooth cake, and the squat fingerprints of her future.

And Bobby, oh my lovely Bobby, you shall steal the crutches of your imaginary friend and limp towards your mother. Mother, you say, looking into the briny water of the pickle jar, two ice ages don’t a heat wave make. The delicate wings of a stamp collection hovering alphabetically over the iridescent lake of tweed mean something to all of us. You and father, if you are so inclined, shall pour down the aisle and be married once again. The antelope is neither licked nor sealed.

* * *

Note: I was supposed to be revising a story about snowpeople for chickaDEE magazine and strayed over to Imperfect Offering and began discussing the editing/revising process and also how context and readership affect/reflect the core of a story. See here. And so instead of revising my little snowpeople story, I broke free of that context and those constraints, and wrote this. Also -- and more about this later -- I finally read some of the work of Russell Edson.(see a brief bio and some of his amazing prose.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Why Does George Orwell Write?

George Orwell in his essay 'Why I Write' outlines a number of reasons why he (or one) writes.

I don't think he lists all the reasons to write. For instance, the spiritual impulse. (I guess he might that consider that subsumed under some of the other categories.) And the exploratory -- writing to discover. (He might also consider this as belonging to the other categories.)

What other reasons are there to write?

I mean beside supporting your agents' knitted moustache fetish and the inevitable expenses it entails.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


In the forest, we were not able to see the trees.
My teacher put them in his suitcase
and walked into the night.

When he got to the edge of the world
he turned and pulled up the road.
Cracking it once, like a sheet or whip
he held it under his chin and folded it right.

I pointed. This is the way out of here
but there were no roads.
I pointed. This is our forest
but there was nothing.

The crickets said something that I will not repeat

Six jeweled piglets lapped at the droplets of my brow.
Seven pure swallows brushed their wings against my shadow.
T-shirts are silent, cotton, easy to launder.

Friday, August 18, 2006

the luminous pork forest, the sawdust of the bacon angel

the field beside my heart is

filled with ugly deer and one beautiful dog

a poem doesn’t have to have 14 perfect lines

or else you’re spitting on graves

maybe you’ll slip up and tell a truth

stick your flaking elbow into something rich

under the moon your tongue hangs out

you’d like to howl but there’s this language thing

a pile of shame grows and grows

please save my family from complication or sudden death

listen: a small movement in the linden leaves

the poem collaspes small and leaping

be brave be brave be brave

the field beside my heart is

filled with ugly deer and one beautiful dog

and here’s another beautiful dog

a thousand ugly deer on the breath of the wind

sighing sighing sighing

* * *


In the days before Marco Polo discovered the Miniature Doberman here on Planet of the Tired Clown, the Unconventional Creeps Race began at noon instead of one. I was drunk log before that playing the jigsaw snapping race with my lost woodman brother. What kind of death satin sailor sails the piping north pole with nothing but a random rabbi generator beneath his cap? I’m an impossible planet circled by the weepy noses of my dream detonators. Mice wish themselves twenty legs then begin a new life of scurrying. O foreheads of loss! At the ceremony of evocation, we’re astonished by the luminous pork forest, the sawdust of the bacon angel, he who conceals the apocalypse’s incorrigible bedhead from the braided Kayak. There is a cowlick at the centre of the radiant clown. There is the instep of tomorrow. We have the telephone.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


go to sleep

then get up again

be crucified

then rise again

eat a bomb

but meet your sweetie for dinner

I let the dragon into the house

and it burns the piano and the shoes

our home is an ashen cloud with an incomprensible address

barefoot, we walk to the store for ice cream

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


the partial snout of cloud late in the light
the furrows browsing a trough of owls
the moon's sowee, twigs twitching before
the dicephalus dawn

I made a T-shirt that said that
but my editor got to work
"I have always been partial to snout"
it now reads


for/after Nadia Halim


I build a giant mountain in the centre of my living room. My wife and children climb it. ‘Because it was there,’ they call from the summit near the fluorescent lights. I fall asleep on the couch, a white lily spilling from beneath my ratty MY OTHER BELLY IS A SIX PACK t-shirt. The TV hums. It is our grandfathers asking the dawn to give us another chance. Our grandmothers, somewhere in back of the TV, stir the electronics and laugh their toothless laugh. It doesn’t depend on us, they say to the grandfathers.

I am dreaming. I am a vast potato floating near the buttery shores of the cosmic sea. I dream the world and it goes on forever. Through the windows of the living room, my children see far across the city and the air-conditioned breeze chaps their faces red. My wife is safe from cancer; birds nibble at her ears; build nests from her skin and feed their flightless babies. Teach them flying. In one nest, an egg neglects to hatch. It is huge. I dream it is the sun, hot and quiet above us. In every day there is a liquid bird sloshing its wings inside the sun. I dream the world, my back, the bruised couch. Day breaks but my children fix it with spit and snot and snowflakes. We get another chance.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Bromberg-Barwins Go to Warshington

1. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King gave his "I had a Dream" speech. For us, one of the most moving places in DC.
2. In the Museum of American History, a braille Playboy in the Ray Charles exhibit. He used to read Playboy, for the articles. Really. I would have thought a braille Playboy would have been either the setup or the punchline to a joke. Of course, I read Beowulf for the pictures, so who am I to talk.
3. In the extraordinary Museum of the American Indian. A very beautiful building by Douglas Cardinal, built of sand-coloured stone, its wavy, landscape inspired shapes in opposition to the symmetrical neo-classical buildings that dominant the institutional buildings in DC. This picture is a visual poem comprising the names of the Native American peoples that have existed in the Hemisphere. Three projections of names on a huge black wall. Very moving. Another very striking use of plain text was the Vietnam Memorial. All those names of the dead. When my sons and I walked by (the irony wasn't lost on me, walking with my sons along a list of lost sons) people were touching specific name and weeping.
4. My daughter in front of the Capitol
5. The Bromberg Barwin's in front of the White House. We looked better in the surveillance cameras.
6. We couldn't take pictures, but my eldest son and I went to the Holocaust Museum. We hardly spoke. There was nothing to say, in a way. There is an extraordinary moment in the museum when you have just seen all this distressing information about the Holocaust and then passed through a hallway the walls of which are covered in photographs of people from a destroyed village. Many many photographs of all types of Jews and Jewish life. Your head is filled with these images and then you come to a bright white room in between exhibits with four canvases by Ellsworth Kelly. Three rectangular canvasses and one without right angles. Blank white. It is a very moving moment. Both because you realize how your mind is filled with the lives of the people you've just seen. Stories and lives clamouring in your head. Thousands of voices and lives. The shadows of the Holocaust. The richness, the fullness of village life. Of all life. And somehow it all projects onto these white canvasses and the quiet. What can be said in the face of all of this loss? One needs to be silent for a minute. My son and I stood looking at the whiteness.But also, the plain canvasses are a moment of sanctitity. A moment for reflection. A sanctuary. A sense of meaning. Or of simple things. Even these plain colours, these plain shapes have meaning, are beautiful, worthwhile. (And then, later: what is "whiteness"? What is race?)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I replace my words with the legs
I walk

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hello There, You English

My eldest son, Ryan, who is fifteen, had his first professional gig in a jazz club. This past Thursday, the Ryan Barwin group premiered at The Pepper Jack Cafe in Hamilton. Due to a last minute band crisis, he had to have fill in musicians: the amazing Mark Sepic on guitar, percussion, and digital looping, and the markedly less amazing Gary Barwin on saxophones. There's a Yiddish word, kvelling, which means something like "overflowing/welling with pride." I was definitely doing this. (Indeed, made a big puddle of pride on the floor.)

Ryan was playing guitar and --even if I do say so myself -- he was fantastic. Some people get nervous when they perform and the anxiety shows. Others do better the moment they hit the stage. He is in the later category. I've never heard him play so well. It did make a difference that Mark, a seasoned and relaxed performer, was on stage with him. I guess also the fact that I was there too, kvelling.

He played two long sets: a bunch of jazz standards, some Coltrane-influenced extended improvisations, some Bill Frisell, Grateful Dead, Low Rider, and an original tune.

The place was packed. A fantastic night altogether.

It's been a while since I saw this the first time, but I recently received this old joke again. It is appropriate as I'm heading through Pennsylvannia to Washington DC for 10 days.

Hello There, You English:

Thou hast just received the Amish Virus.

As we haveth no technology nor programming experience, this virus worketh on the honour system. Please delete all the files from thy hard drive and manually forward this virus to all on thy mailing list.We thank thee for thy cooperation.

— The Amish Computer Engineering Dept.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The trunkless tree was threatening me.

I'm enjoying the work of poet Heather Christle. I came across her poems in Octopus #6, an online journal. "Five Poems for America" are particularly great. I've adapted/stolen the following lines from this poem for something I'm working on (see below):

Magnificence comes
in a small car, but we all fit.

The title of this post is from her Trunkless.


Have you seen this? A guy, through a series of trades or barters (14 in all) manages to trade his initial single red paperclip for an actual house in a small Saskatchewan town. And I wasn't able to trade my liver for a salami.


Magnificence comes

to our small ears, but we all fit

teeth on a small jawed shark

a thousand people on an island no bigger than

any green noun or

pink earhole

Some think our small ears

which are magnificent and

radiant fetuses

Magnificence in a tiny car

shouldering the pink road

an unfurled map, giant Ontario ear

fluttering the rolled-down half dawn

How do we know

the thousand shrunken ears of stars

a pink light reaching

very brief Marx brother time

atto and zepto and yoctoseconds

the disco ball in the heart

a mosaic of shiny blood

Jack Robinson! he has no time to blink

Monday, July 24, 2006


There’s a man standing before an open window, 37 storeys up. He’s wearing a Groucho nose and glasses. On the ground, like the open mouth of a tiny frog, a bowlful of water awaits him.

His feet are normal. He wears large red shoes.

Someone has replaced his left eyeball with his right, his right testicle with his left, has replaced his skinny arms with wings.

On the horizon, a cream pie rises amid fleshy pink clouds. These are everyday materials and we are oh so very tired.


I didn't know this:

In The Tin Woodman of Oz, Nick Chopper (the Tin Woodman) finally sets out to find his lost love, Nimmie Amee, but discovers that she has already married a man constructed partly out of his own discarded limbs. For the Tin Woodman, this encounter with his former fiancée is almost as jarring as his experiences being transformed into a tin owl, meeting another tin man, and conversing with his ill-tempered original head. (see here for more.)

And thus (though I'm not sure if the ending is too pat for me.)


ax enchanted it cuts

off bits of

my body one


one: left leg, arm, ear, test


right ear, nost


leg, fingers, head

each replaced with its self

made of tin

later I meet the flesh

girl who I was going to marry

but she’s already married all my cut

parts together

my doleful empty torso a hollow


I wish I were of wood

the jigsaw of myself

the sudden flame of being

a single image




In the days before Marco Polo discovered the Miniature Doberman here on Planet of the Tired Clown, the Unconventional Creeps Race began at noon instead of one. I was drunk log before that playing the jigsaw snapping race with my lost woodman brother. What kind of death satin sailor sails the piping North Pole with nothing but a random rabbi generator beneath his cap? I’m an impossible planet circled by the weepy noses of my dream detonators. Mice wish themselves twenty legs then begin a new life of scurrying. Don’t we all.