Friday, March 31, 2006

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


For his WMFU radio show, Kenny Goldsmith posted a call for "cover" versions of Todd Colby's manic "Cake" text which he frequently plays on his radio. A huge number of people responded with their own versions. Some solo voice recordings, some using computers, some incorporating entire bands. I made a version emphasizing the psychotic tone of the original, using Ableton Live, a software program for realtime digital manipulation.

You can find the covers, including mine, here:

I'd recommend those by "The Ass Grocers," and Kenny G's own version, as well as most of those later in the list. Some are intricate, some are quite dumb, some hilarious. It is a really interesting "translation" project.

Monday, March 27, 2006


here are two versions of this little poem. The only difference is the last line. Which is better: "beside me" or the more oblique "within me"? I also considered having the third line be "I"ll live longer than you" or even "I live longer than you."

version one:

I stop breathing
fall to the floor
“language lives longer than you,”
language says
laughing its smug grammar
its pert yet accurate
911 in the sand beside me

version two:

I stop breathing
fall to the floor
“language lives longer than you,”
language says
laughing its smug grammar
its pert yet accurate
911 in the sand within me

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Saturday, March 25, 2006


These poems are based on a running commentary that my daughter at age 4 was giving while she was drawing. What amazed me was how at this age, she had a very fluid and undeveloped conception of identity and signification. It was clear that drawing was an unfolding process of discovery for her.


the person with the breasts
the very long toenails
the yellow nose

then another one with breasts
no arms
a toenail taller than a tree

it’s supposed to be a toenail but
in real life its
a balcony

see how it has
a mouth
a fancy mouth

and a nose and ears
so far
now I need to make
a body

this body is
see the baby

and the vagina
and now
I have to make
a sun

actually it doesn’t need a sun
that’s the lady’s hat
she’s just planning
to go outside

she doesn’t know that
this picture is warm



this guy is mean
he doesn’t like
and he has rosy cheeks

but he’s still a kid
he’s got three nipples because
he’s mad
that makes his two nipples turn into

his vagina
wait! he’s not a boy
he’s a girl
his bum
his pet cat

here’s his sad cat
the cat’s hair
like the colour of the cat



this guy is grown up
he’s a captain and he’s lost his

he‘s a boy so he has

his forehead
his mouth
his hair
this is his dog and
this is his penis
these are Niagara Falls
and this is the guy

his chair
his neck
his hair
his feet
and Niagara Falls
he’s looking at Niagara Falls

and he’s pretty mad
because they’re all above him and
some are coming down



this guy’s unhappy
and he’s a bird
he’s a Chinese bird
with a hat on him
but he doesn’t know

he’s a boy


and he’s very fancy


and he’s flying

Friday, March 24, 2006

Heinrich Manoevers

I've been working on a series of "translations" of Heine poems which I'm calling "Heinrich Maneuvers" mostly because I couldn't resist.

My usual M.O. is to run the original German through an online translator and see what results. Many words mistranslate or else aren't translated. When I encounter an untranslated word, I chose something in English that sounds similar but is also interesting. I'm trying to pick up something of the flavour of the text, exploring different tonal, lexical, rhythmic and formal approaches than I would normally choose. I'll also pulled in thematically. I'm not really a 19th century German poet., except when I go to those parties.

Here are two examples. In the second, I've given the original German and then my English version.

The first example shows my translation and then some suggestions/comments by the always insightful Greg Betts, in effect a translation of my translation, showing the influence of his interest in plunderverse. His version fractures the normative sentence based grammar and rhythm of mine. Hmm. Which should I choose?

bald head in the high north
covered with a doily of snow

dreams its body
flickering and mouthless
a burning wall

the fragile wig between
this life and the next

* * *
(Greg's comment: This first poem I found to be rich, but wordy. I tried knocking out some
words from the first stanza.) His suggestion:

bald head high
covered doily of snow

dreams its body
flickering mouthless
a burning wall

the fragile wig between
this life and the next

* * *
Here's a Heine original with my version following.

SONNET III (original German poem by Heine)

Ich lache ob den abgeschmackten Laffen,
Die mich anglotzen mit den Bocksgesichtern;
Ich lache ob den Füchsen, die so nüchtern
Und hämisch mich beschnüffeln und begaffen.

Ich lache ob den hochgelahrten Affen,
Die sich aufblähn zu stolzen Geistesrichtern;
Ich lache ob den feigen Bösewichtern,
Die mich bedrohn mit giftgetränkten Waffen.

Denn wenn des Glückes hübsche Siebensachen
Uns von des Schicksals Händen sind zerbrochen,
Und so zu unsern Füßen hingeschmissen;

Und wenn das Herz im Leibe ist zerrissen,
Zerrissen, und zerschnitten, und zerstochen -
Dann bleibt uns doch das schöne gelle Lachen.


I laugh whether the gobsmacked laugh—
me with the snorting face and short memory—
I laugh whether the foxes, which began so soberly
ended snuffling and begging
and I laugh myself
whether the blind beergarden apes were proud to be blind judges
or whether the cowardly midwinter boys made
me bedridden with poison-soaked weapons.
Because if luck filters pretty things
and fate gives us broken hands to hinge
and squeal and kiss
and if the heart in the body is
torn up, tore up, cut and restocked
still the beautiful laughter remains
dusky and firefly

left of the ashes

Thursday, March 23, 2006


(written for the CBC Canada Reads program, incorporating Canadian book titles)

the backyard seethes with the ravenous whirring of weed whackers

and I’m outside crouched low

listening to the deafening complaints of plants

Yes, I say, I know the complicated road that you were born to hoe

how the crackpot phonecalls of the cocksure house plants tell you only one thing:

Canada weeds, their leaves say

Canada weeds so there’ll soon be rooms for rent in the land of the outer plants

selected homes for new conscripts into the brotherhood of the rose

it’s about survival in the garden

and the politics of lawn enforcement

those who don’t believe in this good life will find King Green Grass Riding Mower roving over,

burying them under forever like Rover the dead dog’s bone,

lost and rockbound beneath the broken ground

Yes, I say, it’s the garden of weeding, all over again,

and even the tree of knowledge is in peril

he who weeds, weeds Canada like a book

pruning from the green library

the purple prose in the hymn of a vine

coming through to slaughter with his trick knife

the life of pine

and verse is no better

the scanned creepers of poetry must surrender also

to the complicated kindness of weed whacker and sickle

to the culling of unrequited dreams in the tangled garden

the slow tide of nightfall making the river midnight

happy shades dancing over the clear cut lawn

Actually, a plant replies

as for me and my houseplants,

we get along just fine

sure they phone and we complain

but here in the garden

there’s no great mischief

rather it’s a fine balance between those who have seen the wind

and those who have felt but the cool breeze of the air conditioner

the love of a good warm vent

weeding’s not something that would make us

fall on our knees

if we had knees

our worst fears are the hounds

the runners in the family

careening through the yard

turning our beds into a three dog road

a single evening into a three day night

these excursions through our world after dark are

hardly a recipe for peace

but rather what a body remembers

but Canada weeds, I say, Canada trims.

what of the blind assassins, the hoe and shears,

what of the wars, the critical injuries

the famous last words of flowers?

memory is an involuntary storyteller

the plant tells me, though we try to forget.

weeding is national selection

a small price for growing wild and free on our native land

while inside, the houseplants

are roughing it in the plush of ghosts and carpeting

the world of feather dusters, humidifiers

and encouraging words

I remember once

my friend a tall sunflower was toppled

taken to hospital

ah such a long gurney

one that shall forever be burned in our vines

yes, we see the house plants’ smug crystal stare through the window

but we do not fear their self-assured house calls

the weeding of their masters

we are the music of what happens

we ascend as the rain ascends

we reach as birds

to bring forth the sky

we are difficult roses

the unbridled shrub

we are the noble cabbage