Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ostrich Riding

City of Leopards

They built the city of leopards. A thousand tongues and a thousand ears. Each leopard found a place on the plans and lay beside other leopards to form a wall or staircase.

No act of building was every so easy. But now after a thousand years, the people no longer hear breathing. They consider the leopards only as stones.

Image: modified image of Kafka as a toddler.
Text: another variation of a Kafka parable from my project with Hugh Thomas.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Spear Dusk

It is dusk in late autumn and I walk in silence through the forest. I punch at a tree, stop before making contact. I spare it, this time.

There are deer footprints on the trail and I follow them around the river’s gentle and eroding curve. I can see the grasses trampled down where the paths of deer lead toward the swamp. My open palm wheels around, is inches away from slapping the pale, smarmy bark of a birch. Lucky birch.

There’s a nest in the crook of a low branch. It hangs over a small hollow where small stones and leaves collect. I kick hard with my left foot, but hold back at the last minute. For now, the sugar maple is safe.

I arrive at a clearing. The forest floor is quilted with a mottled assembly of leaves. I am surrounded by the interlocking conversations of branches.

A bird flies overhead. From somewhere in the forest, the chirrup of squirrels. I rest on a fallen tree limb.

I used to have a problem with violence; now I only hurt trees when I am angry with them.

He appears before you, throws a spear at your heart. You happen to have a large book in your breast pocket. The spear pierces the books’ pages, but stops miraculously at the last page, just before entering your skin. You find a place of safety and carefully remove the spear-in-the book. You compile a list of the words that the spear went through, and read them. These words form a message. With trembling heart, you read what it says. 'Duck next time someone throws a spear at you,’ it says.


What are the rules for naming a child? He was not named Calabash, Efficient Appliance, or Roadwork, neither did we dub him Starshine, Wind-sword, or Llama-sleeve. We thought of Grandpa, for one day he might be called in this way, though our own Grandpas had sailed past the buoys of mortality and out into the open sea. We thought of Electron Cuticle, Vibraphone, and Oak Heart. We thought of Jimmy, Sam, and Chesapeake Bay. We thought of Strychnine, Ironspine, Christopher, and Raindance also.

We knew there are a finite number of names in this universe, as if somewhere there was written a periodic table of elemental names. We name the new with the names of the old. And so our son was given his grandfather’s name, a name not now used in the present tense. They could share this name across the tenses, the present and future belonging to our boy.

A cloudless day in the cemetery, we went to mark the passing of a aunt. She who would be laid to rest near the rest of the family. Our boy, now five, wandered about the headstones pressing his fingers along the streambeds of carved-out letters. Then he stumbled apon his own name inscribed above a small blanket of lawn. He lay down upon the neat bed of grass, crossed his arms, and closed his eyes. He waited.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Short History of Breath

The graphics from the above video were adapted from my chapbook LUNGUAGE: a short history of breath published about 20 years ago by my serif of nottingham editions. bpNichol was going to publish the book through his grOnk press, but unfortunately he died tragically. I have always considered the piece to be a tribute to bp, and an in memoriam.

Likewise, the spoken text. The text appeared in Jennifer Lovegrove's Dig magazine and was reprinted in Holy Beep! a chapbook edited by Natalie Zina Walschots to assist with and celebrate jwcurry's monumental Encylopedia Beepliographic or Beepliography.

This work will catalogue every known appearance of a bpNichol work, on this planet anyway. I don't know if jwcurry has got access to the Cloudtown Library and Starchives yet.

The video above is dedicated to bp who was an inspiring mentor, model, and teacher for me as well as for many.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mona W. Lisa, Jim Krantz, Jesus H. Christ, and Hitler all Smoke Marlboros

The above image is after Richard Prince's appropriation of images of Marlboro Man images from Jim Krantz, the original photographer on the ubiquitous advertising campaign. There has been some controversy, brought about by Krantz's comments to the media about a Guggenheim exhibition which includes appropriated images of the Marlboro Man campaign.

Let's think of that W as God. Or as Dubya. Or as capitalism. Or as Westernality. Or as being stripped from the lip of the Mona W. Lisa.


And here is a re-Itleration of another image:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bread Drama

Here are two more variations on Kafka fragments:

Kafka's original:

The moonlight dazzled us. Birds shrieked from tree to tree. There was a buzzing and whizzing in the fields.

We crawled through the dust, a pair of snakes.


My variations:

Mouths were jungles. Birds shrieked from tooth to tooth. There was a buzzing and whirring. Tongues crawled up throats, inventing snakes and language.


The kitchen shocked us. Plates clattered from counter to floor. There was a muffled shrieking and wailing.
Grandpa crawled inside walls, turning off lights from the other side.


I gave my grade five students an assignment to write some text that went along with some music that I played. One piece, the very marvelous Regarding Starlight by David Mott a slowly unfolding meditative piece for very high baritone saxophone harmonics. Very delicate and beautiful. One student, wrote this:

Deadly things happening in a dark war.
People dying, bombs flying.

Soft bread turning into old bread.
It's like new yellow cheese
becoming old and blue.

That bread in the second stanza is amazing. How he used the image of the bread aging to reflect -- what? -- mortality, aging and the transient nature of life. Another student wrote a piece that included a shocking line about butterflies fluttering around and then hanging themselves. It's very striking how these 10 year olds search around for images to express the magnitude, the seriousness, the deep tragedy that they imagine. Given the right setting, some of these kids can dig deep and demonstrate remarkable sensitivity and insight.

I try not to get too worked up about it in front of them, and also remember that they loved the joke about Greensleeves being about wiping snot onto your sleeves.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I am a mathematician and I would like to stand on your roof

From the fascinating site TED, a talk by ethnomathematician Ron Eglash.

This is how the TED side describes the talk:

"I am a mathematician, and I would like to stand on your roof." This is how Ron Eglash greeted many African families while researching the intriguing fractal patterns he noticed in villages across the continent. He talks about his work exploring the rigorous fractal math underpinning African architecture, art and even hair braiding.

Here it is.

The TED site is full of very interesting discussions about many topics. Another humourous and insightful talk is by Sir Ken Robinson on schools and creativity. Here that one is.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


a jacket has three sleeves because we have three arms


when it’s time for dinner, the sun sets


if you move slowly enough, you are lapped by the forest


we buy seats on the plane for our ancestors, sing as we fly through clouds


they close their eyes on the hilltop. they inboggan


the deafness of snow, the blindness of fire, the tastelessness of sleep


no two snowflakes or fingerprints the same; identical days


there is something tornadoesque in the distance, the horizon like wood grain, or a hairstyle


do not button the stormcloud coat when you sit in the lightning chair; the rain means that you will be new

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Trees in the Mouth

"To start at the beginning we have to posit that reality is an aggregate of the perceptions of all creatures. This broadens the playing field."

Jim Harrison, "Eat or Die" in Brick, Winter 2007


without a book, the bookmark helps us know where we are when we aren’t anywhere


the mind is a woodpecker
searching for trees
in the mouth


the waiter brings me my order:

timespace is a sandwich, he says
and here is the meat


I began counting the leaves of the tree
there was one for each number
each number which soon will be gone
when winter comes


My hands wandered, each on their own path. They arrived at the same conclusion: the left with the right, the right with the left.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Toronto Small Press Fair Dialogue

I have been following with interest the useful discussion about the Toronto Small Press Fair on this [Toronto Small Press Fair] Facebook Group. The Fair has been an important part of my cultural life since its inception twenty years ago. It has contributed significantly to my development as a writer and is responsible for introducing me to many writers, publishers, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and much writing which has been important to me. All of which made my last twenty years of engagement in the Toronto and area literary scene inspiring, collegial, pleasant, welcoming, intellectually engaging, and fun.

It hasn’t been free from dispute, often passionate disagreement, and the usual ‘family’/community issues – and indeed has included some unfortunate ad hominem attacks – all of which have required us all to take the long view, to agree to disagree, to find our own resolutions for the various unkindnesses, wounds, and injustices. To find ways to heal. Clearly, all of us, whether we like it our not, are rhizomatically connected. Perhaps from one angle, we look like disconnected stars, but seen from earth, we appear as part of one constellation.

We don’t have to like each other, or even respect each other. But we do need to find a way to be able to dialogue. To engage each other. To keep on living and writing together. Lately there has been a considerable controversy over the Fair. Regardless of the details of its resolution, we all are going to have to continue to live and work side-by-side in the same literary fishbowl, the same micro-ecosystem. No matter how divisive or painful it may seem in the short run, we need to keep listening to each other. To continue to be both writers and readers of each other's words.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Small Press Meet

I’d like to propose an alternate model for the Toronto Small Press Fair, not that I haven’t felt that past Fairs haven’t been been fun, vital, important, formative, and successful.

I could imagine a series where reading is connected to publishing. Each performance would feature a few/several small presses, each of whom would be responsible for presenting some performance/event which would be related to their publishing. This could include such things as readings, live publishing, talks, multi-media, extreme performance anthology creation, etc.

I remember the old “Meet the Presses,” that Stuart Ross and Nick Powers ran in the Scadding Court Community Centre (and not just for the people being baptised, fully dressed in the public pool.) I remember the excitement of seeing what new work had been published by presses and really having a chance to interact. However, what I really liked was the interplay between publishing and performance. I still remember Nick Powers’ blueberry pie which went alone with a lovely little blue Gestetnered chapbook published by his Gesture Press.

What I’m imaging takes off from there. The event I’m imaging would break down the proscenium where the publishers stand behind their tables and the public file by. This would be more thrust-stage, or no-stage, audience interactive. Such a forum would perhaps engage the performative imaginations of the publishers/writers. It would offer an opportunity for publishers/publications to engage with the audience and – perhaps most importantly – vice versa.

There would still be tables and publishers (though fewer each time), however they would be woven into the more performative focus. Each of that month’s publishers would get a turn. But instead of thinking of the performances as ancillary or distracting, they would be an integral part of the event. As would impromptu discussions. Also, with these events happening more often, there might be a greater small-press specific continuity. Also, there’d be food and drink. It’d be more of a night-out event.

What do you think?

My Innernet Notebook

I went grocery shopping. When I came home I realized that the plastic bags which I’d bought came in a plastic bag and that at the checkout, they'd put them in another plastic bag. I’d purchased the plastic bags for the recycling box.


everything is backwards; even backwards.


the bubbling taxi of wonder to the north of lake whatever


trees never reach their destination, except to begin again


For show and tell, the boy brought the ocean to school.


I just found out that when Columbus set out across the ocean, there were a few Jews on board with him. This at the time of the Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian peninsula.


The fossil glow of language: Language continues to expand, light from the edge, from further and further away. And in a trick of spacetime, light from both the past and the future.


Strange to transcribe these entries from my little Moleskine notebook. There's a tactility and ritual to writing things in the book. Also, an intimacy and an inwardness. The notebook is wireless, but not because it is connected to the Internet.


photo: my son Ryan writing in his notebook at the Giants Causeway,Country Antrim, Northern Ireland

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Things with Shape and No Shape

the bed is surrounded by the ocean
its out-of-focus limbs
as you walk toward
the moon
where your child sleeps

a door floats up the stairs
the temple of the leopard
a rogue wave up late
waiting for the tide

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Uwkwurd grummur

white dog of the spherical toolbox
the forest trail is a labyrinth

a concussion of words
a prayer

there’s a mixture of sadness and wonder
at the end of your leash
and then a bunny runs down the trail

each angel is terrible
and makes my heart plotz

each angel is terrible.
and in this way an obstacle

we however are very reliable
and do not have to be accommodated
in interpreting the world

the road is spoiled as a habit
and as easily disappointed as the heart
we learn the hard way, a simple hobby

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Phantom Word Pain

I came across an old notebook of mine full of interesting things that I'd forgotten about.

My wife had a client who was a lightbulb stealer. He only stole the one lightbulb. This on a page where I was brainstorming ideas for a children's story about shadows. "When night comes, we have to stand together to make dark."

I wrote of a performance/conceptual art project for graffiti artists where they would roam the city creating shadows for things, spraying the ground with paint marking their imagined shadows.

I ended up writing a story about "Aha, the Lightbulb Stealer," though it didn't really work. I would like to one day return to the ideas behind the story and rewrite it.

I also discovered the term I was looking for for years. Jenny Haniver. More on that later, though the image above is of a Jenny Haniver.

Elsewhere, I wrote about phantom word pain. Perhaps all of this is phantom story pain, where one has the sensation of having a story -- it feels real, it nags at one the way a real story does -- but it isn't actually there.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rubber Necker

We beheld the great room. The empty labyrinth where one is lost.


Illustration for article "James Tenney and the Theory of Everything," just published in Musicworks #99, though the illustration wasn't ultimately used.

Text: from the collaborative Kafka franzlations with Hugh Thomas. The original is:

In amazement, we beheld the great horse. It broke through the roof of our room. The cloudy sky was drifting faintly along its mighty outline, and its mane flew, rustling, in the wind.

Hugh's wonderful version is:

In amazement, we beheld the great room. It broke through the roof of our sky. The wind drifted faintly beyond its mighty outline, carrying the sound of vanished horses.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007


Hugh Thomas and I have been trading versions of rewrites of short pieces and parables by Kafka. Kafka's originals have a haunting intensity and resonance that is captivating. We're not necessary trying to recreate this, but rather to write some pieces in the spirit of Kafka and/or exploring his structures. I don't think that we know what we're going to do with these, but I find the exploration of new tones and structures absorbing.


Everyone carries a room about inside him. This fact can even be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one’s ears and listens, say in the night, when everything around is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall.


Everyone carries an inside inside of them. Sometimes when one has business to attend to, one leaves this inside, small and whimpering behind the front door. It upsets the hatstand, worries the shoes. It grows wispy and sad like outside.


Everyone carries a car full of clowns inside them. If one listens, say in winter, when everything around is quiet, one hears the small toes of the clowns curling in their big shoes, and the weak toot of the car’s horn, inside one’s self not quite firmly fastened to the ground but floating, floating up into the funny sky.


Everyone carries a heart about inside them. When they see a broken child, a small telephone, or something happy, they begin to use it. Sometimes, say at night, when everything around is quiet, the heart begins to work on its own, like a mirror with no one in front of it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Eyes are the mouths

the eyes are the mouths of the head but the mouth is another eye

the ears are the hands of the tongue but the tongue listens as the hand speaks

the breath is the body of the alphabet but the grammar of the mind breathes

the pen is the mightier word spoken by the book

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Empyreal: a boy puts a pencil up his nose

During math, a boy puts a pencil up his nose. Another boy whacks the pencil further in, a slim spelunker entering the inaccessible dark of the first boy’s head, a small and secret Lascaux at the back of the class. Blurry images of the boy’s life. A video game in the long grass, a bus trip along a snowy highway, Twizzlers, and a man waving frantically on the lawn.

The pencil is a yellow joystick. Images are a flurry on the concave whiteboard of the boy’s skull, a bony Empyrean limit to the starry dark of the boy’s mind.

The second boy begins to write with the pencil, interior cranial graffiti like a whisper in a shouting crowd, an iridescent hork into a midnight sea. It is his name, his joke, his story.

Blood on the knees of the boys and the classroom floor. A teacher flailing. Dark matter. An expanding universe of friendship and loss. Hands held to the face. A diary.

Monday, November 05, 2007


when I pee
in the forest
I choose
a small tree


Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Door and some Dub


A boy’s mother is shot through the front door. The bullet leaves a hole. The hole is a single star in the dark night of the door. The hole is the door’s silent throat. The boy puts one of his eyes to the hole and looks out at the world, looks out at the long road leading away. What should we do? the boy asks his father. Buy a new door, the father replies.


Here is a listing of a conference and a performance that I'm doing soon. Me? a dub poet? The Festival (in Hamilton!) looks like it is going to be amazing -- many fantastic dub and dub-related poets and lecturers. Klyde Broox has organized what looks to be a fabulous event.

Kerry Schooley (AKA Slim Volumes), my son Ryan, and I are performing with our text/music group Bump Head. I'm also participating as part of a panel.

Here are some details.

2007 International Dub Poets Festival, Hamilton, Ontario, November 8-11
Literary Coup! Erasing the Oral/Scribal Divide

Discourse: Afternoon Panel
McMaster University Main Campus: Location TBA
Time Friday, Nov. 9, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Panellists: Prof. Mervyn Morris, Prof. Susan Gingell, Prof. Hyacinth Simpson,
Dr. Gary Barwin
Moderator: Klyde Broox

Evening Reading/Performance

Late-Night Dubsoirée
DIGITAL DUBSCAPES: Multi-Arts Installation/Event
Hamilton Artists Inc., 3 Colbourne St. (corner of James St. N. & Colbourne)
Time: Friday, Nov. 9, 8:30 pm – 12:00 midnight
Gary Barwin, Ryan Barwin, Slim Volumes, Jack Street, Ritallin, Clayton Lynch, Klyde Broox, Peculiar I, Ras Mo, Nabbi Natural, D-Lishus, Hayche with Kwanza and Beny on drums.
Special Guest: Alexis O’Hara and Multimedia Artists
Narrator: Klyde Broox; Producer: Morpheal; Music: Gauks and Gauks

Co-produced by Dub Poets Collective, Hamilton Artist Inc., Morpheal Productions and McMaster Multimedia Department

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Fall

She and I are one. We are narcoleptic and fall asleep in the shower. We fall and our one bum covers the drain. The shower fills with water then falls through the ceiling and lands in the apartment below. We wake in a small pond in an unfamiliar living room. The greetings will soon begin.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Flute is the Thing with Feathers

The students often give names to their instruments. Clarence the Clarinet. Bill and Bob the trumpets. Daisy the Trombone. Gladys the Baritone. Hope the flute. The girl who owned the flute wouldn’t stop playing while the teacher was speaking to the class.
“If you keep interupting, I’ll have to take your flute.”
“Oh please don’t take Hope away. I can’t live without Hope,” she said.
“It’s OK, I’m a teacher,” the teacher replied. “I make students lose hope every day.”



The podium is large as a convenience store. They plug in the lights. The world becomes bright as a microwave turned on high. What is going on in the mind of each blade of grass? Nothing, unless you count single syllable jokes and a fear of cows. They have hired me to do some preaching.

The wisp of their lips, their fog-bound faces. The smooth yellow line at the side of the road as we climb the mountain.

I open my hand and show them a rock. They already know.

I hold up three fingers. They know.

I unzip and show them the delicate butterfly patterns where my penis should be.

They do not believe in democracy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Quote: Famous Last Words: End Quote


If you happen to be having a fictively frail moment, here is one of my "chamber fiction" pieces (stories with music) on the great site My story "Click" from my book Doctor Weep and other strange teeth is here.


Last night we watched the Steven Wright DVD "When the Leaves Blow Away." The main performance was recorded in Toronto in 2006. Here's something about it --along with a few of the jokes here. And here's a YouTube excerpt.

My favourite line was something along the lines of: "When I was a little kid, I wish the first word I said was 'quote', so when I died I could say 'end quote.'"

Most surprising to me, though, was the short B & W film from 1999 which was included, entitled "One Soldier." It was a very curious thing. I wasn't entirely sure how to take it for most of it. It was by turns lovely, moving, funny, shlocky, parodistic, stark, and mesmerizing. The rhythms of the returning locations or kinds of scenes created a circling forward movement, a slow music. Scenes repeated -- Wright as an ex-Civil war soldier riding some kind of steam train up a steep hill, possibly to heaven, or at least through a Bergmanequely stark and existential landscape), the officer's wife talking about him, scenes on a rocky beach, etc. and the characters talked about the life of the eponymous soldier, and his existential crises. Certainly the film alluded to the Seventh Seal kind of Bergman. And, I suppose to various Woody Allen tributes/parodies of him. This was the Beckett kind of Bergman. It was a metaphysical, existential film. Stark yet wry. A really remarkable and memorable thing.

I should also mention the music on the soundtrack-- solo Irish flute, fiddle, harmonica, and concertina (the main character plays these last two -- harmonica even when making love with his wife.) Very lovely and haunting solo Appalachian music (the kind of American roots music derived from Irish, Scottish, and English music) which was the perfect blend of regretful, bittersweet, stark, and introspective.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Not my cousin my gastroenterologist

I took the photograph (above) when I was about 15 and visiting my uncle, aunt, and cousins in London. It is of my cousin, Daniel Stern pictured in a more recent incarnation at right. His younger brother, Nick, is a doctor, in fact he is my cousin my gastroenterologist.

I was thinking about this image while listening to Dan's new CD, Traces

You can hear some of it here and here. The style is new jazz, harmonically complex, angular, yet accessible: tuneful, with naturally free-flowing rhythms and fresh orchestration. Dan's CD integrates composed music with improvisation. The CD is organized into two parts. The first, compositions for medium -sized jazz ensemble. The second is multi-tracked saxophone and clarinet. This includes versions of the medieval composer Perotin and the Renaissance composer Palestrina woven into the fabric of saxophone and clarinet compositions/improvisations. Illustrious performers including Dave Liebman, Dave Binney and Tim Garland are featured on the first part of this recording. It's all Dan all the time in the second.

In addition to the playing, one thing about this CD that is remarkable is that two parts of the CD each form part of a wholly integrated musical vision. The improvisations are conceived so as to flow out of the compositional context. The medium-sized ensemble works like a Mingus or a Braxton ensemble, with a natural flow from composed group material to individual improvisation. Dan has a keen ear for tone colour, and he creates beguiling orchestrations from various combinations of saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet as well as the rhythm section.

The music based around the spinal material from polyphonic sacred music seems completely natural and yet arresting in its borrowing from music of the past. This isn't Jan Garbarek playing over top of the Hilliard Ensemble (as in their Officium), but a re-imagining of the material. Indeed the procedure (layers of new polyphonic saxophones and clarinet) seems perfectly appropriate to the material. From the middle ages to the Renaissance, composers have taken pre-existing material from the tradition and woven new material around it or treated it in different ways. Motets were often medieval mash-ups, adding new material to lines of Gregorian chant, and one or two parts from previous material.

This is an impressive CD: thoughtful, subtlely conceived, accessible music with a fresh sensibility, performed with great skill and intelligent charm.



I am in love with a goat

perhaps I am a goat and
in love with myself

my keen sense of balance
my perfect beard

my killer backgammon skills
Oh how I could play

if I knew about justice
other goats or war

how I could bleat from the long grass
and always be true

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Brainphone Megadead

I've been meaning to mention, a tremendous resource for music, talks, readings, etc. For example, the always mesmerizing, insightful, and very funny Morton Feldman. A wide-ranging interview, but especially about the natural of audience, hermeticism, and creative artists.

My son has been extolling the virtues of lectures by Ginsberg there. A fantastic insight into Ginsberg the teacher, the public speaker. There are recordings of his classes at the Naropa Institute, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. There are also other lectures. For example, Ron Padgett.


George Saunders connects the nature of the coverage and the dialogue behind the Iraq War to the change in the US relationship to media during the O.J. Simpson trial:


My bird and I, on our backs on a hill outside of town, looking up. “Look,” he says, elbowing me with his wing. “Permanent clouds in a temporary sky.”

The town disappears. Then the hill. More sunsets than fingertips. The stars change positions. My old coat becomes moss. All around me—and my face—is stubble. We stay here but everything else moves on.

The ground rises to meet the waiting rain. A handshake. “What then?”

Friday, October 05, 2007

Kafka Viewmaster Orhan Veli Poetry Madness

If you, like me, have some of those old ViewMasters at home -- you know those things that take circular disks with little image slides all around the perimeter, usually showing images of Disney films and other children's animations, then this is for you. Vladimir creates, amongst other things, ViewMaster disks of Kafka snd Calvino. Way cool, in my estimation.


I've just come across the Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanik (1914-1950) through Jordan Davis' translations on Gabriel Gudding's blog. You can hear some of the poems as translated by Davis here. and read an entire book of them here from a book of translations by Murat Nemet-Nejat

Here are two translations of the poem "My Tree." The first is by Jordan Davis:


If you weren't the only tree around
I probably wouldn't be quite as devoted to you.
But if you could play with us
That would be excellent.

I hope you don't conk out
Until after we move away from here.

in MY ORHAN VELI (Subpoetics Self-Publish or Perish, 2007)

The second is by Murat Nemet-Nejat:


In our neighborhood
If there were other trees
I would not love you so.
But if you knew
How to play hopscotch with me
I would love you much more.

My beautiful tree.
When you die
I hope we'll have moved
To another neighborhood.


There's a fantastic surprising simple quality to the poems by this poet. They are just slightly askew. Various ones remind me of Ron Padgett, David McFadden, or even some aspects of later W.S. Merwin. They have a light, wryly wise, sometimes melancholy wit and insight.

This one is a bit of Padgettry:


I was so stupid.
For years
I didn't understand
The place
Of mustard
In society;
``One can't
Without mustard.''

Abidin was saying
The same thing
The other day
To those
Who understood
Deeper things.

I know it isn't necessary,
But may God deprive no one
Of mustard.

(trans. by Murat Nemet-Nejat)

and I guess this one too--


I threw a pebble at the tree.
My pebble didn't fall.
Didn't fall.
The tree ate my pebble,
The tree ate my pebble.
I want my pebble.

I like the droll logic of this, and the unexpected ending:


I buy old clothes.
I buy old clothes and cut them into stars.
Music is the food of love.
I love music.

I write poetry.
I write poetry and buy old clothes.
I sell old clothes and buy music;
If I could also be a fish in a bottle of booze...

This little (and early) poem about the Holocaust gains power through its simplicity and simple language.


You're right.
The death of 10,000 people in Warsaw
Like a carnation
Red lips.

September, 1939.

Finally, the last stanza of this poem is the kind of thing that makes me love this poet and want to read more. Its simplicity, surprise, wit and depth.


All I do is this;
I paint the sky every morning
While you are asleep.
You get up and see it's blue.

The sea is ripped occasionally.
You don't know who sews it back.
I do.

I fool around from time to time too.
This is also my job.
I think of a head in my head.
I think of a stomach in my stomach.
I think of a foot in my foot.
I don't know what the hell to do.


Now I have to finish making the buttons for the first ever Hamilton, Ontario Orhan Veli Kanik fan club. It's always a wonder to stumble onto to a new writer and a whole other tradition.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I don't need to know about the hills

my grandfather
had no time for

he said
I’m too old

at my age
I just want to know
what happens

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Poodle Exercise with Humans


Someone broke into a car. The car had a red anti-theft lock wedged across its steering wheel. The thief hot-wired the car and began driving down the road. The police were watching. They began to follow the car. They turned on their red flashing lights and then their sirens. It was a police chase. It was high speed but the driver could only turn the wheel in one direction. Left, he was forced to turn. Then left. Then left again. He could not turn back. Left. His route spiraled in until he had nowhere to go and the police surrounded him. Now's a good time for a metaphor. Or a lawyer, he thought.

for my wife, Beth, a criminal lawyer, whose client this was.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Insecting Table

when all you have is a sewing machine
everything looks like an umbrella.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

everysome is elsecome thing

do why worry we?
word every earth on is
in place perfect the

Thursday, August 30, 2007




Synaesthesia: words taste.

Letters have colour associations for synaesthetes.



they put
the lens of the Hubble telescope in

on earth
billions of infinitesimally
shiny people

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Atheist's Synaesthesia before Creation

(Image from a draft towards a translation of Christian Bok's Eunoia)



I heard Francis S. Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, yesterday on the CBC radio show, Tapestry. He was discussing 'evidence' for the existence of God. He clearly made a distinction between what science is able to find and what it isn't -- science is a superlative tool to inquire and explain the material world. To understand the immaterial world, to ask fundamental existential questions such as "Why is there something here rather than nothing?" we need something other than science -- religion, philosophy, etc.

He is a clear-sighted and intelligent man and it is refreshing to hear of a passionate religious person who is also a believer in the power of science and, indeed, is an eminent scientist. Too often the dialogue, at least in the popular culture in North America, is seen as exclusive. You either believe in God or science.

I did have one major objection to something he said. He was speaking about how unfathomably improbable it was that we exist. This is what he said (I'm paraphrasing):

If there wasn't the inconceivably unlikely balance between forces at the Big Bang -- if gravity hadn't counterbalanced the force of expansion in the way that it had at the instance of the Big Bang, then the universe wouldn't be here. Likewise, DNA. It seems so supremely unlikely that such a complex thing could exist. (If one read out the letters of the human genome night and day continuously, it would take 31 years.)

OK. So I agree with him that this life situation is fantastically, perhaps supremely unlikely. I am filled with awe that such a thing exists. I look out of the window in front of me and am filled with wonder that there is anything out there (driveway, skateboard ramp, passing traffic, trees, birds, houses, the windowpane, my eyes, my contact lenses, garbage collectors, beetles, blinking.) We should be astounded. But I don't see why that the fact that it seems inconceivably unlikely and improbable is some kind of Q.E.D. argument for the existence of some other force. What's that Douglas Adams' quote?

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

Not to reduce someone's belief in the divine to mere fairies, but to me the presence of a fantastic clock doesn't mean that there is a clockmaker.

Since this is the universe, the universe is how it is. It is the definition of itself. (Is that an O.E.D. argument?) What is unlikely? What is the threshhold of possibility? Well, since this is the way it is, this is the way it is. The existence of existence is exactly as improbable as existence. What are the odds? These are the odds.

What would a guy who won the lottery think about the odds of him winning? Even if the chance of him winning is one in a hundred million, to him, having won, that seems like reasonable odds. He won, after all. And he would (I expect) feel joy, wonder, amazement, awe. That's how I feel about all of this (he stretches his hand waving vastly across the universe.) The fact that all of this is fills me with a spiritual, centred, inspired elation.

As to why it all is here. Well, going back to the idea that 'the universe is its own definition' means, for me, that since the universe is everything, it is also its own reason for being. And besides, I don't expect that I'd really be able to fathom an "explanation". Besides, I'm in it. I can't exactly get a bird's eye view. I "get" existence in some way. I feel something of its infinite vastness and the essential fact of it being here.

I should perhaps say that all of this doesn't mean that I don't think that the spiritual traditions of the world don't help people. I believe that the spiritual traditions can connect us deeply to the universe. Here's a quote to end on, from an interview about prayer with William Segal (as quoted in Parabola magazine -- Summer 1999). And Segal's definition of prayer is very broad and encompasses many spiritual traditions. It would include the walk through the Thornberry Trail that I did with my dog yesterday at twilight, the walk which in fact occasioned this post.

We live in a very complex world. We don't know who we are, we don't understand how our brain and our body function, we don't know who's guiding us, who is guiding the universe (in other words, who is running things)--we don't know any of that. But through prayer we might come to a state of knowing--not so much knowledge as knowing. An unknown knowing.


Here is another Psalm translation:


He that dwelleth in the secret places of the belly shines a mighty light and twists poodles out of shadow.

I will say my insides have barked their refusal for I have eaten the wrappers of garrulous cattle and my scars lust after rain.

Surely within 40 minutes they shall deliver the sneer of the turtledove, dispense excess joy from the noisome duffle bags of stars.

For he has covered thee with his feathers, and under his breath there are wings: his teeth are an encyclopedia-size dinner which protects you as the jeweled coleslaw protects a deck of cards from bellicose pickle fencing.

Thou shalt not be fried by the flummoxed terriers of night, nor diced by the drumsticks of the day that flieth towards thee like the bittersweet vagina of lawn

Still not by the penis that juggleth chainsaws in darkness and proclaims it was fathered by magma; and also not by the mispronounciations that wasteth the noondog in the Galleria parking lot and offer not a luminous pylon in comfort

Like the green leaves of cash, a thousand shall stride beside the autumnal blastocyst of winter, and ten thousand shall consider their right hand their left and teach their children so; but it shall not draw close as uranium pinking shears upon the foam of thy bathwaters.

Only with nine eyes couldst thou—the eight-eyed—hold and dandle the infant words of the mewling cricketers.

Because thou hast made loud that which was my silent dolphin, my jar that had no mouth and so was the lightbulb where my blind quiet could live and be the Tinkerbell of beaming ducks.

No ladders shall fall over thee, neither shall any beach sand come nigh thy dwelling and fill it with the mirthful and prehensile haberdashery of lifeguards

For he shall make hyperbolic triangles to flutter over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

And they shall make thy ears into pink airplanes lest thou dash mayonnaise against a stone.

Thou shalt tread only upon the lion and the abacus: the suspenders and the answering machine emerge like a trump card from the silken slit of twilight in which thou ask to travel first class

Because he hath set his dove upon me, therefore will I make a shopping cart of tongues: I will set alight a paper bag upon a nimbus of square waves because he hath made it snow my name all over the parking lot and in cursive.

He shall call upon me as the antidote upon the phone booth and I will answer him as the lucid stapler and the breath of moths herd the ardent buffalo of the cruise ship: I will be with him in trouble; I will be as saliva on the migrating oak, an orange on the bad boy of gladness.

With long life will I satisfy him; and will throw away my tiny shoes.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


My late grandfather was a keen hobbyist photographer. He travelled widely around the world for his business and documented the places he visited. In the 50s and 60s, he travelled to Asia and Europe as well as around Africa. He lived in South Africa and spent many weekends photographing in the game reserves. He had a Nikon camera and a huge zoom lens which he would prop on the opened window of his car and take extraordinary pictures of the giraffes, lions, wildebeest, and other indigenous animals. He also travelled to villages and took pictures. I think the amazing "Dread God" photograph (above) was taken in Speakers'Corner in London.

I believe this striking picture of an African woman was taken somewhere in South Africa. She seems utterly present in the centre of her life.

The last photograph is a portrait of my parents, my brother, and me taken when we lived in Northern Ireland. My parents were in their mid to late twenties in this picture. They also seem in the centre of their life, in the centre of this sunny spring day. They look so young and fresh faced, ready for anything in their future. Looking at pictures of myself and my own kids, I get a baffling array of contradictory and complex feelings. Of course, looking at yourself is obviously more complex. You are living inside the photo, not just looking in. You know all the complexity of feeling that surrounds the instant of the snap. (I'm reminded of a physical example of this: my author photo of my first book Cruelty to Fabulous Animals. My wife took a picture of me standing on Paradise St. Just below the visible photograph, my two sons were running about like tiny maniacs while I tried to look authorly appearing as if my mind were focussed on literary pursuits, rather than hoping my boys wouldn't kill each other or run in to traffic.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Etch A Sketch of Bad Weather

I've been continuing to work on the translation of Psalm 23 that I posted a couple days ago. Of course such a powerfully iconic poem that is read at many very meaningful events is difficult to work with, and especially without a new text turning towards parody. I wanted to write a new text that is shadowed by the original. Here is a new version one now including an Etch A Sketch and some apes. It also used the word "hoggett", a yearling sheep, as well as the word "wether" which means a castrated sheep.

PSALM 23 (The Sorrows of Young Wether)

I don’t want to admit it
but I’ve been a bad sheep

for they let me lie down on the sweet lawn
helped me to speechless waters
restored my painful feet

they led me down garden paths that were not ironic
or filled with worrisome garden gnomes
but lit upon the shed of happiness

I’ve walked in death-shade, in night valleys
in paddocks where invariably I was dark
yay! as my niece says sarcastically
and because they followed me I didn’t fear evil

and wasn’t overwhelmed by death
When my thoughts were my enemies
they made reservations in a nice restaurant
and the entire staff obligingly filled my wine trough

picked up my napkin and called me a nice salmon
so when I next catch sight of Marsha and Fred
the two hyperintelligent apes who have shadowed me
with their Etch A Sketch drawings all the days of my life

I shall shake, shake with colossal vigour
disquieting their continuous knob twisting with my furious hooves
There shall be no neverending ape-directed silver lining
for my hillock cleaving will be fearsome to both hoggetts and apes

my fleece shall be as a wolf upon my howling spine
and I will dwell in the my parents’ basement of my own self for ever
one wooly shoulder pushed against the mutinous wheel of these my mutton-fated days

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Wished-for Everything

PICTURE FROM THE GLENS OF ANTRIM, from our recent trip.

As was mentioned on ubiquiRon’s blog, writers mostly have other jobs. I’m preparing to return to my job as a Grade 5/6 music teacher. I spent the day organizing instruments and trying to choose music for the choir and the band. I also was scrambling to work on a few writing projects before IT IS TOO LATE and I have less time. This caused me to reflect on the various things that I have coming up, writingwise. Perhaps I will return to this list when I worry that I’m not getting much writing done during busy times in the term. It will remind of the publications that I have to look forward to and to the projects that are well underway. Nah. I’ll still feel that I’m not getting enough writing done. It’s always that way.

a story “Letter from Grandma’s” in Animal Tales: Favourite Stories from Chirp Magazine – this just out.

a chapter in The Closets of Time, an anthology/novel comprised of chapters written by 12 different authors, published by The Mercury Press, edited by Bev Daurio and Richard Truhlar.

The Wished-for Reaches: On the Death of a Poodle, an essay for Geist magazine.
some visual and text pieces for Rampike

"James Tenney and the Theory of Everything," an article for Musicworks magazine discussing how James Tenney’s essay, “John Cage and the Theory of Harmony,” can be seen to continue the tradition of considering music as a metaphoric representation of current ideas about the nature of the universe. Tenney’s multi-dimensional harmonic sound-space challenges us to imagine the multi-dimensional universe of modern science.

Brainbox, a poetry book forthcoming from Coach House, coming out sometime after my grandkids’ get out on parole

a poem for Taddle Creek

three poems for Hamilton’s H magazine

three prose pieces for rob maclennan’s Chaudiere Books’ anthology of short prose

a six word poem to be published I forget where.

a 31 word poem for Crane’s Bill books collection of 31 word poems

a chapbook, and several periodical publication of poems written with Greg Betts from our The Obvious Flap (see below) project, and two unrelated poems to appear in Jason Christie's Room to Move magazine

things I’ve been working on:

The Obvious Flap
, a collaborative poetry ms that I’ve been working on with Greg Betts

The Unibrow Underground
, a YA novel (which was accepted and then I withdrew it from the publisher since they seemed much too flakey and undependable.)

some poems exploring ‘translation’ with derek beaulieu

performing / composing with Bump Head, a performing poetry/music ensemble with poet Kerry Schooley (Slim Volumes) on vocals and my son, Ryan Barwin, guitar. I play flute, saxophone, computer, and washboard. (I was going to play the washing machine, but I couldn’t manage to carry it upstairs.)



I stand on my own shoulder wearing a Gandhi mask
tell myself: you are the frying pan upon the flame
the Dustbuster upon the bespeckled road

there may be skidmarks between
the two buttock-lobes of your brain
but with courage you can continue

you are brave enough to sweep this floor
your hands on the end of sticks
you persevere through infinite dust

Big Guy, one day you will arrive at the white wall
the smooth cool of the white wall
I have swept the floor, you will say

I have swept the floor

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Quorum Sensing Chairs, Bacteria, and Glowing

the world barks
you discover you are a flea

you join a flea circus
you cease to exist

Some thoughts on chairs, their communication, and new technology:

"Whether embedded with technology or not, all furniture is breathing and talking, say the researchers.

If you cannot hear it, ancient Japanese philosophy might suggest you need to inspect the silence inside yourself."

Quorum sensing in chairs which glow with bacteria

chairs which change colour when you’re fat

the virtuoso folding chair:


the more plain chair/bookcase combination

Monday, August 13, 2007



I don’t want to admit it
but I’ve been a sheep

but you let me lie down on the sweet lawn
helped me to speechless waters
restored my painful feet

you led me down garden paths that were not ironic
or filled with worrisome garden gnomes
but where I had to go

I’ve walked in death-shade, in night valleys
in places where invariably I was dark
yay! as my daughter says sarcastically
but I didn’t fear evil and wasn’t overwhelmed by death

When my thoughts were my enemies
you made reservations in a nice restaurant
and the entire staff was there filling my wineglass
picking up my napkin, feeding me salmon

Surely I will not dwell in the my parents' basement of life forever
but will soon take my place on cosmic TV where I shall be light


In the third line of this poem there is the word 'but'. It's a bit of an important question whether I delete this 'but' or not. It's the difference between the narrator being a sheep because he/she has accepted the help from the 'you' of the poem and, despite having been a sheep, he/she has been helped by the 'you.' And, in this, case, I'm assuming that being a sheep is negative. Obviously it isn't in the original "The Lord is my shepherd" context. (In 'translating' this Psalm, though I omitted the references to "Lord", I wanted it to be possible to read this poem both ways: with the you being 'You' and with the you being 'you' and open to interpretation.)

Here, by the way, is the original Psalm read in Hebrew.


I was talking to Greg Betts a while back about using sacred texts. Greg showed me this great poem that he'd written using only the opening lines from every (I think every) chapter of the Old Testament and the Koran. It makes for an interesting poem, one mixing a panoply of cultural and religious resonances. I don't know about the Islamic tradition, but I know that both the Christian and Jewish traditions often weave in allusions and quotations, even particular word uses, from their sacred texts. Texts are often paraphrased. (Many hymns are paraphrases of psalms.) It's not considered profane to use the texts in other contexts. I didn't think that it would be in any way offensive to most Jews or Christians for Greg to use the texts in a collage. I have the impression that, at least in the Jewish tradition, texts -- being the finite expression of an infinite God -- are open to infinite examination.

I didn't know how the Islamic tradition would respond. (Not that I was suggesting censoring the piece, I was just wondering how the tradition would regard such a use. Clearly part of appropriating a text is understanding how the tradition from which it was appropriated from would respond. And not that one has to in any way abide by --or be bound by-- the traditional or in indeed the orthodox response.)

Greg's piece, (published in the last issue of dANDelion), I've heard, has got an excellence response from readers. I understand that many people found the interleaving of texts from both traditions a powerful statement, opening up dialogue and understanding.


Yesterday, I attended the Hamilton Fringe Festival and heard "The Ballad of Monisch, a Yiddish/English Comic Operetta based on the classic poem by Peretz translated, set to music and performed by Marty Green."
Among the more remarkable things Green performed were Yiddish translations of country songs. They're on his album "A Boy Named Sureh) (i.e. a boy named Sue.) Check out the link to hear "My Way" and "The Ballad of Yankel Yisruel" (The Ballad of Jimmy Brown, also known as Three Bells.) Green explained how he translated this texts, creating great humour in the cross-cultural transformation. In "My Way," the narrator did it not 'his way', but 'His way'. The line refers to how he did it 'according the Torah.' In "The Ballad of Jimmy Brown," Green manages to weave in the opening words of the Jewish prayer for the dead. Green has a book, Tales of a Wandering Jew, a translation of Falk Zolf's memoir of life in Tzarist Russian that begins in English and then gradually turns to Yiddish. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to check it out, but the concept of a book gradually changing from one language to the other is beguiling.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


derek beaulieu and I are playing around with "translations" of Christian Bok's Eunoia. Above is something I did with the beginning of the A chapter. We're just figuring out what to do. We're at that time in a collaboration when you haven't even set the terms of engagement, the canvas or the image to be worked on, the nature of the interaction or the project. You might note a few changes to Christian's original.



even on the sidewalk
I want to be a nature poet

this summer light is nature
so is the air and
the rain-soaked road

scooping to pick after my dog
the bag warm as my dog’s insides
is nature

yes it’s nature inside
and out
here in Hamilton, Ontario

nature inside and out
this poem