Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Tree

I sleep
in a tree
my wrist an elegant branch that
—going nowhere—
has little pulse or wealth

I wake
at last
with the beautiful curious sense
your soul is above
the mayonnaise of an owl

Monday, January 29, 2007

Multipurpose Vowel and the Silent Language

Anton Webern, the Second Viennese School composer, believed that his highly serialized music reflected what heaven would be like. Rather than previous tonal music which was routed around a hierarchical and unidirectional conception, his music was very symmetrical and considered relations between music material literarily backwards, forwards, and in inversion. His music is crystalline and considers the tiniest units of musical structure and timbre. Heaven, after all, would have no directions in either time or space, being boundless, infinite and eternal.

Webern received a PhD for his study of Ockeghem, a Medieval church composer. Ockeghem's music, like much church music of the day, explored many polydirectional relationships and numerical patterns and symbolism. Church musicians believed that God would be able to perceive relationships in a way that mere mortals could not, and as a result they hyperloaded complex relationships into their music. Also, I presume, that the music expressed something of the infinitude and omnivalence of God. This reminds me of the Jewish mystic attitude toward the Torah (the Old Testament): that it is a finite and concrete expression of an infinite and nonconcrete God.

What letter would best express timelessness and infinitude? I'm thinking that it'd be a silent letter. Today, I was wondering if one could construct a story of silent letters. I was thinking one could construct such a thing in a manner similar to Bernard Shaw's "ghoti" which is a representation of the word "fish" (gh as in tough, o as in women, ti as in inspiration.)

What about the word "chemughpk"? ch as in chthonic, e as in rose, m as in mnemonic, ugh as in thought, p as in pneumatic, k as in knight? Perhaps I will write an entire dictionary of silent words, a pronunciation guide to the inexpressible and unpronounceable, to the unspeakable and unspoken.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The US Military Beckham Marshmallow Tattoo is Tarnished like the iPhone of the Lenin/Lennon Mustache God

I've been wondering about this blog. Does Elvis read it? Paris Hilton? George W. Bush? Do people looking for the new iPhone tarry here? What about existential philosophers, phylactery repair association election victors, Moog sympathizers, Neil Young moustache tarnish collectors, or dogs?

If I put a harpsichord made of marshmallows in the shape of Angelina Jolie or Pamela Anderson would I get more hits? What about my map of Bulgaria made entirely of tattoos of Brad Pitt? What if I advertised the Museum of Knives and Fire?

Admittedly in the single year of its existence, I've had a greater number of hits indicating that readers have strayed here than the number of people who have ever bought my poetry and fiction books (not my non-children's books anyway, though I have an offer to buy the 5000-odd left over copies of the Magic Mustache, and a similar number of Grandpa's Snowman, my two last picture books with Annick Press. Sad to have books go out of print with so many copies left, though I usually give hundreds away to literacy projects and Out of the Cold type programs.) Not that I know if people reread my books or share them. I only know what the sales are.

For this blog I do hanker after bigger numbers in the stats, I guess because some part of me needs reassurance that what happens here (mostly drafts of my writing) is of interest. Eighty hits a week isn't exactly top-o'-Blogger but not that far off from my typical book sales. Funny how that part of me continues to have the illusion that a larger number would somehow indicate more authentic, more meaningful communication.

I've published in places where there are tens of thousands of readers, but honestly it doesn't feel any more authentic or valid than getting published in a little magazine like Twaddle or Peter F. Yacht or Crash or Spire. It is nice to have the opportunity to have more readers but experientially that seems like an abstraction. This term, the Grade Sevens at my school are going to start reading a novel study based on my novel Seeing Stars. Some kids have already read the book. They come running up to me and ask questions, or talk about what they've just read. Two kids who sit at my lunch table are lobbying to be in the movie version (they think I should make a movie of the book.) Kids have suggested ideas for a sequel. They tell me what they like. They wonder what is going to happen next. They quote a line or two and then laugh. This seems like authentic communication and it is amazing to be walking around surrounded by my readers. I guess ultimately it's just satisfying to know that people are reading your work, that it communicates with them in some way, that the writing has a life apart from the writer. That it turns out to be a real boy after all.

Even if Brangelina or Madonna don't want to adopt it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Harold the Instrument

This past week, I asked my Grade Five students to draw pictures of imaginary creatures playing imaginary instruments. They had to describe how the instruments made sound and how they created different pitches or timbres. The creatures they imagined could have as many extra fingers, eyes, limbs, etc as the students' wanted in order to create new instrumental possibilities. We had just watched The Beatles' Yellow Submarine and observed all the imaginary creatures and the fantasy power of music.

I see part of my responsibility as a music teacher to not only develop their musical skills but to develop their confidence in their imagination and to provide opportunities for creativity in all the arts. Previous to this assignment, they had to write and sing their own lyrics for Yellow Submarine.

The picture is from one of my students, Andrew (age 10), who also wrote the following description of the creature.

"I blink my eye and my metallic nose vibrates to make sound waves which stimulate my metal legs to march and play the tambourines attached to my feet. My antennae meet rhythmically together and play the cymbals. My large lips encompass the mouthpiece of my self playing saxophone. My arms are busy playing the violin. In the center of my body is my eyeball AKA my Ipod, the orchestra of my soul."

It's this kind of inspiring response to an assignment that gives ME confidence in my imagination and leaves me thrilled to be teaching. It also leaves me in awe of what my students can accomplish.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Songs and Sperm Donors

Between 1982-1986, I studied music at York University for my B.F.A. It was a seminal experience for me. The emphasis on improvisation, new music, and ethnomusicology solidified my suspicions about music and opened up my thinking. I studied with David Mott, James Tenney, Steve Otto, Bob Witmer, Casey Sokol, and Trichy Sankaran. At the same, I was also studying creative writing with bpNichol and Frank Davey.

One day, Bob Witmer showed us some transcriptions he had made of --I think they were Blackfoot -- songs that he'd recorded during field research. I immediately set about creating an imitation, carefully notating my imagined song in the particular notation that he'd used. I also invented a pseudo-language and a translation. Today, while searching through some old boxes, I found the English text to my authentic 'Second Nations' Song.

I loved the simplicity of the original texts, the resonance of their archetypic plainspeaking words. I tried to replicate this in my song. I was also enthralled by bp's work. And I discovered Fred Wah's Pictograms from the Interior of BC. Also, at this time of my writing life, I was fascinated with imagery of birth and pregnancy. My father is a gynaecologist and obstetrician and our house was always filled with imagery of mothers and children, birth, pregancy, and photos of sperm donors.


old mother
do you know me?

i have not swam with you for years

i have been silent
these words i have learned
they are not words to trust

we were together when the moon rose
when my fists were soft as my tongue

old mother
here there are stars on the sky's wall

you did not expect me to live

i have said it
i will live

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Landscape 2


the sun has found its little bed
in an egg

the oxen dance on the horizon
but they don’t really understand dancing

Oh my heart is such a potato
I’ve forgotten to plough
everyone’s smooth head

we’ll have to wait until tomorrow
for the furrows

Friday, January 05, 2007

Tuesday, January 02, 2007



Outside of my head, there’s a great storm. It’s dark and the waves are wet mountains, a stampede of liquid buffalo snorting foam and doom. Clouds gather in furrows, the sky tossing and turning with a doozer of a headache. Any picnics are not happy: the sandwiches are soggy, the Kool Aid’s dilute; everyone’s irritated with father for continuing to state that it’s all about being together and it’s more the attitude than the dreary details which determine success.

But look! There’s a little sparrow bravely flapping through the downpour. Doused, it’s a patch of grass after a flood. It’s whipped and tossed until it finds an opening, a safe passage, a cave of respite. Ok, my ear. It funnels down deep into my cochlea. Finally a pink snail, some promise of satisfaction in all this oppressive darkness. And it keeps going, finding safe harbour in the snug of my brain. It’s a feathery bumper car in the warm grey labyrinth of my flickering mind. There’s an image of my parents celebrating their purchase of a new hose. There’s my sister falling from a horse into the swimming pool. And there’s my grandpa’s new heart, clip-clopping like a pony along the cobbles of his bony chest.

And still the sparrow moves through the shed of my skull, past the toolbox, the pitchfork, the medulla oblongata and that dream I had where my son gives birth to BB King and a window. An acorn licks a tree and the forest shudders. Then the bird heads south and emerges from the star of my anus and is lost to storm and uncertain darkness. I’m able to sit down, eventually, once I overcome fear and the forgotten feathers.

What comes before or after us we do not know. We know only the bird or the dog or the shelf inside: the bird’s short flight, the dog’s incessant yip, the shelf that shines in space when the storm is about us.

(after Bede Ecclesiastical History)


A video poem setting my musical "translation" of a Bach Invention.