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