Thursday, July 31, 2008

Icon be Simple

I'm working on a YA book entitled "The Unibrow Underground." Throughout the book, the main character sees these cryptic signs of a solid line over the word 'eye'. These turn out to be signs from 'the Unibrow Underground." I've been playing around with the image, keeping in mind Saroyan's famous 'eyeye'. Also, Jenny Sampirisi's great Other Cl/utter site has some new work by Meredith Quartermain playing with reversed e's which got me to thinking.

I don't know if the urge toward minimalism or toward elaboration has a positive correlation with the Apollonian/Dionysian duality. Lately, I've been aspiring to create very simple iconic visual poems. Perhaps they have a relation to Asian calligraphy -- one single mark created with a single impulse, though in reality, my pieces are often not so 'of the moment', but are the result of tinkering. Not that there's anything wrong with tinkering. What is democracy but tinkering...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Much Ado about To Do.

The New York Times reports that "The song of the blue whale, one of the eeriest sounds in the ocean, has mysteriously grown deeper."


My local gas station offers car washes. There are three options. The more expensive two packages feature scented car wax. I imagine explaining to my cavepeople forebears, firstly, what a car is, and secondly, why we'd want to scent one. I plan to find out what scents are available -- strawberry? muskox? elephant?

As a 21st century man, I need to ask myself these questions: Should I get a manly, musky scent for my minivan? Do I want my car to smell like my woman? What is the car scent most appropriate for a 'metrosexual'? If I had a whale, I'd wax it. I'd scent it like a deer or a toybox.




I've been thinking about definitions which change. Real language use and meaning construction relies on context, specially an agreed-upon context.

Someone could steadfastly attempt to use only definitions of words which were current in the 16th century, but they'd probably have difficulty renting a Blu-ray or perhaps signing out a copy of Johnson from the local library.

But the idea of a dictionary, the definitions of which are constantly changing "in real time" is fascinating to me. There are many 'real-time' sites on the net which, ostensibly, provide up-to-date information. Why wouldn't (at least pataphysically) a dictionary? There is the wiki format Urban Dictionary, but that's different, I think.

The next step is that written texts then would have to change in real-time as the words changed. Wait! The meaning of 'wheelbarrow' just changed (and I think it has)? Better update the poem.


dream head wind through a dandelion in seed

million year cycle: high score at Ms. Pac-Man, again.


Here's a couple pages from my notebook. I'm interested in the H / A drawings (what Geof Huth would term 'fidgetglyphs.' I've tentatively titled them "Father and Son" or "Madonna and Child" but I think that that is too reductive. I prefer to let the reader/view create their own sense from the nesting of one letter in another. It could be a parable of self, for example, or just playing with the idea of nesting, or protection or interiority. Is 'A' the interior of 'H'?

On the right side, is a 'To Do' list. I've been meaning to post some images of lists that my wife, Beth, created. In a fantastically contrarian way, she has painted (in several colours) lovely 'To Do' lists on lovely thick artist paper. These are actual lists for us to do, but I love the notion that she has taken the time to paint opposed to beginning to complete them. And here I am, writing about opposed to beginning to complete them. And of course, if I post them here, then I am formally acknowledging that they exist...

Monday, July 28, 2008

I can't be recorded, I must be recorded.

A very short clip of Samuel Beckett being interviewed. Beckett extremely rarely consented to being recorded, filmed, or even to having interviewers have a pen and paper.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Not making sense. Waging Sense.


What are the limits of A?
of H?
Green. Blue. Blue-green.


Say E with the lips.
U with the tongue.
Think of T.


If we were not symmetrical,
arms, legs, face
would the letters be different?

What if we had three mouths or
two tongues? If our tongues were forked?
If we could speak from other orifices?
With other animals?
If we were blind and had no fingertips?


The whales’ alphabet.
The alphabet of owls.
The vowels of the ptarmigan.
The letters of the tarmac.


Each tree is an alphabet. Or
each tree is a single letter.
Can’t pronounce the forest for the trees.

Each car is an alphabet. Or
each car is a single letter.
Can't read the traffic for the destination.


If we invented computers before letters
If there was a limit on the number of letters we could have
If letters changed meaning
If letters became extinct

If we had to have a public advocacy campaign to support certain letters
If you needed a licence for certain letters or proper training

How do we make the alphabet global?

If there were different letters for the left handed
Print. Cursive. Something else.

How do we address the three dimensions of the alphabet?
What are the most beloved letters?

What we do on the national holiday for letters?

Not making sounds. Waging sounds.
Not making words. Waging words.
Not making sense. Waging sense.

What if different corporations bought advertising space on the letters?
What if they bought the letters?
What if we ceased to see the letters but rather the corporation?
We couldn’t see the forest for the ads.

What if the letters were copyrighted? Taxed? Made illegal?

How do we apologize for the alphabet?
How do we atone for it?
How can it bring us new joy?

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I'm in the process of working on this little suite of poems, all derived from the first section.



a grass blade, a truck
a small son
a constellation

evolution is an oblong song
the fishes whisper

the seedpod, the microfiche of twilight
the dewdrop observes the cobweb
a weed, a raptor, the tongue or treetop

a bulrush, an art song
a fossil 8-track of the city

there is, my love,
a stethoscope whose end
is nowhere and whose earpieces
are everywhere


a blade, a small truck
a grass son, the constellation of lines

evolution is a long song
whispering fish and extinction

the seedpod is the microfiche of twilight
the dewdrop, an observation tower for cobwebs
a weed, a rapture of the tongue, a treetop

the bulrush,
conscious of the roseate track back to the city
is a molecule tower

there is my love for a stethoscope
whose raptor
is everything


the glass braid of the eclipse
makes smaller our small sun
for whom consolation
is everywhere
a song of longing
whispered between fish and microphones

a seedpod is the nape
of springtime on the map of trees

[insert song here]
a fossil
a stethoscope with earnestness
but no end


the last bidding of the lips
a consternation of sun

a long song
paths of fish through whispers of
elevators and seabeds

the seed is the mitosis of travel
dew on the rabbit
nap of the tongue

injured by song
or inured to it
strangers come from fossils
stethoscopes with no eyes


the truck, only four, asks
what else would stars do but constellate?

the solution?
whisper like fishes

the paws of twilight microwave
cobwebs wrapped like weeds or bulrushes
around the young

an experienced guide can follow
8-tracks through the city
the way a scientist follows
an atom’s breath

love like a stethoscope
with neither ears nor earpieces


glass stuck in the foot
a small revolution

the immolation of whispers
barbecuing fish

matter grows from light
a cobweb is its own misery

a fossil its own memory

a stethoscope whose end
is its beginning
and whose beginning
is also twilight

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Asterisking Bindi Discurso-Coginitions

"An Indian model wears a Analog integrated circuit (IC) with intelligent charging capabillities for Lithium-ion batteries pasted on a bindi during a launch ceremony in Bangalore.[AFP]" From here.

Geof Huth calls miscellaneous entries on his blog (separated by centre-justified bullets) “bindi thoughts.” Much nicer to have the image of a bindi rather than a bullet. Here’s a few thoughts on some books I’ve been reading and an idea or two.


I’ve been ruminating about doing something with the audio to Christian Bok’s Eunoia, the book where each chapter is a univocal lipogram (i.e. each chapter has only words that use a single vowel.) There’s the a chapter, the e chapter, and so on. I’ve always been partial to the thick-browed U chapter.

I had an idea to process the audio recording of Christian reading this chapter, but filter out all the frequencies which make up vowels. What makes a sound sound like a vowel are three dominant frequencies. These are called formants. I wonder if I could isolate the special frequencies or band of frequencies in Christian’s voice and then edit out the U’s. Next, I might add a drone track which uses exactly those frequencies that I’ve edited out. Or I could do the opposite. Only keep the bits of the audio file that has U’s and delete the consonants. I don’t know if any of this is possible, particularly given the software that I have. I probably could figure out how to program it using MAX/DSP but that might be beyond the energy of my lazy bones.


I stumbled upon W.G. Sebald’s After Nature (trans. Michael Hamburger), three long poems which comprise one work, first published, in German in 1988. I knew nothing much about his work, and certainly nothing about his poetry. There was some lovely stuff in the book, particularly the second section about the naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller. Here’s a bit about whales:

was led to think that perhaps
these animals could be tamed
and—no different from geese
on a stubble field—be herded
with a rod, as it were, on the sea.
Bring up the young in a fjord, he wrote,
fasten a spiked belt buoyed up by
air-bladders under their pectoral fins,
let them unlearn their submersions


. . . .Chamisso,
it is true, also writes
of the steam engine as
the first warm-blooded animal
created by humankind.


Also I’ve been rereading Josef Skvorecky. His collection of essays, Talking Moscow Blues. The essay, “Red Music” where he talks about Nazi restriction on jazz during the war is astounding. The piece was published originally along with his fantastic Bass Saxophone novella, which I remember stumbling upon in an airport when I was about fifteen.

The Nazis actually provided “objective” criteria and percentages in their rules.

For example:

“So-called jazz composition may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the music of the barbarian races and conducive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs)”


“in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics.”

And from elsewhere, the states forbid certain things like mutes which “turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl.”


I've been thinking about the idea of quantum translation -- a translation that can be in two places at one, that can exist in a number of simultaneous worlds, whose meaning can't be exactly predicted & changes according to the position of the reader.


I heard Chris Piuma read at the Lexiconjury reading at the Scream festival a few weeks ago. He is new to Toronto, arriving here to attend grad school He read a great piece, which can be found here. His blog is one I've begun following. Lot's of good stuff and commentary there. It's called Buggeryville.


I’ve also been reading some of Skvorecky’s Lieutenant Boruvka detective stories, which, like much of his novel evoke a past Czech world, with colour, charm, nostalgia, and deep irony regarding the political situation (constantly turbulent for most of the 20th century) and bittersweetness

Here’s a bit from a great memoir in Talking Moscow Blues called “I was Born in Nachod.”

“I wonder if any artist has ever been absolutely sure that what he was doing was good, whether any has felt that he has mastered his art and that the process of creation from now on will be pure joy, unmixed with doubts.”

The essay ends with my new motto:

“Let’s leave it to the horses to figure out. They have bigger heads.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In inner space, no one can hear you screaming inwards

Here are two pieces from a bumpHEAD session. On these two tracks, my son Ryan plays either Frisellian-guitar loops or lap steel melodies; Kerry "Slim Volumes" Schooley provides laconic interjections; and I play saxophone or flute, and do a lot of inhaled screaming or "singing" through Ableton Live software processing.

Last month, we went to Robert Morpheal's studio and recorded an evening's worth of material. Much of it features spoken or performed text (I wish there was a way of saying "spoken word" without referring to Spoken Word -- which see Paul Vermeersch on the subject for a rant which I'd like to see Paul do as a Spoken Word piece in a sleeveless undershirt.) The examples posted above, though, tend towards 'soundsinging" to use the term coined by Paul Dutton. Some kind of sound poetry / new voice thing, in other words.

I will post some text and music pieces, when we get it together and get the audio right so that you can actually hear Kerry. His performance name is Slim Volumes. Unfortunately, too often when we do these things, the result isn't Slim Volumes, but Low Volume.

By the way, you can check out other of my music at and bumpHEAD at

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Land Makes a Pixel of Itself

The cover of the current summer edition of Hamilton Magazine features"The City's Best Edibles: Hot Eats" and a retro 50s kind of picture of showing how "Hamilton Magazine Style Editor Alisha Townswend stays cool and composed." Hamilton Magazine is a bit like Toronto Life in its glossy mix of fashion, style, shopping, arts, and discussion of city issues. I was astounded to find the above page (see illustration) recommending my past books as well as some other Hamilton (or Hamilton-related) writers -- Klyde Broox, David W. McFadden, David Collier, Joe Ollman, Emily Holton, and Trevor Cole. (See his cool collection of writers reading their own works at AuthorsAloud.)

The magazine also mentions the current Earth Art exhibition at the Royal Botanical Gardens, featuring a number of interesting artists including my neighbour, Simon Frank who lately has been creating earth art that is simple, iconic, extremely evocative, in an archetypical, ritual kind of way.
The above is an older piece. This chair was one of two facing different ways of the High Level Bridge between Cootes Paradise and the Hamilton Harbour. The wooden chair faced industry. The metal chair faced the natural area of Cootes Paradise.

My favourite of his works are large collections of natural materials brought together into resonant enigmatic objects that seem 'just so.' A few years ago he created a very large (6 feet tall?) ball made entirely out of burrs, as pictured above. At the more recent TH & B exhibition at the Imperial Cotton Centre, he created a piece that was a large rectangular prism of evergreen clippings.

Below is the piece that Simon is working on for the RBG Earth Art exhibit which opens tonight. Again, beautiful, cryptic, iconic. And very connected to the natural world, its materials all mediated through some kind of human magic, ritual consciousness, like Stonehenge, but yet bringing up other issues about our relation to the natural world, how we represent it and change it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Here is a short piece by bumpHEAD, the ensemble that I play in with my son Ryan Barwin and Kerry "Slim Volumes" Schooley.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Elephants in the Exclusion Zone

On Canada Day, my family and I saw a remarkable series of about twenty photographs by David McMillan at the York Quay Centre, Harbourfront. These photos were taken in the now uninhabited 30 k Exclusion Zone around the Chernobyl Power Plant over about fifteen years. Some photos are taken in the same location and document what has happened to playgrounds and pathways during ten years. Unlike, the web images, the photos in the exhibition are beautifully executed and printed. They have great sharpness and detail.

Here is an excerpt from McMillan’s comments on the project, taken from his website.

“Shortly after the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, 135,000 people were evacuated from an area extending 30 kilometers around the damaged reactor. In 1994, eight years after the accident, I read a magazine article describing the condition of the area, which became known as the exclusion zone. Many of the artifacts of the citizenry were left behind, and thousands of acres of formerly productive farmland were left to lie fallow. My photographic interests had long been in the relationship between nature and culture, so the subject seemed very rich in possibilities. I was intrigued enough to arrange a visit, and in October of 1994, I went to photograph the exclusion zone for the first time. Even though the area was closely guarded, I was permitted to travel and photograph freely. I recognized that the subject was large and complex, offering me the opportunity of making photographs that couldn’t be made anywhere else. These photographs are the result of eleven visits.”

The photos have a strange otherworldly feel to them. A metaphysical fairytale de Chirico Sleeping Beauty quality, a somber bittersweetness, and quietness. Of course, knowing what they represent changes them. You can also imagine the people, the children that would have inhabited the images before the accident. Things change: the forest is taking over the towns and cities. The landscape metamorphosizes. The children are now adults. The accident changed those who were there – physically, psychically, and spiritually.

I remember that I was in Ireland at the time of the accident. Stories of a malevolent nuclear cloud were all over the radio so we drove west, as far away from the source as possible. At a restaurant, I ordered a Chicken Kiev. I was joking about how it came from the Ukraine, where Chernobyl is. Then it arrived, burnt.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stefanie Posavec: Mapping Books.

These are astounding images mapping elements of whole books by Stefanie Posavec -- sentence structure, rhythm, etc. Very beautiful and intriguing. It also puts me in mind of derek beaulieu's book Flatland mapping of letter occurrences in the original Flatland.

Stefanie Posavec has a site featuring her images with explanations here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

be thing one next & the tween: entries from an old notebook

be thing one next & the tween

everysome is elsecome thing






o......cross section

o.....infinity from above

(ignore the ellipses -- they are supposed to represent spaces.)



no G-d but -o-




monkey and cats experience octave equivalence


a metaphor is a metaphor for something else


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Solitude is my mascara: translations from the Scream

As part of the Scream literary festival in Toronto, culminating on Monday with the big Scream in High Park mainstage reading, Hugh Thomas and Jenny Sampirisi ran a workshop on "Naive Translation," this past Monday, at the fantastic Type Books in Toronto. The workshop focussed on different approaches to translation -- for example, homophonic translations. There are several blogs associated with the Scream that discussed the workshop as well as posting some pictures. The workshop was excellent -- lively, fun, interesting, and well organized. The variety of participants was also tremendous -- there were many very fantastic, yet different writers who were there.

Here are a few pieces that I 'translated' at the workshop. Hugh and Jenny are planning to assemble many of pieces created at the workshop (and were were many really excellent ones) in a chapbook to be offered for sale at the Scream reading in High Park.

I created this piece from four fragments of Sappho:

fragments from Sappho

holy sparrows
flow like water
I don’t know
lovely songs

lovely water
flows like sparrows
I don’t know
holy songs

holy songs
flow like water
lovely sparrows
I don’t know

I don’t know
flows like water
holy sparrows
lovely song

This is an ekphrastic piece, based on illustration from a Japanese Haiku book:


a pilgrimage of stilted shadows
spoken in the long light

This homophonic translation is from Lorca’s “La Luna Asoma”:


When we bathe in moonlight
we pardon our companions
and the impenetrable apparitions
that they send us.

When we bathe in moonlight
the cubist ocean finds the earth
and the heart leaving the island
turns infinite.

The oranges never arrive
banjos become lunar hyenas
and what has come before
is green with fruit and regret.

When we bathe in moonlight
the sky becomes a hundred restless iguanas
the money left on plates
a balsawood soliloquy.

And finally, this is a homophonic translation from a piece of Lorca’s Poet in New York. Hugh and Jenny plan to assemble the various chunks translated by workshop participants into one single 'translation.'

Will we bail out the father?
No, we will not bail out the father
and not the King.
And not the millionaires with blue teeth
And not the ballerinas in the dry cathedrals
And not the construction workers, or the emeralds, locomotives, or the O Sole Mio

For solitude is my mascara
and mascara is my old darling.
Solitude, I say, is my mascara!

Friday, July 11, 2008


We always tell the same story: we replace incense with fireworks.


Self-referentiality went in search of an aphorism.


A brick is a leopard but with leopardness replaced by brickness. What if one removed leopardness and didn’t replace it?


It’s the same story: you build the temple then go in search of walls.


To an umbrella, everything looks like a sewing machine.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Origin of the Speeching

What is the natural habitat of words?

What is each word’s ecosystem?

What happens when its habitat disappears or is destroyed?

Can we apply the concepts of natural selection, evolution, adaptation, & extinction to letters, punctuation, words, phrases, sentences, languages?

How do words compete for resources?

What sustains words?

Do words compete for limited meaning resources?

For limited available concepts?

For new mouths?

Not a general economy, but a general ecology of language.

Remember: Thorn, eth, ash, yogh, wynn.

And see.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Nuit Blonk with Betts and Barwin


(Let's just say the i's are the American Falls and the l's are Canadian.)

Last month, Gregory Betts and I performed at his Grey Borders Reading Series in St Catharines along with Adeena Karasick and Jaap Blonk.

We did three pieces. The first and last were focused on sound poetry.

The first was based on the Canadian equivalent of the Miranda rights ("You have the right to remain silent...") and then a 'translation' of 'O Canada' though with all the vowels changed.

Our second piece was a reading from the "Chora" section of our collaborative work, The Obvious Flap.

The final piece involved audience collaboration and was entitled "Niagara" which, as you will hear, falls.


Jaap Blonk was phenomenal. He demonstrated his complete mastery of performance -- using the space & lighting, as well as a remarkable sense of timing, dynamics, timbre, pacing, drama, and his astounding virtuoso technique. He use of his body and the mic was also tremendous. I got the sense of hearing a real master of the form. He performed some original works as well as Schwitters' "Ur Sonata" and a few pieces by Hugo Ball. It made me laugh, though, as he good-naturedly, wanted to make sure that even his CDs for sale found a place with appropriate lighting.

Adeena Karasick was charismatic and funny and performed brilliantly. One piece that stood out was a piece she performed printed on a menu mixing current geo-politics with food. She also screened a poetry video which I found to be a very effective blend of sound poetry, spoken word-like material, art video and popular music video.