Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obvious Performance and new chapbook: Chora Sea

(from Max Middle's Picasa Web Album of the event)

(from Pearl Pirie's Humanym's blog)

Pearl Pirie just posted a discussion of Greg Betts' and my recent reading at Max Middle's great AB Series in Ottawa and also about our new chapbook by the fantastic Emergency Response Unit press. I had the pleasure of meeting Pearl at the reading. Her blog's always worth checking out.

Our performance was about 50 minutes based on our book MS, The Obvious Flap. It included sound poetry, computer music, props (see banana, above) as well as masks. Here's the introductory description that we gave to Max Middle to read

The Obvious Flap is a performance derived from a booklength poem of the same name. It is a musical flux of recurring and recursive images exploring the luminous fringes of language, thought and emotion.

Sometimes language, thoughts, and emotions have a clear structure like a warehouse. Sometimes they are fog, waves, light, or music.

This is LSE: Language as a second English. English as a grammar of ghosts. Words as the snowfall of ideas.

In this performance, Gary Barwin and Gregory Betts, a computer-age Pierrot and a Monkey-man from the planet Merz, go prospecting together deep into the mind to see what all the obvious flap is about.

Emergency Reponse Unit had a fabulous launch of their fall chapbooks and our new chapbook at Magpie in Toronto last night. The place was packed with a warm and enthusiastic crowd. Leigh Nash and Andrew Faulkner design beautiful publications and they are thoughtful and insightful editors, and the only small press publishers of mine who budgeted for a beer (each!) for the authors. I didn't cover my bed with the new chapbook and roll around over it, but it was close...

Here's the new chapbooks that they launched in addition to Greg's and my Chora Sea:

Nashira Dernesch This Snowing Under
Anya Douglas Poems
Andrew Faulkner Useful Knots and How to Tie Them
Marcus McCann Force quit
Leigh Nash five-seven-five: train poems

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Shaman's Elements of Style: Parts of Speech

Chris Piuma over at Buggeryville asked for a ranking of readers' favourite parts of speech. Geof Huth and Professor Oddfellow have weighed in on the matter, and so here are a few thoughts of mine.


The Quantum grammar, the General and Specific Theory of Semantics, and the Shaman's Elements of Style. Space and time are a continuum, so too must noun and verb, energy and matter. What happens to words in an idiolect collider, when speech is accelerated too close to the speed of light, or comes into the presence of the vast gravitational pull of ideology? Bury a language in wet soil for a thousand years, then bake. A unified theory of grammar understands that there are no cell walls, that grammar has an auto-immune system that seems to mistrust the visitations of the future, yet secretly harbours converso and cryptogrammars, parts of speech which dare not speak their names.

Here, then, is my list of my favourite parts of speech, listed by Periodic Table of the Alphabet order:

1. Voun

2. Nerb

3. Prejective

4. Adnoun

5. Proposition

6. Conicle (infinite and finite)

7. Interverb

8. Artjection

9. Underjunction

Monday, February 16, 2009

My tongue is 621.37 kilometres long

(still working on this...)


like an ape afloat in an isolation tank
they think I am a duck

stick a needle into my feathers
send honey to my pâté


I am one with my viruses
wear my infections like music

my brain holds the things my hands hold
their hands hold my brain


if my tongue were a thousand miles long
it would reach 621.37 kilometres toward home

the shadows say when they
poke me with their doctor fingers


I fit in the world the way I fit
inside my body

or when I’m surrounded
by sunscreen


the beach is enormous boulders
now become sand

I, too, am a castle of penguins
my bald pate flattened by blue spade


the ocean walks a Darwinian joke
a salty frottage of walls

my mind roof-of-mouth ripply and shell-strewn
as all of me recedes, pressganged by waves


bubbles on my doubloons
their deepsea operations cousteau

my sunken chicken
I am not a nervous wreck


my body is a pressure change
a presentiment of rain

I tie no laces of thunder
in the heavy shoes


what the


my brain is a moon ajar
a great wheel whose song

bumps distant continents
and returns


I mean
a great whale

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wunderkamer: Theatrum Mundi


Catherine Heard has a fantastic "wunderkamer" exhibition at Rodman Hall in St Catharines, entited Theatrum Mundi. Much of Catherine's work exists in that place at the intersection of archetype, surrealism, vision, and myth which I find very resonant and powerful. And much of her work explores perennial interests of mine: the idea of transformation (of the body, of the identity), of substitution, even transmogrification, of imaginative tropes applied to the self and the body, the idea that our selves (our bodies and identities) are permeable to the imagination & that, how shall I say, objects, like imagination, don't always have cell walls. And so, after seeing this exhibition, I went home and wrote the following poem, inspired by the exhibition and by other work of Catherine's that I was able to see.


above clouds
and the stubble
of five o’clock trees

I’m neither one of my heads
nor my sparrow hands
trying to hold sky
at the end of arms

a human hair is the long tongue of the alphabet unwound

what curls in the snailshell of the mind
weeps from me as honey
the brain
a hive of tears

I inhale and breathe out bees
my face, reversing me
looking in from the outside

as I grow
skin falls on the mountains
and I six-toed as the valley trees
sing to myself in the blackbird cloud
my two mouths each with their own song

let’s go to the river
where the fishes fly
let’s go to the river
where my throat’s gill waters
cloud the atmosphere through which
the steady constellations peer

GBs at the AB: THE OBVIOUS FLAP: electronics, sound poetry, performance, chapbook

The A B Series presents


performed by electronic sound poetry duo

Gary Barwin & Gregory Betts


Doors open 7:30pm, show 8pm

Friday, February 20th, 2009

The Mercury Lounge
56 ByWard Market Square
Ottawa, Ont.

Admission $7 at the door


Gary Barwin (Hamilton) and Gregory Betts (St. Catharines) perform THE OBVIOUS FLAP, a performance text with dialogue, mixed-media and sound poetry.

As part of the evening's program, Betts and Barwin launch Chora Sea, a chapbook published by Toronto's Emergency Response Unit. Fantastic, friendly, and fontalicious publishers, Leigh Nash and Andrew Faulkner, will be in attendance.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dogs Bake Homemade Rilke

DAWN WAND--new version
after “THE CAROUSEL” by Rilke
(thanks to Hugh Thomas)

o sugar fin
dad gun
my elephant

mist is the enemy of ditches
and semen
shatters in the drift

the best deer wail
in the haunted alleyways
and lungs, covered wagons
paint the unguarded pants
with their collared swords

I must hire the harem
in the midst of ditches
the boxer at the alley end
must hire me

vein rider
gentleman of inane ligaments

dawn wand
ear-eaten satchel
the bent spur of the drummer
claims hope is the dour mite
that halts heaven’s lenient hand

I deny recitation in the jungle
the blazing forest flickering
beneath the gun


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

DAWN WAND after Rilke; Quotation Marks of an Astrophysicist

derived from Rilke's CAROUSEL

o sugar fin
dad gun
my elephant

mist is the enemy of ditches
and semen
shatters in the drift

deer wail in the haunted alleyways
and lungs, covered wagons
paint the unguarded pants
with their collared swords

I hire the harem
in the midst of ditches
hawks in the dim land
and in the end the boxer hires me

vein rider
gentleman of inane ligaments

eon weaver
dawn wand
in the dim wine of the world
the ear-eaten satchel
the gnarled day

hope is the dour mite
which halts heaven’s lenient hand

I deny recitation in the jungle
the blazing forest flickering
beneath the gun

thanks to Hugh Thomas for feedback


"I would have been happy if the publisher had distributed, along with each book, a bag of quotation marks." - astrophysicist Hubert Reeves in his marvelous Malicorne

Monday, February 09, 2009

Notes towards a Renga with Myself (it takes two to renga?); The Wisdom ('Is Dumb?) of Blogging Works in Progess

some star’s light
after we’ve gone


I almost backed over
my son
taking his pedal steel
out the trunk


a pile of earth
on my desk
looking for a hole


“heat is not made
of tiny
hot things”


without sleep
my daughter says
deers’ brains bleed


the world is our body
or rather
vice versa




when I saw
the executions
I stopped believing
Granny says
as I help her to the table


the alphabet is a ruin
reminding us
so the poem says
we build

As ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan proposes, the disappearance of species and the (astonishingly rapid) disappearance of human languages on earth are intimately related, part of the same extinction. From Josh Corey.on new nature writing.

I couldn't sleep last night and so found myself insomniac-walking to my computer, creating the above images and texts. Some of the text came from an old notebook, a tiny verbal slice/slide of whenever that particular notebook page took place. I wonder about posting work which isn't finished, isn't tested and proved, hasn't even seen the sober light of a few days or weeks or years reflection.

But I like the idea of work in progress, of improvising before a virtual audience, like a jazz musician exploring certain approaches, certain materials before an audience, indeed sometimes in recordings. I value my recordings of, say, John Coltrane, where you can hear him in the process of developing his ideas. There are points of arrival, there is the thrill of exploration, of nascency, of a language forming its grammar and vocabulary. Not that I'm comparing myself to Trane. The blog can be an interesting form: a live feed, an up-to-the-minute notebook, an open studio.

And there is something of literature as a living art, as a breathing organism. Step right up to the blog to see some hot mitosis. Or mammals choosing to go back to the sea: What should I do with this extra leg? Do I need this fin, really? Does this gill make me look fat? I'm thinking this fluke is a bit pretentious. One day, I'll be the sleekest orangutan in the ocean, just you wait and see...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

a crutch, haiku, small apes and white feet


moon drifts in cloud
I’ve half a mind
to borrow
a small ape

(adapted from Shiki)


what does the man next door do
with his two perfect

(adapted from Basho)


the moon is following me
so am I


I will gaze at the moon
until it worries
about me

(adapted from Zeami)

the snap of a butterfly
a book
beneath my feet


a pleasant crackling of bones
as I walk
pursued by no-one


since my house burned down
I plug the television
into the ground

(adapted Massahide)

what does the man next door do
with one perfect

(adapted from Basho)

Friday, February 06, 2009



some think our ears
radiant fetuses

driving their tiny cars
on either side of the head

how do we know magnificence?

the disco ball of the heart
a mosaic of shiny blood
that’s there and then not

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Butterfly Molars

An alphabet of teeth, a tusk of sound, meaning taken by mouth. Teeth emerging from the alphabet’s soft body, fallen from speech. Becoming itself, megalith, butterfly, inukshuk, toaster. The air an alphabet of possible teeth. The teeth, stalactites thought, a Lascaux of mind.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Living Page & the Ink Aware


John C. Goodman runs ditch, a fantastic online magazine "celebrating the non-conforming, the radical, the alternative, the surreal, the avant-garde, the non-linear, the abstract, the experimental." As it reminds us on the main page:

ditch, n., where you are when you are not on the main road.

John kindly invited me to be the 'featured poet' for February. He just emailed me today to let me know that my page has gone live. What more could any writer want than a page has become alive with the Dr Frankenberrian demiurgical alchemy of his/her words.

To see the thrashing about, the grammatical gnashing, the narrative rattling of the bars, you can visit my page there.


I learned what was "Ink Aware" when I received 'Smart Board' training at my teaching job. A Smart Board is a large screen that functions as a high-tech blackboard: you can write on it the way that you would a PDA or a tablet computer, or use it as a giant computer monitor. Certain programs (which recognize & can interpret the written input of the stylus or finger) are termed "Ink Aware." I love that phrase. What else is "Ink Aware"? The page as a field of composition? Readers? Fingers? Does a pen know its own ink? A squid? A bathtub?

When we first got the Smart Boards in the school, mine (the one in the Grade 5 & 6 music classroom) didn't work. I had for a few years been talking about my Dumb Board, which was a whiteboard which also didn't work properly. All teaching was palimpsestuous: a ghostly blur of past lessons was left on the board. Then I had this new high-tech board which wasn't functional, upon which one could write nothing. I told the kids that it was a very special board and that, being a 'smart' board, only the smart kids in the class could see what I wrote. I impressed them with my masterly drawings of the Mona Lisa and sensitive, thoughtful renderings of Barney. I staged lavishly illustrated imaginary lessons which were like dreams, stand-up comedy, or mass delusions. (I know -- how is that different than usual?)

When they finally hooked up the Smart Board, a beautiful thing happened. In front of the kids, I turned it on for the first time, making a great to-do -- replete with enthusiastic fanfares & outrageous promises of what would now be possible. The image appeared. It was upside down.


"Before they
show themselves, objects should carefully consider
what they are requiring their observers to

from Sleeps 42

"Every passion is an eccentricity
emitting normal detail centrifugally"

from Sleeps 25