Thursday, June 25, 2009

bpNichol Chapbook Award: Winners

the winners of the
2009 bpNichol Chapbook Award

sponsored by
the Phoenix Community Works Foundation

as announced
at the bpNichol Chapbook Award Night
Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Gary Barwin, Inverting the Deer (serif of nottingham)
Sandra Ridley, Lift: Ghazals for C. (JackPine)

Each winner received a $1000 prize.


Andrew Faulkner, Useful Knots and How to Tie Them (Emergency Response Unit)
John Barlow, The Longest Day (published by hand)
Daphne Marlatt, Between Brush Strokes (JackPine)

Info at and Phoenix Community Works Foundation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009



Pull a rabbit
a gnarled lawncare specialist
coloured handkerchiefs from the sky

Look in the hedge:
there’s something there:
feet, lips, O elephants
a dossier of univocal significance

Goad a boat:
Unravel your internal organs
(at least the ones that are unravelable)
make the internal poodle
visible on the outside.
Digest! Digest! O trees!

Go away, suffering!
May disappointment and achievement
evaporate like national gas
and leave no smell.

Walk your shoulders
a helium baby inside your chest
Be happy as a sheaf
feel toast in mid-pop before
the clap of gravity’s warm and rather
obvious dove plugs you
back into the earth with
dazzling electric feet named
Herman One and Herman Two by
your ancestors frittering away time
way back when

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

bpNichol edits a poem and doesn't slip on a banana

bp Nichol's edits of an old poem of mine

About 25 years ago -- for two years -- I studied creative writing with bpNichol at York University. Sometime during the summer after graduation, he invited me to his home. He gave me a tour of his book collections, showed me some animated vispo on his Apple II that he was working on (which became First Screenings), his Mickey Mouse phone, some LPs (I remember Berio's Sinfonia), some notebooks, and his office, and then we went to a nearby Italian cafe for ice cream. He'd asked me to his house because he wanted to publish some of my work for his grOnk series. I, of course, was excited out of my mind. He selected a piece "Lunguage: a short history of breath." Perhaps it wasn't a surprise: the piece was some visual poetry where the lungs are alternately a lower case h and an upper case H. bp died before he was able to publish the piece. I later published it with my serif of nottingham editions, and made a video poem of it. See here.

The scanned poem above is a poem (printed on my trusty Atari) that I wrote sometime in the early 80s. The edits are bp's. I have, somewhere, several portfolios that I sumitted to bp with his edits and comments. He was a great editor/teacher. I remember in class, he kept pushing me to go further, to discover the implications of what I was exploring, to read. He wouldn't let me rest on the (self-bestowed) laurels that I wanted to rest on. He did, however, convey a sense that he enjoyed working with the material that I was working with, even if he didn't especially like my poem. He conveyed an excitement about what could be done. He was like a combination coach and director.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pac Man Egg vs. Sperm Fertility Game

My sister-in-law and her husband run an amazing website / online community which offers information, support, and software for women hoping to get pregnant. There's plenty of 'serious' educational content, but there's also this fantastic little Pac Man game using eggs trying to catch sperm. Watch out for the dread menstruation -- all fertilization stops! This clever little game created by my brother-in-law also gives information at each phase of the game. Another sparkling vertex on the twisted polygon of online reality. I'll have to send this to Neil Hennessy who created the Pac Mondrian game.

Which reminds me: my father, who is a fertility doctor, used to jog wearing a t-shirt with a picture of one sperm ahead of a pack (what's the collective noun for sperm?) of sperm. The caption read "Only the strong survive."

Friday, June 19, 2009

REPORT CARDS / The Passing of Charlie Mariano

It's that time of year: I'm working on report cards. I must encabin myself, hunker down, and write 200 reports of how my Grade 5 and 6 music students have done this term. As usual, there are kids who lost all enthusiasm, or enthusiastically avoided stumbling upon accomplishment (or their trombones.) There were students who found great strength in themselves and conquered their own fears of failure or inadequacy. There were the bright sparks, always full of ideas, creativity, enthusiasm, and joy. And the consistent, diligent ones who just plain worked hard.

Working with kids can be exhausting and frustrating. Why can I be confounded by a bunch of 10 year olds? But it can be such a great pleasure. I was reminded of this yesterday. I dragged myself into work for the last day of classes, feeling ill and quite blue (and not because classes were over!)I was accosted by many of my students bearing gifts, jokes, enthusiasm, and obvious, what's the word, friendship? I have so many running jokes with different kids, different silly names that they call me: Greensleeves (from a bad joke about snot and the song Greensleeves), Homey G (from our rap assignment) Dr. Gary, Mr. Dr. Sir Barwin (at school, I'm Doctor Barwin), Gaaaary Barwin, Boing Boing Showerer (from a misheard statement of mine, a kind of homophonic translation), Barwinga (from my email login name), and many others.

All of our shtick is a means to share pleasure in each other's company and wit. I think the students appreciate that I appreciate their cleverness and creativity, and appreciate them for who there are. I was also reminded of how my perceptions are often entirely different than the kids. Kids who seems to want to avoid me in class, who disrupt and fool around, and appeared not to enjoy my classes at all, made sure to get me to sign their yearbook and draw one of my silly cartoons (I draw these on all of the papers that I hand out and on the board.) My shtick with the yearbook is to write things in mirror writing so that the kids have to find a mirror to read it, or carefully decode what I've written by themselves.

One student gave me a card that said that I made each class like an episode of Saturday Night Live. Another (a preternaturally gifted 11-year old writer) gave me a book and wrote 'to an appreciator of wordplay and wit' on the card.

Tonight we have the end of year graduation/awards assembly. A thousand people in a banquet hall, a piper, and all of the teachers in academic gowns. The whole thing is as formal as the most formal of university graduations. The choir which I direct is singing a song. So...first, back to report cards, then to build a trampoline for my daughter's birthday party, and then, back to being Boing Boing Showerer Mr. Dr. Sir Barwin one more time this year.


The brilliant saxophonist Charlie Mariano died a few days ago. I discovered his playing when I was 13 playing on an Eberhard Weber album (which I bought with babysitting money) playing extraordinary soprano saxophone.

I went to high school at Interlochen Arts Academy. One day, I was in a jazz class and the teacher put on an album and mentioned to one of the students, "here's a recording of your father." She was incredulous. She didn't know. The girl was Monday Mariano. (She has become a well-known singer, known as Monday Michiru) I'm sorry for her loss.


we go through the sky
for fingers

we leave our unearthly possessions
the black road
the smoke bed
float the foal-like rivers of our breath

fingers split thoughts into hands

if we had gods
their throats would be dry

our names fill with ghosts
twilight again becomes two

there are thoughts
we will never need

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

bpNichol chapbook award & review

It appears that I've been shortlisted for the bpNichol Chapbook Award along with Andrew Faulkner, John Barlow, Daphne Marlatt, and Sandra Ridley. I really enjoyed Andrew's book, published by Leigh Nash and his Emergency Response Unit press. I don't know the other books, but will pick up copies at the reading/award night listed above.

Here's the details of the short list:

John R. Barlow, The Longest Day
Gary Barwin, Inverting the Deer
Andrew Faulkner, Useful Knots and How to Tie Them
Daphne Marlatt, Between Brush Strokes
Sandra Ridley, Lift

It's such an amazingly great thing to have an award dedicated to the chapbook. It was originally created by bpNichol, then subsequently named after him when he died.


And in other chapbook news, here's a review of anus porcupine eyebrow

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Father get an Honorary Doctorate

I've just returned from Ottawa where my father, B. Norman Barwin (OK, so we sometimes used to call him B Normal Barwin....) received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Social Sciences of Carleton University for his work in medical research, health advocacy, and public health. See here for where I talk about him as "The Sperm King of Canada".

My sister-in-law also received a Ph.D. at the ceremony.

Definitely a weekend of kvelling (a Yiddish word which means an overflowing or welling up of pride). The video is my father's citation and his speech.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Diaspora of the Mouth / Imaginary Word Scrabble

My grandmother, Bella Reisen (on the left)
with her brother and sister, and their nanny.
A picture taken in about 1918 in Ukraine.

When I joined Facebook, I gave myself a pseudonym. Partly, I didn't understand how it worked and I didn't want to be constantly bumping into my middle school students. Partly, I was intrigued with the idea of how one might represent oneself online, how one might control or manipulate the available identity information and observable behaviours. However, my interest lapsed, finding it more interesting to connect with people that I knew, or with old friends, and with wanting to interact with various communities that I am involved with. My name has been "Moribund Facekvetch." I didn't realize how longstanding my interest in ridiculous pseudonyms were until I was reminded by an old high school friend (who found me on Facebook) that I had created a character called "Cosmic Herbert," and used to make collect calls using the name, as well as using it as a pseudonym of sorts.

Actually, I created the character in Grade 6 for my very first publication, "Cosmic Herbert and the Pencil Forest," which I sold at the Grade 6 White Elephant Sale. The book, as I remember it, was an illustrated surreal fable about Cosmic Herbert who was a cross between the 2000-year old man and Gandalf, but with the sensibility of someone from the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.

Over the years, I've used many ridiculous names in many contexts. Sometimes I register as Borklesshaunch Shameshoes. I used to do a cartoon for the university newspaper my first year at McGill under the name Ed Applebutt.

I am fascinated by names. My own name is an Anglicization of Borwein or Borweinis -- Jewish Lithuanian, though in fact, Jews didn't have last names until they were made to for tax purposes sometime in the late 19th century. I was always entranced, as a kid, by my middle name. I don't have one. The absence of a middle name seemed to be some kind of marker for my identity.

I've never consciously written a character in a poem or story that is consciously supposed to be my alter ego. Today, trying to revise a poem, I stuck in the name "Moribund" and it felt freeing. It felt like it pulled in a lot of association and feeling without actually being me. It felt connected somehow. It reminded me of the richness of Stu Ross' Razovsky poems, how he is able to have that character be Everyman (or Everymensch) while at the same time being Stuart, his father, his grandfather, and...

Last night, I attended the Hamilton Jewish Literary Festival. They were launching an anthology "From Sinai to the Shtetl and Beyond: Where is Home for the Jewish Writer?", edited by Ellen S. Jaffe and Lil Blume. I had a little piece in it. It was a lovely night, though I had to leave before the Klezmer singing, playing, and dancing. I'd never really thought about the concept of 'home'. Someone said that home for many Jews is in the book (the Torah/Talmud) but also in books. In language, culture, thought.

I don't know if I'll write more 'Moribund' texts or even if this will keep Moribund as the ostensible protagonist. We'll see.


Moribund climbs
the fence around the century
falls into a river
a handful of stones on his head

the head
filled with tiny hot things

the river flows in one ear
how long will it be before
it flows out the other?


My daughter is playing Scrabble with her friends. They've made up new rules. Each word played on the board must be entirely made up. I'm listening to them decide which words are real and which don't exist, in which case, they can be used in the game.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Commic One Liners

If breathing didn’t already exist, commas would have had to invent it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Giant Things

By the side of a regular nickel,
I saw an endless highway.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Uh the Scream & the Book is Dead

I was playing around with the new Microsoft Bing search engine and...since the first impulse one has...or at least my first to do a vanity search...I discovered this great resource. The fantastic Scream literary festival (held annually in Toronto) has archived recordings of past performances. The Scream originated from the fact that every year there would be "The Dream in High Park", a performance of A Midsummer's Night's Dream and on one Monday the stage would be dark. Peter McPhee decide to hold a literary reading series there. The audiences were amazing. Three hundred sitting outdoors in a natural amphitheatre listening to writers on a summer night.

I performed in 2000, reading with a band we called "Uh Maybe," consisting of John Kameel Farah on keyboards and John Pennyfather on percussion. My performance starts after about a minute (where I assume I was futzing with equipment, getting set up.) For those who aren't Canadian, Mike Harris was the arch-conservative Premier of Ontario. It's amazing to hear. after all these years, this recording of my reading with two old friends on a balmy summer night in Toronto, surrounded by huge trees, bright lights, and a sea of audience. It seems an entirely other world, an entirely other time, back then.

Here's a link to the current festival site. The festival has expanded to include a variety of events over about a week and takes place in the middle of July.