Monday, August 31, 2009

Turn a word inside out; The Intelligence of Crows

inside every crow there is another crow
wondering how it ended up wearing
a crow as an overcoat of feathers
it is winter
inside the crows
the shadows of tongues
make dogshadows against the star-filled sky

turn a word inside out
it is a cow

(A continuation of The Second Person of the Cow)


The intelligence of crows, a TED talk by Joshua Klein

Friday, August 28, 2009


Poetry reader Gary Barwin in his natural state, surprised that an audience has gathered at this library to hear him read, in his natural speaking voice and s tyle, without any preparation on his part, 'hard-won' verses from his work, which happens to be brave, courageous, and deeply sensitive.

I’m always surprised that, while public performance is an important component of the culture of literature, the actual performances aren’t usually considered the way other performances are. Certainly readings are evaluated, the specifics of what was read are discussed, how the writer read (their voice, accent, commentary) is addressed, but usually, the readings as a consciously shaped art-form isn’t considered. I have wanted to do a study of the content of poetry readings, tracking writer’s selections of their readings over the years – particularly when the reading isn’t directly tied into the promotion of a particular book. But I’d also like to do a study of the performative aspect of poetry readings, an aspect of the poetry reading that is often not considered an actual performance.


The writer’s persona is certainly part of the performance. Sometimes writers seem to be ‘just being themselves,’ though usually--consciously, or unconsciously--this is something that has been sculpted throughout their life. I remember William Pitt Root giving a reading (1980?) when I was at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Grade 11 or 12. He shuffled, stooping, coughing, onto the stage in a red lumberjack jacket. Held a trembling cup of coffee (or maybe, it seemed, something stronger) and placed it on a stool. He had had a rough night. He had had an interesting and rough life, filled with sadness, hardness, interesting experiences, and great sensitivity. He had lived all of this and his ‘hard won words’ were the result. At least, this is what seemed to be projected by his performance persona. Tom Waits has played for decades with the intersection of his real life (whatever that is) and his stage persona. As the audience, we know that he has developed his persona, that it is part of the art.


Poetry reading are an art-form as much as a chamber recital. How does the writer address the audience? What is their body language? Do they shuffle through papers, and say ‘umm, I call this next poem…”? What is the flow like between poems? Do they speak in between? Is the reading a mini-anthology of their past works, or does it work to develop a particular tone, mood, or vision? Does the writer move around? What is their voice like? Do they intone, chant, read undramatically, does the particular tone and pacing bring out elements in the poem, do they abide by the published linebreaks, or change the rhythm and pacing? Do they read from a performance booklet? Do they throw their papers that they are finished with? Does their son, as my son once did when he was four, crouch in the corner and exclaim, “Daddy, I have to poo!” before rushing forward and throwing all of my papers into the air? How does the writer appear to be using the conventions of the poetry reading, how are they exploring these conventions? Are poems memorized? (I remember a vivid Gwendolyn McEwen reading where she dramatically intoned her memorized texts.) Do they improvise? Do they use something other than their natural speaking voice? Do they take the occasion to explain, give context (either within their own oeuvre, the particular project or publication, or within the broader literary context), provide anecdotes, or editorialize about their poems? What are they wearing and how does this relate to the details of their biography (age, gender, race, etc.)


There is something very different about a writer reading their work as a writer, and a professional actor performing it. Not only is the tone usually less ‘dramatic’, but usually we buy into the convention that the writer’s reading is ‘more pure,’ and unmediated by artifice even though we’ve had a hundred years of varying convention about how to read non-metrical verse, and we can think of many writers who explore their persona in performance whether seemingly consciously or not (from Yeats and Eliot, through Ginsberg and the Beats, to people, such as -- just off the top of my head-- John Giorno, Ron Padgett, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Christopher Dewdney, Geof Huth, Stuart Ross, not to mention all the spoken word writers.)


I, yet again, got to thinking about poetry readings as performance, and mention Geof Huth in this light, because, as my recent post about our reading at the Paper Kite Gallery and Studio in Pennsylvania, briefly reccounts, his reading deliberately played with some of the expectations and conventions of the audience. In 15 minutes, he read thirty-something pieces (though admittedly some of them were one word poems), he performed barefoot, he dropped his papers, and eventually scrunched them up and threw them, he roamed the stage, he improvised, he sat down in his audience seat in the middle of creating a poem song, signaling the end of the performance, and he provide us with a booklet with a colour cover with all the works that he had specifically assembled for this performance. Geof plays with the construction of individual words, of individual letters, of meaning itself. Why wouldn’t he play with the construction of the reading? Why wouldn’t more writers? Geof mentioned to me that my little note, was actually one of the rare discussions of specifics of any of his performances. It is shocking to me that we don’t have more reviews and analysis of poetry readings. They are, for many writers, an important part of their artistic practice, and not just a promotional necessity.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Page Eye View / Aubade



pink limbs in
hairy star formation
the dog

a gift these star-chart

you and I
a zodiac of morning
tree cutters

the phone rings
a star replies
our newspaper classified

dreams of a ‘video tube
and case’
perfect for recording dreams

coffee bedside
tea beside
morning licking faces
then climbing us

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


My daughter, Rudi, once joked to me that all the visual poets that I correspond with online are actually 12 year olds trying to lure me in by pretending to be middle aged men interested in punctuation and typography. But now Rudi, who really is 12, has created this visual poetry video.

Upon my return from visiting Dan Waber and Jennifer Hill-Kaucher, in Kingston, Pennsylvania where I did a reading with Geof Huth, and attended a few events at Dan and Jennifer's fantastic Paper Kite Studio and Gallery -- they've really created a marvellous centre for writing, art, theatre, and community -- I asked Rudi to show me how to do animation in Flash. As she was showing me, she became enthusiastic about creating a little visual poetry video ("I can't believe I'm so into this. What a nerd! But it's really fascinating," she exclaimed as she quickly created the video.) I added some music from a transformation of Beethoven's Op. 111 (Piano Sonata #32) that I've been working on, and together we've made our first collaborative poetry video. And, beware, O you visual poets out there. Perhaps I am nine, and my daughter is fifty-four.


is Geof Huth's account of our reading and Paper Kite. He did a great reading, playing with the form of a reading presentation, and the writer's place in it, presenting a beguiling array of different kinds of work, bravely improvising a poem/anecdote/commentary, and creating, extempore, a poem song. He also published a lovely "handout" of all the work that he presented, except for that which he improvised (it was more of a fully fledged-- colour cover no less!-- chapbook) which allowed us to revisit the work that he read. And I was very happy to discover that he, his wife, Nancy, and Jennifer and Dan, were not 12 year old poseurs, but actual lovely, engaging adults.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The road's crying shoulder

visual translation/transformation of a pictogram from the interior of B.C. (I like how this "street" sign seems to be saying something laconic about the landscape behind it, commenting rather than proscribing or warning.) The "pictogram" is derived, --by cutting up the moose into an asemic moosefont-- from the image that accompanies Fred Wah's ol moose in ski-doo-type world poem.

I’ve been thinking, in light of my last post about Fred Wah’s transcreation of B.C. Native pictograms, of how translations are a filtering through a particular screen, a particular knowledge paradigm. I wondered how I might “translate” Wah’s poems through some different screens. Here are a few interesting, though not particularly successful ways.

The first is translated by finding words (or words containing the most letters of the Wah original) in the (Canadian) Indian Act (Certainly one frame within which the First Nations experience is viewed.)


ol moose inside ski-doo-type world
sliding down the milky way


leaseholds mortgage instance Saskatchewan-does-property world
seriously downward the family way

The second is a translation using prompt phrases from Google search bar. Many of use wear Google goggles when we see the world. It certainly is another frame by which our knowledge is ordered.


Hey! It Looks like
you got a couple ways in there

and a face, me
no face,

Show me how you do it
and I'll come too.


hey hey, my it looks like spilt milk
you got served a couple of ways to make
money in there like swimwear
and all that could have been
face in torso creature, mega millions

no face spirited away

showtime me and my drink
how you remind me
do it yourself
and I’ll be your crying shoulder
come too soon
that sunny day you give your heart away


And while we're on the subject of translation, here a little 'translation' in response to a Basho frogpond translation that Geof Huth sent me:

Frog: Why is this guy always watching me. Gives me the creeps. Better hide in this pond.




Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pictograms from the Interior of B.C.

Hey! It Looks like
you got a couple ways in there

and a face, me
no face,

Show me how you do it
and I'll come too.

-Fred Wah


Over at her Lemon Hound blog, Sina Queyras has been posting poems and music from the 70s. A few weeks ago, I gave a poetry writing workshop at the amazing Blue Skies music festival in Clarendon, Ontario, itself a delightful 70s throwback. The workshop was at 9 am, Sunday morning in a large tipi in the woods. There were about 10 participants, including some of the most talented writers I've ever had the excitement of giving a workshop to. (One boy, in his early teens, was preternatural in his abilities to create witty, wise, resonant texts.)

One activity that we did was based on Fred Wah's 1975 book, Pictograms from the Interior of B.C. (Talonbooks, 1975). Each of the short poems in this book is based on ("transcreated" from) a Native pictogram taken from a study of pictograms from B.C. by researcher John Corner.

Wah attempts to 'transcreate' these images in words. As the epigraph from Coleridge says, "Not the qualities merely, but the root of the qualities is transcreated. How else could it be a birth, -- a creation?" (There's an interesting essay by Steve McCaffery in North of Intention exploring issues relating to Wah's project.)

Wah's book was one of my favourite books when I discovered it as an undergrad in the 80s, when I first became exposed to contemporary Canadian writing, mostly by spending all my time carousing around the library at either McGill or York university.

Wah's writing manages to be beautiful, goofy, evocative, spiritual, and explore mythological, Native, and ecological thinking, and play with ideas of transcreation, appropriation, and anachronism. There's also an innocent, earnest play* with the Native materials, a willingness to experiment with tone, form and what a poetry book can be. For me, this play in Canadian poetry of the time (60s to the 80s) was an exhilarating expansion of what I thought poetry could be, raised as I was on Seamus Heaney, Wordsworth, American modernism, and Shakespeare.

I also really liked the variety of book design. There seemed to be a greater variety of poetry book shapes and internal organization in the small presses. I love the terracotta colour of the images, many surrounded by lots of white space (the images are on the left, the poems on the right) and the minimalist feel of the texts. Their size, placement, and internal organization parallels the pictograms.

*I think a book transcreating Native imagery would be very different now, would approach the topic with less innocence, with a greater awareness of the difficult history between First Nations and the rest of Canada. Actually, that'd be a great project, a new 'translation' of Wah's book in light of the new understanding, the changed relationship with Native history. Or maybe, a Native writer will write a book 'transcreating' images from non-Native imagery. Perhaps, non-First Nations' writers should rewrite the book using non-First Nations pictograms. What are they? Urban graffiti?

Of course, what constitutes 'the rest of us' is very problematic, and often essentialized. Am I velvet paintings, McDonalds, and Rubens any more than I am roti, images of Ganesh, sushi, and paintings by Norval Morrisseau? (For the record, I think I'm probably Third Nations -- French and English, would be "Second": My grandparents were Lithuanian Ashkenazi Jews, my parents are South African; I grew up in Northern Ireland, moved to Canada in the 70s; my first modem ran at a rate of 300 baud; my children are growing up in Hamilton, Ontario; every day I speak, online, more often to people -- or their poetic avatars -- outside of Canada. But to be honest, though I understand the use of "Nations" in the term, "First Nations", I think the term 'nations' is problematic in other settings, and perhaps in the 'First Nations' usage. The concept of the "national", unless very carefully, and subtlely defined, is very treacherous.)

ol moose inside ski-doo-type world
sliding down the milky way

-Fred Wah

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


COLOURING THE ELEPHANT (another draft text)


a coat is a human
wearing a coat
with a human inside it

a street leads up to a human
a human leads up to a coat
the coat itself has forgotten
where it is going

the moon slams its face shut
to keep the human in
a human wears a coat
inside which are hands
and coming to an end
in fleshy petals
hand cabbages
runt limbs
prehensile toast grippers
tractor beams illuminating the fragments
of being born

the wind is its own destination


o road o human o radio
o beam of coat
o inside of the wind
o indecipherable emails from splinters in the wind
o spam of waterfalls
my coat is a road that is wide
but not long
my coat is a robot that is long
but not deep

the coat writes:

like a road
I have travelled less
than anyone: I’ve only
gone the way I’ve gone

o spatula of a human in a coat
o turnstile of a coat alone in the rain
o inside of a coat alone in the rain
o breast pocket
o body parts which have pockets in front of them
o forlorn things inside other things
o torn things outside, alone, inverted, and possibly left in the rain
a human in a coat
reaches inside and pulls out
their own spine
it is an elephant
coloured dusk

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Second Person of the Cow

The Second Person of the Cow (Draft beginning)


how fantastic that these words are here
how fantastic that these words are somewhere else
how dark is it inside a cow?
no darker than inside these words

stretch your tongue and feel
the Pop Rocks of the stars
how fantastic that you are here
how fantastic that you are somewhere else


fantastic deer as fantastic cows
fantastic ice as fantastic does
fantastic calves as fantastic legs
Oh fantastic is the light of fantastic cows

and yes, O light of fantastic cows
born to be fantastic
how fantastic is the tongue that furrows plow
how fantastic are your cows that constellate


O moon O tongue O fantastic insides of dark and fatal cows
like crows which flourish in your furrowed shadows
how fantastic to have fallen down a well
to have lived beneath the tragic bucket

how fantastic that the moon is an ouroboros or cow of fantastic light
how it dines upon the tragic or fantastic fields
the terrible or hermaphrodite stars
the calves or the legs, the fantastic tongue of absent crows

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Uwkwurd Grummur: Eunoia

I've enjoyed & admired Christian Book's bök -- sorry, that's Chröston's Biaks' bik, I mean, Christian Bök's book, Eunoia, immensely, as a text, as a recording, and as a challenge. Christian's work has a beguiling intensity of conception and realization. It really was, beautifully thought. (Eunoia means 'beautiful thought.)

However, just as I balked when my dad told me to cut the grass in parallel lines (which made me want to randomize the pattern, or start one pattern and change another), Christian and his inspired, rigorous methodical approach makes me want to throw a spanner in the works. Langage is a beautifl spannnr in the wrks. Beautiful thinking can resemble Christian's, or it can be a 'harmony of whims' (“Art is not a set of rules but a harmony of whims.” -- Rubén Darío as quoted by Gabriel Gudding).

I love perfect 'pataphysical systems. Language is 'pataphysical. But what's more 'pataphysical than a system that isn't a system? A system that breaks down. A flawed or incomplete solution to an imaginary problem. Quasigrammaticasualty is the perfect 'pataphysics, though I prefer )pataphysics -- i.e. replacing the quote or inverted comma -- the ascended comma -- with a right parenthesis, a patanthesis, or actually two, a left on the right, and a right on the left.


so that everything that comes before and after is part of the )pataphysics( and all thought is parenthetical and open-ended or has started before the language has got going.

Last year, derek beaulieu and I began playing around with Eunoia. I played around with substituting the vowels. For example, I took the 'a' chapter and replace all the a's with u's. And so it begins: Uwkwurd Grummur. Each vowel stands in for another vowel as each word stands in for itself or for something else. Language is always itself but always something else, always the promise of something else, but something else's fulfillment. Words are always 'patanyms or )patanyms, not the same or opposite to anything. Just beside anything.

I'd love to do a performance of Eunoia in Pig Latin, with its insistent artificiality, and insistent insertion of the vowelsound 'ay' into every word, or find a way to translate it into Hebrew, a language that can be written without vowels. I see Eunoia, in addition to being a marvellous and inspiring book, as a matrix, a funhouse, language in crystalline (Christianline?) form. I love the idea that as English changes, the book, leaves out new univocal words, or maintains obsolete ones. This is part of its implicit )pataphysicality.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Less Day

for Hugh Thomas

The night walks through the day. People mistake it for shadows until the moon bumps into a cop. “I’ve been following you,” either the cop or the moon says, but it is the moon that is imprisoned. Yes, say the keys to the prison cell, the moon shining between the bars, the jailhouse is a forlorn zebra, the zebra, the keys of the piano dreaming of running free. If the water of the world has a god, is it cloud, or steam, or whiskey? The policeman’s shirt is a memory of blue water, blue sky, or Robert Johnson parking his Model T just anywhere, in a tree, the sky, or in that crease that always itches way back behind my left ear. Of course in Norway, night is just another word for less day.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Laser Printer using Ashes of Deceased

Sky; hands; parking garage; letters; dog; door.

if the sky had hands
it would be sky

if the sky had hands
it would be flight

if the sky had hands
it would be breathing

if the sky had hands
there would be hands


Fascinating use of trompe l'œil for letters in a parking garage, here.


dog roaming the outside
son crouching at the door

a thin thing showing its wide side
open hand moon says

stop, just stop
and something stops