Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Word Cloud Outside the Hat / Synaptic Labryinth of Vowels

The image above is the Google books word cloud from my book, Outside the Hat (The link is to the full text -- with music -- of the book that Coach House created when they were exploring alternatives to 'the fetish item formerly known as book.') Many words, which are in pseudo-Middle English appear only once in the book, but shown up in the cloud. It appears as part of the overview of the book. This is a fascinating word collection, given a strange alliterative music by being alphabetical. And I marvel at the word clouds that other books would create and the possibilities for exploring these lexicons. You can find the word clouds using the "overview" feature of Google books.

Here is the Google Outside the Hat Word Cloud prose poem. It's fascinating the difference when the original is rendered as a same-size homogeneous text:

across Aer Lingus amphitheatre apple arry attachment for curly aund ayme Bagpipers bayonet Bed Of Nails Beethoven benches bird bpNichol Lane brain broken chair brother brother bear Brylcreemed buffalo burning boots Canada cave climb cloud Coach House Books coffee cogs creep low Cuba dead air delay the yodler don't door dressed drywall ench eyes face father feelings Feild fingers fish floor fridge frog frome gherkin Glyph Goofy Grandad guitar hade haiku hair hairdryer hallelujah hand hand grenade he's head heer heez hmmm horse i've iridescent it's itte Jain kapow khaki King of Prussia lake Lake Ontario lemon little Joe little men lizard Loks looking Madagascar maiybee marmoset maybe mermaid Mike Harris Mme Leduc moon mouth myself Nelson Mandela never night nipple fact Number Ontario parachute peel penis perfect twin Persian carpet pet store Phlegm piano Pitou plop poem Pope Gregory puck qpoe rhino round saliva shoulderblades sing skin sleeping bag spiral arm stars Stonehenge swimming symphony takk teeth tha loc thee there's they're tongue Toronto Tralee tree Turtle Diary twang twin fruit wait waited for God walk watching watermelon waun wear the burning Whistler write Yodeler youe zipper zither


Synaptic Labyrinth at the Mouth of Vowels and their Alphabetic Neighbours.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Two boys in a car, underground in a graveyard, signaling with their radios.
There might be dusk above or spring. The boxers of the living could be jellyfish white and striding the sudden path without reason. Or briefs.

Breakfast is served or serves. Our car has a parking spot and the earth moves. One of us has a finger so long it is a periscope or a wireless seabird pale and awking unintelligently and distant from shore. How many waves scallop the sea and through our aboveground bodies on the way from satellite to carpet?

Underground in their wallets, the boys have ID cards, their faces expectorant and claiming. A boy grows his fingernail to rise above the surface, a pink and ragged daisy, a spittoon, a radiant spittoon, a king for all the wrong ants.

O radishes of springtime, let the boys drive and may the fingernail of sun, the massive fingernail of sky, the massive lips of breasts be fingernails, or roads, or burnt raccoons of the invisible mood, the bleb of lack, or lenses, and of dishes, or of the boys below in the lanes of their passing, in their earth of countertops and shore curtains.

Let the boys remember.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Russian Existentialist Face and the Frightening of Small Children

Here are two recent photographs of me at two different literary festivals. The first is a screen capture from Charles Earl's fantastic photo website which features his many photographs, including many of authors. His work is intriguing to me. His photograph of me (taken during a reading at the Junction Arts Festival) as well as many of his other photographs, surprise me -- they reveal a side of me -- and of those who I know -- that I didn't expect. And that's what photography is supposed to do -- show you something that you haven't seen before, show you a side of something that you never noticed, or thought about that way. The picture of me is maybe what I would have fantasized looking like when I was 13 -- a writer absorbed by the really 'Great Themes', the weight of the world (and my great sensitivity toward it) showing on my troubled brow. We don't know what we look like as we go about our business of living (why is the business of living? and not the 'art' or the 'summer camp'?), our faces forming according to the inner and outer world. And, in this case, my face might scare small children. (Which, incidently I think I did when Greg Betts and I were performing the sound poetry portion of our reading for BookThug editions. There was a little girl a few feet away from me who somehow didn't relate my screamed "O" to the Canadian sound poetry tradition, to Dadaist, and primitive art, as I did a vocal detournement of the first syllable of our national anthem.)
Luckily for the small children attending the performance recorded in the second photograph, I have another, less frightening face. The image is of me reading my children's picturebook The Magic Mustache outside the Jerseyville Train Station in Westfield Heritage Village yesterday as part of the "Telling Tales" Festival. The festival was an entirely charming affair, set admidst this captivating heritage village. It was a perfect day, bright and warm, and we walked around the old buildings and large trees, listening to children's writers reading and kids gasping and laughing. I was somewhere behind the Apothecary's, near the church, the general store. Mark Twain stood and listened to my performance, and many 'recreators' walked around. There were about 30 children's authors reading, giving workshops, and signing books. According to this morning's newspaper, about 4000 people attended, and quite a bit of money was raised for literacy projects. Kids from the inner city were bused in for free by the school boards. I heard an entrancing performance by Shane Peacock, including something from his book, Eye of the Crow and ran into many friends, neighbours, writers, and various people from the community. A bunch of my students and some neighbourhood kids attended my performance which I really appreciated. We made up a story together, something to do with a pink elephant who landed on Grandma's Thanksgiving dinner and then flew to Costa Rica before encountering some trouble with sharks. Or something with that. These kind of improvised group stories are more about the process and the unfolding of the story than the actual result. But it is always thrilling to have 40 or so people, from 3 year olds in their parents' laps, to adults, provide all of the details of the story and to dive right in and become part of the creative process.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Telling Tales and Post Card: Two Readings

I'm reading/storytelling at the Telling Tales children's writing festival in a lovely heritage village this weekend. I'm reading at the steam train station. My presentation is supposed to be "high boy interest." Then in a couple weeks, I'm reading with Anik See and Stuart Ross.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why are Canadian poets so smitten with Basho's frog poem?

prefrog bpond
The poet, Rachel Zolf, is taking a course on minimalist poetry (and definitely see her fascinating engagement/subversion project blog regardin the MFA program that she is enrolled in. She recently emailed to ask me to explain why Canadian poets seem so taken with Basho's famous frog poem. Good question.

derek beaulieu and I wrote frogments from the fragpool because we were so smitten with the text and with all the other versions, variations, and exploration of the poem.

Here is my frogmented email back to Rachel with some ideas about the frogpoem's plopularity.

----- Original Message -----


Hope things are well.

Here are a few quick ideas that I've jotted down about why Canadian poets are so interested in the poem.

I think that, at least in Canada, it all comes from bp. His enthusiasm for the poem, for variations on it, and for others interest in it (including Dom Sylvester Houedard.)

The poem is alternately a grapheme, morpheme, sememe in the greater grammar of language and poetic play.

Each of the various identifiable elements (the frog, the pond, the water-sound, as well as the figure of Basho, and the 'aha' moment) and their interrelation is permutable, is modular, is a feature in a set of variations. Of course, as more variations are created, each variation and each approach to the poem (and the micro-culture that it generates) becomes an element. There's also the rich cultural associations of the original haiku tradition and the contemporary English haiku.

There is something about how the poem takes the poetic 'insight', the 'aha' moment, the single action of the frog, and concentrates it down to its more elemental and singular form. This makes the poem especially rich for variation. And, because of the very simple but almost indelible identity represented by the three elements (frog, pond, plop), formal play has this innate grammar, this innate deep structure. This haiku is a kind of reduction (in the cooking sense), and an opportunity for play, for variation, for the creation of traditional images, as well as concrete and more abstract verbal exploration. bp's translation which is the single captial letter 'Q' representing the path of the frog into the capital O pond is one of the most pure 'reductions'.

I think the poem can also be considered to engage notions of transcendence, of a Zen-like transcendence-in-the-now. Each moment is every other moment. The in-the-moment clarity and focused apprehension of the natural world, of its celebration of the phenomenal is not only a fertile trope generally, but also can extend into the in-the-moment apprehension of the elements of language: letters, images, and form considered from a semantic or visual perspective.

Many other Canadian writers have also taken up bp's interest in the letter H. There is something so pure, earnest, and clearly identifiable about both of these interests of bp's (as opposed, for example, to the more complex interests of McCaffery.) Perhaps it is like Indiana's interest in the number 5, Jasper John's interest in the US flag, except that this found object is a poem, a consciously created art object. (bp's interest in the poem expressed itself not only in his writing of many versions, but also in his compiling an anthology of 'translations' by others of the poem. I remember him showing me the MS of the anthology -- a big file of translations, some historical, some humourous, some experimental.)

I'd say that not only are people compelled by bp's interest, they are also compelled by his method: he has many series of variations, sequences, & series-- eg. from Translating Translation Apollinaire, his various visual interests. So a procedure of creating variations on a single 'theme' generates an interest in the exploration of further themes. And this little frog poem offers a clear way to see how the variation varies from the original. (I'm put in mind of more recent series of variations on things bpological. For example Sharon Harris's variations on bp's "Blues" -- y'know the one with love and evol in some kind of matrix.)

And, further to bp's interest, there's also McCaffery and jwcurry, both Canadian who have explores the frog pond trope.

Did I ever tell you about the T-shirt that I made that says "What would bp do?

Happy MFAing,


Sunday, September 13, 2009



the voice, a brick
a tree whose trick is everywhere

inside the road: clouds
the ribs, that’s some tractor, a verb

label something abstract without

the black marker of space
the I in this is invisible, dog

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

night inside the empty school, the day before classes

It’s the night before classes begin. I’ve let myself in to the empty school. Finally, there’s some time to return after summer holidays to set up some chairs, to find some activities stuck in the back of the filing cabinet – I only vaguely remember what they are, but I have an intuition that they will be just the right thing, to sit down in the quiet and write out a plan for the first few days of school, to do the teacher thing and staple a few papers to the bulletin board. Perhaps the Baroque Obama poster that I made last year. Somewhere in a distant wing, the night security guard is walking. Here, near the music rooms, it’s dim and it there’s an uncharacteristic hush. I’m a teacher creeping about the silent halls. There’s mystery here. Something secretive. This is the other side of the school day, the other side of the term. No children. No talking. It’s dark, quiet, and there’s isn't any movement. It’s one person and the school. Usually the space writhes and bustles. An x-ray would reveal a forest of what might appear as fireflies: flashes of brain activity – interactions both between and inside people: between people and understanding, between people and possibility, humans evolving in slow motion, though there’s sometimes a sprint and a lot of jostling. And, of course, I include teachers in this. I have the idea that the dark of the nighttime school is like being inside a brain. There’s an anticipation, a sense of exploring a place full of remembered voices, of things said, sometimes only vaguely understood. Though I’d hope for the steady mystery, I think, when everything is going well, to the students, my classes are more like being plunged into a cave with a thousand intermittently flashing flashlights, a barrel of jello, a portable library, bongo drums, the air full of bats singing a crazed and wondrous polyphony. And in a corner somewhere, there’s a kid reading poetry and telling these marvelous stories. Some other students have made a democracy out of popsicle sticks, and some others have discovered that every sheet of paper has six sides, though four of the sides are really thin. The teachers stands the middle: he could be directing traffic, guiding taxiing airplanes, pretending to be an airplane, imitating a bat, or a ladder, or his favourite vowel, which by the way, seems to be ‘m’. It's not yet 9:15 and the lesson has just begun.

It seems to me that there is something deeply subversive about learning. It's a taking apart, an inquiry into the dark halls, the forgotten corners, the undersides of things. The security guard is somewhere else. The students and the teachers conspire. They are alchemists, crypocitizens. Things are not how they first appear to be. Behind each thing, is something else. Everything can be reassembled in another way. There's a code, a ghost, a magic trick to the world.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Putting the cartography before the hearse

I stubbed my toe, getting these glyphs into the sky.