Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mary Johnston, author of 1492 in 1922: "Not demanding trumpets, but serviceable."

Mary Johnston

While searching on Project Gutenberg I came across 1492, a fascinating novel, written in the 1920s by then very popular Southern US author, Mary Johnston. The novel is a historical fiction about Columbus and is narrated by a man of Jewish heritage who is running from the Inquisition. The language is amazing. The text alternates, sometimes paragraph by paragraph between first person and third person. The third person sections are really just extended places where the narrator refers to himself in third person, but the effect is striking. Also, Johnston uses very florid language, often with unusual or at least vivid word order. Much of the language uses juicy musical poetic devices -- alliteration, rhyme, assonance -- and surprising metaphors. In the opening chapter, Johnston uses repetition and fascinating poetic almost stream-of-consciousness, a patterning of recurrences and returns of language, image, and sound. Throughout, the narrator experiences mystical and poetic visions.

The style and content surprised me. I didn't expect this in a popular (non-experimental) writer. She was, after all, a best seller, and was able to be financially independent, and I think, quite wealthy as a result of her writing.

Here's the first chapter.


By Mary Johnston


THE morning was gray and I sat by the sea near Palos in a gray mood. I was Jayme de Marchena, and that was a good,  old Christian name. But my grandmother was Jewess, and in corners they said that she never truly recanted, and I had been much with her as a child. She was dead, but still they talked of her. Jayme de Marchena, looking back from the hillside of forty-six, saw some service done for the Queen and the folk.

This thing and that thing. Not demanding trumpets, but serviceable. It would be neither counted nor weighed beside and against that which Don Pedro and the Dominican found to say. What they found to say they made, not found. They took clay of misrepresentation, and in the field of falsehood sat them down, and consulting the parchment of malice, proceeded to create. But false as was all they set up, the time would cry it true.

It was reasonable that I should find the day gray.

Study and study and study, year on year, and at last image a great thing, just under the rim of the mind's ocean, sending up for those who will look streamers above horizon, streamers of colored and wonderful light! Study and reason and with awe and delight take light from above. Dream of good news for one and all, of life given depth and brought into music, dream of giving the given, never holding it back, which would be avarice and betraying! Write, and give men and women to read what you have written, and believe--poor Deluded!--that they also feel inner warmth and light and rejoice.

Oh, gray the sea and gray the shore!

But some did feel it.

The Dominican, when it fell into his hands, called it perdition. A Jewess for grandmother, and Don Pedro for enemy. And now the Dominican--the Dominicans! The Queen and the King made edict against the Jews, and there sat the Inquisition.

I was--I am--Christian. It is a wide and deep and high word. When you ask, "What is it--Christian?" then must each of us answer as it is given to him to answer. I and thou--and the True, the Universal Christ give us light!

To-day all Andalusia, all Castile and all Spain to me seemed gray, and gray the utter Ocean that stretched no man knew where. The gray was the gray of fetters and of ashes.

The tide made, and as the waves came nearer, eating the sand before me, they uttered a low crying. _In danger--danger--in danger, Jayme de Marchena!_

I had been in danger before. Who is not often and always in danger, in life? But this was a danger to daunt.

Mine were no powerful friends. I had only that which was within me. I was only son of only son, and my parents and grandparents were dead, and my distant kindred cold, seeing naught of good in so much study and thinking of that old, dark, beautiful, questionable one, my grandmother.
I had indeed a remote kinsman, head of a convent in this neighborhood, and he was a wise man and a kindly. But not he either could do aught here!

All the Jews to be banished, and Don Pedro with a steady forefinger,"That man--take him, too! Who does not know that his grandmother was Jewess, and that he lived with her and drank poison?" But the Dominican,
"No! The Holy Office will take him. You have but to read--only you must not read--what he has written to see why!"

Gray Ocean, stretching endlessly and now coming close, were it not well if I drowned myself this gray morning while I can choose the death I shall die? Now the great murmur sang _Well_, and now it sang Not well.

Low cliff and heaped sand and a solitary bird wide-winging toward the mountains of Portugal, and the Ocean gray-blue and salt! The salt savor entered me, and an inner zest came forward and said No, to being craven. In banishment certainly, in the House of the Inquisition more doubtfully, the immortal man might yet find market from which to buy! If the mind could surmount, the eternal quest need not be interrupted—even there!

Blue Ocean sang to me.

A vision--it came to me at times, vision--set itself in air. I saw A People who persecuted neither Jew nor thinker. It rose one Figure, formed of an infinite number of small figures, but all their edges met in one glow. The figure stood upon the sea and held apart the clouds, and was free and fair and mighty, and was man and woman melted together, and it took all colors and made of them a sun for its brow. I did not know when it would live, but I knew that it should live. Perhaps it was the whole world.

It vanished, leaving sky and ocean and Andalusia. But great visions leave great peace. After it, for this day, it seemed not worth while to grieve and miserably to forebode. Through the hours that I lay there by the sea, airs from that land or that earth blew about me and faint songs visited my ears, and the gray day was only gray like a dove's breast.

Jayme de Marchena stayed by the lonely sea because that seemed the safest place to stay. At hand was the small port of Palos that might not know what was breeding in Seville, and going thither at nightfall I found lodging and supper in a still corner where all night I heard the Tinto flowing by.

I had wandered to Palos because of the Franciscan convent of Santa Maria de la Rabida and my very distant kins-man, Fray Juan Perez. The day after the gray day by the shore I walked half a league of sandy road and came to convent gate. The porter let me in, and I waited in a little court with doves about me and a swinging bell above until the brother whom he had called returned and took me to Prior's room. At first Fray Juan Perez was stiff and cold, but by littles this changed and he became a good man, large-minded and with a sense for kindred. Clearly he thought that I should not have had a Jewish grandmother, nor have lived with her from my third to my tenth birthday, and most clearly that I should not have written that which I had written. But his God was an energetic, enterprising, kindly Prince, rather bold himself and tolerant of heathen. Fray Juan Perez even intimated a doubt if God wanted the Inquisition. "But that's going rather far!" he said hastily and sat drumming the table and pursing his lips. Presently he brought out, "But you know I can't do anything!"

I did know it. What could he do? I suppose I had had a half-hope of something. I knew not what. Without a hope I would not have come to La Rabida. But it was maimed from the first, and now it died. I made a gesture of relinquishment. "No, I suppose you cannot--"

He said after a moment that he was glad to see that I had let my beard grow and was very plainly dressed, though I had never been elaborate there, and especially was he glad that I was come to Palos not as Jayme de Marchena, but under a plain and simple name, Juan Lepe, to wit. His advice was to flee from the wrath to come. He would not say flee from the Holy Office--that would be heinous!--but he would say absent myself, abscond, be banished, Jayme de Marchena by Jayme de Marchena. There were barques in Palos and rude seamen who asked no question when gold just enough, and never more than enough, was shown. He hesitated a moment and then asked if I had funds. If not--

I thanked him and said that I had made provision.

"Then," said he, "go to Barbary, Don Jayme! An intelligent and prudent man may prosper at Ercilla or at Fez. If you must study, study there."

"You also study," I said.

"In fair trodden highways--never in thick forest and mere fog!" he answered. "Now if you were like one who has been here and is now before Granada, at Santa Fe, sent for thither by the Queen! That one hath indeed studied to benefit Spain--Spain, Christendom, and the world!"

I asked who was that great one, but before he could tell me came interruption. A visitor entered, a strong-lipped, bold-eyed man named Martin Pinzon. I was to meet him again and often, but at this time I did not know that. Fray Juan Perez evidently desiring that I should go, I thought it right to oblige him who would have done me kindness had he known how. I went without intimate word of parting and after only a casual stare from Martin Pinzon.

But without, my kinsman came after me. "I want to say, Don Jayme, that if I am asked for testimony I shall hold to it that you are as good Christian as any--"

It was kinsman's part and all that truly I could have hoped for, and I told him so. About us was quiet, vacant cloister, and we parted more warmly than we had done within.

The white convent of La Rabida is set on a headland among vineyards and pine trees. It regards the ocean and, afar, the mountains of Portugal, and below it runs a small river, going out to sea through sands with the Tinto and the Odiel. Again the day was gray and the pine trees sighing. The porter let me out at gate.

I walked back toward Palos through the sandy ways. I did not wish to go to Africa.

It is my belief that that larger Self whom they will call protecting Saint or heavenly Guardian takes hand in affairs oftener than we think! Leaving the Palos road, I went to the sea as I had done yesterday and again sat under heaped sand with about me a sere grass through which the wind whined. At first it whined and then it sang in a thin, outlandish voice. Sitting thus, I might have looked toward Africa, but I knew now that I was not going to Africa. Often, perhaps, in the unremembered past I had been in Africa; often, doubtless, in ages to come its soil would be under my foot, but now I was not going there! To-day I looked westward over River-Ocean, unknown to our fathers and unknown to ourselves. It was unknown as the future of the world.

Ocean piled before me. From where I lay it seemed to run uphill to one pale line, nor blue nor white, set beneath the solid gray. Over that hilltop, what? Only other hills and plains, water, endlessly water, until the waves, so much mightier than waves of that blue sea we knew best, should beat at last against Asia shore! So high, so deep, so vast, so real, yet so empty-seeming save for strange dangers! No sails over the hilltop; no sails in all that Vast save close at hand where mariners held to the skirts of Mother. Europe. Ocean vast, Ocean black, Ocean unknown. Yet there, too, life and the knowing of life ran somehow continuous.

It wiled me from my smaller self. How had we all suffered, we the whole earth! But we were moving, we the world with none left out, moving toward That which held worlds, which was conscious above worlds. Long the journey, long the adventure, but it was not worth while fearing, it was not worth while whining! I was not alone Jayme de Marchena, nor Juan Lepe, nor this name nor that nor the other.

There was now a great space of quiet in my mind. Suddenly formed there the face and figure of Don Enrique de Cerda whose life I had had the good hap to save. He was far away with the Queen and King who beleaguered Granada. I had not seen him for ten years. A moment before he had rested among the host of figures in the unevenly lighted land of memory. Now he stood forth plainly and seemed to smile.

I took the leading. With the inner eye I have seen lines of light like subtle shining cords running between persons. Such a thread stretched now between me and Enrique de Cerda. I determined to make my way, as Juan Lepe, through the mountains and over the plain of Granada to Santa Fe.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mahoney Lonesome: On Wrestling and Viruses


The victorious wrestler is an oiled rhinoceros in a green Speedo, stomping the ground with his delicate feet. His funeral barge arms are ceremonially poised above the golden sheaves of his mullet, shorn and curled like an offering in a rite of vegetative fertility. His muscles are burial mounds beneath the roiling prairie of his taut and blushing skin. His is the roar of a locomotive in pain, an avalanche of rocks crushing the family car.

His broad box-spring torso is a queen bed of slats, sleek and lumpy as after the coitus of mammoths. And the crowd, furious with enthusiasm, creating a broadband hiss like the white noise rush of the universe collapsing at the end of time, has filled the air with the reckless sacrifice of their larynxes and tongues, an exuberant abattoir of joy and rage.

But let’s talk about viruses. The tiny Whoville network of viruses on the wrestler’s tight trunks. Or one single virus, living at the end of a cellular cul-de-sac, attempting to seek life and to flourish, to find meaning and satisfaction, here on the brief green earth. The virus is a single word in the great wiki of hope and information, a mortal sleeperhold in spacetime, an earnest Tonga deathgrip on life. In the big world, there may be the end-of-days tectonic supernovae of bodyslams, the torque of tiger feint crucifix armbars on the topology of subspace, but the virus perseveres in its ardent intracellular replications, its ontological infections, its almost-endless epistemology of transmission.

They call our virus, Mahoney Lonesome, and it works its covert operations in the crawlspace beneath the organic stairs, a childlike and surreptitious spectator between parents in the interstellar parade of microscopic communication. It is both mail carrier and letter, firefighter and fire, gravity and galaxy.

It is a long and a short story. The klieg lights of the ring have been silenced, night achieved by a switch, and the wrestler returns home. Another human, child or lover, rushes to greet him. The Red Sea parts in an exodus of blood or memory, and the virus takes its plagues wandering into the desert of the other. Mahoney Lonesome, this virus, a shadow, a spirit, the jubilation of souls in contact, enters the other, a certain knowledge, a chinlock, the sun shining into night, a cobra clutch, a front chancery of love, forgetfulness, immunity, or chance. There is a vacant region in spacetime, bounded by ropes or string theory, which remains vacant but which will always remember. If the crowd believed it could exist in twenty-two dimensions, there’d be cheering. This virus, life and all its violence, a bite of the dragon, its springtime, its poison.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nostalgia in the Nine Year Old; H.L. Hix's In Quire project.

The poet, H. L. Hix, has an interesting online project. He asks people to write about an object (not people or pets) that is important to them, but was not bought and then he posted the writing and a picture of the object on his blog.

Recently, through my writer friend, Jenny Hill, Hix invited me to contribute. Here is my In Quire contribution. I wrote about language, and specifically, the comma.

Really, if I was being straightforward about it, I should have written about the picture posted above. It is a painting by my childhood next-door-neighbour / surrogate grandmother, Molly Gordon. My family shared the holiday cottage pictured above with Molly, and her husband, Jack (known to us children as Papa Gordon). It was in the entirely numinous Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland, near the village of Annalong.

I remember climbing the mountains in the background (Big Ben and Little Ben, though most the mountains' names were prefixed with 'Slieve', from the Irish sliabh, meaning mountain.) I remember the huge iron stove, the brass bed, the washing jug and basin, the Alice-in-Wonderland wallpaper that my parents put up in the little part of the cottage that we children slept in. I remember waking in that bedroom, early, to the sound of birdsong in the brambles out the window. I also remember the stone walls, the cows of the adjacent farm, and the cow patties. I should include my eight-year-old self playing doctor with a neighbour girl and my parents walking in. This kind of thing happened a lot, if I recall correctly.

On trips back to Ireland, I've never been able to find the cottage, though I have driven through the mountains. This landscape is one of the iconic landscapes of my childhood and I mythologized it even when leaving for North America at age 9. (Though my last memory of Ireland is of my parents playing tennis sometime before we were set to emigrate. It was late afternoon and the sun, low in the sky, sent honey-coloured nostalgia beams across the tennis court. I remember saying to my nine-year old self, "Ah, but I shall ne'er see this, my native land, no more, as I am soon to leave." Actually, in something like those words. I was nine-years old and my nostalgia gland -- and my taste for Romantic poetry and Irish song lyrics -- was fully operational.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Inside Sky

night from
the inside of a blackbird is
a blackbird

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Sleep of Elephants

for Melanie Drane
On its side, half-covered in blanket, the elephant fills the bed, its slow breathing the surrender of lungs, a confession. The elephant is a form of twilight, its shadow skin, cobweb-coloured. The road, grey and endless, leading out from the fog-bound house, is an elephant also, if only in solidarity. World, the road says, your parking meters and slate roofs, your storm clouds and uncertainties, pencil leads and the rain. You have always been elephantine, winding through the half-lit maze, your baleful trumpeting and subaudible song. Mouse, you whale of the wainscot, bat, you whale of dusk, you are elephants seen through the multifaceted eyes of insects. All roads are elephants, all bathtubs, laundromats, and reference texts. What is plural is elephant. What is singular. A rural road, I fly alone in the night sky, itself a dark road with no border but the horizon and the rich elephantine earth, a constellation of shadows.

I find a pillow, half-buried beneath the vast foreleg of the elephant. I wash my hands, my face. I lie down beside the elephant which is dying. I do not hear, but feel the elephant’s murmuring, the worlds it speaks in consolation, time, a kind of twilight articulated in sound. I sleep beside its universe, its inhalations and outbreaths, a slow expansion and contraction of the rolling curves of its body. If there are stars, they have closed their eyes, they are past shining outward.

Elephant, old man, old woman, what is beyond old man and woman. Landscape, helium, dust; settlement, spacetime, nest. Let us be governed by twilight, or the twilight of twilight which is a shadow in the mirror.   Elephant, there are others, too, who will find you, who will bring you the consolation of sleep. The somnolent rest with you, march beside you into night. And when you turn, deep in your dream, our crushed bones will become, like a comet’s dust, a radiant trail of loss and return, an elephant.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Red Wheelbarrow; semicolon; lungs

so much depends

a semi

if not every
thing then two



so much depends

a semi

first one

an other

Friday, December 03, 2010

What is a Book?: The Frozen Pirate

Blank page from THE FROZEN PIRATE
"Blank page" after importation to Photoshop.

I'm currently writing a novel that involves pirates and so I've been reading explorer, pirate and nautical narratives from the 16th to the 19th century. Some of the books include Defoe (The Life, Adventures, and Piracies of Captain Singleton), de las Casas (A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies), Stevenson (Treasure Island), Exquemelin (The Pirates of Panama), and The Frozen Pirate by W. Clark Russell.

Because it is the 21st century, much of my reading has been downloaded from and has been accomplished on my iPhone (using the Stanza app.) Some has been derived from which I often listen to while walking my dog. (I use the Audiobooks app for this.) There's a particularly great reading of Treasure Island replete with fantastic pirate and stuffy English gentlemen voices by  Adrian Praetzelis. He even multitracks his seadog singing of the "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!" choruses. has scanned reproductions of some old publications, for example, The Frozen Pirate by W. Clark Russell. I've only read/listened to the opening chapter, which is a brilliantly vivid description of a massive storm at sea which results in the ship being blown south to the Antarctic. Looking at the PDFs of the scans, I noted the reproduced blank pages. They were beautiful yellowed, stained and cloudy fields of paper. I thought that I might do something with these pages. The ultimate in erasure texts? A negative erasure text -- adding some text to the blankness? Perhaps my conceptual translation of the original would involve only blank pages. I hadn't decided. Another thing that was fascinating was that the PDFs of pages of text had a 'removable background' which meant that I could click and eliminate the yellowed pages and leave just the text. A strange ghoul of a book remained, a text printed upon the spirit of a pages only.

I downloaded the copy of the scanned book, thinking to begin seeing what I could do. Loading the pages into Photoshop, I discovered that, due to some kind of glitch, the blank pages turned into a grey-violet sea/storm wash of watercolour. I've posted one image above and one below.

Below, I've also posted the first page. Copy and pasting from the PDF doesn't preserve the font or indeed the font size. I've posted the raw Photoshop of that, too, inverted in color for legibility., not only to give a sense of some of the writing, but also because I think it highlights how we receive text, these days.

Here is a 19th tale that I listen to via the crowd-sourced readings of Librivox, or read via a non-descript txt file on my iPhone that was downloaded from a free archival resource ( I also examine a scan of the produced published book on my laptop. Sometimes I attempt to migrate formats, platforms, or programs.

What is the book? Is it pixels? The text? The sum of its language and technology (whether print, book, alphabet, sound file, etc.)? Is the 'book' a vector of semantic forms? Of data? Is it a cultural vector to which, like barnacles, meaning accrues? A meme? Is the book some kind of frozen pirate, the said pirate having stolen fire from the word horde only to be frozen into fixed form?

One thing for certain, though. All this playing around hasn't resulted in me finishing my book, whatever it turns out to be.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Music for Writers: Luciano Berio

Luciano Berio - Sequenza III (for Woman Voice)                                                            

I hope to post, from time to time,  brief introductions to music which might be of particular interest to my writing colleagues, music which engages with text, the voice, and techniques which seem related to the concerns of contemporary writers.

Luciano Berio was one of the preeminent Italian composers of the 20th century. His compositions were noted for exploring extended instrumental and especially vocal techniques. They often drew their inspiration--and incorporated text and other elements from--literary works. Many of his works incorporated collage, appropriation, or quotation and as such, he is considered a 'post-modern' composer. There a good article about Berio here.

Perhaps Berio's most famous piece is the extraordinary Sinfonia for orchestra and eight amplified voices. The voices sing, speak, whisper, shout, and use other vocal sounds.

The third movement incorporates “found” music from Mahler, Alban Berg, as well as text from Beckett’s  novel The Unnameable, text from Claude Lévi-Strauss, and much self-referential text. It is a witty, self-referential, metaphysical romp. Many of Berio's work incorporated 'collaged' text from multiple sources. For example A-Ronne (which I write about below) features text from the Bible,  T.S. Eliot and Karl Marx.

The second movement was originally the independent composition O King written for Martin Luther King. The vocal music begins with first the vowels and then the consonants of MLK's name, only in the end, combining them into his name. It is a beautiful, moving deconstruction and reconstruction of this iconic name.

Berio wrote numerous pieces entitled Sequenza, all which featured solo (i.e. unaccompanied) instruments or the voice. These short pieces explore new techniques for their performers. Sequenza III for extended voice is perhaps the most famous. Berio wrote the piece for the remarkable voice and vocal abilities of his then wife, Cathy Berberian. The score incorporates a wide range of vocal sounds not usually associated with 'voice,' but rather with the wide range of human vocal behaviours.

Finally, there is Berio's chamber vocal tour-de-force, A Ronne,  a larger piece for eight voices—this is brilliant sound poetry and vocal music. The voice is a theatre in the round and you don't know what character or sound will show up. By the way, the title refers to the A to Z of the old Italian alphabet.

Berio was a prolific composer. He wrote many kinds of work -- from solo to large orchestral works, vocal works, and some operas. Coro a large work for vocalists and orchestra is a particular favourite of mine.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My "Hometown" Book Launch and a Literary Wake for Kerry Schooley

Greg Betts, John Abrams, Beth Bromberg, & Gary Barwin (Photo: K. Garneau, The Spec.)

The Hamilton Spectator did a nice article about my book launch. (I'm after the discussion of moustaches, a speaking mouth below the 'stache's hairy slash.) Jeff Mahoney wrote that the book was
classic Barwin, effervescent with wit, startling imagery and delightful strangeness.
 If I'd shaved and become moustache resplendent, one can only imagine what he might have written.

When Little Red Riding Hood wrote a book, she didn't have to travel with a basket full of nibblies through those nasty woods all the way to Grandma's House. She had the launch at her own house. Grandma read about it in the paper and the wolf took the shortcut and read about it on a Twitter feed.

Well, last Tuesday, the local independent bookseller of record, Bryan Prince, Bookseller, held a "hometown" book launch for my The Porcupinity of the Stars James St. N., and, as I mentioned above, the Hamilton Spectator covered it--as part of their "Scene and Heard" beat. The Three Bears weren't able to come -- they texted me their regrets but the place (the Mulberry St. Coffeehouse -- part of the new artsy urban resurgence--surgence?--on James) was packed with friends, neighbours, family, and other fairytale characters such as some of the local writerati.

The launch was lovely. Bryan Prince, the eponymous bookseller of Bryan Prince, Bookseller, and a tremendous supporter of writers, local, live, and reading-willing, introduced me. After having seen the trailer for the book where I do something of a Subterranean Homesick Blues word-on-a-sign rendition of a poem, he decided to introduce me in this Dylanesque manner, holding up cards of a poem of mine and then adding some very flattering descriptors of me. The audience as a chorus, read out the words on the cards as he held them up. Bob-like, Bryan dropped each card after it was read. My friend Anne, sitting in the front row, had to dodge the falling cards. "I've often been struck by your good qualities," she quipped, "but not quite like this.

I was delighted that the parent of one of my former students, brought that student, now in Grade 8, and his little sister. Good thing I only mentioned two kinds of genitals during the reading.

As the article mentions, the next day, we held a memorial performance for our late friend, Kerry Schooley, at the fantastic Pearl Company. (And thanks to Barbara Milne and Gary Santucci for donating the space for the event.) It was a marvellous thing. A whole bunch of writers read from Kerry's work, as well as reading some other things of their own, in tribute to him. They also shared some memories--funny stories and touching anecdotes.

We read some of his crime fiction (where he wrote as John Swan), and some of his poetry (where he wrote as Slim Volumes.) Kerry's wife and daughters were there, and one of his daughters spoke very movingly at the end. She was always, she said, "proud to be a Schooley," as, indeed, we were proud to be his friend, colleague, and to be part of the vibrant community of which he was a catalyst, enabler, facilitator, and supporter. I was struck how the writers in Hamilton, a diverse group of people, came together to celebrate Kerry. How they appeared to appreciate each other. Readers included Chris Pannell (who was the eloquent MC), Bob Megans, Susan Evans Shaw, Bernadette Rule, Jeff Seffinga, Klyde Broox, John Terpstra, and Eleanore Kosydar. I only remembered to take photos toward the end and I've posted them below.

Chris Pannell

Klyde Broox

Susan Evans Shaw

Jeff Seffinga

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Dogged Sport of the Stray Ukelele at the Gates of the Winter Embassy: Mansfield Press in Hamilton

This season Mansfield Press published four books of poems and, last night, the poets came to Hamilton to read at the Mulberry St. Coffeehouse on James St. N. The books themselves are beautifully designed by publisher Denis De Klerck and were edited by Stuart Ross.

Pricila Uppal wasn't wearing ski boots.

Priscila Uppal read from her Winter Sport: Poems, written when she was the poet-in-residence for Canadian Athletes Now during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. These were witty and charming pieces. It makes sense, poetry and sports. They both have rules within which there is play. There are ‘goals’ by which to measure achievement, if only of grace and play. There is emotion – joy, hope, celebration, recognition. There is invention, fear, iconic moments, myth, and story.

Trick or treat?
Trick, trick!
Trick, trick!
Trick, trick!

—Snowboarder at the Door

Leigh Nash is not as blurry in real life

Leigh Nash read from her wonderful first collection, Goodbye, Ukelele. These poems explore, as it says on the back cover, “truth, lies, and what glimmers in between.” There is, here, the magic of consciousness, the glimmer of images, and our awareness. How we mediate experience through language, awareness, image, sound, and ourselves.

I’ve been collecting for a while
now, and I’m no closer to figuring out
right from wrong—but it sure is nice
to have pinned down so much beauty

—from Let’s Take a Cue from the Catholics

Peter Norman is not in the Theme Park

Peter Norman read from At the Gates of the Theme Park. To me these poems are fables of wonder, bemusement, surprise, trepidation, and the striking images themselves are the characters and plot devices which make up the fabulist yet actual experience of our modern world. Never mind the Jackpine Sonnet, I think Peter’s onto a new genre with “What He Found in the Vacuum Cleaner Bag.”  I’m going right now to empty out mine. Mostly dog hair, forgotten promises, and an excess of hope.  Peter has two poems in this collection in which time and causality move backward. They’re fantastic and create meaningful new relations with their vibrant reversed imagery.

Outside, a robin
cocks her head,
feeds worms
to the hungry soil.
—from Recursion

Unfortunately Natasha Nuhanovic wasn’t able to make the reading. I was looking forward to hearing her read from Stray Dog Embassy. I think of Tom Waits’ great idea of a ‘rain dog’, a dog that has lost its bearings because the rain has washed away all the territorial markings which give its world shape. The images in Natasha’s poems are an attempt to find one’s way. We use images to connect things, to give our experience, our troubles and our hopes, new names. We shape our experience and our world by naming it. These poems are an attempt to help us know where we are. Some of these poems recall—and this is high praise indeed—Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End.
It has become so cold outside that the rain
freezes in the air and turns into prison bars

—from Day Before the War

It was a lovely, intimate reading. And, Grey Cup-like, after poetry had been declared the victor, we ran through the streets of Hamilton, jeering, hooting, drinking, and smashing windows, or at least, perception.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Floating Testicle, Lost Horizon


there’s an almost perfectly round rock on my desk
once my doctor told me I had a floating testicle

some stanzas have two lines; this one has one

what should we expect from the world
humour, meaning, kindness?

all night I wished to write a great poem
they searched for it but it was gone

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snake on the Bathroom Scale: Writing and Music

Jay Gamble at the University of Lethbridge is interviewing me about my writing.  And, this morning, since I feel filled with the iridescent phlegm of bagpipers, glorious with flu, I did answer like some kind of flu-medication oracle, my brain a slick semi-sensate pseudopod sliding across the surface of sense.

Here's one of his questions and one of my more coherent answers.

You are also a musician.  How does music inflect your writing, particularly poetry?
I see music as a patterning of sound images (The theorist James Tenney would say ‘temporal gestalts’). The web of interactions and relations between these sound images are analogous to the interactions and relations in a text. Rhythm, image, word, sound, form, resonance with past images. These inseparable elements interact both temporally and atemporally.

If a poem were a snake in the bathroom, and it slithered onto the bathroom scale, each section’s weight as it crossed the scale would be influenced by each other section. You’d have to consider it to be a kind of quantum bathroom scale to make any sense of it. Which is how I feel when I slither onto the scale myself.

So my process of music composition and textual composition is actually quite similar. I’m creating the snake as I weigh it. And I try to eat right and get enough exercise.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My interview in H Magazine/ local book launch / performance tribute to Kerry Schooley

Kerry Schooley walking through the nostalgic feeling created by a filter on my iPhone in the Mulberry St. Coffeehouse.

There are some truly remarkable things about Hamilton, Ontario.

Hamiltonians, for instance.

Some of them love Hamilton deeply and work inventively and energetically to make inventive and energetic things happen in the city.

Here are two things related to them.


My dear friend Kerry Schooley was certainly an inventive and energetic Hamiltonian. We're having a celebration of Kerry next week at the fantastic Pearl Company.

Performances in tribute to the memory of Kerry Schooley
The Pearl Company (
Wednesday, November 24th


Dave Kuruc contributes to making great things happen here. The Arts Crawl, H Magazine, his cool store, Mixed Media. He recently interviewed me for H Magazine about my upoming 'hometown' launch at the Mulberry Coffeehouse on James St. N, on November 23rd.

Local author pokes and pricks in his new collection of shiny poems

Gary - your new collection of poems is entitled "The Porcupinity of the Stars" - great title! What does it mean?

Thanks! I think the job of a title is to intrigue you, to make you wonder what it might mean in the context of the book behind it. In terms of its meaning, my title makes a connection between the stars being ‘pinpricks’ and the needles of a porcupine. The stars prickle out from the dark hide of the sky the way the needles of a porcupine shine out from a porcupine. Or else it means that the baleful gopher of interstellar space longs to be needled by the porcupine and its propinquity to the luminous constellations of our own mortality. At least that’s what my mom said.

You are considered a poet with interesting and amusing things to say - what is the most interesting or amusing thing anyone has said about your work?

Someone once told me, in trying to explain why they didn’t want their daughter to marry someone from a different religious and cultural background that it’d be like one of my children coming home and announcing that they now wrote rhyming poetry.

This is your first new book in a few years - do you find it takes you a while to build up work for these kinds of collections or do you just go with a writing flow? Are you a daily writer or only when it strikes?

I’ve actually written a lot since my last book. I like publishing in different forms and so since then I’ve published many chapbooks, been in lots of periodicals, and on many recordings, exhibited in a few art shows, and have posted almost constantly on my blog, And in 2011, I’ve two new books coming out. But, that said, in terms of the process, it’s a question of sculpting a book from the chaos of work that I create almost daily, some of it good, some of it suggestive of an interesting direction, and some of it surprising in its nattering inanity and absolute obliviousness to the fact that it is a total failure. Part of creating a book is figuring out which pieces belong together, which pieces work together to create a satisfying book that is more than the sum of its parts, and which pieces ought to be buried in an underground vault where they can do no more harm to literature.

You just got back from a book tour across the country - how'd it go?

There were jubilant and grateful citizens lining the streets of Montreal. A parade of clowns, cows, and librarians in Lethbridge. The tide held its fishy breath for me in Victoria. Someone unfurled a celebratory paperclip in Philadelphia, PA and said, “Yay,” under their breath. Actually, it was fantastic & really fun. I met lots of great writers, readers, bookstore people and had some great conversations with them. I love performing and sharing my work. I got to use the same jokes in different cities as if I was really clever and had just thought of them. The best response was one young couple who said “Jeez, if we’d known poetry readings were like this, we’d have gone to one before.” And just wait until they learn English!
Your hometown book launch is Nov. 23 at the new Mulberry coffee House on James - great spot and one not yet associated with hosting too many events. Why there and what can we expect from the evening?

I’m really excited by what is happening on James St. and in select other outposts throughout Hamilton. There’s a creative excitement here, a sense of finally unfurling something energetic and indicative of the “new Hamilton.’ A sense of having reached some kind of critical mass in terms of the creative classes. It’s not the 50s anymore.

Actually, the Mulberry is going to start hosting events, like readings, in addition to art shows. In fact on November 28th, I’m hosting a reading of four poets from the Mansfield Press fall line-up.

For my launch, I’ll be reading a selection from the new book. I like to think of readings as performances – some combination of stand-up comedy, soliloquy, tuneless singing, raving preacher, and making a statement to the police. But I deny all knowledge of the events of July 17th, 1932. I was not there; I was rewiring my mule.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Great-Uncle Isaak Rescued from the Holocaust

Isaak painting a familiar face

Isaak ploughing: art students had to plough on Sunday

My grandfather, Percy Zelikow, left Lithuania in the 30s to move to South Africa. He was able to escape the pogroms and the Holocaust. Many of his brothers and sisters were not so lucky. From the safety and prosperity of South Africa, he spent many years looking for family who might have survived the war. After he had moved to Ottawa, Canada, he discovered his nephew, Isaak, living in Chicago. Below is a minibiography of his nephew (copied from page.)

What this biography doesn't say is something that Isaak told me. Isaak and his sister escaped when some Allied soldiers who had to leave town in a hurry, held their hands out and told Isaak's parents to pass their two children up into their truck and they would take them to safety. Isaak never saw his parents again, but, due to this simple act by these soldiers, he did manage to survive the war.


A painting by Isaak of a street in Vilnius
Born in 1930 in Kaunas, Lithuania, Isaak Grazutis has a storied past worth noting as an antecedent to his paintings. In 1941, at the age of eleven, Isaak was forced to flee his native village in advance of Nazi occupation. After his parents were taken away by the invading forces, he was brought to live in an orphanage in Ural, and later, Moscow where he spent his formative years. During this time, he enrolled in art school at Moscow City Art College. In 1950, at the age of 20, Isaak returned to Lithuania for advanced study in the fine arts at Lithuania State Art Institute in Vilnius. After graduating with a Master of Arts Degree in Fine Art (1956), he was given the official assignment of traveling to Tadzhikistan. There, he painted in tribal villages surrounded by the vast mountain vistas. This experience of 'plein air' painting in such a unique environment would help Isaak to develop the signature impressionist style that typifies his landscape painting today. In 1957, he returned to Moscow and later to Lithuania where he worked as a graphic artist. Within a year after his return he was exhibiting his art in Moscow and also in Vilnius. By 1970, he had been granted membership in the prestigious Union of Soviet Artists. The subsequent unraveling of the Soviet system opened the door for emigration, and in 1979 Isaak made his way to the United States. Settling in the Chicago area, he landed a position as a graphic designer for the international publisher, Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation. In 1985, he left Britannica to pursue his interests in book design and oil painting. Isaak Grazutis' artwork is in private collections in Lithuania, Russia, Israel, Canada, and the United States. He is currently active as a fine artist, painting primarily in the medium of oil.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Old Polish Passports, discovered under the bed.

The Yiddish wallet which contained the Polish passports we found under the bed. My Yiddish is almost entirely non-existent, but, sounding out the letters, I believe the last word on the left is "America"
My wife's great-grandparents: Moszek (Moshe) and Ruchla Abramowicz
Amusingly, under 'distinguishing characteristics,' it lists 'beard' for Moshe. How many Ashkenazi Jews born in 1862 would have sported beards?

Several years ago, when my wife's grandmother died, we discovered a tea tin under her bed. In it were the steamer tickets which brought her, her future husband, and her parents to Canada from Poland in 1930. There were also passports: her passport and her parents' passports.

Moszek and Ruchla Abramowicz, of Radomska, Poland, were both born in 1862 in Poland. Their (single) passport was stamped by Canadian Immigration on February 14, 1930 in Danzig. By February 17, 1930, they were in London, England. From there, the boat took them to Canada where they settled in Toronto. We have a fantastic audiotape made by my sister-in-law as a Bat Mitzvah project. In it, her bubie talks about her parents and her 'young, young, years.' In Poland, Moshe had sold fish from a horse-drawn cart. Sometimes, his daughter rode in the cart with him.

Their daughter and son-in-law (my wife's Bubie and Zaydie) opened a barbershop at College and Bathurst St. in Toronto where, in addition to haircuts, they had something of a little convenience store and made meals which they served in the back. The family lived above the store.

In the 80s, when my wife and I visited the store with her bubie, the same man who had bought the store from them still owned it. He was proud to show off the new furnace that he had installed. He also flirted with my wife's 80+ Bubie.

I look at the pictures of my wife's great-grandparents in the passport, the dates, the handwriting, the yellowed paper. It is hard to imagine how different their experience of life was. I recall when he first met my son, my grandfather was amazed that he had known his grandfather (who had been born in the 1860s) and now he had met his great-grandson. "That's six generations!" he exclaimed, delighted that he was a bridge over such a vast amount of human time.

When I was young, we had horse-drawn carts.
Now we have Photoshop

Jews from Eastern Europe are called Ashkenazis (as opposed to the Jews from the Spanish and North African world, know as Sephardic Jews.) There are two types of Ashkenazis.My wife's family was Galitzianer,  that is, Jews from the south-eastern region of the Eastern-European Yiddish speaking world. It implies that a person speaks Yiddish with a certain dialect, and there are cultural differences as well. The "opposite" is a Litvak, a Jew from the north-eastern areas such as Lithuania. My family was Litvak.

The name originated as the Yiddish term referring to someone from Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in modern-day Poland and Ukraine, as opposed to the Litvaks of Belarus, north-eastern Poland and Lithuania, Galitsyaners spoke a separate dialect of Yiddish. Eventually, the term referred to anyone who spoke a similar dialect, broadening the term to mean, basically, "anyone who isn't a Litvak".

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Parrot, upon her death

The Parrot, upon her death.
From The Testament and Complaynt of Our Soverane Lord's Papyngo (1529) by Sir David Lindsay.

''She then leaves her green mantle to the quiet and unobtrusive owl, her golden and brilliant eyes to the bat, her sharp polished beak to the affectionate pelican,

' To help to pierce her tender heart in twain ;'

her angelical voice to the single-songed cuckoo, her eloquence and ' tongue rhetorical ' to the goose; her bones, which she directs to be enclosed in a case of ivory, to the Arabian phoenix, her heart to the King her master, and her intestines, liver, and lungs to her three executors. Having finished her last injunctions, Polly disposes herself to die, and falling into her mortal passion, after a severe struggle, in which the blood pitifully gushes from her wounds, she at last breathes out her life.' Extinguished were her natural wittis five.'

Her executors then proceed to divide her body in a very summary manner. ' My heart was sad,' says Lindsay, ' to see this doleful partition of my favourite; her angel feathers scattered by these greedy cormorants in the air/ Nothing at last is left except the heart, which the magpie, with a sudden fit of loyalty, vindicates as belonging to the King. The portion, however, is too tempting to the raven. ' Now, may I be hanged,' says he, ' if this piece shall be given either to King or Duke;' a tussle ensues, the greedy hawk, seizing the heart in her talons, soars away, whilst the rest pursue her with a terrible din, and disappear in the air. So ends the tragedy of the papingo."

A Barcode and a Zebra: MicroFables about Love, the Internet, and Unicorn Horns


A unicorn and a unicycle meet each other at a party. If only you had a horn, the unicorn says.


A kitchen counter dissatisfied with love, sets out to explore the world. It learns to know the love of forests, hurricanes, hunger, and the arbitrary rule of kings. Now I know everything, it says. Everything but the kitchen sink, the kitchen sink says.


A fisherman sails out to the sea. We are waiting for you to catch us, some small fish say, so we can forgive you.


A whale sighs. With one eye, I see the west; with the other, I see the east, but I can’t see myself with either. Tell me about it, a mirror says.


We see only what is beneath us, the rain says. True, says the king.


I remember how the swift movements of legs created me, the run says. No matter how fast they go, they will never leave me, it says.


A barcode and a zebra meet each other in the schoolyard. They have nothing to say to each other.


Two eyes walk into an office and tell the receptionist, We would like to see the future. Just wait, she says.


An ant and the sun were boyfriend and girlfriend. You think I am being distant, but it’s only because I am so small, the ant says. OK, then let me look at you through a magnifying glass, the sun replies.


The internet is unhappy. Information doesn’t really love me, it says. It’s just using me.


All dogs are really cats, the cat says. That’s why they chase their own tails.


A finish line is complaining to a pot of gold. They walk all over me, the finish line says. Just don’t let them get to you, the pot of gold says.

A root and some black pepper are talking. I will be ground when I grow up, says the pepper. When I grow up, I lose ground, the root says.


A lie and the truth are standing at a bus stop. You won’t believe what I’m going to tell you, the lie says.

(A few microfables for teens that I'm working on.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Scraphic Gortation & Nrores: Some Links to Graphic Notation

I've been thinking again about graphic notation / graphic scores, after some recent conversations with brilliant visual poet / wonceptual criter, derek beaulieu. (Check out his fantastic site.)

Here are a few links to online resources that are interesting, useful, not-useful but beautiful, beautiful but useful, neither beautiful nor useful, some like a duck in the quintessence, some the notion of feathers only.

Pictures of Music (Northwestern University site exploring and discussing graphic notation.

All of John Cage's Notations (over 300 pages of diverse kinds of scores by composers)
Important and extensive 1969 anthology of notation.

Gallery of Graphic Notation (WFMU) 

"everything related to Graphic Scores"

New York Miniaturist Ensemble

Graphical Scores Wiki
(links to graphic scores)

Notations 21 Project
webpage based on exhibition exploring where graphic notation has gone in the 21st century.

Graphic Scores/Visual Poetry page at Tumblr

Graphic Scores Images

The Schoyen Collection (historical and ethnographic music notation collection)
The image posted above is a Tibetan example from this collection.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Angel of History


ampersands and what ampersands and


As posted on the fantastic poemicstrip blog.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Become Coincident: For David W. McFadden on his 70th birthday

Recently, Stuart Ross and Jim Smith published a festschrift for David W. McFadden's 70th birthday ("A Trip Around McFadden") to present to him at a surprise festschrift-presentation event/party which included many of his friends and family. I thought the whole thing was a totally lovely and marvellous thing to do and I was disappointed that I wasn't able to attend, but delighted to contribute a poem for David that I begin in 1991. The festschrift was printed beautifully by Coach House and includes many great reminiscences, poems, photographs, and prose for and about David.

I wrote the following piece about David which I'm happy to share here.

Become Coincident

David McFadden is always thinking about moving back to Hamilton. At least, that what he tells me when I see him. I’m beginning to think that there should be a long complicated compound German word for this. Something like McFaddengedankenheimgehenhamiltongemütlichweltanschauungkeit (which means, in rough translation, the state of being David McFadden-thinking-about-returning-home-to-cosy-Hamilton.) There should be also some words in there that refer to curiosity, nostalgia, irony, humour, bemusement, realism, and a kind of steady alertness to the possibility of things.

Perhaps David tells me he might return because my family and I have lived in Hamilton for over twenty years. Or it might be that his daughter, who lived near me, but who I never met, thought that I might have a muskrat in my beard. Or a muskrat for a beard. Either, way, this was supposed to be a good thing.

But we have shared some ‘Hammerpatico’ about being a writer/resident/family guy in Hamilton, Ontario which I always think of as ‘home of David McFadden,’ though they somehow left that fact off the sign on the 403. Maybe when he returns, they’ll change the street sign outside the Y that says ‘Franz Liszt’ and rename the street after Dave. Cul de Sac of Endless Radiance. Why are You So Long and Sweet Road, Park of Darkness. From here on in all road surfaces will be known as the Davement. Maybe they’ll just create a statue of him in dried plums and put it on Anonymity Street.

But really, I don’t think that they should name a physical thing after him. They should name a certain kind of bemused happy/sad wonder after him. A quirky curiosity. Kids in Hamilton will be graded on this on their report cards. You got an B- in McFadden? You could do better. "Get on the bus and find out about people’s past lives. Take a trip around something. Plug your legs into the ground and become electrical. Become coincident. Now, and I mean it."

When my first book was launched in Toronto, I remember how thrilled I was that Dave attended. It was like discovering a note acknowledging me in Kerouac’s diary. For a later book, Dave wrote a brilliantly witty, ironic blurb for me: “Another breath of fresh air from Hamilton, Ontario.” The first breath, obviously, is David McFadden himself and I was delighted to be mentioned in the same breath as Dave, to be included as part of the same urban yet refreshing poetic gasp. Dave has been a source of inspiration for me – ever since I discovered his work in my teens. And he has continued to be a breath of fresh air for me, here, in Hamilton, Ontario ever since.

I think that wherever he actually is, David will always been in a state of moving to Hamilton. It’s a kind of metaphor about possibility, about discovering old stories with surprise middles, and new memories with unexpected wisdom. How it is all about perception and engagement, Memory and invention. About living. About how you don’t need to go home to go home. And you don’t need to travel to travel.

David, my family and I wish you much happiness and McFaddengedankenheimgehenhamiltongemütlichweltanschauungkeit on your 70th birthday. It is a great occasion to celebrate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Goodbye, Ukelele / Maid on the Shore / Hello Electric Ukelele: CPUnit

The Toronto-based Mansfield Press recently celebrated its tenth year of publishing. This literary press -- a labour of vision and love by Denis De Klerck -- continues to publish beautifully designed and produced books. The more recent addition of Stuart Ross as the poetry editor (and now the proud possessor of his own imprint "A Stuart Ross Book") has only served to further the press. Stuart has developed, acquired, and edited a number of fantastic debuts plus obtained (cajoled?) manuscripts for more senior writers (for example, David McFadden's Governor General nominated Be Calm, Honey.)

This season's books include: poetry collections: (Leigh Nash's Goodbye, Ukelele, Peter Norman's At the Gates of the Theme Park, Natasha Nuhanovic's Stray Dog Embassy, Priscila Uppal's Winter Sports Poems) and Imagining Toronto, Amy Lavender Harris' essays about how Toronto has been represented in literature.

Here are two short poems which I particularly like from Leigh Nash's excellent debut, Goodbye, Ukelele. 

Linear A: Syllables slotted into weather-beaten tetherballs, hull-less ships docking in the dark.

Linear B: Hands cradle a common suffix: frozen deer drown in metre.

You can hear her keen ear for sound in the alliteration -- syllables tetherballs ...docking...dark and 

There's also a lovely play of vowels: for example listen to the o's of frozen deer drown, or the play of a’s and o’s in “Hands cradle a common...

There is beautiful allusive imagery throughout the collection and these two poems are no exception: Tetherballs with syllables slid into them, hull-less ships, frozen deer drowning in metre, and hands cradling suffixes. What is a hull-less ship? A wave? A quantity of moving water that could contain a ship? A frozen deer -- how does it drown, except through prosody? And poor common suffix, needing to be held.

Nash notes that “Linear A is one of two linear and possibly syllabic scripts used in ancient Crete, and...Both scripts share some of the same symbols, but using syllables associated with Linear B in Linear A writing produces words unrelated to any known language.”

Which causes one to look for connections between these two poems. I won’t detail them all but there a rich source of connections, from the bipartite structure of the two sentences to sound relations between their elements: The d’s of docking and dark with the d’s of deer and drown.

These two little poems are like fragments from a lost text, theoretical translations from an allusive tradition, cryptic yet concrete. Two cuneiform tablets to be savoured on the tongue. Like a ukulele.


The other day, I woke and scrawled something down in my notebook. When I transcribed it and shaped it into a poem, I realized that it had taken its inspiration from Leigh's book and its lovely cover. The title of the poem is from the traditional song, sung by Stan Rogers, among others.


she lay down on the sand
the tide was her blanket
in the morning, what was there?

a starfish, a ukulele,
a red thread connecting
each thing to each other

each needle with each mouth
each mouth with each light
each light with the tide


And, while we're talking ukeleles, here's a great song and video by CPUnit, featuring an electric ukelele. The song proper starts after the introduction explains why the video came to be made - for an electric ukelele manufacturer's contest.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Divination by Punctuation: Craig Conley's new book

Craig Conley is the prodigious and prestidigital sorcerer of an esoteric and arcane empire of wonder, curiosity, and knowledge. The temporal but impalpable centre of the many projects which are his bailiwick can be found at his Abecedarian blog. His many books, including Ampersand, Dictionary of One Letter Words, Magic Words: A Dictionary can be found through his website. One of my favourite of his books is the intriguing and poetic, If A Chessman Were a Word: A Chess-Calvino Dictionary.

And now he has a new book out: Divination by Punctuation. He has devised a new Tarot deck based on, amongst other insights, that punctuation is a kind of connective -- it can indicate the many types of relations between one card and another. It is, as all of his books, beautifully pataphysical, poetic, engaging, intriguing, and filled with many fantastic quotes, facts, and great illustrations.

There's a review and an interview with Craig over here at Bonnie Cehovet's blog.  (I should mention that, in the book, Craig graciously quotes me waxing gibbous about punctuation.

Between one great continent and the other, there is the vast ocean. Between one sentence and the other, punctuation.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Review in the Winnipeg Free Press!

Ariel Gordon wrote this nice porcupinious review of The Porcupinity of the Stars for the Winnipeg Free Press.  She connects my poem in tribute to bp, "Inside H", to bp's citing of his childhood passing of H block in Winnipeg's Wildwood Park neighbourhood with his love of the letter and his feeling that the alphabet is a tangible in-the-world object. The above image is an H sign from the neighbourhood. I wonder if it still looks like the one bp would have walked by on his way home.

By the way, I have a video setting of this poem. Here it is:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pearl Pirie, her new book and her blogs; my reading in Montreal; Stuart Ross, Cigarettes & the Relit

I'm thrilled to be part of this fantastic line-up of writers and their new books.

Pearl Pirie in Ottawa keeps up an interesting array of blogs. Her Pesbo blog  is about poetry-related things. I make a point to read it because she is earnest, insightful, often points me to think in ways that I don't usually, and, all her work is infused with compassion, curiosity, discovery, and inquiry.

Pearl is also an interesting poet. Her new book,  been shed bore, has a beautiful website. Her work reflects what I said above about her blog: it is infused with compassion, curiosity, discovery, and inquiry, to which I should add play and a great ear for the musical possibilities of language.

Yesterday, Pearl published a round-up of recently 'dipped-into' poetry books, a brief discussion of several books and specific poems, often focussed around loss. The poets she considers are: Kay Ryan, nathalie stephens, Sandra Ridley, Bernadette Wagner, Susan Stenson, Susan Musgrave, John Lent, Dani Couture, and me. I certainly appreciate her thoughtful discussion of how my poem, Brick, works through its imagery, thought-structure, and language.


Stuart Ross has just won the ReLit prize for short fiction for his fantastic book, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. I think Stuart is one of Canada's best writers-- compassionate, existential, funny, bittersweet, metaphysical, socially insightful and satirical, and deeply concerned with how to navigate the ontological poodles of the modern world. I'm glad with this award, his latest book received at least some of the recognition that it deserves.