Wednesday, March 31, 2010

David 'Long and Sweet' McFadden, The Obvious In(ter)vention; National Missing Feet Month, Showy not William Tell, Not THAT Christian Book

From a mountain overlooking the Banff Centre.

A recording of a performance of selections from The Obvious Flap by Gary Barwin and Gregory Betts, From at In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge at the Banff Centre for the Arts on February 19, 2010. The book of the performance of the book is coming out from BookThug next year.

And for your Poetry Month celebrations:

Check out Amanda Earl's featuring a month's worth of great writing, a new poem posted each day. As she says, read it "every day
in April for 30 days of fish, klingon, asemic writing, Gertrude, Alice, comedy, intrigue, lust, love, flâneurs, frostbite, visual poetry, water, hearts, kidneys, lungs, ghosts, gusts, ghouls and gulls from Budapest, Belgium, England, France, the USA and Canada."

I have a poem there about missing feet. Perfect for springtime. And there's no need for the other shoe to drop.


What you didn't know? It's also International Pwoermd Writing Month (originally national pwoermd writing month! Get writing those one word poems. Smash the atom of language. Join up and/or follow along here. This is one of Geof Huth's projects. If you're looking for inspiration and an idea of what is possible, check out Geof's new book of collected pwoermds, NTST, just out from if p then q out of the U.K.


Not in April, but a big enough cause for celebration to retroactively spill into the previous month is David W. McFadden's new selection, Why Are You So Long and Sweet: Collected Long Poems of David W. McFadden, ed. by Stuart Ross and published by Insomniac Press. The launch is May 11th at the Magpie in Toronto. McFadden's long poems do things formally and procedurally that are exciting, daring, adventurous, exhilarating, surprising, and inventive. Whereas his short poems often delight by playing against expectations, his long poems often blow open those expectations: you don't have any idea where he might go and there's nothing to do but try to get a seat in the front car, raise your arms, and wait for your heart rate to quicken as McFadden takes you on a ride through through the strange and wonderful theme park that is modern life, poetry, and consciousness.


At the Banff Centre, a sign warns to use the subject lyric 'i' with caution. Are you the mountain? Are you the Romantic poet with a unique conception of the mountain? Are you going to sign your name in the snow and then proclaim "I think I shall call them, 'The Rocky Mountains."?

And, while we're discussing the lyric subject and the I poem (the iPoem?), you might want to look at Christian Bök's "Two Dots over a Vowel," for his discussion of Steve McCaffery's "William Tell: a Novel." He mentions my tongue-in-cheek (or stump-of-lettertongue-in-lyric-subject's word hole, actually) discussion of his discussion of McCaffery. My idea, of not dotting the i (a(nec)dotal?), of having a broken sign, a partial signifier, of foregrounding one small piston of the language machine, was created with an eye to illustrating how language is always a trompe d'oeil, a tromp through itself, a triumph of trumpeting, a blowing with and of its own horn.

BTW, Christian and the amazing CCMC are performing in St Catharines, Ontario, tonight. To wit:

Grey Borders Reading Series #23.... is proud to present

Christian Bök
CCMC – featuring Paul Dutton, Michael Snow, and John Oswald.

Thursday 1 April 2009 7:00 pm
No Cover, Licensed

The Niagara Artists’ Centre
354 St. Paul Street, St. Catharines

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dance inside the Huthmouth

(The player doesn't appear to appear in Firefox, so here is a link to the audio file.)

What might a human sound like when preparing for the morning? Gargling, tooth brushing, singing. The mouth is its own morning. Daily routine is its own orchestra. Now add a dance track. All the cool kids are doing it. Dancing in clubs to the sound of human ablution, to the sounds of oral hygiene.

Geof Huth send me a recording of sounds he made one morning. I put on my cyber dancing shoes and created this track.

Tart, Sweet, Crunchy, Crisp: a story by Gary Barwin

This story of mine, first published in Taddle Creek magazine, ponders the big questions: gravity, Chet Baker, planets, sitting on chairs, relationships, communication, waiting rooms, and trumpets, muted and otherwise. The visuals are very avant garde: a blue screen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Shape Shift: Andrew Topel's Variations on a Theme Anthology

Shape Shift

Andrew Topel posted an image of the words "Shape Shift" twisted beguilingly into an almost-circle. He then invited people to create variations using the image as a source text. The following responded and are included in this great little anthology: derek beaulieu, Jim Leftwitch, John M. Bennett, Gary Barwin, Bernd Reichert, Jake Berry, Tim Gaze, Karl Kempton, John Moore Williams, Vernon Frazer.

There is often an impulse to riff off things in visual poetry, an urge to variate, to morphocize, to multiplate and varyize, to polyfurcate, to shapeshiftify from an initial idea. Andrew's anthology reflects this perfectly with a heftshipful of excellent work.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Haiku Home Protection and Security

Today, the lines at Haiku Grocery were all short. I made a seasonal reference at the Haiku Town Centre. There was a CD by Basho Mosko at the Haiku Thrift Store. It filled me with a ridiculously disproportionate glee to visit the town of Haiku in Maui today. Despite the spelling on most buildings, Haiku is really Ha'iku, but the word 'Haiku' written on streetsigns, stores, schools, and vans (Haiku Home Protection and Security) was a deliciously dislocatingly dislocution.

It's a simplistically basic notion: the letters seem to signify one thing, but they actually signify something else. Read in two different contexts, there's a frisson. (I'd imagine the same feeling visiting the Walt Whitman Mall. Something seems incongruous, enjoyably so.)

I was trying to explain this to my family and I was thinking about our surname, I'm excited to see our name out in the world, even when it isn't really the same Barwin. There's Barwin in Australia. Barwin Head, Barwin River. There's a ton of Barwinskis, though that has nothing to do with my 'Barwin.' There is an author Barwin, short for Barwinkel. (There are other author Barwins. My cousin Steven Barwin is a great YA author. We've a relative, Victor Barwin who wrote books in South Africa fifty years ago or so. I read his history of the Jews in South Africa called Millionaires and Tatterdemalions.) Recently, I had a great talk with the artist/poet Jen Bervin, where we remarked about the similarity of our names (in the original, my name would have been pronounced with a 'v' sound, and both our families our Litvak, so the name actually might be related.

Barwin. Originally, to my grandfather's family in Lithuania, it was Borwein, (or Borweinis, in the Lithuanian form.) My Canadian relatives, several who are mathematicians named Borwein, talk about B*rw*n.

So, I'm happy to suspend my disbelief, or unsuspend the inverted comma in Ha'íku so that I can imagine that I drove through the tiny perfect streets of a haiku today. But I must have, because I had my own tiny 'aha' moment in the parking lot outside Haiku Laundry, just across from Haiku Town Centre.

Monday, March 22, 2010

a hundred thousand pages of the heart: inkjet printing our own organs

About eleven minutes into his TED talk, Anthony Atala speaks about a regular inkjet printer that can print an actual functioning heart. Through some miraculous feat of modern cellular prestidigitation, the ink cartridge of the printer is filled with cell material which can be printed onto a sheet. Tens of thousands of these sheets each printed with a tiny cross-section of a real heart are printed and compiled. When stacked one on top of another, they bond together. Soon, through the principle of the sum-is-greater than the parts (how do individual cells sum together to form a functioning sight-producing eye?) the heart begins to beat.

An individual page combining together to create a ‘book’ which is a functional heart. A neat true-if-experimental science metaphor for a literary book. Individual marks, individual words, individual paragraphs, single pages, each come together to create a functioning unit, a written organ, to create a pulse--of sound, of meaning, of characterization, of plot. It depends at which level of detail one chooses to follow the metaphor.

But back to the heart. There’s a computer program, a heart processor, which is sending instructions to the printer. One could create deviant hearts. Hearts which were half text, half word, half story. A heart like a wheel or a river. A heart mixed with ink. A heart which is also a star chart. A poem which has a real pulse, a story which expands and contracts. Which quickens.

What else could one print? A body? A tongue? An eye? A heart which sees. An eye which is a simile like no other. Fingers which are wings and prehensile poems. One might ask for a heart which beats and which is also a tree. Or a phone book.

A heart which is aware of its own organicity. Of the language of itself. A heart which problematizes its own heartiness. A heart which will go on. A body which is interleaved with a favourite story, a brain interleaved with the names of loved ones, happy memories, ‘if found please return to’, or instructions about to defuse a bomb.

We could print lungs which inhale our own breath. We could print the materials of our own minds. And one day, from each of our desktops, we will have another way to print ourselves, to write ourselves into being.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blue Stop signs and the Human Imagination as a non-niche

Here's a blue stop sign from when we took a wrong turn near Pearl Harbour sometime last week. I've been on holiday with my family in Hawaii for a while now which is why the blog has been inactive.

I'm reading on Saturday April 17, 2010 - 10:30 am as part of the Cobourg (Ontario) Poetryz Own Weekend Festival. I'm part of the "Children's Poetry Reading" at the Cobourg Public Library. I'm reading with Eric Winter and Diane Dawber. They did a brief interview with me about reading at the festival. Here it is:

Gary Barwin - Interview

What are your thoughts about reading your poetry in Cobourg at the POW! Festival?

I've found that I've had fantastic audiences in places outside of the big cities. There is a palpable sense of community and excitement in these places.

Please tell us about your children's book(s) and also a little about any other books you've had that "saw print"

Part of the great excitement about writing, for me, is to connect with a variety of readers. As such, I create many different kinds of works: picturebooks, Young Adult novels, stories, and poems for kids, as well as a variety of kinds of fiction, poetry for adults, music compositions from different traditions (incorporating live musicians, computers, spoken text, singing, etc.) as well as a a range of visual work.

My children's books include the picturebook The Racing Worm Brothers which was inspired by watching my two young sons 'adopting' worms as pets. Another picturebook, The Magic Mustache had its inception as a bedtime story that I improvised for my son. My Young Adult novel, Seeing Stars, was developed after watching TV shows about people who were so obese that they couldn't leave their beds, ads about phone psychics, and a plane crash involving a child pilot.

At POW!, do you plan to solely read pieces from your published books? Do you plan to read other work as well?

I will read both published work and work-in-progess. I like to improvise with my audience, and make up stories on the spot with them. We might start with an idea that they come up with, or with the beginning of a story that I'm working on, and then I ask them to suggest what might I do next. I really enjoy being interactive with my audience. It's more fun and it demonstrates to kids that they are creative and just need to feel invited to use their imagination in order to create stories.

How would you describe your writing for Children? How about your other work ... your poetry and so on?

My children's writing comes from many places: experiences of real life children including my own, memories of being a child myself, stories from the news, other stories and myths. My YA-novel in progress, The Unibrow Underground, was inspired by a joke by my Grade 8 music students. (I taught music in a middle school for ten years.) All of my writing, both for kids and adults comes from a delight in language, in the imagination, in spelunking through the tunnels of the mind.

When did you start writing children's literature and what prompted it? How about you starting writing in general?

I've always made up stories. Sometimes only to blame my brother for something that I did. I became immersed in children's literature when my own children were young. There were so many fantastic books and so many ideas circulating that I wanted to try my own hand at it. I also valued the deep connection kids have with books and their own imagination, and powerful creative relationship children have with authors.

What inspires you to put pen to paper / fingers to keyboard?

Anything. A semi-colon. Sadness. The joy of a dog. Something a little kid says. Something misheard from a great philosopher. Wondering what it is like to be someone or somewhere. A bad joke or a great folk story. Modern life.

Can you describe (a little) your writing process in creating a new piece?

It is like orienteering. You find yourself in the middle of somewhere and you have to find out where you are, where you're going to go next, what is there, and how to proceed. It is an adventure, an exploration, and a very pleasurable and exciting challenge. Sometimes I'm not out of the woods for many years. Sometimes I just delight in a clearing.

The POW! Festival is built on the notion that poetry should not be relegated to an existence as "a niche art form" that the average person doesn't care about.
How do you respond to that?

The imagination is not a specialized niche. I find that once I interact with an audience, any notion of poetry being a rarified niche form disappears.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Gary Barwin at the A B Series in Ottawa

bumpHEAD at the Arts Crawl

Here are two songs from bumpHEAD, the group that I play saxophone/flute/laptop in with Slim Volumes (the redoubtable Kerry Schooley who writes and performs most of the texts due to my sloth and indolence, and because he has a way with politically engaged, deceptively complex texts that explore their relation with song forms) and my son, Ryan Barwin, who is a fantastic musician (guitar/pedal steel/dobro). I'll leave you to guess which person is which in the video. We performed at the Artword Artbar as part of Hamilton's Arts Crawl (a monthly event featuring the arts' spaces on downtown James St.) an important manifestation of what I think is part of an emerging and vital energy for our former steeltown.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Rogue Stimulus Launch

(click on the image to read the performance dates.)

Our Prime Minister prorogued parliament. This means taht he put parliament and thus democracy on hold, conveniently skirting some difficult issues about Afghanistan amongst other things. Yes, it is within the system to prorogue, but using it (a second time in this term) to avoid dealing with significant issues is just plain anti-democratic. Harper likes to implement his own agenda and doesn't worry about the finer points, or even some of the coarser points of democracy. Stuart Ross and Steven Brockwell have created an anthology of poems addressing Mr. Harper's prorogation. It launches in Toronto on March 2nd -- tomorrow night. And I for one will be there. I will be reading my contribution to the anthology. To wit:


A knock at the door. I open it and there on my steps is Parliament, wrapped against the cold. I lift Parliament, hold it against my chest to make it warm. There, there, you’re safe now. No one can harm you. I’ll look after you, my little Parliament, my frightened legislative one. I bring Parliament inside and unwrap the blankets. Parliament is scrawny, a lovely chicken, a clock-eyed baby, an institution. My wife warms up a bottle, tests its warmth with an elbow. Parliament is calm now, no bells ringing, nothing but clucks and murmurs. Looking up, its big eyes on me as if I were the world or an election. A Parliament of spit and gurgles, of questions, arguments, love, and feathers.