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.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recording of my recent reading at the Flywheel Series (Calgary)

Image of my soft palate taken by dentist & made into Canadian flag.

This is fantastic! Dale Herrington records all the readings at the Flywheel Series. He's posted my recent reading.

Powered by


More readings from this series and other Calgary series are here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Autumn Envelope Insomnia


I could not sleep. I wrote things down on the back of a bedside envelope.

Stand beside the roadside.

Check the fire alarms.

Don’t forget drinking water.

Rise in a translucent curl, a mirror evaporating like night into dawn or sleep into smoke.

Dry cleaning.

Doctor’s appointment.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Swallowing Teeth: The Coach House Fall 2010 launch

Torontoist has a few pictures from the Coach House Books Fall 2010 launch here. I look like I'm in agony. Perhaps because it seems that I've just swallowed my teeth. But anything for the cause of poetry. Actually, the launch was fantastic. The location, the Revival, was great, there were tons of people -- a really attentive, enthusiastic audience, and a nice vibe all round. I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth (which I still have) into the new titles, particularly Jonathan Ball's Clockfire and Jon Paul Fiorentino's Indexical Elegies.

Jonathan Ball's Clockfire is a collection of short prose poem-like description/instructions for impossible plays. Something a bit Calvino or Borges, and also like Kenneth Koch's One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays. From what I've read so far, it's charming, paradoxical, metaphysical, and clever, each little play a dramatic oxymoron.

I've also only started on Jon Paul Fiorentino's Indexical Elegies. It has a really great cover -- designed by Alana Wilcox -- which looks like an old card catalogue card, replete with the hole. The poems in this book are are moving, delicate-yet-wry piquant little word mobiles, about loss, connection, culture, and language. Grief Sudoku.

Jonathan Ball kindly wrote a nice little review of my The Porcupinity of the Stars and posted it over here. Thanks!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A piano only needs 61 keys: a benefit performance

On Saturday, October 23rd there will be a benefit concert to help raise money for a grand piano for the New Performing Arts Centre in Burlington, Ontario. So far, they tell me, they have only 'enough money for 61 keys'. I suggested that, depending on which keys they bought--if they avoided certain key signatures--they could probably play many great piano pieces. I mean, who really needs F# major? 

My poem "Archivist of the Future" (from The Porcupinity of the Stars) will be performed (by an actor!) to the accompaniment of a jazz prelude written by a composer, Philip Corke, who will also be playing it on the piano. Having an actor read poems is a very different effect than a writer (or even, the original writer). I'm very interested to hear how it sounds. If I had to choose which actor got to read my poem, I'd choose Barney Rubble. I mean, that Barney Rubble, what an actor (to quote from that classic of the American Cinema, Night Shift.)

The poem, by the way, was written as writing assignment for a teaching English class that I did with Rishma Dunlop for my B.Ed. (at York University) as a 'reader response' to the novel The Archivist by Martha Cooley. I drew source text from that novel and created the poem.

Here are the details:

Burlington’s Campaign for a Concert Grand Piano for the New Performing Arts Centre

Music as Muse

Read  by

Vince Carlin, Carolyn Campbell,
Christopher Gray and Alexandra Battista

Catherine Richardson – flute
Andrea Battista – violin & piano
Philip Corke – guitar & keyboard

Saturday, Oct. 23rd, 8 pm
St. Christopher’s Anglican Church
662 Guelph Line, Burlington   L7R 3 M9

Tickets: $20 adults/$10 students 18 & under
Refreshments – Door Prizes

Contact: Andrea Battista   905-331-8701 -

Tickets also available at A Different Drummer Books
513 Locust Street, Burlington, L7S 1V3   905-639-0925

Friday, October 15, 2010

Downloadable chaps from out West:

Last week I read at the fantastic Olive Reading series in Edmonton, Alberta. A great audience of writers and others. One young couple came up to me and said something like, "Jeez, this is our first reading. If we'd known that poetry readings were like this, we'd have come to one before." (Of course, this is my recollection. They may have said, "Man, you're a pretentious ol 'git and you're not fooling anyone, y'know.")

This series publishes a chapbook of the featured author of the night. The physical book is distributed for free at the reading. Afterwards, the chapbook is available for download.

My chapbook can be downloaded at The Punctuation of Thieves.

Rachel Zolf's chapbook derived from her very cool  The Tolerance Project can be downloaded from here.

Robert Kroetsch's chapbook is here. Kroetsch is a grand old man of (Western) Canadian literature, and his book is comprised of some tart, funny, compassionate, and short poems about aging. To wit:


You're alone. I'm alone.
An orange moon. A thinning cloud.
An old red raven, flying all that way.
Imagine me, kissing your left nipple.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New "Official" Book Trailer: The Porcupinity of the Stars

Here is the book trailer that Coach House Books person Evan Munday and I dreamt up for my new poetry collection. We tried to get Lady Gaga or at least Barbara Eden to appear. Or Allen Ginsberg to do a walk-on with a white sweater draped, prayer-shawl-like, over his shoulders.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An Essay on Rachel Zolf's Human Resources

A few years ago, Margaret Christakos invited me to present a paper on Rachel Zolf's Human Resources (Coach House) for her Influency course at University of Toronto. It was a fantastic opportunity to examine this brilliant book. I had posted the essay on my website, but I have now uploaded it to Scribd. Here's the link:

Rachel Zolf's Human Resources

Rachel's new book is Neighbour Procedure (Coach House, 2010). It is, according to Coach House
a virtuoso polyvocal correspondence with the daily news, ancient scripture and contemporary theory that puts the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine firmly in the crosshairs. Plucked from a minefield of competing knowledges, media and public texts, Neighbour Procedure sees Zolf assemble an arsenal of poetic procedures and words borrowed from a cast of unlikely neighbours, including Mark Twain, Dadaist Marcel Janco, blogger-poet Ron Silliman and two women at the gym. The result is a dynamic constellation where humour and horror sit poised at the threshold of ethics and politics.

Grandpa's Snowman: wordless picture books

On their blog, Woozles' bookstore of Halifax, has compiled a list of wordless picturebooks and kindly included my Grandpa's Snowman book from a few years ago. I love the form -- narratives told in pictures only. Not only are there stories which unfold (and which the 'reader' often has to decode), but there are countless other little details to puzzle over. This kind of visual narrative exploration is usually very exciting for kids and leads to great discussions with adults and others who are reading the book with them. The Woozles' blog also cites those who "either aren’t yet reading, don’t speak English, or have learning disabilities" as an additional audience."

The world is, often, wordless, and you have to figure out what is going on.

Thorn Yesterday: my first poems

I remember when I was about seven or eight, my parents spoke of "rosewood" in regard to some furniture. This filled me with a strong sense of this palpable material, resonant with association, and something that was mysterious and pointed to ancient and magical things. I misunderstood what it meant, actually. I thought that it referred to the wood from a rose bush. I cut a piece off the rose bushes in our garden -- a tiny inch-long section -- and wrote a series of incantations, trying, by some kind of theurgy, to invoke or liberate the energy, mystery, and resonance of both the wood and the word. I should mention that I made up the words. I created something that sounded the right way, but didn't actually denote anything. This, I suppose, was my first series of poems. Poetry as magic, as sound, as misunderstanding, as a theurgy of language, as (overwrought) memory, as invention, as private code, as concept, as enigmatic word object, as parallel.

I kept the piece of rosewood and the poems, written on small slips of paper, in a little box. You hold the rosewood in your hands. You examine the poems. You recite them quietly in your bedroom. There is a centre to the universe.