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.