Thursday, December 22, 2011

Opinity on Porcupinity!

Review in Prairie Fire of The Porcupinity of the Stars by John Herbert Cunningham.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

No matter how thin and flimsy / On Samuel Beckett


for Jonathan Jones

Sometimes a single phrase or a word, the whorl of a letter, a word grain, an image. A single moment in language, a single moment, the apprehension of something ‘true.’ Real in a rhizomatic way. Like suddenly seeing a single molecule of something. A thing no matter how thin and flimsy. Humans made out of these thin and flimsy things. Human thought.

When something ‘speaks’ to us, it is a fragment. A quick flash of something. A single leaf in a forest of otherwhere. Or everyhere. A consolation. An encouragement. A confirmation.

Imagination, memory, experience, compassion. The human. Rhizomes. 


between the snowflakes
Samuel Beckett

space for a whole forest
of Becketts


Samuel Beckett
falls from above

with an open mouth
fills with sky

a Samuel Beckett
that has no face

is filled with sky
a body’s worth


a Samuel Beckett
with a thousand fingers

feathers reaching to the sun
begin at the beginning and stay there


what does it mean to be Samuel Beckett
when you are a bird

a thousand Samuel Becketts in a swarm
a transforming liquid of solid flight

Monday, December 05, 2011

For Hoarsemen

.  For Hoarsemen by

Some asemic sound poetry. No uvulas were harmed in the making of this composition, but some pharynxes were taxed while lungs inspired.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blog Clouds Sheep Breath Jack Frost

I had a dream last night where I replaced every blog post on this blog with a cloud. Each blog cloud slowly moved across the black sky of the page, out of focus, sheep-soft. They each floated off the screen and over my wife and I sleeping in our bed. As they passed over us, cirrus wisps, the sighs of thoughts, our white dog, sleeping beside the bed, and always alert to the slightest sound,  heard their small rain-like susurrations, their hazy pixel-small exhalations. Blog posts floating over to the window, balefully looking outside. A Jack Frost of breaths which never freeze.

At some point, I also dreamed that I should add a large disclaimer to the blog to the effect that most of the posted poems or fictions are posted as drafts and I eventually either discard them or work 'em over good and radically revise them. It's ironic to me that often the potential for the largest and most enduring audience for these pieces is here, on the internet, and not in the books and journals where the finished pieces often eventually appear, much improved. Still, I don't want to replace them. There's something about cracking open someone's braincover and looking in at the thoughts as they form, before they are polished into words. Or --hopefully -- looking into this blog and seeing the words before they are polished into more polished words.

Andrew Faulkner, he of Emergency Response Unit press (a chapbook press that does fantastic work) and a very talented writer has a begun a blog collecting sky images. I read a few and sent him one of mine. Then I ended up working on a poem using images of sky. Here it is. Unless it has, cloud-like, floated out of vision toward some blog horizon over which we may expect to arise a blog new day.

for Andrew Faulkner

sky is ape
heaven is monkey
I lie on my back and look at banks
they are clouds.


I am thrown from an airplane
grass is sky
commuter headtops: clouds
clouds I love your balding, your tinting.


between earth and space
sky sandwich
O jam of night
star seed my looking teeth


prehensile sky in sorrowful eyes
grip the brain like a water balloon
throw it far
thinking an explosive gag shower
the mouth open to visible throat
small bugs and surprise


bank bank bank star
bank bank bank cloud
bank financial instrument bank bank
seahorse bank bank bank


the sky is wheat futures
is legal tender
is an ape with a mortgage
is the limit
is pure speculation
a foreign market
a reasonable return
outsourcing heaven to the sparrows

Monday, November 28, 2011

Questionless Book Interview

Unquestionably, I have a lot to answer for in my questionable answers to the unanswerable as I answer George Murray. I seem to have dogs on (in) the brain! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I played ukulele
as if there were turnips everywhere
and the neighbours
came to eat and remember
we were invisible

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


infra-asemic writing: the ligature inside the letter: the connection of something to itself: ouroborosemia: asemic infra-writing. and when what is infra, inter too?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Franz Santa or Mickey Kafka?

"…the deeper alchemy by which Kafka's comedy is always also tragedy, and this tragedy always also an immense and reverent joy… the really central Kafka joke -- that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home."

-from David Foster Wallace's brilliant speech on Kafka’s humour

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


The Metric Season

My daughter and I were walking in the forest in early November. Hamilton, Ontario, just below the Niagara Escarpment. Light was filtered amber through the yellow leaves. The way it reflects bright off snow, it reflected from the leaves fallen on the forest floor. We were walking through a woods suffused by golden light, a continuous late afternoon honeying, as if walking through a leaf itself, some kind of Magic School Bus science trip.

If I believed in heaven, I said, it wouldn’t be the bright green technicolour spring of the Christian right. it wouldn’t be Webern’s boundless, directionless, infinite twelve-tone heaven. It would be this fall. The end of an age. Elves leaving. The mortal forest. The peat smell. No gaudy bursting of flower buds or impetuous birds. This lager-coloured light in a shuffling forest.

I don’t understand those who don’t like all the seasons, my daughter said.

Then we wondered about borders. Where are the borders of colours, when does red become orange, and when does grey  darken into blue?

Other places, there are only two seasons. Rainy and dry. And why four? What about the metric system. Maybe there should be five.

We could invent another season, try to find its source in our memory, associations, hopes.

What would we call it? When would it be?

A before-fall, an after-spring. A season of in-between days.

Perhaps it is there already like a silent letter, inexpressible and unspoken. A subtext between father and daughter. The dry season between drops of rain. 

Book launches for FRANZLATIONS, my NEW BOOK!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm in love with a single pixel of you

Today, I've a poem in a snazzy online magazine. Branch Magazine. It's interesting, mixing fashion, design, and poetry. And Fred Wah, who is the featured writer. My poem is about a single, criminal pixel. That I'm in love with.

In the last month, my writing has found itself in a variety of different contexts. The International Festival of Authors (Toronto), the International Poetry Festival (Iceland), chickaDEE magazine, Taddle Creek Magazine.  I've an image on the cover of M.D. Dunn's new book, Fancy Clapping, a blurb on the back of that and of Carey Toane's new The Crystal Palace. An image of mine appeared on the poster and the program for the International Poetry Festival in Iceland and the Reykjavik Grapeline printed a full page reproduction of a visual poem of mine. As we speak, my son is writing a country song based on my country zombie lyrics. And I'm reading at the Pivot Reading series on November 2nd. Think I'm going to do some Origami for Terrorists, a sound poem about breathing, and maybe play some flute.

So: How is meaning made? Oh I remember. From ducks. Different ducks. Or is it by comparing different ducks? I can't remember. These ideas run like water off my back and I only know that I have a back by walking forward and seeing what follows from that.

Hey friends, you've got my what? Please give it back. How can I lie down and look up at the clouds? Some of them look like words. My friends that is.

I went last night to the Westdale Cinema and watched Herzog's film about paleolithic caves, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. A beautiful, moving, slow-burning juniper-fuse of a film. I got myself hopped up on Twizzlers and watched the shadows move across the ancient undulating horses and rhinocirrocumulus cave-wall skies, cave-bear scratches like vapor trials across the breathing images.

A scientist spoke of the permeability and fluidity of ancient thinking. A man can become a bull, or a horse can become a river. Identity is fluid. But reality is also permeable. There's not an impermafrost: the metaphysical shares its imaginary spirit-world neutrinos with the tangible anti-Platonic protonouns of the physical world.

What is one pixel? A thing, an idea? A faster-than-light non-neutralino in the/a world without light but filled with shadows? Is light the shadow of a shadow?

Which is not to say that what is not the shadow of the duck is necessarily a duck. Rain also has a shadow.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


a reply to Geof Huth's discussion of Against Expression.


Poetry is everything that is the case.


My emotion is your emotion.

But I’m just not feeling it.

I mean, where’s the love?

It’s poetry in emotion, but I’m feeling very notional.

Though these days, I’m feeling for all of us.

Words cannot express…

Just saying.


Expression is a literary device. Like metaphor or…apophenia. It is also a human experience. Or so we say and think. How we conceptualize expression, emotion, the human, or the self may change, and is subject to (changes in) language, technology, culture, epistemology, ontology, psychology, and Facebook.

How emotion or the self (or selves) – the lyric, the semi-lyric, or the illyric, the lyrictus – appears in writing varies. Is TBA. The N/A may be. Or not.

Self-expression may be shelf-expression. Shelf-centred. Shellfish centred. Self-centaured. Selves-expression. Ex-expression. Oxpression (boustrophedalia). Santa and the selves. Crowed sourced. The cloud reveals its soul in the fog. The shadow in the absence of dog. We don’t necessarily express our selves in our expression.

They said my work was emotionally one-dimensional.

It hurt my feeling.


The self and its effluvia – emotion – need not be present in writing. Possible but not necessary. The effluvia of some writing is the self, the way the broken mirror or the empty window are effulgentia of light. There may be emotion without the self. Or vice versa. (I know about this. I once had a girlfriend…)

One can always write ‘a sonnet’ about the reading experience.

Is there reading without the self? The feeling brain behind the reading face. Or fingers (if only four, in a white glove, big round ears like satellite dishes to the animated made-of-frames mind.)

Who turned out delight?

In what way is the conceptual expressive? Is the expressive conceptual?

Poetry still has a use to articulate, conceptualize, theorize, frame, and create paradigms for feeling and human experience. Non-human, neo-human, near-human. The not-the-author. I is an author. Readers are a book’s aphorisms. They see a self in the book.

We need to continually reinvent the wheel. The commonweal of expression. The dictionary of semaphore for flagless hermits. Braille for the inside of the body.

“Expression” has just become a more complex complex.

Here’s the formula (why was it so hard for you, Einstein?):


where i=emotion, concept, the conceptualization of self, language, time, ducks, meaning,
writer, the concept of ‘writer’
e=time, culture, context, language, conceptual framework, quantity of tacos consumed, structure, use of Wellerisms, reader, the concept of ‘reader’

And what about the ‘=’ sign? It is two letters seen from above. We do not know what they are.

The results can be calculated with extreme precision or an extreme lack of precision depending on whether one is on a train, in the 20th century, moving forwards or backwards against the motion of the text (boustrophedon is possible) or how one defines ‘one.’

Words can’t express how much I can’t express.

Poetry is the case (a fact), the existence of states of affairs.

A poem is a thought.

A poem is a proposition with sense.

A poem is a truth-function of elementary propositions.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must pass over in silence.

Except for this next thing.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Trailer for my new book: Franzlations

Franzlations: the imaginary Kafka translations by Gary Barwin, Craig Conley, and Hugh Thomas takes the parables and aphorisms of Kafka as a starting point, and steps a few places to the left in order to reinvent them. Sometimes this means walking off a cliff and into the empty air. (Don't look down!) Sometimes this means keeping the cage and replacing the bird. For of course, Kafka's writing is a rich source of ideas, play, structure, and wit. It looks like the real world, but in the way the bootstrap that one pulls oneself up with looks like a real bootstrap.

Friday, September 30, 2011

3 Words: New chapbook by NF Huth

3 Words by NF Huth!

now available from serif of nottingham!

a new chapbook featuring 9 brand new poems!

your choice of three colours!

only $5 Cdn!

contact me and it can be yours!

here's a poem from the book

When If And

She throws out the dishwater that is still hot.
She throws out the dishwater that is still hot enough to use.
She uses cold instead.
She washes the dishes in cold water.

She rests on a chair that is not cloth.
She rests on a chair that is not cloth but that is wiped easily.
She sits on a vinyl chair.
She wiggles on a vinyl chair that is easy to clean.

She questions the sound from the hall.
She questions the sound from the hall that is rain but not.
She wonders if it’s wet.
She hears the wet rain that is a cough from the door.

Most words begin with B.
Words that flesh out thoughts begin with bees.
Bees are not inside with us.
Words that used to swarm land on the armchair.

Her eyes follow the swarm heavy with rain.
When silence swarms she fills the space between.
Silence is never filled.
Rain heavies the bees. They swell and drop from her mouth.

The clock signals some ends with sound.
A final sound is a puddle of bees ticking on the floor.
Her meter is bursts of three.
Her meter makes constant ends.

Railroad Song: I've been working just past where I know


I’ve been working on the yellow road
Trying to live long all day.

I’ve been working on the green road
And time just passes away.

I’ve been hauling on the blood red road
Don’t you hear our bones rattling?

I’ve been working on the bruise blue road
Rise up & begin earning in the morning.

I’ve been assembling on the pale white road
Don’t you hear the shouting of ‘heroes’?

I’ve been working the coal-black road
Someone came to the diner I know.

I’ve been struggling on the burnt purple road
Living large all day.

I’ve been working the orange red road
Just past where I know.

I’ve been gasping on the grey road
And I’d be happy to give it away.

I’ve been working the dusty pink road
Wish Charlie Parker would blow his horn.

I’ve been watching the wide whale road
Someone’s likely in the kitchen shucking corn.

I’ve been carrying on the lost yellow road
Invisible way before dawn

I’ve been working on the dirty brown road
And time passes where once were locomotives.

‘Cause I've been working
All day.

I've been working
In time.

Don't you hear the whistle?
Don't you hear the captain?

For I’ve been working
All day.

from a bumpHEAD multimedia performance. The video played behind our performance which consisted of spoken text, saxophone, bass, and guitar.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Parenthesis (


(the parenthesis is your
needs answered
it is your field which you sow
with love and reap with thanksgiving
the parenthesis is your board
and your fireside
for you come to a parenthesis
with your hunger, and you
seek it for peace)


(the parenthesis is your
belief in manifestations of
needs answered
the spirits of the dead
it is your field which you sow
solitary essences that haunt
with love and reap with thanksgiving
particular locations, objects, and people
the parenthesis is your board
with which it was associated with in life
and your fireside though stories of
phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships
for you come to a parenthesis
and even ghost animals
with your hunger and you
have also been recounted
seek it for peace)


(the parenthesis is your
roadside, a marker that commemorates
a belief in manifestations of
a site where a person died
suddenly and unexpectedly
needs answered
away from home
the spirits of the dead
unlike a grave site headstone
it is your field which you sow
which marks where a body is laid
solitary essences that haunt
the memorial marks
the last place on earth
with love and reap with thanksgiving
where a person was alive
particular locations, objects, people
the parenthesis is your board
travelers often buried where they fell
by family members or friends
of the person who died
and by your fireside stories of
a bunch of flowers, real or plastic
phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships
taped to street furniture or a tree trunk
for you come to a parenthesis
a handwritten message, a personal memento
which may be included
and even ghost animals
a more sophisticated memorial
may be your hunger and you
have also been recounted
a cross or a plaque
seek it for peace


(the parenthesis is your
can you get over here
do you need the police or fire or ambulance or
roadside a marker that commemorates
a belief in manifestations of
it’s important
what do you need the police or ambulance
a site where a person died
uh, somebody’s going to die
do you need the police or ambulance
suddenly and unexpectedly
needs answered
just fuckin’ get over here
what’s going on?
away from home
the spirits of the dead
an ambulance
do you need an ambulance or fire
unlike a grave site headstone
it is your field which you sow
send someone
do you need an ambulance there
which marks where a body is laid
solitary essences that haunt
yeah where are you
(address omitted) and the phone number you’re calling from?
the memorial marks
the last place on earth
I don’t know get over here please
what’s going on
with love and reap with thanksgiving
where a person was alive
get over here
tell me what’s going on
particular locations, objects, people
the parenthesis is your board
someone’s holding me hostage
holding you hostage
travelers often buried where they fell
by family members or friends
yeah get over here
are you injured
of the person who died
and by your fireside stories of
he’s injured
injured what happened
a bunch of flowers, real or plastic
phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships
I had to stab him
how old is he
taped to street furniture or a tree trunk
for you come to a parenthesis
don’t know, get over here he’s gonna die
yes a handwritten message, a personal memento
which may be included
hello even ghost animals
do you have any information
a more sophisticated memorial
that’s all I have
maybe your hunger and you
but we’ll send somebody
okay have also been recounted
a cross or a plaque
okay seek it for peace
are you there?)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

We Emersongency Celebrate

Exploring interleaving source texts and translation software. I particularly like 'we emergency celebrate the good with you' and 'I'm still proud of them who respect us.'

I find my writing life busy with writing a novel, writing poems using 'old school' techniques -- extracting them like a magician's coloured hankerchief from my fingertips, writing poems using various exploratory (at least for me) processes such as the example below, and creating short stories, both with and without any forethought. A variety of ways of editing the previous types of writing, including the radical edit: deleting the whole thing and forgetting about it. Some engagement with posting the work here on this blog. Perhaps linking with Facebook. Occasionally reading one of these explorations publicly. Aiming for a multiplicity of ways of creating, continuing, remaining energized, following through on hunches, plans, and suspicions.


we have a lot
but do not blame

the child is good
but nothing to talk about

who is the boss
who advocated all this

his body swaying like the wind
now snow

his second home
the entire human family

in the narrow part of the universal
with immersed parts of love

how many people face the snow?
I’m still proud of them who respect us

this snow reads

wandering eye beams

we see a lot of outside
we emergency celebrate the good with you

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some of my upcoming events

Saturday, September 17, 8pm  
Somewhere There, Toronto
Gary Barwin (reeds & text) with Arthur Bull, guitar, Nicole Rampersaud: trumpet Tena Palmer: voice Bob Vespaziani, percussion, David Lee: double bass.
227 Sterling Road,
Unit 112,

October 6-9
Nyhil International Poetry Festival,
Reykjavik, Iceland

Friday, Oct 21, 8pm  
Harbourfront International Festival of Authors
Gary Barwin reading with Jennifer Haigh, Colson Whitehead, and Sarah Winman. Becky Toyne hosts.
Lakeside Terrace,

Sunday, Oct 23, 2 pm  
Harbourfront International Festival of Authors
Authors Gary Barwin, Joe Dunthorne, Souvankham Thammavongsa,and Alexi Zentner. Kyle Buckley hosts.
Studio Theatre, Harbourfront,

Wednesday, Nov 2 , 8pm 
Pivot in Toronto
Gary Barwin with Aisha Sasha John and Gregory Betts
The Press Club,
850 Dundas W.

Thursday, Nov 10 8pm 
Toronto Franzlations book launch
Gary Barwin & Hugh Thomas
The Ossington
61 Ossington Ave

Sunday, Nov 13, 2pm
Hamilton Franzlations book launch
Gary Barwin and Hugh Thomas
Bryan Prince Bookseller
1060 King St .W.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Forgive me...

I'm reposting this from about five years ago as I was thinking about it for a scene in my novel where my 14-year old protagonist in Medieval Spain considers the Jewish 'Day of Atonement.'

Tomorrow night begins the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It's a time to 'atone' for one's trangressions. It would be like an all-day once-a-year Catholic confession, except that you don't confess to anyone, but acknowledge within yourself the deeds that you wish to atone for. I really like the opening service (Kol Nidrei) mostly for its seriousness and the solemn beauty of the music/chanting. I don't resonate with the idea of asking for forgiveness before God, but acknowledge that it is a healthy thing to take stock of one's deeds of the past year and consider them in a reflective light.

In the last couple of days, a book appeared in our downstairs bathroom. I guess my eldest son put it there. I recognized it as one of the books that I stole when I was about 14 from people whose kids I was babysitting. There are four books I remember stealing when I was a young teenager. To wit:

1. The Existential Imagination. A great anthology of short stories, including work by Kafka and Beckett.
2. Psychoanalysis and the Existential Imagination.
3. & 4. The Collection Works of Shakespeare (two volume edition). This I especially liked because of the etching of a pastoral English scene on the front, all those puffy clouds, stone buildings, and rivers running through millwheels.

From almost thirty years after the event, its fascinating my choice to steal these books. Firstly, it reveals that I was a strangely precocious, nerdy, and serious 14-year old. I also remember buying Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite on cassette using a handful of silver dollars. Secondly, the idea of stealing two books on existentialism is mesmerizingly ironic. It begs the question of how I conceived of my personal moral code. I do remember thinking of all those books in these houses as a beguiling array of worlds of thought and fiction for me to discover. As far as I recall, I didn't steal anything else from any other houses. Once I did try a drink of "mead" from a bottle. Again, that was because it seemed so redolent an entry into another world, mead recalling to me probably the same time in England that the Shakespeare illustrations did. If a kid stole a book from my shelves, would I be upset?


tree forgive me
shoehorn forgive me
five forgive me
blue sky forgive me

forgive noun
forgive verb
forgive tonsillectomy of sky

replace my bones with words
& walk

replace sounds with sky


raingear when the rain
has stopped falling
the lawns of barbershops
choirs of hidden deer
the war of the day
an amnesty of quiet

Sunday, September 11, 2011

After Aristotle and Nietzsche on 9/11

I've been working on a suite/collection of poems circling around the expression of/exhortation to compassion, empathy, and kindness & how it is both simple and extremely problematic to express such concepts and how even the concept itself is both simple and complex and can be difficult to meaningful frame. I thought that this small text might be appropriate to post today as many people approach 9/11 and what it might mean to them and the culture.


O enemy my enemies there is no
is no friend O my friends there
O my enemy enemies there is no
no friend O my friends there is
O my enemies there enemy is no
friend O my friends there is no
O my enemies there is enemy no
O my friends there is no

friend my O friends there is no
is no enemy O my enemies there
O my friend friends there is no
no enemy O my enemies there is
O my friends there friend is no
enemy O my enemies there is no
O my friends there is friend no
O my enemies there is no 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Ungendered third person singular pronoun / The Shimmy of Shadrack

When will the English language adapt? When will it adapt and create an ungendered third person singular pronoun? I lie awake nights thinking. He lies awake night thinking. Someone was in my bed. They couldn't sleep. He/she tossed and turned. Her mouth longed for an ungendered third person singular pronoun. Someone slept until he was refreshed. We changed the language and then had breakfast, each of us with her preferred choice of grapefruit.



man was in my office crying
didn’t understand irony
I worried

about mucus
I told myself
keep typing

eventually I gave him a tissue
thank you, he said
keep typing

the shimmy of Shadrack is
the shelf of my broiling gate squeezer
he said

but he wept with such fury
I might not have understood
one day all this will be over

an appropriate metaphor will sail
as we all wish it to sail
and even this man will be joyful


each man is a great tweezer
broiling on a shelf

Shadrack you shimmy
when others are girt with grief

I look at a squirrel
it looks back at me

are we really so different?
he with cute nose

me with nostrils
worn with flair

do animals cry?
Internet says

animals do not cry
as humans do

but produce tears
necessary for

healthy eyes
(follow the link)

the salt creates
osmotic balance

why don’t you cry, animals?
what is the metaphor?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Preview of my latest book: Franzlations.

My latest book is due out from New Star next month. The above is an almost finished draft of the cover, designed by Craig Conley who also did the images. The book has his brilliant images on every page. He also designed the book. My other collaborator on this was Hugh Thomas, who is one of my absolute favourite poets. I'm thrilled to have been able to collaborate with them on this. I know my good friend, Franz, was too,

Here's something about the book.

Franzlations takes the parables and aphorisms of Kafka as a starting point, and steps a few places to the left in order to reinvent them. Sometimes this means walking off a cliff and into the empty air. (Don't look down!) Sometimes this means keeping the cage and replacing the bird. For of course, Kafka's writing is a rich source of ideas, play, structure, and wit. It looks like the real world, but in the way the bootstrap that one pulls oneself up with looks like a real bootstrap.
It is said that if Kafka had not existed, Kafka would have had to invent him. But since he did exist, Franzlations has invented an imaginary Kafka so that he could help create the Kafka that was already there. Perhaps it was that. Kafka who helped create these imaginary parables.
This, itself, is a parable.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fine Tooth


"When people say, "I don't read poetry because I don't understand it," I think, "Do you understand your sandwich? Do you understand combing your hair?"--W.S. Merwin 


we must be kind because
almost everyone we meet

my hair is amazing
I understand my sandwich

we must be kind because
I understand my sandwich

almost everyone we meet
my hair is amazing

I understand my sandwich
my hair is amazing

almost everyone we meet
we must be kind


Lines from M.S. Merwin, Chris Piuma, Rabbi Bernard Baskin, and Nikki Reimer & thanks to Melanie Drane

Thursday, August 25, 2011


A couple of weeks ago, I spent about 8 days with my wife and eldest son, Ryan, in Nashville. As Ryan is a country musician, we went to a lot of shows of country music, bluegrass, and points in between. Ryan and I spoke of collaborating on writing some country songs and so I wrote some lyrics which go with the melodies which are still just Hanklets in the Williams of his eye. Those songs are still in development. You'll know that we've been successful when I surround the ten gallon space that looms above my brainbox with a big white hat.

In the meantime, I've been working on some poems influenced by those lyrics. C=O=U=N=T=R=Y S=O=N=Gs, you could say.



the intense conviction of
I hope you don’t think
the existence of
I’m backward
the self apart from culture is
if I look forward to looking back
as culture well knows
on looking forward to you
its noblest and most generous achievement


for every kind of beasts, and of birds
we want brains and Hank Williams
and of serpents, and of things
we want what’s inside your head
the sea is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind
oh we’re country zombies
but the tongue can no man tame
you never feel more unalive
it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison
than when you’re undead


O that I were
words fail me, he said
where I would be
let me just say
then would I be
there are no words to say
where I am not
what I don’t know how to say
but where I am
what might better be left unsaid
there must I be
nothing I can say
and where I would be
can express what there are
I can not
no words to describe


forget trains and trainsmoke
who whet their tongues like swords
valleys and the lonesome road
who aim bitter words like arrows
forget mountains and old songs
shooting from ambush at the blameless
until times get hard
shooting suddenly and without fear
forget the moon and dogs howling
they hold fast to their evil purpose
about playing the steel guitar
they talk of laying snares secretly
forget the words of those old songs
thinking, “who can see them?”
when times get hard


the intense conviction of
I hope you don’t think
the existence of
I’m backward
the self apart from culture is
if I look forward to looking back
as culture well knows
on looking forward to you

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tuesday, August 09, 2011



     Nine thirty.

     This is like sperm, the Rabbi thought, looking at rain hitting the window at high speed and rushing down the windshield. Most drops were quickly swept away by the wipers, but every so often, one made it down to the hood,  the translucent drops round at the top, a zig-zag tail wiggling behind.

     And he remembered an image on a T-shirt he’d seen on a guy running past his house. One sperm had broken away, the clear leader of a pack of sperm, approaching a large egg at the top of the shirt, near the neck. Only the strong survive, the caption read.

    Look, Tanya, his wife said, nodding at a sign. 100 miles to Nashville.
    That’s good, he said. I’m tired. A little supper and then let’s get right into bed.

    An hour earlier, Tanya had taken over driving. He hadn’t slept well the night before and had got up early. This was a rare trip without their five hundred children. Another child was growing inside his wife. One of the strong ones. It’d be three more months before the child would swim—or be pushed—toward the light. He’d let Tanya sleep late this morning while he took care of the kids and prepared things for his mother-in-law to stay over for the weekend.
    It had been raining for days.

    The Arahat Mountain Boys. His band. He played with an old high school friend, now a biology teacher in a Catholic school. Mandolin and sometimes banjo.  Once – a Jew and a Catholic – they were The Original Skin Band, but that was years ago. They had a gig tomorrow night. The first in a while.

    Ten o’clock. As they drove, his wife began to recount her strange morning dream.

    A man in had been chasing her on a long train. He was disguised as her husband and knew secret words for sex. For everything. The man had been sharing a lemon meringue pie with the Catholic school teacher and began to kiss her, getting meringue all over her face. Then she ran. The other passengers were dolphins with human faces and they all had library cards. Jewish library cards. The train had come from between her legs. Inside the club car, her 500 children threw food at each other and now a sheep was trying to kiss her while she played the banjo. The man disguised as her husband smashed through the little window of the club car door. She was terrified. His face, his voice, his body were identical to her husband’s. He began to sing prayers but he sounded like he was underwater and far away.
    So, Rabbi, she asked her husband, what do you think it means?
    We should make love tonight? he asked.

    Ten thirty. The road was dark and the rain continued against the windshield. The oncoming  cars and trucks came out of nowhere, shooting up water, and frightening her with their speed as they flashed past. 
    I packed some sandwiches, she said.
    Corned beef, I hope.
    Look, she said. He leaned forward and opened up the bag.
    Ah. Corned beef.

    Yeah, and some of the kugel that Franny brought over the other night.
    A dream dinner, he said.
     Eleven o’clock. They drove in silence. They didn’t see the minvan swerve into their lane until it was right in front of them. Tanya swerved left. The side of their van crumpled as the minivan smashed into the Rabbi. Corned beef , he said as he lost consciousness.

      He woke to find the two wrecked vans joined together. Quiet except for the whimpering of a small child. The rabbi tried to move. His legs didn’t work. He could see the little girl through the fractured glass of the other van. A vague opalescence. Only two years old. She was dying. 
He reached through the window and pulled the girl close to him.

    With the knife meant for the kugel, he cut his chest open and pushed her inside. His broken body would become her second skin and a two year old girl would become the father of 500, soon to be five hundred and one, and the husband of his beautiful wife. He would watch from somewhere, from nowhere, from outside, as she woke in his paralysed body, as the people in the emergency vehicles pulled up on the road beside the trees and began working to save anyone they could. And then, like the rain, he’d be gone.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Dear Reader

for Craig Conley


Infinite Book

the proscenium
of the sky
or page
or of speech
a meniscus
the constellation of words
separated by
millions of miles
millions of years
appear together
one constellation
a sentence
a phrase
a meaning

for derek beaulieu and kevin mcpherson eckhoff

Thursday, August 04, 2011



today the car
yesterday the road

today the mailbox
yesterday the mailman

shoulders falling like snow

if you look closely
I have a powerful and significant body

a centaur or a mermaid
six of one, half a dozen of the other

the horizon scalloped like crazy
out there beyond the boats

yesterday the horse
today the fish

they are home in their beds
at home in their beds

it’s about the join
the point where the human torso joins the fish
the horse attaches to the human

Another poem written, forgotten, discovered, the process obscure.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Hand


 (I suppose I should dedicate this to the Addams Family's Thing and Franz Kafka.)

I do not expect the hand. At first, I think it is a root or some other growing thing searching out food.  I brush against it. It is cool though warmer than the air, warmer than the soil. I rest my head against its soft palm.

It cradles my head for hours, then it strokes my face. Perhaps it has a cramp and must move. I breathe, sleep, wake. The hand is gone. I sleep again.

When it returns, I touch my fingers to its fingers and they respond, curling. We remain fingertip to fingertip. I do not know how long. My watch is gone. Nothing changes. 

I sleep and when I wake, the hand has disappeared, my fingers are empty. I feel for the hole in the earth where the hand has returned. There are several small crevices and I reach in. Nothing but dirt or vacancy. Somewhere in this country, they think of shoes, stationary, a plate of meat, the floor of a change room. 

Then I feel the hand against my side. I hold it. We are parent and child, sisters, lovers walking together, watching the moon, anticipating the boat which will take us across the river. We whisper our stories. We are silent.

The hand is the moon, clouds. A sigh. I begin to wait for it. To expect. It is a television. A friend. What does it hope for, reaching, holding, sharing its quiet? 

Fields of daisies, butterflies, explosives. There is no remembering. A cubicle. The Canadian Shield, its stunted trees and shine of mica. Burritos, librarians, snakes, and nightstands. Documents passed from hand to hand in secret.

The hand carries nothing. Heat. A body. Happiness. I feel little except when I hold the hand. It could not have been looking for me, could not have anticipated finding me. A human hand among thousands: its own shadow, cold, sightless, underground; its mother,  master, child, slave. Its twin. 

I outline letters on its palm, but it does not understand. Its fingers move. Maybe it writes, but were it Arabic or English, I feel only caresses and swirls. An intimate and inscrutable grammar. 

We lock our fingers together. We sleep. Wake. Are happy. 

After a few days, the hand does not appear, I think I have lost my own hand. Later, I realize, the hand is gone. Hand. Gust of wind. The wide earth. Death. Someone brings me food. 
I open and close my own hand. I open and close it. I pass the memory of the hand between each of my own hands. What can be held in a hand, what has flown away? I remember nothing.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Birds: the dreams and prattling of those born from an egg

Nightingales' notes (as Bechstein has beautifully recorded them) seem to me like the Mexican language, and to express variety of sentiments of adoration and love. The parrot, magpie, jackdaw, jay, starling, and bullfinch, are prattlers; and the exquisite little canary, the pupil of my friend Mrs. H------, the pet, indeed, not only of its mistress, but of statesmen and learned physiologists, warbled its words in purest melody. From Sir William Temple we learn the faculty of the wonderful parrot of Prince Maurice of Nassau, at the Hague, that responsed almost rationally to promiscuous questions. Granting, then, this faculty of memory, it is clear that the bird may dream; and I may add a quotation from the "Domestic Habits of Birds," in proof of this.

' "We have, however, heard some of these night-songs which were manifestly uttered while the bird was asleep, in the same way as we sometimes talk in our sleep, a circumstance remarked by Dryden, who says -

'The little birds in dreams their songs repeat.' We have often observed this in a wild bird. On the night of the 6th April, 1811, about ten o'clock, a dunnock (Accentor nodularis) was heard in the garden to go through its usual song more than a dozen times very faintly, but distinctly enough for the species to be recognised." The night was cold and frosty, but might it not be that the little musician was dreaming of summer and sunshine? Aristotle, indeed, proposes the question - whether animals hatched from eggs ever dream? Macgrave, in reply, expressly says that his "parrot, Laura, often rose in the night, and prattled while half asleep."' - Philosophy of Mystery.

from the book "The Literature And Curiosities Of Dreams", by Frank Seafield

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SPRING (after Mary Ruefle's The Hand)


after Mary Ruefle

the teacher asks a question
your hand is not correct

she asks again
tree branches, feathers
robin hung
hung by the neck

you look out the window
the answers you ask yourself and your life

your littlest finger
the little beauty
drama and light without fire


after Mary Ruefle's "The Hand" and with thanks to Translation Telephone

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Protection Song


for my father

O birth of many babies
clarinet playing
and the blackfaced river
how I love you

the trees are Jews
in autumn under water

the sky in the river
in the river under water
beside clouds that flow in the river
under the pine or beside the oak

a crowd of friends marvelling at ships
a fear of death
a fear of death beside you
parents, wife, children, friends

those whom you wish had no death
that they sail on the river
on the sky sailing in the river
those that sail endlessly and without fear

O endless clarinet-faced death
sky-faced ligature of water
O blackfaced Jew and Jewfaced black
black, Jewish, and under water

O 19th 20ieth O all centuries
the music of Al Jolson will protect you
the birds swimming
the banjos soft and low

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Treadmills, priests, dogs, dusk, sleep, and fathers: an update

Hot summer noontime and it seems all bloggers' thoughts turn to updates about why the intermittent blogging, the veer from the dogged posting, the endearing indolent laze through the hot daze of the dog days.  And here, it is  this way, too.

I'm a likely a third of the way through my novel (Yiddish for Pirates)-- 33,000 words. Five hundred words a day seems all I can manage, what with the nautical terms, the Yiddish-speaking parrot, and such novel intricacies as plot. I've been writing on a treadmill. Literally. Writer friends of mine write this way -- words measured in distance traversed. Imaginary distance walked through. Which makes sense for writing. I wake in the morning, my legs aching, thinking only that I managed to get my character into the Cathedral, and forgetting that I walked nowhere for hours.

A historical novel, it's hard to know how much history belongs in it. How much a character is aware of the history that s/he walks the imaginary distance through. Of course, I'm taking the characters on a guided tour, but it's not a lecture tour. It is, like most lives,  flaneury, and we turn a corner into a historical alleyway or are hit or manage to dodge events hurtling at us along the thoroughfare. I'm resisting the urge -- even if my characters don't always -- to explicate, to present grand themes in grand expository language. I'm not, however, resisting bad jokes. Not all of history's one-liners have to do with exclusive succession of power.

At the moment, I'm in the Inquisition. It's the 1480s and my protagonist is 14 and is something of a freedom fighter. Most people at the time, I'd imagine were pragmatic, phlegmatic, 'nu?'-matic, or as I said, were flaneurs through the unpredicted and unmapped paths of their own lives. And they were frogs in a pot of gradually heating water, adjusting to the temperature until it was too late and they became soup.

I'm pleased with how exciting and compelling the events of my novel have become. There's heroic and amazing deeds, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned that -- though I modelled it after 17th century adventure/exploration/pirate novels -- eg. Defoe, Exquemelin, etc.-- like Borges' great story of Pierre Menard writing Don Quixote in the 20th century, it means something vastly different now. Of course, maybe my narrator (a parrot, after all) is lying. Or can only understand the world through received stories, But still.

That is, however, what makes this an interesting enterprise. For me. Hopefully for my readers.

Recently, Pearl Pirie posting a link to "Translation Telephone", an online application which runs a text through 20 random languages in Google translator. I often do this manually: take a text and translate it back and forth into and out of English to generate interesting variations and new directions for editing and revising a text. It's fascinating how particular languages (at least as rendered by Google) steer the language to particular sensibilities.

Here's a poem that I wrote exploring Translation Telephone.


the horizon
it is red, bad hair

it is not a good place for the night

dog told me baby
watch the sunset
it needs it
or sleeping dogs

shepherd of the night
I live in another part of the plan


Here's another kind of translation. I've been reading Mark Abley's fantastic Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages and in the chapter on Yiddish, he writes about some very powerful Yiddish songs which were written during WWII. One was a lullaby to a stranger's child, because the mother had disappeared. I can't quite remember the particulars; there were some other striking quotations. Thinking about this, as well as some disturbing events my son & his girlfriend, currently living in Nicaragua for the summer, reported, I wrote this villanelle. It is a 'memory translation' and an imaginary reconstruction of a text which I've never seen.


mother where is the mother sleep
by the window child
father under song

though the old
sing and unsettled ask
mother where is the mother

sleep something broken
in the forest words
father under song

sleep the river father
mother understand
sleep where is the mother

sleep father sleep
carried in pieces
father under song

born, be born, hide
remember together a voice
where is the mother sleep
father under song


OK. Time for the treadmill and a priest to pretend that he is a ghost. Soon there will be a murder. Be well. Be cool. Drink whatever liquids are necessary.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Nat and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
I recently published a story in a chapbook entitled "The Saxophonists' Book of the Dead." (serif of nottingham, 2011.) Nicholas Papaxanthos read the story and asked me yesterday 'where was Cannonball Adderley?' since I'd left him out of the story in my pantheon of legendary saxophonists. I was thinking about this and felt that I needed to remedy this. Who could leave out Cannonball?

And so, today, I have written this story about Cannonball (and his brother Nat.) It also included chess, because chess is a kind of two dimensional jazz.

By the way, Nick's premiere poetry chapbook, Teeth, Untucked (Proper Tales Press) is great -- check out the title poem, it's especially.excellent. You can get it by contacting Stuart Ross at Proper Tales.

And now, thanks to Nick, the story.


We were playing Internet chess.
      “I like jazz,” he said. Rook takes Knight. Check.
      Knight takes Rook.
      “But I didn’t like it when I lost my legs.” Queen takes pawn. Check.
      I didn’t know this guy, but I took the bait. “What happened?” King takes Queen.
“It was the late fifties. A time of great warships. Of colonial powers sawing the world into pieces. Galleons seized the wind in their enormous sails and smashed the sea.”
Bishop to Bishop 5. Double check.
“Powder monkeys ran up from the orlop deck, loaded powder and the gunners shot brilliant saxophonists back and forth at each other, sometimes broadside, sometimes stoving in the galley and toppling the mizzen.” King to King 1.  “It was another time, another world. A world where Cannonball Adderley was a weapon. A time of great
“And you lost your legs?”
      “Early June. A battle over the coast of Hispaniola. Cannonball Adderley smashed across the foredeck and took me down with his blues-inflected post-bop. I woke up a week later in a hospital without legs. I didn’t know what had happened. The morning sun bright, the light breeze rippling through the white curtains. The green scent of trees. The nurse ran a damp cloth across my forehead. She was singing quietly. “Summertime,” she sang. “And the living is easy.”
      “Where am I?” I asked.
      “Shh.” she sang. “Fish are jumping.” She pulled the blankets around me. “The cotton is high.” She walked quietly from the room.
      I slept then, waking for small moments throughout the day, and then as the day faded into night.
      Darkness. Someone beside me began coughing, then asked, “Anyone there?”
      I wasn’t certain of much, but I knew that.
      “Yeah,” I said. “At least some of me. The part that’s left. Don’t know where my legs are. In the ocean, maybe.”
      “Where are we?”
      “Some kind of hospital.”
      “My name’s Julian. They call me Cannonball.”
      “Cannonball? Cannonball Adderley?”
      “Yeah. Cannonball Adderley. Used to eat a lot as a kid. ‘Cannibal’ my friends called me. Over time, it turned into ‘Cannonball.’ So did I. Quite round, in fact.”
      I didn’t know then that he was the one who took off my legs. Anyway, it wasn’t his choice: who would choose to be fired from a cannon? Besides, there were many Cannonballs in that war. Many Cannonball Adderleys. Seas full of dazzling jazz saxophonists, spent and sinking to the sea floor.
      “How are you doing?” I asked.
      “Not good,” he said. “Dizzy. Nauseous. Like I’m going to die. Or just did. And I don’t know where my brother is. Nat. Nat Adderley. You know him?”
      “Of course,” I said. “The soulful brass salve to the incisive rippling edge of your alto.”
      “Yeah, that’s him,” he said. “But I’m worried. I haven’t seen him since we were brought below deck.  They lit him on fire, you know. He burned well. Hot and quick. Me, I was for smashing things. I destroyed rigging, stove in the sides of ships. I crashed through decks of men. And then, I would dance a nimble harmonic filigree, a razor-sharp hummingbird path around the changes of a jazz standard.
      “All our lives, we looked after each other, though he was the younger brother. Spent all our time together ever since we were kids in Tampa. Playing ball on the sidewalk. Riding bikes to the beach. Piano lessons. Sword fighting. Nat and me, buying candy. Chess on the porch with grandpa, cake with grandma. Corner store bullies. Maybe bullying some ourselves.  Pouring gasoline on the creek and lighting it on fire down in the ravine. But music. Always music. Four handed piano. School pep band. Jazz. Women. The church.
      “When I was first fired out the side of a ship, I looked up and there was Nat above the gunwale. Did you know that gunwales are sometimes called saxboards? I should make that the name of a song. So, there I was about to splinter the side of a ship, and I saw my little brother, Nat, watching out for me.  Just like when I went to record with Miles. ‘Cannonball,’ he said. ‘Go get ‘em, Cannonball.’ And I did.
      “But where is my little brother, now? Where are all those Nats, those other Cannonballs, peppering the sides of ships and crumpled amidst the broken bodies of the enemy?”
      The night nurse came in then to change the dressing where my legs once connected to my body. “Nurse, nurse,” Cannonball called. “Nurse.”
      “Cannonball,” she said. “Don’t excite yourself. You need some rest.”
      “But, Nat—where’s Nat?” he said. “I need my brother, the corporeal plushness of his cornet, the deep soulful vitality of his songs. I need to know where Nat is?”
      In my life, both before and after I lost my legs, I have done many things that I have not been proud of.  I have done good things, yes, but I did something then that I often think about, often think about when I listen to the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, or the Miles Davis’s classic Kind of Blue album, the one where Coltrane and Adderley are the perfect healing ballast to Miles’s hurting hipster reticence and introverted only half-aware pain.
      “I am Nat,” I said. “Don’t you recognize me, brother?” I said, “Julian, it’s me. Nat.”
      Bishop to Queen 7. Check. “And what did he do then?” I asked. “Did he believe you?”
      He never said another word. He lay back and died.
      King to Bishop 1.
      “Yes,” he said. “When the nurse left, I reached over and took his wallet from the night table. I only found out then that he was the one who had taken off my legs.
       “But I have been able to live a good life.”
      “Because of what you did?”
      “Because of his legs. I took his legs and I used them. I stuck them on myself and I walked through the cities and I walked through the towns. I walked right into a lawyers’ office in New York City, and I got his royalties. And I walked out to the water and sat down on the pier. And I looked up at the stars and I looked up at the moon.  And I knew that because of Cannonball, everything would be all right.”
      Bishop takes Knight. Checkmate.