Monday, January 31, 2011

Skalla-grimr saga: some Screengaze audio poetry dance music

  Skalla-grimr saga by Gary Barwin 

Nú's hersis hefnd
við hilmi efnd;
gengr ulfr ok örn
of ynglings börn.
Flugu höggvin hræ
Hallvarðs á sæ.
Grár slítr undir
ari Snarfara.
"Now the nobleman (Kveldulfr) has exacted revenge upon the king (Harald Fairhair); now wolf and eagle tread on the king's children. The hewn corpses of Hallvarðr (Hallvarðr harðfari and his people, that is the enemies) flew into the sea; the grey eagle tears the wounds of Snarfari (Sigtryggr snarfari was the brother of Hallvarðr harðfari)."

...from the Icelandic text of the first Nordic poetic to cleave brains with end rhymes.

Turning the Clockfire Back: Reversing Jonathan Ball's Clockfire.

Jonathan Ball's latest book, Clockfire (Coach House) is "a suite of poetic blueprints for imaginary plays that would be impossible to produce."

The book is brilliant, and haunting in its metaphysical, magic realistic inversions, its fabulist fatalism and poetic invention, its play with the conventions of theatre and of  life, and, ultimately, its celebration of creativity and storytelling,

Ball has released it under a "Creative Commons Attribution--NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence," with the idea that others could adapt these unproduceable plays, perhaps performing them, or rendering them in other media.

OK. I'll bite! Many of his "little theatres" are intensely directional. For example, one play ask for more and more lights to be turned on in the theatre, indeed the sun itself, until the audience is blinded. My immediate thought was to wonder what would happen if I inverted the plays -- if I turned the "Clockfire" backwards and played the plays in reverse...and perhaps inverted a few things.

Here are four little reverses of three plays from Jonathan Ball's Clockfire.


The audience always complains: it is too hot, too bright, they have not paid to be blinded. They are wrong. The audience must be driven into the theatre. It will offer them their eyes.

If the sun still burns, extinguish it. The performance continues, light taken away from light.

The thirteenth, twelfth, the eleventh light.

Under no circumstances may the performance be stopped due to the danger and difficult of movement in the increasing darkness. Of course, it is getting darker. It is always getting darker. The tenth. Why should you have to supply the theatre with its own light? The ninth.

There must be no flickering, or other interruptions. Take great care when planning this piece to know how to navigate in the dark. The eighth light turns off.

All of these lights, aimed out into the audience. The seventh spotlight turns off, the sixth, and the fifth. Then the fourth. The third light joins these. The second spotlight burns out. A single spotlight targeting the audience dims and then all is invisible.



The sun has burned out. The director has found a new sun. It will take time for its light to reach Earth, meaning that for now one might look into the sky and see only night.

The play transpires during this time, performed by countless actors, the entire host of the planet’s life.

Who continue on, unaffected, unaware that the dark is ending. That a new world, with new terrors, is rushing toward them at the speed of light.


It is the audience’s turn to act. They leave home and arrive at the theatre just as the play is due to begin. The small troupe of actors listen, absorbing everything. The audience reveals the significant events of the next fifty years.



Each night the audience returns to the theatre. To the ambulances and the shrieks. They take their seats then slit their own throats. The actors are horrified. They leave the stage. But night after night, they will return.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Infinite Kafka and his Reader


Reader,  let us, together, imagine my death. I am not an old man, but thin, coughing, and weak. I lie down upon the white bedsheets as if upon the pages of a book. Endpapers, we call them, enjoying one last joke at each other’s expense.

I close my eyes.  After my last breath, you close the book we have been sharing. 

You remember what I said: Destroy what I have written. Allow my words to burn a while, then turn to ash in your mind. I do not want to imagine you without me.


The professors create a powerful machine that takes every possible word and combines it with every other possible word in every possible configuration. They create all possible stories. There are more  stories than could be read in single lifetime.  And even if one began reading, by the time one read even a fraction of them, the meanings of the previous stories would have changed.

They begin again. They take all of Kafka’s words. Yes, say the professors, we intend to create the set of all Kafkas. The set of all possible Kafkas.

Years later, when the project is complete, they look at their work. We have created an infinite Kafka, one that expands as the universe itself expands, the professors say. Now all we need to create is more time, memory, and a few more infinite Kafka readers.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Visual Poetry On Trial

What is Visual Poetry? Why do poets insist on creating apparently meaningless and amateur-looking visual pieces out of letters and words when there are perfectly good, well-trained visual artists around? That's the question two separate peer juries from national and local granting bodies asked themselves before they made the decision to cut filling Station Magazine's funding for 2011, just for having included a short Visual Poetry feature in one issue. But is Visual Poetry really so offensive? Don't the poets have a reason for making the work, and doesn't the audience get something out of it? Or are these poems really meaningless?

The verdict is up to you! Join filling Station Managing Editor Laurie Fuhr in an attempt to get down to the truth. Hear from the defense and the prosecution as they examine and cross-examine key witnesses and the poetic evidence they present. At the end of the trial, you, the men & women of the Jury, are charged with the task of deciding whether Visual Poetry has the right to keep on living, or whether it should be hanged up by the cursive tails of its b's & d's.
Visual Poetry On Trial

You decide the fate of the world's strangest literary phenomenon!
WHEN: Thursday, January 20th, at 7:30 PM

WHERE: The Auburn Saloon, #163 115 - 9th Ave SE

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Visual Poetry Magazine: Tip of the Knife (issue 3)

Peter Ciccariello: textual artifacts VIII - when we were fluent

The third issue of Bill DiMichele's great little visual poetry magazine, Tip of the Knife, is now online. There an excellent variety of types of work. A great selection. The contributors for this issue are:

Peter Ciccariello
Luc Fierens
Christine Tarantino
Iker Spozio
Gary Barwin
Bill DiMichele

This publication, and the many other like it, remind me that whatever it may seem to have done for books and booksellers (what exactly that is, is unclear to me) the internet in all its various forms and manifestations has been a great boon for the creation of networks of aficionados (both readers and producers) of marginalized forms such as visual poetry. We can find each other, share work, publish easily and in colour, provide information and news about publications past, present, and future, and, in general, facilitate the dialogue. There is a present sense of community, of accessibility, of contact, and possibility that I value greatly. Now if you can just send all your money to me, everything will be just fine, at least for me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Celestial Deer Trophy

 for Craig Conley

I could not sleep.

I wrote things down.

Check the fire alarms.

Don’t forget drinking water.

The mirror has its own dawn.

Sleep turns into smoke.

Dry cleaning.

Doctor’s appointment.


Monday, January 10, 2011



for Jonathan Ball

I was going to park but
a whale was in my parking spot
the whale was my parking spot

convenient and close
its great right eye looked at me
its great left eye looked at me
I paid monthly

inside it was safety and krill
I was distant as the moon
and my cellphone picked up songs
a thousand miles away

there was no tide but
the lives of my children came and went
the lives of my parents and friends
I became old and could not remember

when I die, I will remember the whale
what it felt between whales
I will remember its flukes and its radio
its small planet of tar

Sunday, January 09, 2011


 "A Minnesota woman who was pregnant when a tornado dropped a cow on her last summer has given birth to the baby."

Miekal And posted this news story on his Facebook page. It seemed a strange and haunting fable concerning cows, humans, pregnancy, and tragedy averted. And so, this poem arose. I really liked the idea that, in the original--and true--story, this very strange thing happened (a cow fell on a pregnant woman) that might seem to be filled with ominous bovine portent, but in the end, the baby was born without incident and everything was normal, though the mother named the baby, Skylar, because "the first syllable recalled the sky." I've been playing with the ending of this poem -- it is a bit tricky (or at least against dramatic considerations or a kind of rhetorical closure) to have the poem end in nothing happening, or at least, everything happening as you might expect it. A shaggy cow story, as it were. I have resisted having the baby being born in the poem, or something else happening, though I'm still thinking about the ending.


a cow fell from the sky
onto a pregnant woman

a tornado was the father
the baby the still eye

the people of the village worried
made quilts picturing cows and tragedy

but the baby kept growing

a swirl of leaves in a forest
a pink hand inside a muffled drum

and the woman kept growing
a million twisting miles
of new red blood

and so the cow toppled off
and walked away

Saturday, January 08, 2011


like all parachuters
at least the active ones
I fell from the sky

like rain
I had no parachute
and feared

impact when I would become
a wet splotch
seeping into the ground

fifty years ago, when I woke up
they told me I was
wider than I was tall

today when I put on my bowling shoes
you explained it’s because
I’d been on my side

Friday, January 07, 2011

Stone, Chair, Grief, and Poetry

in water
the stone is what is not water
though shaped by it

almost not there
there is now more that is not you
but I know you

a stone is the inside of the open air


(I'm posting this for some friends who are in the midst of difficult times.)


There's a moving and insightful essay "Of Grief and Poetry" by Sina Queyras on the Poetry Foundation blog, Harriet, with some beautiful and consolatory poems (and not the ones you might expect) as well as discussion.


The flat stone resting on the little black chair sits on my desk. The stone was one discovered and given to me by one of my children on a visit to the very end of Point Pelee. The little chair comes from a doll house my wife's grandfather made for my daughter when he was an old man.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Dental Cosmos / Ghosts / Putting a Cow in Lingerie as a Technique of Revision

for Craig Conley

Craig Conley sent me this fantastic "Dental Cosmos" masthead which he found somewhere. It was just begging for an image or a text to accompany it. Is this it?


A different context helps me see a piece of my writing in a new and revealing light. Putting a cow in a lingerie store makes me see both the cow and the lingerie differently.
Some of the things that help me get that textual cow into a new cortical lingerie store are: 
Waiting. Sometimes if one waits, the lingerie store comes to the cow. Or the cow becomes the lingerie store. Or there are chickens everywhere.
Trying some radical intervention. I don't mean lobotomizing or trepanning my own head, but rather the text: Alphabetizing the lines, reading them from last to first, trying deleting elements, changing it from prose to poetry or vice versa, etc.), running it through a Google translation machine. Blending two texts together.

Being brave. Steeling myself to truly be open to what the text is doing and if everything is necessary or working effectively or has achieved the most it can. Sometimes, it is just realizing that the text was more of a warm-up or exercise, or of a particular moment. Or it just doesn't work. What I hoped would be a fantastically brilliant cow in a chemise, turns out to be a duck in a rubber boot.

Presenting it to an audience (reading the text out loud to friends or at a public reading; publishing it in a journal, blog, or book; showing it to an editor or other writer/reader; or even considering whether it belongs in a MS or to be sent out to a journal, blog, or elsewhere.) A change, or even a consideration of audience takes me outside of myself, helps me see how a text might be perceived by a reader/listener/editor. Of course, my reading of it can change depending on the audience, but another view of the text is helpful to me. (This can be tricky though. If I put my cow before a bunch of bovine lingerie aficionados, then I might be seduced into believing that the text actually works in other contexts, in somewhere other than that particular moment.

In light of the above discussion, here's a poem that I'm working on. 

they give up bones
slip through subway grates
are made chamois-soft
by the memory-rich

headbutts of commuters
what has a ghost?
the silver sink, the future tense
the pale paint skin of the white wall

I disguise myself as a ghost
by looking like myself from a distance
blackbirds, dogs, memory
or snowfall as a Möbius strip

last universal common ancestor
my family

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

It's No Time Presently

a derek beaulieu vispo

derek beaulieu's No Press has published one of my visual poems, the suite Six Panels. No will soon publish another piece of mine, the divergently titled "Four Panels." Six Panels can be purchased for the handsome sum of $1.50 by contacting derek, a feat which can be accomplished by following the link.

Another reason that it's worth the click to derek's blog, is that, in addition to being a source of all things No, it has news about derek's own work, his reviews and essays, and has a gallery of some of his fantastic visuals. It's really worth keeping an eye (or several) on.

Great review of Porcupinity in ForeWord!

Reading in Waterloo, explaining just how tall I'd be if I were a gnome

There's a fantastic review of my new (how long can I call it that?) book The Porcupinity of the Stars in ForeWord magazine. I'm delighted to have the review published there.

The review is perceptive & thoughtful. Witty. the interest of full disclosure, I should say that the review was written by an old friend of mine (from High School -- Interlochen Arts Academy), poet Melanie Drane. It was assigned to her by the reviews editor, another old friend from Interlochen, poet, Teresa Scollon. Both of these friends have done many interesting things, both writing-relating and otherwise.

I've stayed in touch with both Melanie and Teresa over the last 30 (gulp!) years. We really reconnected when they were the outgoing and incoming writers-in-residence at Interlochen and I went to Interlochen to present at a conference there. It's remarkable how we can maintain friendships with those friends of our younger selves, how the vicissitudes of life may shake us up in different ways individually, but we end up still being able to understand each other. Part of that is due to having a shared past and a shared ideal of what is important and a common intuition about how a life may shake out, and part of it is due to having a shared common experience all those years ago which informs our current experience. In any case, it continues to be a great pleasure to maintain this connection and friendship first formed under the 'stately pines' of Interlochen.

Reading in Waterloo, arranging my physiognomy into one of gnome woe.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Cradle of Bones


They made the cradle out of grandpa. On a flat and treeless planet, they made a cradle of his bones. Of what was left of him, his softer parts now returned to the old dry earth, he now as featureless as the desiccated land around him. Grandpa’s wrinkled flesh was the dried-out riverbed of memory only, and the sleepless red face of the baby bawled from within a cage of the old man’s bones.

“Sleep, child, sleep,” they said, hundreds of them gathered ‘round its cradle in the memory cave, shushing the baby to sleep. “Grandpa is a mountain lion,” they said. “If we had mountains, if we had lions. Grandpa is a wave, is a whale, if we had oceans and knew of where the whales went.

“Grow, baby, grow,” they said. “Like our food, though you are not food. Grow, baby, grow, as if you were our hopes and dreams, which of course you are, nestled within the ribs of he who begat your own father, now sent by rocket into space. But, our little hopes and dreams, cry less and sleep more, close the twin moons of your eyes and the raw red cave of your mouth. Imagine the dark soil of the sky, rich with the bright seed of stars, the shining wombs of planets.

“Sleep, child,” they said. “For this planet, too, is a womb and you are safe here, and ready to grow.”

The father, not in the bones of his own father, but in the tin of a rocket crossing the sky, moving toward a new world, picked up the phone.

“Boy, do I feel like pizza. Think you could order me a pizza?” he said. “Boy, do I feel like going home. Think you could order me home?”

There was no reply on the other end. The father heard nothing but a hiss, like all the rain of a planet, falling at once.

“Boy, do I feel like a sardine, think you could order me out of this tin can?” he said, a little more loudly.

All he heard from the receiver was a rush of wind, the sound of everyone on his home planet hushing a baby, all at once.

In a corner of the zoo, the mother was brushing down the dark and silver hairs on a gorilla’s back. The gorilla was dressed in a huge, but still too small, sailor’s suit with embroidered white anchors on its blue lapels. Its broad knees looked embarrassed in short pants. “Gorilla baby,” the mother said, “You are a good boy. Look at your handsome face and your big little hands. You will grow fine and strong, tall like your father.”

The mother cupped the gorilla’s wide jaw. “O Gorilla, one day you will be king of this habitat and live a happy life, here with your gorilla mate, and your gorilla friends, and your gorilla babies, while far away in the stars, my husband will be an old man walking across a new planet. And when he dies, they will take his well travelled bones and make a cradle of them, for by then, our baby will be a grown man and he will have a child of his own, growing strong and happy in the cave. And when he is tired, that baby will rest in a cradle of his father’s bones, just like all babies before him, and our people will help him sleep, and they will help him grow, and they will keep him safe.”

The mother kissed the gorilla on the forehead before letting herself out and locking the Plexiglas door of the habitat. In the deep sky, the bioluminescent moon was a pizza-shaped creature, with, or without, bones.