Monday, February 28, 2011

YouTube Videos of my reading hearthside in the Falls

A  pirate maternity costume

Jordan Fry and Priscilla Brett host a brilliant little reading series in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Every month or so they invite a reader to read before the child-proofed hearth in their cozy, charming, and book-filled home. These "Hearthside Hearings" are broadcast live on They also record them and throw them up on YouTube. I read on February 22nd. It was a lovely event. Priscilla made my wife and I a great meal which we shared with Jordan and Priscilla and their children. Then Jordan drove into St Catharines to pick up some of the audience (these two, they do everything for the reading!) and then I began reading under a corner lamp to the audience sitting on the stairs, on the chairs and the floor.

I read a few stories, a couple poems, and a big chunk from my work-in-progress novel. Because of the intimacy of a house reading, I didn't try to put on a 'performance' but rather to just read. I was able to read for longer than I would have in a regular reading and had the opportunity of trying something provisional, something in progress. We had a nice conversation afterwards and the audience had lots of interesting things to share in relation to my novel.(Priscilla's great-great-great-grandfather had been a notable pirate!) One thing I loved about the reading was the idea that, in a place like Niagara Falls with hardly any literary scene, Jordan and Priscilla just made one up. By hosting this series in their home -- and by broadcasting it -- they instantly have created, not only their own fun, but a literary scene. It's the equivalent of DIY publishing or a small or micro press. Which they also do.

And now, they're doing something even more ambitious. They are establishing the Niagara Literary Arts Festival beginning this spring. The line-up is going to be fantastic.

Here are the recordings of my reading.

deer; love, equality, and marvellous hair; donkeys, non-thirsty rivers and Bruegel;

Parrots, pirates, Yiddish, and Columbus: an excerpt from my novel-in-progress.

The radiant happiness of the 15-year pregnancy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More on Writing and Grief: A Prayer for the Fish

When my son, Aaron, was quite young, he had a fish which he called "Sharky." When Sharky died, he was very upset, experiencing grief for the first time. He begged me to write a poem ("Dad, you're a writer and musician..." -- this was the job of writers and musicians)and to conduct a funeral ceremony. Aaron himself created an astoundingly moving collage of all the meaningful words that he could summon. I played baritone saxophone over the fish's grave which was under a peach tree. I wrote this poem for Aaron's fish which I read at our ceremony. This small loss -- which for this small boy was not small -- was felt greatly. He was desperate for a ceremony to heal, to memorialize, to give grace & 'rightness' to the death of this living thing which he loved. We somehow learn to walk by falling.

Charles Bernstein posted his beautiful cover blurb for Akilah Oliver's A Toast in the House of Friends today in memory of her passing.

"The ceremony of sorrow is performed with a measured, defiant acknowledgment that makes words charms, talismen of the fallen world. Poetry is a holding space, a folded grace, in which objects held most dear disappear, returning as radiant moments of memory’s forgiving home."

Tucked away in the rarely visited recesses of my computer, I came across the poem that I wrote for Aaron's fish.


Goodbye fish
you were my best fish

I will love you even though you are dead.

All of the family has gathered round
to say a prayer
to bury you under this tree.

Your tank is quiet now.
The water empty.

You will be a shooting star
in the deep blue sky
and your tail will shine.

I want you to swim
to your mother and father
I want you to swim
to your brother and sister .

I want you to remember me
when you flick your fins
and flap your tail
out among the other stars.

Goodbye fish.
You were my best fish.
I will love you always.

Goodbye fish.
I will love you always.
I don’t know why you died.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My PhD dissertation: Martin's Idea for reciter, interactive computer systems, and MIDI keyboad

Martin's Idea (for reciter, interactive computer system, and MIDI keyboard) by Gary Barwin by

Way back in 1995, I wrote this piece for reciter, computer system (using the MAX object oriented music programming language) and a MIDI keyboard. It was my dissertation at SUNY at Buffalo. One of my memories of my dissertation defense was explaining the transformation of a particular musical motif which corresponded to the moment when the narrator's dog suggested that the narrator's wife get pregnant.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Woodland Road with Travellers (for Kerry Schooley): Writing on the Death of a Friend

I've written several stories, poems, and essays about other people's--including my family's--experience of death, exploring ideas and feelings about grief, mortality, regret, loss, love, empathy, and many of the other things associated with it. I had never tried to directly express my own experience. I guess my own experiences were mediated through my attempts to express other people's feelings. Ultimately, the empathic exploration was helpful and sustaining to me. 

When my friend, Kerry Schooley, died suddenly and unexpectedly this fall, I was much affected. For the first time, filled with sadness, I attempted to write something. I was planning on reading it for the celebration of Kerry's life that we held at the Pearl Company, but, when the time came, I opted to read, not only some of Kerry's own work, but work which I felt reflected his vitality, curiosity, and characteristic mix of cynicism and a belief in endless possibility. 

Here is the nine-part poem which I wrote for Kerry and didn't read. Completely incongruously with regard to Kerry, it refers to a painting by Bruegel, though it is the first time that I've used 'shit' in a poem. I think he'd be proud of me.

(after Brueghel)

for Kerry Schooley


they are small, walking away
the travellers with their burdens
men, women, the very old

they walk a road that was never a road
the travellers with their burdens
trudging through the shady wood

their children tramp beside them
or are carried in their arms
one girl with a moth instead of an eye

the distance invents itself with their moving
the dark arm of night, like a maitre d’s invitation
after you, Mesdames et Messieurs, after you

a woman with no legs but instead
a skirt of birds, and she moves like water
dark hair braided by tide

shit falls from a donkey
an old man carries a violin
they walk with only the leaves for song


wind blows across the hemisphere
neither happy nor sad
old nor young

clouds and the rain from clouds
rain and the sound of rain
rain carried by the river and through
the stumpy hairs of grass

those who have become shadow
we call shadow because
bereft of shadow
we feel vivid
yet block the light

when it rains
surely there must be spaces where
the drops don’t fall


in the distance
far behind the main characters
a bridge flows
a small stream

you stand beside it
the stream goes nowhere

empty villages, taskless dogs
abandoned rivers without thirst or laundry
the paint around us precise and forlorn

we try to hold the past inside us
but, as a man in a cart observes
at least one end of the donkey knows
it can’t last


the woods both shadow and light
a road that isn’t a road
words that don’t say what they should

a red bird in the foliage of ribs
pumping a kind of flight
blood, thermal, song

broken tree
a stump-like tongue
sky a donkey-coloured half-shadow
moth-light in the eyes


a crank phonecall from a tree

the horizon provides us with
‘a whole a new perspective’
the future converges
the sighing of leaves
the doorbell rings

an order for pizza that involves no autumn
but endless sun


those in the kitchen whose minds travel
walking through forests
those who make toast and think of mountains
unwalking like forests

leaves which think of trees
the horizon which cannot exist except from far away
time itself a leaf

in nature, the scientists say
beauty is created through death

we make things faster
we make things slower

something about drawing a line
knowing you’ll have to cross it


this is what it is to be living
the forest

I become a kind of geography

on a mountain
reach out

my hands go through

I walk into the yard
sit on the grass and look up.

the sky has plenty.
what: clouds? geography? memories?


I walk around and around.

the world a flaneur
not yet decided
which way to turn

my grandmother in her bed
her children, their children and
their children’s children
her breath
her breathing

in the garden

we hold her breath


Bruegel: the traveler stands before
a terrain to be traversed

wheeled vehicles and wayfarers
the final stretch of a woodland road
a luminous plain, a distant city

the traditional thoughts:
browns, greens, blue

a light-filled radiance
a rolling plain
coach teetering on the ridgeline

a dip in the road
a steady course
low roads, turns, dead-ends

the trailing darkness
a recent storm
fair weather ahead
light-filled pools

meanwhile the trees
sullen browns
struggling old oaks
green along the road


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Drunk on Listerine: Two Poems

at his mother’s, the dictator
drunk on Listerine
smears the walls with his own waste
crawls into the bathtub and imitates the moon

the sky hefts some clouds across the horizon
the people leave their houses and
crawl through the streets

the mother standing in the kitchen says
he looks small but
it depends what he’s near
for instance his bed
the constitution
the Great Bear

the people
who might have been the moon or
bio-luminescent sea life
go down to the shore and practice
they practice
bio-luminescence for a long time


(I have no title for the poem yet. I'd love some suggestions.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011



Dentistry is a magic, hieratic art, a ritual performed by the shamanic dentist in order to attain his own numinous invocations, the almost supine patient a gaping mouth atop a rhizome of nerves and blood.  Or a slow motion practical joke, a silent— or mumbling—movie.

Place this chair in your mouth. A train is coming. I will, through this miniature carpentry, remove flowers, teeth, rabbits, decay and pain.  I will inscribe, tattoo, excise, scar, or circumcise. I will paint with stalagmites. Through the ceremony of small implements and mirrors, I will perform elemental cybernetics, a prosthetic  chiselling of tusks. I will place things inside as pataphysical jokes:  tubes, hoses, hands, butterscotch creams, metals, liquids, air. You will be frisked by fingers that you cannot see.

Dentistry is a spelunking of throats, an astrophysics of breath and bite. We are ushered into the small chamber, itself a mouth cleaned with precision, and then we are placed on the reclining bier, our eyes closed, a light shone into the antechamber of speech, the small studio where the voice is sculpted and into the centre of ourselves for we are a body formed around this empty space, this tunnel.

And sometimes the mouth is more than a heraldry of teeth, sometimes the mouth is sleep.  We have forged this appliance. It is a familiar, the shadow of the inside of your mouth. The recumbent celebrant expects a fridge, dishwasher, or blender resting on the tongue, pushing against the teeth. Here, we have made the moon soft and small enough for it to fill your mouth. Now bite down. You will sleep with this. The inside of your mouth will have no other light. Your insides will mattress. Now sleep.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Desk

for Geof Huth


I created the desk
its many drawers

now I write
its grainy blond skin
longing to be touched

we are not alone
we are in a forest
there is a cool breeze
this night

time passes and we wait
there is victory
in waiting

Friday, February 04, 2011

InterNaPwoWriMo 2: Liminous


Sitting beside the Web's warm hearth: I'm being streamed from the Falls.

The poster that Priscilla Brett designed for my reading at her and Jordan Fry's Hearthside Hearings. They tell me that the format is: we share an excellent meal together then I sit or stand and read whatever I like for however long I want and you're invited in person, or in person on the web.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Videos of my "The Porcupinity of the Stars" Reading Tour (at fillingstation's Flywheel in Calgary this past fall.) (You should see the nifty tour jackets.)

(for this last  video, someone did that car chase thing and turned the bookstore-- the fantastic Pages on Kensington -- on two of its wheels while the reading skidded around a corner. There were sparks. Someone said, "I hate it when that happens," and then police cars collided in an intersection that we'd just sped through.)

Thanks to Laurie Fuhr of fillingstation for recording and uploading these. And thanks to Meghan Doraty for hosting. And Patrick Horner, Jen Kunlire, Angela Dillon, and Anthony Di Nardo for sharing the bill with me.

Calgary is such a fantastic literary city!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Porcupinity of the Stars is an ebook!

The Porcupinity of the Stars is now e-vailable in an ebook format! Either epub or pdf!

Unlike the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (as described in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) which cost little to buy but untold millions for shipping across the galaxy, this book can just be downloaded -- you don't pay for shipping and there are no trees involved. It's $!0.95

But wait. There's more!

Coach House is offering a two-for-one sale. You could buy two copies of The Porcupinity of the Stars for the price of one. Or 260 for the price of 130! could buy from the ever-growing list of other cool Coach House titles. Have a copy of The Martryology for your iPad! All the cool kids are doing it! See how many times bp uses an 'h' or mentions 'onions.' Buy Jonathan Ball's Clockfire or Sina Queyras' Expressway. What if you were stuck on a desert island with unlimited access to an electrical outlet but no wireless and you had nothing but unlimited food and water and your ebook reader? Dear reader, be ready.

Coach House is holding this Ebook Fire(wire) Sale throughout February. They say: Simply order two ebooks from the Coach House website and you'll be charged for just one. Soon after, you'll be emailed a fine electronic version of that title, DRM-free, for a seemingly ridiculous price. Find out more here:

No shammies were harmed in the making of this blog post.