Monday, January 30, 2012



Our neighbor takes out bags of garbage. Our neighbor walks the dog. She washes the car, sweeps the walkway, shovels the snow, carries groceries home. Our neighbor has remarkable legs and has a birthmark which covers most of her face. It’s not the shape of Jesus, her birthmark not the shape of Mother Theresa. It’s not the shape of the Great Rift Valley, nor of this story. Her birthmark is a black hole, vast and mysterious, unknowable and terrifying and we cannot look, cannot look away.      
 “Why do you obsess about our neighbor’s face,” my son says. “There are other things to think about. For example, her remarkable legs, her knowledge of celestial naviagation. When she was my Grade 2 teacher, she explained about pulling girls’ hair and the right way to form the letter F.“
            “Look at her birthmark.” I say. “Look with both eyes or with one through a telescope which you have coyly hidden behind the almost closed curtains of our living room. Gaze into her birthmark and you will see time and space collapsing. Light disappearing. The glint of the sideview mirror, new quarters flipped into the bright morning air, a sudden shine from the policeman’s badge. Your poor red heart turns to some kind of ground beef and gets sucked in, sucked into her birthmark. Along with streetsigns, seniors hobbling before our front window, horses, the planets, spiral nebulae, great gas giants, and the memories of entire civilizations, the Mezozoic, skipping games, philosophical paradoxes, and the sadness when youth is over. I’m sure you will feel that soon, son, its dull metal taste, its acrid, static melody.  But you will have your children, their consolations, rewards, and material support. And so, in the dim fossil glow when time has just about called it a day, your progeny orbiting bedside, splittle dribbling from your weak and juddering lips, your sallow lungs will wheeze, “Hank, Bob, and Sheila. Janice and Julie; Neptune, Gloria, Saturn and Pluto,” you’ll whisper. “George, Henry, Earth, Venus, and Gwendolyn; Mars, Jeremiah, River, and Dwarf-Star,” you will call to them. “I have something to tell you.”
            “Wait,” my son interupts. “Hold that thought. This just in.“ His eyes roll back in his head. I worry that this might be some kind of seizure, something medical and life ending. But he is gesticulating dramatically toward our neighbour, and he begin to speak.
“Look across the street,” he  says. “Our neighbour’s tawny and spectacular legs shudder like earthquakes, her breath rises as if were a solar flare. Her eyes are obsidian headlights filled with the shadows of deep space. Her pert teeth are constellations which tell their own legends. Who are we? What is our place in all this changeable uncertainty? If communication is dark matter, what are our mouths, our wild exhalations like solar wind seeking night?”
 As always, my son is trying to upstage me with the febrile drama of his false pronouncements. But I am the great blue earth, and beneath the whorl of my clouds, my plains are filled with blond lions and velvet-nubbed giraffes, pods of great singing whales ranging beneath my chuffing seas. I am the centre of everything yet my son insists on his petty heliocentric legends like some recalcitrant Galileo before the otherworldly and academically accurate lute-playing of Vincenzo, his father.
 “Your quotidian bluster lacks the poetic gravitas of the actual,” I tell him. “The black hole is ravenous. It is expanding. Soon it will cover our neighbour’s entire body, a predatory shadow, an endless mine-shaft through time and space. Then it will engulf her side of the street. Then the world. What sparkles at its core? What does it pull toward its alchemical treasures?”
My son, the foretold spittle now running in delicate rivulets down his upturned pink chin, raises both arms, and calls out some unintelligible equation, rotten with coefficients and imaginary trigonometric pig-Latin. Then he runs blindly across the street. We can be thankful that here, in the cul-de-sac of our lives, there is little traffic. No SUV charges toward its End-of Days assignation with daycare, no delivery truck plows forward, laden with time-sensitive communication and Internet-ordered folderol. The well-kept blades of our neighbour’s lawn part before the quick glossolalia of his sneakers, a Exodus-enabling sea of grass flinching before his mad and unintelligible dance. He dives toward his former Grade 2 teacher searching for who knows what further instruction on the calligraphic mysteries of  the letter F and the hieractic protocol surrounding the grasping of pigtails and the ringing of little girls’ hair.  For a moment his body with its sad white sneakers is parallel to the slight curve of the earth and is beautiful.
My son disappears into the infinite shadow that is our neighbour’s birthmark.
Once again, he has stolen the scene.
I weep.
Our neighbour, with her remarkable legs, leaps the fence.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Songs of the Uncanny Valley:

Songs notice.
Songs do not notice.


Readers of this blog will note that the last few posts of pieces are based on the synthesized voices native to MS Word. What's up?

These pieces are my explorations of synthesized text "reading" -- the interface of the fictional persona (the computer 'character') and the human meaning of the text (language, we are trained to assume by default is 'human', has a source in cognition or expression. My texts themselves are supposed to be problematizing this issue, particularly in light of the robotic voice with shares some properties with the human and the expressive voice. Also, the relationship between speaking, song, melody, and inflection. The pieces are supposed to be chant-like and hypnotic and disconcerting in some kind of uncanny valley between human and not, between music and not, between chant and something else. This effect, to me is most present in the whispered text (Old Mother) with its allusion to broken old men voices or ghost-like whispers. 


The short piece, above, is a setting of the punctuation of the first twenty sonnets of Shakespeare. This is taken from my book The Servants of Dust (published by derek beaulieu's mighty No Press). Punctuation. What kind of lyrics are those? Is this expressive? Of what? There's music and play in the reading of the punctuation. I find it disconcerting but yet fun. I'd like to do a set of the entire punctuation of the sonnets. Boring, but in a transcendent, non-developmental way. Like reading the punctuation of the Bible and leaving out the words. (Yes! I have to try that. An adaptation of the Bible, but only the punctuation. )

I kept this setting very very simple and highly repetitive in order to make it more trippy and minimalist. I like the strange rhythms created and the pseudo-meditative effect with sudden accelerations. Also the 'drama' of the minimal and how this highly self-similar piece has its own micro-dramas and nano-suspenses.

So how do you respond to these recordings? Are they unsettling? Boring? Do they exist in an uncanny aesthetic valley? In a canyon of failure or loss? A fissure of imagination or boredom? What's the relationship between the setting and the text? I'm interested in how these play in people's heads.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

you did not expect me to live... I have said it. I will live.

 Old Mother by Gary Barwin by

This is another chant created using MS Word voice synthesis.

This one uses a few near-whispered voices -- shaky, old men's voices, spirit voices. The text is a poem that I wrote nearly 30 years ago while studying ethnomusicology at York University and having listened to some very moving Native chants that were intensively metaphysical and spiritual in their intent and effect. Here's a link to the text.

This recording that I've made on this half raining, half snowing dark afternoon is also strangely moving to me. Preternatural and haunting in its basic assertion. "Old did not expect me to live... I have said it. I will live.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Future Moon: MS Word Sings Again

 Future moons by Gary Barwin by

A song, quite pretty, actually, with a melody created by the synthesized voice native to MS Word and that I processed in Ableton Live.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Drag(Hair)net(Cut)

Issue 4 of Dragnet Magazine is just out and it contains my story "The Haircut" on pages 46-47.  Above is the first page. You have to go to the magazine to see the next page and the exciting conclusion, not to mention the illustration by Illya Klymkiw

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Double Tiger Barcode: the musical


I discovered that MS Word could translate a text into voice while revising this poem. There are a number of voice options but "Bad News" created this lovely mellifluous chant which I accompanied with music and added some vocal 'harmony.'

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sometimes You Don't


a leaf blew through an open window 
driving fast

the colour of skin
I was on my way 

my children’s bones 
covered in skin

there were sirens
ambulances & police 

the trees like fathers

trying not to personify 



think about how
it makes me feel

a broken-headed squirrel
down my pants

a music stand
in one ear then out
the next

a papercut
discussed in an email

chimp kisses
with a snow-blower


[Looking through old computer files, compiling a MS. What to do with THESE?}

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Saturday, January 07, 2012

On Reviews, the Unread Book and the Landless Giraffes

"How was the show? Oh, the audient loved it."

Perhaps I am because my little dog knows me, and sometimes the writer feels that a book is because a reader knows it and, even more so,  a book is because a reviewer reviews it and it becomes part of the discourse. Of course, the reception of a book, its traction, whether momentary or long-lasting is part of the meaning of a book, is, ultimately, part of the discourse itself. Language exists apart from use. Apart from words, sentences, speech and books, but it also is made of these things. A giraffe without land or air may be a beautiful thing, but it isn't a giraffe in the usual sense.

I still believe in the unread book. Its mystery. Its potential. What might be behind its hidden doors. Or the secret book, the book known to few. And in truth, some books have an ideal audience which is small, or specialized. If its only her dog, if it's only this single one dog that truly knows Gertrude Stein--and Gertrude Stein knows how it knows her-- it knows her in a way that no others do and Stein has a unique dog-derived self-knowledge as a result of this. Though Stein is also known by many. And she herself knew how she was known by many. But that's another kind of knowing.

All of this by way talking about reviews. I'm always very grateful for reviews. Of course, I'd like more people to encounter my books, to enter into a dog/Stein relationship of their own with them quite independent of me and my own authorStein/dogreader relationship. And reviews facilitate this, they facilitate more readers finding out about the book, and begin a dialogue between them and the book. Or a trialogue. Between the book, the reviewer, and the potential reader(s).

And reviews and their writers often reflect new ways for me to see the book, or at least, to see how others might approach the book. What they notice, what they think about, how it fits into their notion of reading, books, literature, the world. Sometimes the reviews tell me more about how a specific reader has read the book. Of course, I don't always agree, but then again, I don't always agree with my dog.

Should I write here here about how, though I've published, over the last sixteen years, 10 books plus another 4 for kids, and appeared in hundreds of journals and magazines, that I've never had a review in either of the national newspapers nor in the Writer and Porcupine-specific journal? Do I care? Should they? Am I happy with the howling pack of those who know me or learn about my writing through other (less national)(under)dogs?

I am happy with them. I've had good dogs.

I do, though, have a sense of wanting to be part of that other conversation, too. I guess some part of me thinks that it might introduce more readers to my work, which I would like. Some will get something from this exposure, some won't. I do have misgivings about 'the marketplace' sensibility, but outside of the very satisfying networks, the temporary autonomous zones of specialized readers and webs of those who know such work as mine, it still is the primary way readers find books.

There is also, I have to be honest, though I dislike this in myself, a sense of there being a party that I'm not invited to. A sense of validation. Really, it feels all Cinderella-not-being-invited-to-the-ball and I don't like that. Really its only the insecure part of me that wishes for this, not, I don't believe, my core. And I'm certainly not willing to magic myself into some ball gown and coach that isn't mine. I'm good staying in the Coach House with the other mice.

My absolute core belief as a writer is that I must write the books that I must write whether there are dogs around or not, whether the book is unread or not.  The book itself is dog enough for me.

But I delight in an exchange of ideas, of discussions about the book, in a careful consideration of the work. And so, I'm most grateful for this nice little review by Michael Roberson in Canadian Literature of The Porcupinity of the Stars among other books (as well as those by Don Kerr, Tammy Armstrong, and Jon Paul Fiorentino.)

So, thanks Michael. I appreciate your thoughtful engagement with the book. And thanks to other readers and/or reviewers of the book in the past. I'd also like to thank those who bought the book but didn't read it, but would rather just imagine --with fear, trepidation, wonder, and disgust--what might be behind its deer-coloured sports-sock-infused front gate. And finally, I like to thank those who have never heard of the book--all these on this planet and all those lifeforms extant in other places of the present, past, and all possible universes. You help make my book mysterious, unknown, a sanctum for initiates and cognoscenti. You make special dogs of those who have dog-eared The Porcupinity of the Stars.

Time for a Vispo: anamevispoem

for Amanda Earl

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Brain banjos and moon smoke

I ran a project-based blog called "Heine Site" where I invited writers to write a new poem/piece of writing based on some materials that I created derived from a poem by Heinrich Heine. 

There were many great contributions from a diverse array of writers -- from Erin Moure and rob maclennan to Satu Kaikkonen and Steve Venright. 

A couple of days ago, Bruce MacDonald sent me a poem that he'd written based on the Heine material on what he assumed was my defunct blog. This defunked the blog. I'd like to restart the project. So check out the blog -- the information about how to contribute is on the first blog post -- and then send me a text. 

I'm fascinated by how the same material can be developed differently and evolve into completely different kinds of work.  This is not only variations on a theme, but not an object lesson, but a process lesson. A way of seeing new kinds of proceedings, of thinkings, of imaginings.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012



The great explorer leaves the palace. Even without his splendid hat of feathers, he has to crouch to get through the gates.

            “Those at the gates are the brothers of explorers,” he says to the gatekeeper. “We look into the distance and see first what others see only later.”

“Sometimes I see those who return with an arrow stuck through them,” the gatekeeper says, “Though mostly I sleep in this chair with my hat pulled over my eyes.”

The explorer mounts his horse and rides out into the fields. He smells the subtle scent of rolled hay, sees the familiar pocketful of stars above him.

Now he rides to the shore and boards his ship. He will find a new land. Those on the shore watch him sail away. They watch him get smaller as he approaches the horizon. He is the size of a small child. Soon he is no bigger than a pebble. Then he is nothing but a speck, a pinprick, a molecule.

He sails across the sea and discovers a new land. He throws down his anchor then rows to shore. An island chief appears on the sand. He is surrounded by many people dancing and bearing great platters of fruit. 
The island chief looks around the shore. He looks at the sea. He looks up, then down. Then he sees the explorer.

“These platters of fruit are for you, small one,” the chief says.

“Thanks,” the explorer says. “They look delicious.”

“Might take a few days to eat them,” the chief says. ”What with your size and all.”

“What about my size?” the explorer says, feeling quite miffed.

“My brother, you are very small,” the chief says. “Like a mosquito or an electron. But do not worry. 

My own son was born small. At first we thought he was just far away.  But eventually he grew. Though he’s still ugly, even from a distance. Monkey-face, we call him.”

“Your people dance well,” the great explorer says.

“You are so small, but have come so far,” the chief replies.

“I can’t afford to get smaller. I might disappear. Have my ship,” the explorer tells the chief. “The next world is yours.”