Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Interview at Papirmass: my father, delivering babies, infertility, and inspiration for writing

In this interview, I'm really happy that I got to talk about my father and how his involvement in delivering babies, infertility, and in women's health in general, has inspired my work and the particular short story that the amazing Papirmass art subscription series will be publishing in January along with the above image.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Recent visuals


after Stephen Nelson

After Volodymyr Bilyk

Monday, December 02, 2013

Squirrel: on childhood


I was a child and my parents replaced me with fog. The fog took my bedroom. My favourite breakfast cereal. The new bike. The fog got grandma’s cookies.

Then the fog grew up, began to shave and got a job. Then it got old. My parents got old, too. When they died, the fog couldn’t get up off the sofa but watched TV all day.

After five days, I opened the window and the wind blew the fog away.

I went inside. I chewed up insulation like a squirrel.

Image: portrait of my mother carrying my brother

Monday, November 25, 2013



baby is an axe
baby is an axe handle 

baby listens to
the clear blue sky

one day
baby is clouds

baby is an anchor
down a well

baby’s hands
surrounded by water

left and right the oceans
baby tied to stone

baby is a bone sapling
soon it sprouts

baby is thin bones
like rain

baby tells wind
which way to breathe

the country of baby
needs its baby

baby a naked map
miles from here

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

DEAR MAYOR (a poem for Rob Ford)


I imagine skinning you
and you romp around the city
guts only

we won’t save taxes
think of the costs
protecting your insides

dear Mayor we stretch your skin
a blanket around us
keeps us warm for winter

we come and go through orifices
I won’t make the orifice of the mayor joke
but I just did

dear Mayor
I think about grief

then that pinging sound
when everyone uses your stretched skin
to trampoline

babies there are babies
we bounce
I’m thinking only of the babies

we bounce
and the little pink heads which break
the clouds

and then
dear Mayor
the rain

Friday, November 08, 2013

Sounds about right: on a homophonic translation of a stanza of Rilke

I was teaching my poetry writing class at Mohawk college about alternate translation techniques and we discussed homophonic translation. I brought in a poem in German by Rilke and we set to 'translating' it.

For me, when using homophonic translation, it's possible to maintain the constraint of the original sound of the poem strictly, not allowing the poem to veer from the original phonemes. However, it's also possible to use the sounds and the associations of the words as a starting point, as a way of generating raw material which can then be revised.

I thought it might be interesting to post the original German stanza and then the various generations of edits stemming from this original, as I worked to create a working independent poem.

Seeing the various versions here, makes me think that I'd like to consider them all as stanzas of a longer poem—a series of variations with a kind of villanelle-like echo. I'll get back to you on that if I'm able to make something of the whole.

Homophonic translation of a stanza of Rilke


Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehen der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Sign black is come to stab my eyes
so muddy and wordy, that the night stops me
It is obsessed with a thousand stabs
and winter stabs our world with bitter kindness

Black sky comes to stab my eyes
and wordy the night stops
I’m obsessed with these thousand stabs
for winter stabs our world with its bitter kindness

The black sky stabs my eyes
The warden, so angry, the night stops
I’m obsessed: it must be a thousand stabs
And winter stabs our world with its bitter kindness

windows break the eyes
fracture into night
a thousand stars
winter with its bitter kindness

Monday, November 04, 2013

An astounding augmented reality bookwork by Amaranth Borsuk & Brad Bouse.

My discussion and interview with Amaranth Borsuk about her and Brad Bouse's astounding augmented reality bookwork, Between Page and Screen is now up at Jacket2.

Astounding discussion/review of Franzlations

Menachem Matthew Feuer wrote this mindblowingly great review/commentary about Hugh Thomas, Craig Conley and my book Franzlations: The Imaginary Kafka Parables.

His blog is about schlemiel theory. There is such a thing and, nu, it is fascinating.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Squaring the Vowels: On the Visual Poetry of Judith Copithorne

My discussion/interview with Vancouver writer Judith Copithorne who had been created visual poetry since 1961 now up on Jacket2.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Eye plus eye equals H: temporal flux in the visual poetry of Karl Jirgens

I speak with Karl Jirgens about time, Heraclitus, Apollinaire, visual poetry, the brain, and sine-wave typography in this interview/discussion in Jacket2.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Writing as Social Plastic: Adam Dickinson's The Polymers

My interview/discussion with Adam Dickinson about his plastic inspired visual poetry and writing at Jacket2

Inside Stephen Harper

inside Stephen Harper
there’s a little dog

inside the dog
another dog

inside this dog
it’s Stephen Harper

and inside him
a still smaller dog

in a Stephen Harper mask
kidding, it’s really Stephen Harper

it’s Stephen Harper
all the way down

Stephen Harper what did you do?
why do you make things so small?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Animals, Objects, and our Love

I was asked to write a brief commentary about a piece of mine for an anthology engaging with our contemporary notion of animals. In my poem, deer and chairs are conflated. The following is brief, and, by the ending, fulminating, response.


I think about how our modern notion of what is 'other' blurs inanimate objects with animals and vice versa. For much of culture, outside the hospitable firecircle of the human, the light fades quickly, only a few animals allowed as pets or as marvellous outliers of the non-human to sit by us.  (And this not to mention, the humans we leave out in the cold, which is another discussion.)

I have the idea that much of modern culture places animals into the same category as robots or other automatons-- task-accomplishing machines with only the illusion of agency and/or emotion.

Since the animal is commodified in the way of the inanimate, it is easy to place it in the same category as these other emotion-simulation machines. 

But, further,  we even look on our other non- objects with such love, intimacy, and affection. They may as well as living beings that we love. Our emotional connection, our heartaching being-longing for our shoes, toasters, chairs, designer table is often so palpable and powerful, that the categories between animate and in-animate often begin to blur. 

And though our toaster doesn't have agency, we may feel that we love it like a non-human living thing. In the past, they gave names to swords that they loved. Names to ships. Now we feel some of our objects pass into our emotionally intimate world. How different is a deer leaping over the fence into the garden than a sullen, left-slouching shed, a silent chair, innocent and blinkless, forlorn, discovered in early morning in the shadow by the hedge?

This is the capitalist non-human spirit world. We are like consumer shamans, surrounded by the non-human ghosts of things we may love and own.

Chair. Coffeemaker. Car. Horse. Deer. Swallow. 

They are more than arbitrary linguistic categories. We are able to colonize the animals and objects of the world with our tenderness, our hunger, our desire.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Interview and Commentary on Eric Zboya's At the Heart of a Shipwreck

My commentary and interview with Eric Zboya at
This work is a 'translation/transformation' of 
Mallarmé's Un coup de dés

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thursday, September 05, 2013

My work on a lamppost on the King William St. Art Walk, Hamilton.

There was a call for visual work for banners on King William St. in Hamilton. I submitted these visual poems entitled "Quantum Punctuation (Speech)." They were selected and will be on display until some time in 2015. They are just across the street from the main police station at the south east corner of King William St and Mary St.

This is my first experience of having work as 'public art.' Interesting to see these images become part of the urban landscape. Perhaps one day, I'll hang around and see if anyone says anything about them. Maybe they'll just say, "Who's that strange guy hanging around listening to everyone?"

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Birthday

I recently made this slapdash recording of this little story of mine (from 1985!) for a friend. I learned about dogs and pure joy from my wife (then girlfriend) way back then.

The book was published by Nick Power's Gesture Press and was made on the latest Atari 520 ST computer.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Appropriation, First Nations, and the alphabet as a tool for seeing.

I have been creating numerous visual poems that engage with the visual traditions of a variety of indigenous cultures. For example, the distinctive black and red designs of traditional West Coast Canadian Native art (e.g. the Salish and Tlingit peoples.) These poems explore the visual connection between the Hebrew or Roman alphabet and these traditions. 

Both of these alphabets have been part of my visual culture since childhood. I learned of some Canadian Native visual traditions when I moved as a child to Canada.

Is this engagement with Native traditions appropriation of voice? Are my explorations with elements of these traditions usurping what would better be left for Native artists? (I should state, that though I am riffing off elements of these Native art traditions, I'm not actually recreating it.)

I don't feel that I'm speaking for Native artists or, indeed, speaking about their experience. My exploration comes from a deep respect and delight in these traditions. I believe that art is deeply syncretic. I feel that these traditions are very strong and my explorations in the very marginal world of visual poetry, don't appropriate in the way, say, Elvis eclipsed some of the African American songs which he adapted, at least as far as mainstream, popular culture.)  It would be like me trying to knock down a mountain with a feather.

I consider my explorations a means of uncovering the inherent design potential in language, but more importantly, how the elements of language are open signifiers, are carriers of culture as well as tools for looking and thinking that culture. 

Simply put, language shapes our vision, therefore, by expanding our use of language, we can expand our vision.

Written language helps us look, helps us see. Making marks is about seeing. About uncovering.  Making a map and then exploring it.

Further, to paraphrase Trevor Owen, the alphabet is not only an information technology but is also an interaction technology. I enter into a dialogue with these traditions, though, as this little note indicates, with trepidation and an awareness of my share in colonial guilt, or at least, my white privilege. 

How do the tools that I know square with other visions of the world? How can I enter a dialogue with other traditions? Can the tools that I know teach me? I explore the tools and the tools lead me. Can I discover non-Eurocentric ways of seeing in the alphabetic traditions that I've received? Are there more than one way of reading these letters? What do other people bring to the reading of these alphabets? How does the normative way of reading the alphabet lead to a certain kind of thinking?

I remember being very struck, when I visited Iceland, that that island had no native peoples. The European Icelanders were it. They didn't settle an island that was already populated by an indigenous population, unlike in nearby Greenland, Canada, or Scandinavia. I found it hard to imagine a place that had no Native people. 

I wonder how exactly, as a non-Native Canadian, my visual landscape is shaped by my experience of indigenous traditions? Indeed, more generally, how is my view of the world shaped by my knowledge and awareness of Native culture and its history in Canada and elsewhere? How does my language and its alphabet (and my experience with the Hebrew alphabet) shape me and locate me in the world? How can I detourn it to enter into new conversations?

Friday, August 30, 2013

In memoriam Seamus Heaney.

our family's cottage in Northern Ireland

When I was a child, my parents possessed only a few books of poetry. They’d moved to Northern Ireland in the early sixties and I was born there. We moved to Canada in the middle of The Troubles. Yeats. Halevi. And some books by Seamus Heaney. North. Death of a Naturalist. Wintering Out.

I first discovered North and was mesmerized by its small perfect blueness. The stylized Viking boat on the cover. I learned that my dad was at Queen’s University the same time as Heaney and remembered him. Our neighbours did, too.

As a young teen Heaney, was the most important teacher in my singing school. I revelled in the loamy richness of his words. To lean into language and what it could do. The intensity of sound. The peatiness of heard relations between words or their bright metal. Subtle rhymes. The line, like an eel in a basket of eels, amazed itself. The form, beaten into a shine. Or seemingly discovered.

And what unusual words, unearthed from the word-hoard could do. Rich. Resonant. Strange, yet Antaeus-grounded. The world is always a dialect of itself. History is etymology. A bog which transforms and preserves. Which makes myth. Keep your eye clear as the bleb of icicle. Trust the feel of what nubbed treasure your hands have known.

My father was a gynaecologist, not exactly the rural farmer-father of Heaney. But I understood that when Heaney talked about land, he spoke about the land that we walked through. Traveled out to: its strands, fields, mountains, meadows, and fields. This wasn’t the out-of-focus misty-eyed Ireland of romance, but, as the words showed me, the bog-rich, palpable, visceral world. And it had its own stories.

I learned to listen to the words as words. I remember Heaney at York University reading the names of Irish towns. Speaking about the names in the fishing reports. (And I remembered that music from my childhood, and my new-learned music of names on late night CBC radio.) The specifics of one’s voice. That thick Ulster, the boy’s version which I used to have. Language, emotion, life, land and culture were snug together.

But I also learned about social engagement. When my father remembered Heaney, it was to recall him standing up at a student meeting and deliver an impassioned speech. The Troubles entered Heaney’s poems. Memory. Culture. Language. How poems expressed and investigated. Troubled. Thought and sang.

And our ethical engagement, our understanding of the world was rooted in both time and space. History and culture. Our myths, legends, and stories. In our language. Language, feeling, thought. And poetry: both tool and pleasure.

So thank-you and rest in piece, famous Seamus. History, the earth and the language receive you. I hope they treat you as well as you treated them.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Copy/pasting the Physical World: the bookworks of Ragnhildur Johanns

My commentary about the bookworks of Iceland artist Ragnhildur Johanns is now up at Jacket2.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Writing about writing about violence: commentary about a post-trickster trickster tale

On The Puritan's Town Crier blog, I write about one of my literary responses to the experience of violence in our society and stories from my criminal lawyer wife.

Thanks to the dour Puritans for inviting me to write this and for publishing the original work and this.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Red Wheelbarrow: a translation

  • Moribund Facekvetch I took the Roman letters that the poem appeared in (a sans serif font) and then cut the letters horizontally (retaining only the bottom half). Then I copied it symmetrically. I'm hesitant to reveal the 'reading' but if you look at the right most "half" (i.e. read from the middle of the image) and start at the bottom, reading only the top half of each line, you can read the original English, beginning with "So much." I did trim a bit of the end of lines off -- there is 'water but only 'ra"!

  • Moribund Facekvetch I'm interested in the cognitive dissonance between the canonical text and my setting of it -- the crumpled paper which looks vaguely pelvic or floral. Organic in some way. And the textual treatment -- it is obvious once you know what I've done though the letterforms that I've created pull you away from the poems meaning, I think, in interesting ways. And the 'secret' meaning of the treated text plays with the idea, I think anyway, of decoding a canonical poem.

  • But, my first thoughts are about the Williams' poem and its notion of specific sensory details in relation to poetic symbols. There is something very tactile about Williams' writes about and how he writes (the poem as a word machine is ...See More

  • Moribund Facekvetch And then the machinery of poems and meaning. The paper. The image of the paper to me is very sensual and itself might posit "so much depends upon" the sensory or imaginative engagement with the materiality of the world, but also of writing and its various components (paper, textuality, the alphabet, etc.)

Egg: bird

Aleph my Heart

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

kevin mcpherson eckhoff and I discuss his outsourced Their Biography.

"Jumble" from their biography

Here it is.
Part of my ongoing Languageye series on Jacket2 about reading visual poetry.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Interview with OpenBook Ontario

OpenBook Ontario interviewed me about various things. I spoke about fetuses, my conception, dogs, revising poems that don't work, whales, and other matters of great importance to poets.

On small press publishing and above/ground press in particular

my new chapbook from above/ground

Alejandro Bustos interviewed me for an article about rob mclennan's above/ground press. The article, which includes discussion from other writers is here on Apt 613.

He asked me a number of questions and since there wasn't enough space to include my answers, where I wax rhapsodic about above/ground press and about small press in general, I thought I'd post the full text of the answers that I sent him.

What does the work of above/ground press mean to you?

Over its long life (at least as poetry publisher), above/ground has continued to introduce me to writers and work that I didn’t know about. The production values are down-and-dirty which means that rob mclennan is able to create an amazing number of various kinds of publications (periodicals, chapbooks, pamphlets) at a very low cost and make them very widely available. His approach puts the work and its accessibility first. Though I've grown to like the slightly grungy aesthetic: quick, subversive, a bit dangerous, non-compliant.

When did you first hear about a/g press?  

How has it evolved, if at all, since your first interaction?

I don’t know when I first heard about it-- I think my process of discovery was one of osmosis. It seems like a/g was always here. Whenever I looked around, there would be another one of these publications featuring perhaps a very well known writer, or someone I’d never heard of.  And often I’d run into rob at literary events and he’d hand me a handful of little books. “Here, check these out.” Or I’d mail him twenty bucks and I’d receive a big stack of a/g publications. It has always surprised me, the range of people he has published: From Pulitzer Prize/National Book Award winners to first-time published poets.

The meaning of paper publication is different than it once was. There is lots of work available online, but, though a/g hasn’t changed much – rob publishes the work as regularly as the tide -- coming across these physical objects – these little chapbooks and pamphlets – is different now.  I’m surprised again and again at the electricity that can be generated by just a few sheets of folded paper!

Poets are often overlooked by the press and publishers.  Given that this article will be written for an audience that is comprised mostly of non-writers, can you please explain how critical a publisher like a/g press is.

It’s vital that writers and readers have access to engaging writing that exists outside of the strictures of commercial publishing. Of course there is lots of great writing that makes money, but there is also lots of exciting and engaging writing that, by its nature and the nature of publishing, can’t exist within the commercial framework. Presses like a/g allow these writers to be published and allow readers to read their work. I’d use a nature metaphor: Commercial writing is writing that is domesticated or harvested in some way. I see the work published by presses like a/g as writing in its wild form. So rob, as editor, is more a wilderness guide than combine harvester.

For those outside of Ottawa: Given that you do not live in the National Capital Region, I would be interested in hearing your view on the poetry scene here.

My impression is that the scene is very vibrant. There are many fantastic people doing interesting things, not only in terms of creating great writing, but in terms of supporting and promoting the work of others through small & micro press publishing, innovative reading series, performers, blogs, etc. For example, to name just a few people: Cameron Anstee, Max Middle, Pearl Pirie, rob mclennan, Amanda Earl, jwcurry. There are initiatives that exist in Ottawa that don’t exist in the same way in other places.  Not living in Ottawa, it’s always exciting to hear about what is happening there.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Friday, August 16, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

PPS Do You Copy performance: reviewed; news round-up

Tracy Kyncl at The Puritan's Town Crier blog writes about some recent Toronto-areas readings including my performance at the Margaret Christakos-curated  P.P.S. Do You Copy? event exploring the Writing after Conceptual Art exhibition at the Power Plant gallery.

She says some lovely things! It's here.

Also, I'm pleased to announce three things:

One, that two of my images have been selected to be lamppost banners for the King William St. Art Walk.

And two, I'll be E Writer in Residence at the Toronto Public Library for a month in the fall. The E writer position is part of the TPL's Young Voices program. This should be fun.

And lastly, I'll be teaching a creative writing class at Mohawk College again this fall. The course will be Humour Writing. It's always fun since I get to steal the best lines from my favourite comic writers to share with (or pass off as my own) with the students.

The Re(ad) Yarn: Narrative in the Visual Poetry of Satu Kaikkonen

My article and interview with Satu Kaikkonen about her fantastic visual work is now up at Jacket2: It's here.

Thursday, August 01, 2013


Fabulist of the surface: Márton Koppány and the shimmer of meaning

My new commentary is up at Jacket2. This time a discussion of some work by the brilliant Márton Koppány.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Beyond the (fl)oral tradition: Folk art, Hungarian, and the visual poem Helen Hajnoczky's Magyarazni

I interview Helen Hajnoczky at about her beautiful and fascinating new vispo project. Here it is!

Monday, July 22, 2013