Monday, December 08, 2014

Poem ("Inside the Gun")


inside the gun
the absence of bullet

inside the bullet
the absence of my friend

my friend who runs into the bullet
while we enjoy this poem

by the end
I will convince you that
this poem did nothing

inside this poem
the absence of my friend

Thursday, December 04, 2014

My new book: the wild & unfathomable always


Xexoxial 58 • Gary Barwin  

the wild & unfathomable always


 Order here!

Here, language is a human/machine hybrid in the heavens, an optical organism floating between the stars. Letters are geometrically entangled, warped, contorted, highlighting frustrated embodiment and the way we bend or play with meaning. There is magic here, and illusion. There are creatures of mad science and silent comedy. Gary Barwin is a Pharoah of the new dynasty, building vispo monuments in the sky.

 —Stephen Nelson

 Compelling compositions that surround you between constellations, language and symbols in a simple but intense utopia. The wild & unfathomable always immerse you in a passionate work of shapes and spaces defined by clearly delimited structures, going beyond the essence. Fascinating. Unfathomable (in) all ways.

—Mara Patricia Hernandez

 If you imagine, for a moment, that there is a world so solid and firm that you can understand every part of it, you are thinking of anything except these poems, which twist perception, textual meaning, and expectation into the shapes of balloon animals controlled by the optical illusion that is the gift of sight itself: We see only when that part of us that perceives the visual, that produces sight, is drowned by darkness. Only from within a pure darkness, can we accept the lift of sight. In this sequence of poems--part visual play, part letteral display, part meaning subsumed by vision--we see the contours of our understanding of the world without seeing the world itself, ever. We move into a parallel universe, where everything is recognizable but so recognizable that we recognize not a bit of it. This is language made dreamlike; we drink the wordlessnesses oh so pregnant with words.

 —Geof Huth

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Some of my favourite Star Wars Stormtroopers are Jewish

I remember attending the premiere of Star Wars while in high school And I remember listening to Joseph Campbell talking (from George Lucas’ dazzlingly beautiful library at his ranch) about the mythic structure of the series. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, etc. And I’ve seen remarkable images by West Coast indigenous artist Andy Everson where he appropriates Star Wars’ imagery and patterns them with West Coast Native iconography/decoration, a really brilliant mash-up which speaks to colonialism, power, myth, our expectations and how cultures interact. There is another non-Native artist who has also—though to my eye—less successfully and less interestingly done the same thing.

I wondered what it would mean if I appropriated these images? My background is Jewish. The ‘iconography’ of my people would involve Hebrew calligraphy and perhaps a Hamsa (the hand with protects against the evil eye.) And there would be an extra frisson with the Star Wars imagery given that some of the Empire imagery is itself riffing off Nazi German iconography (as well as Japanese: cf. Darth Vader.)

Nazi Stormtroopers don’t look like Star Wars stormtroopers but the connection is there. So. I covered a Star Wars stormtrooper helmet Hebrew and included a hamsa. Something else to note. The Hebrew is from a font which looks like Hebrew but actually replicates English letters. Another interesting faux syncretism.

And, of course, in the current geopolitical climate, it is hard not to consider this stormtrooper image in relation, not only to past Nazi militarism, but I think it does engage with images of Israeli force.

But I think the goal of art is to raise interesting questions, to problematize….but not to give any answers, particularly simple ones.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Blog Hop, Writers Tag (AKA MyWritingProcess Blog Tour)

Yiddish pirate flag

Fellow Hamilton writer Krista Foss tagged me (thanks!) in the venerable writers' process blog tour thing. I've actually done this once before but it was before the invention of electricity, the alphabet, and self-reflection and so I happily agreed to do it again—though I've taken a very long time since she tagged me, I think it had something to do with indolence, sloth, confusion, a whole bunch of writing projects, being the writer-in-residence at Western University this year which I enjoying tremendously, and, like I blame for everything, Facebook. D'you know that they sell your information to advertisers? D'you know that they own EVERYTHING you post? D'you know that…oh never mind…here's a few things about Krista:

This spring, she published her first novel, Smoke River (McClelland and Stewart). Here's what Lisa Moore had to say about it: "a morally complex, magnificently vivid novel full of characters who live and breathe. This is a dazzling debut.” Couldn't Lisa think of something nice to say? I mean, really.

Krista also tagged another excellent Hamilton writer, Sally Cooper. "She’s the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Love Object (2002) and Tell Everything (2008) as well as oodles of short fiction that has shown up everywhere from Grain and Event to Hamilton Arts and Letters. She recently finished her first collection of short stories, Ripple, and she is hard at work on novel number three, all while raising two high-octane youngsters and teaching at the Humber School for Writers and Humber College."

I'll have to figure out who to tag, but for the moment, here are my responses.

1) What are you working on?

Something that I enjoy about writing is that this question and its answer isn’t exactly clear to me. What is ‘what’ and what is ‘working on’?  I feel like I exist in a swirl of emerging, inchoate, burgeoning, abortive, fragmentary, germinating, ageing, aphasic, wind-like, crumbling, swarming projects. Oh wait. That’s just my house.

But I do I engage with these writing project the way I engage with a solid wind. Or a fleeting brick. Or a half forgotten dog.

Which is to say, I have many writing things I’m thinking about, edging forward, editing, weeding or feeding, “dreaming of dreaming what they were dreaming,” as I say they say in Jewish mysticism in the novel I’m working on, Yiddish for Pirates. I find it productive to exist as if in a workshop full of things to tinker with.

Here’s some of the things scattered about there:

I just finished responding to the first round of edits for the pirate novel, sent by my brilliant and insightful editor, Amanda Lewis at Random House Canada. The book is coming out in 2016. I’m amazed that adding only a few lines to a 420-page book can hugely change the emotional physics of its world. Of course, if someone knocked on my door and said, succinctly, “You’re under arrest,” that might change my world, too. Eh, Josef K?

Going back into the world of that book was a bit challenging. It’s like that Borges story, where the modern French writer Pierre Menard attempts to channel Cervantes to come up with the exact words of Quixote as if for the first time. Now imagine if Menard attempted to channel Cervantes responding to his editor? Actually, I’d love to find out more about historical editors. Is there a record of editors assisting writers in early times?

I’ve a new fiction/prose poem collection coming out in spring 2015 with Anvil Press. I, Dr Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 and I’ve been working on edits like a mad dental hygienist. Image floss.  Grammar drills.  Metaphor overbite. I’ve sent the edited MS to Brian Kaufman at Anvil. Soon, I expect his edits. After working on the novel, this collection seems very different. I think I learned many new skills in working intensely on the novel. Character, plot, and setting, for example. I’ve heard they can be quite effective elements in fiction. Cool. I’ll have to try that.

I’m also in the final stages (layout decisions) with mIEKAL aND of Xexoxial Editions for a new visual poetry collection, The Wild and Unfathomable Always. In visual poetry, the layout is the message. Or a significant part.

And last night, Gregory Betts and I met with Natalee Caple—we have an informal (and very secret) writing group—to talk about Natalee’s ongoing project, but also about a collaborative MS that Greg and I are working on.

And this morning, I added a couple paragraphs to a collaborative story that Christine Miscione and I are working on. It’s been a while—Christine has a novel coming out this season and I’ve been busy with other things—but it was good to move this bewildering story forward.

I’m also working on multimedia piece based on the sound poetry of bpNichol. I’m taking recordings of bp performing and integrating them into new music, sound poetry, text and visuals that I’m writing.  I haven’t worked on a big music piece for a while and I’m thrilled to be rolling my twelve-tone sleeves up to my well-tempered elbows.

 2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmm. I’ve been calling my novel a tragi-comic-bildungsroman-swashbuckling-metaphysical-satiric-post-colonial-linguistic Canadian Jewish pirate novel. I think it’s like all the others in its genre.

 3) Why do I write what I do?

I write many kinds of things. I learn through exploring different kinds of work, by being attracted to different kinds of writing and different kinds of process, to wanting to ‘get in on the action’ that is inherent in different kinds of material and types of writing. (How is a novel different than a series of visual poems, or procedural work?) I feel like I’m always triangulating the ideal but then discovering that I find the corners of the triangle more interesting that the ideal that I thought I was aiming for.

How does your writing process work?

I don’t think that there is one process. Or even one ideal process. And my process varies even within a single short work. I think I am continually looking for ways to expand the range of techniques, procedures, habits, solutions or routines that go into my writing both individual and collaborative, and my work with editors. Which isn’t to say that I try not to fall back on the same salmagundi of ways to write. But trying out new forms, learning from other writers, and working with new collaborators and new material keeps things fresh as I fight against falling into the same neural runnels, or returning to the processual comfort foods only. I do trust the process in that I believe the process knows more than me, knows more than my conscious brain or the pleadings of my little immature heart which is always having some kind of writing tantrum. If I trust the process, trust the disorganized, inscrutable way that the writing might proceed, trust that if I pay attention, keep close to the work and keep at it, be open to radical revision, and try to be sensitive to what is emerging, what might emerge, even if it is very different than I expected, I often find myself engaged with much richer material. I might set out to catch some giant fish which I’ve head about, but then find myself immersed in a vast school of bioluminescent creatures which I don’t recognize and which amaze.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New chapbook: The Wild & Unfathomable Always

My book of visual poems, The Wild & Unfathomable Always is arriving soon as Xerolage issue 58 from mIEKAL aND's Xexoxial Editions.

I'm with Lan?uage: Reading at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington

Thanks to the brilliant poetry scholar, Alessandro Porco, I'll be reading at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington next month (Wednesday, November 19th.) He made this lovely poster for the event.

Language is always an emigrant

Friday, October 03, 2014

On Writing: an essay on handwriting and our default voices and ways of writing.

'the tongue is not in exile' —Yiddish proverb

Not just a "mother tongue," but a "mother script," my little essay on handwriting, scripts, and our default voices and ways of writing. 
Thanks to rob mclennan for inviting me to contribute.

Friday, September 19, 2014

International Talk like a (Yiddish) Pirate Day...

"A broch upon your pestilient kishkas for you are a sneaking hintl puppy, as are any who submit to be governed by the chazer rich who want only their own security, for the whelps have not the beitsim otherwise to defend what they get by such dreck-mouthed knavery. And,” he continued with an ostentatious wave of his hand, “a broch upon ye altogether. And damn them for a pack of crafty gazlonim thieves, and you, who serve them, for a petseleh of hen-hearted shmegeges. They villify us, the momzers do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor and weak under the cover of law, and we plunder the rich with no protection but our own chutzpah. You should rather join our minyan than sneak after the groyseh tucheses of villains for bread."

This speech, from my forthcoming Yiddish for Pirates (Random House Canada, 2016) is a paraphrase of the speech that Edward "Black Sam" Bellamy is reported to have given, at least according to Cpt. Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pirates
thanks to Craig Conley for the image

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tor Lukasik-Foss and I remain very very still at the Art Gallery of Ontario

To Lukasik-Foss and I recently performed, along with live model/artist Tanya Hampshire at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Our performance riffed off the current Alex Colville exhibition. These snapshots show Tanya posing in the iconic "To Prince Edward Island" pose with binoculars. 

Our performance was based on the concept of a drawing class, and indeed, there was an actual drawing instructor and AGO patrons sitting on donkeys (the art kind) with paper and pencils sketching us. Tanya actually works as a professional life model and she was remarkable in becoming vibrantly immobile. A living sculpture. 

Tor and I explored a number of ways of disrupting the notion of being live model: We had changing silent-movie-style subtitles for the poses. I posed with a book which I intermittently read from (though always the same frozen page of Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller). Without moving, we gave voice to our thoughts as 'live models.' Tor delivered a brilliant monologue about being concerned that people would draw him with a big head. We screamed without moving. Yodelled. We thought of ourselves as channelling Wes Anderson films, themselves very influenced by the aesthetics of Colville. (There's a great riff off To Prince Edward Island in Moonrise Kingdom.)

It was a remarkable experience for me. Not only were we performing in the presence of Group of Seven sketches and paintings (see the Lawren Harris above) as well as Norval Morrisseaus, but the performance was somewhere between a performance art installation where we eschewed a dramatic perforative arc, but instead were some kind of live installation and an actual performance where we played with elements of performative drama and development. 

And here, the AGO brilliantly misspells both my first and last name in a bit of conceptual legerdemain. 

thanks to Lesley Chan for the photo which includes me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My First Day as Writer-in-Residence at Western University

I greet my first writer at the London Public Library part of my Western University Residency
First day as Writer-in-Residence at Western: a grandmother from a small farming town (she'd never heard of Charles Dickens) brings in her life story. "My sister had wild black hair and liked to bite. It was how she dealt with what happened." And a grad student came in to show me mind-blowing visual poetry and to talk about post-conceptual poetry.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chessbard by Aaron Tucker.

Aaron Tucker has created this amazing site, Chessbard which translates chess games into poetry. You can play classic games, play a game against a chessbot, or modify games. The site then 'translates' the game into poems: both a White poem and a Black poem. Aaron has also written an essay about the project and its development.

I was delighted to be able to contribute to the site. I created some poems (by modifying a classic game) and wrote a discussion about what I did and about chess in general. Read it here.

Really fascinating.

And while you're thinking about chess, definitely check out the very lovely, Calvino-Chess Dictionary by Craig Conley. You can buy the book or read it online. I'd recommend the book!

Sign of Four

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

My list of most influential books...

I've been thinking about this list thing. I’ve been tagged a few times to list the books that were my most influential books.

I think it might make my head explode and I just got this new haircut.

But I'm interested by the idea of what is an influential books as opposed to the books that I identify as the books that I think are 'the best.' Books by writers that made my head explode? From my late teen and 20s: Kafka, Beckett, bpNichol, Sir Thomas Mallory, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Calvino, Borges, James Tate, Stuart Ross, Dave McFadden, Ron Padgett, Mervyn Peake, John Cage, Tom King, Mark Strand, Chris Dewdney, Frank Davey, Maurice O’Sullivan, Gertrude Stein, (I know, no women…except Stein)

Borges wrote of his love for books which were clearly not what is usually considered 'first class.'
And what about books from my childhood: I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as a young teen. It was years before I looked at nature except through Tolkein’s eyes: some kind of pan-European syncretic pastoral/romantic/medieval filter of story, loss, nostalgia, beauty, wandering, poetry, music, mystery, and notions of grand narratives (metaphysical, social, emotional, cultural, linguistic.)
When I was twelve, I read Kafka’s The Castle. I remember how vivid it made trudging through the snow on the way back from school. But it wasn’t metaphysical or existential alienation, it was rather a warm feeling of being in a story, of being able to conceptualize an experience larger than me (that snow was metaphysical, ontological. Epistemological, even.) I walked through the music of Kafka’s language. I didn’t need to get into the Castle like K. I was happy wandering.

I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A brilliant collage of references, parody, bathos, science, and metafiction. Remarkable savvy, timing, quick witted play with a variety of tones. The sense that, Quixote-like, a text could play against itself.

And Seamus Heaney and medieval writing. The palpable physicality of language. A kind of peat (I often smelled peat in fires as a child in Ireland.)The inspiration of language and a world that was profoundly other but yet whose texture, light, weight, heft, I could feel with my fingers or my mouth. Its rhythms in my body. I'd say this about the synagogue chanting, too.

In high school, Mark Strand did a reading and workshop in our class. That was another music. A lightness. Fables. Simple language made silver, lunar, parabalistic, yet witty. Then first year at York U., and bpNichol introduced me to what was possible. Writing could do what I knew experimental music could. And art. Compassion. Play. Graffiti on the fourth wall. Invention. Humour. Continual re-invention and exploration.

This is about all I can say about my ‘influential’ books without writing a 100 page essay on reading. Influential books: it’s like naming influential breaths. Sure, I can identify some, but…

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sternenreich by Gary Barwin

The "Race & People" chapter of Mein Kampf but with all the letters erased and the punctuation retained but turned into stars (asterisks.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"NASA JPG: A View of the Earth from the Top," by Gary Barwin

The full text of a NASA JPG of the earth taken from above the North Pole.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Alex Porco writes about "Moon Baboon Canoe"; Arc Poetry Magazine, and 49th Shelf Red Letter Day.

I think, today, my mom programmed the Internet.

Three things came online.
1. A great interview with Alex Porco on LemonHound.
2. A piece I did about my "red letter day" on 49th Shelf.
3. The interview Sandra Ridley did with me at Arc Poetry Magazine.

Here's links:

1. Poet and scholar Alex Porco is a thoughtful, sensitive, engaged, enthusiastic reader who examines work from a variety of perspectives, introducing and exploring helpful and fruitful ways to read texts. He is a significant thinker and supporter of Canadian poetry and I'm grateful for this reading of my latest book, Moon Baboon Canoe, on the important and significant online journal, LemonHound.

2. George Murray asked me a bunch of questions about what I'd do if I could treat myself, bookishly. Here it is.

3. And here's the link to information about Arc Poetry Magazine where Sandra Ridley asked me some really thoughtful, probing questions.

I wonder if tomorrow, my dad will get his hands on some code?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Jewish Voice of Hamilton: a Yiddish language newspaper from the 30s and 40s in Hamilton, Ontario.

I've been working on a book project involving this fascinating newspaper from Hamilton, Ontario that was written in Yiddish. It's a remarkable look into an entirely parallel world (at least from mainstream considerations of city life) of opinion, perspective, and experience. The plan is to publish a reproduction of some of the pages, a translation of many of the columns (there was an editorial in each issue written by the editor/publisher), as well as some other documents (letters to and from the editor's sons who fighting in Europe.) The newspaper stopped publishing soon after the editor wrote a heartbreaking eulogy on the front page for his son who was killed in Malta while serving.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

From Ug-Clomp to Uh, Okay: a recent review

unrelated screenshot of my computer screen.

Catherine Owen wrote a round-up of a whole bunch of recent Mansfield Press books, including my Moon Baboon Canoe. Her reviews are quirky and opinionated, and I don't agree with everything she says by any means ("ug-clomp"!) but she has interesting things to say and can be a sensitive reader of poetry. And I really appreciate the thoughtful engagement with all these titles.

Reviews here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review in Winnipeg Free Press

Jonathan Ball can always be counted on to review poetry 
in the Winnipeg Free Press. I'm grateful that he continues 
to support poetry with his always intelligent and 
Insightful writing. Here is his review of my latest book.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quickness: Transtemporal Ghost Bears

Vallum Magazine invited me to contribute a poem on "Speed," and so I wrote one. Then I made it into a video incorporating music (a transmogrified version of the Allemande from Bach's Cello Suite #1) and the spoken text. My daughter helped me create the transtemporal ghost bears.

Cruelty to Fabulous Animals: on hybridity

Over the last several years, I've been working on—or have gathered together from miscellaneous work—a series of visuals based on the notion of hybridity. I plan to exhibit these images as an art show. In the meantime, I've posted them on a tumblr over here.

Here's my 'artist statement':

We live in hybridity. Language is hybrid. Looking is hybrid. Culture is hybrid. These images explore the hybrid connection between humans and animals, between the real world and images, between the natural and the human-made world. Each word, each glance, each thought is a centaur, or a hand-headed owl, a grammar-horned deer. Antlers on a shopping cart. 

And everything changes. Everything is in the process of changing. Knowing is quantum. Understanding is chimerical. So is wonder. A jackalope, a feejee mermaid, cryptozoology or cryptocognition. We don’t know what to believe. We even doubt our skepticism. 

When is a pipe not a pipe? When it is a brain that is half a butterfly’s wing. Why is a raven like a writing desk? Because it has wings. Except I lied about the wings.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Poetry, Northern/Southern Border, part III

Hoa Nguyen writes in the Poetry Foundation blog, Harriet, about our recent performance in Toronto as part of Margaret Christakos's great new Across reading/performance series. 

First review of "Moon Baboon Canoe"

The first review of Moon Baboon Canoe 
by rob mclennan

"With this, one might suggest that Barwin’s poems are big enough to encompass and include the entire world."

Friday, May 30, 2014

New chapbook: Bone Sapling (with Amanda Earl)

AngelHousePress presents Bone Sapling by Gary Barwin & Amanda Earl: a visual poetry collection of hybrid letter creatures who swim, climb trees & wait in their nests to be born.

 the chapbook can be ordered via Paypal under Chapbooks at or picked up at the Ottawa Small Press Fair on Saturday, June 7, 2014.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Video: Reading from "Moon Baboon Canoe" in Cobourg, Ontario

"And I shall dwell in the my-parents'-basement of my own self forever"

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The privilege and pleasure of reading: a letter

Today, I  received this lovely email which is a good reminder of the great privilege & pleasure it is to have readers of my work…and how great my father is [I've redacted the names for confidentiality]:

Dear Gary,

Almost every night, my little angel O____ wants to read The Magic Mustache. She smiles, she learns, she counts the number of words, she learns the senses... and she laughs!!!

Every night that she picks that book, I feel I am holding my miracle baby, my angel from heaven. O____ is almost four. After having 5 miscarriages after my first baby and dealing with a big fertility clinic here in Ottawa, my family doctor said: before you make the decision of ending your dream of having 2 children, please go see another doctor, Dr Barwin. We did.

The first meeting we had with your father, he simply said what was wrong with me. He gave me some shots a certain day of the month...a Saturday morning and nine months later, our baby girl was born. After many scares, he took the time to see us whenever we felt the heart of the baby had stopped, and gave us a present for James.

Our son J____ was 5 at the time and was never very interested in The Magic Mustache. He preferred Scooby Doo or Diego but O____ is fascinated by your book.

Thank you for reminding me how lucky we are to have met your father...and you, through The Magic Mustache.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My first chapbook: phases of the harpsichord moon (serif of nottingham, 1985)

Today, I discovered the page proofs (typewriter and White-Out) of my first chapbook, phases of the harpsichord moon. I created this chapbook in a class with the writer Frank Davey while studying with him at York University in 1985. He invited us to connect with the Meet the Presses monthly book fair down at Scadding Court Community Centre, run by Stuart Ross and Nicholas Power. It was through that I connected with them and with the Toronto small press community which inspired me then, and continues to inspire me now. I am currently—nearly 30 years laters—part of the collective Meet the Presses which runs the Indie Literary Market, which is the descendent of that monthly book fair. 

Below are scans of the chapbook. I'm so delighted to have uncovered these pages, buried in a bankers box piled high atop a broken fridge in the basement. It's strange to feel that your past is now 'historical.'

The poem clearly shows the influence of bpNichol who I had studied with the year before and would go on to study with the following year. It also shows the influence of Frank Davey and other writers that both he and bp had introduced me to. There's the concrete poetry, the process poetry aspect, and the Canadian historical content (Laura Secord.) I was also a music student and so the work engages with harpsichords, J.S. Bach, and even Jimi Hendrix. I used an ink calligraphy pen that my composition teacher at the time, James Tenney, had taught me to use when preparing scores. Additionally, much of my work engaged with issues of birth, childhood and fertile psychic ground of the fact that my father was a gynaecologist and fertility specialist. The poem was written on a little Olivetti typewriter that I was given for my Bar Mitzvah.

Some time that year, I had put on a poetry art show at York University's Calumet College which featured huge blowups of some of these pages along with some other texts. 

(click on the images to enlarge and then scroll through)


This is a receipt also from that time. I guess that the book was placed on consignment in a bookstore back then. I wonder if they ever sold, or if I were ever paid? [Update: I posted this image on Facebook and Charlie Huisken, co-owner of the very important This Ain't the Rosedale Library, a tremendously supportive bookstore for the small press, has identified that the signature on this receipt as likely his bookstore partner, Dan Bazuin's. Amazing.