Wednesday, January 27, 2016

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and people are sharing many remarkable stories, memories, and photographs, some terrible in their sadness, some of terrible inspiration. I am thinking of the Holocaust today—and all those other holocausts and genocides.

The unspeakable things (which must be spoken) that were done to people because of their difference—racial, cultural, genetic, sexual, disability, mental health. All these tragedies are somehow all part of a terrible family, somehow related while intrinsically different.

I hope that the ever-increasing collection and recollection of Holocaust stories are also somehow helpful to survivors, many who feel that, as they age, time is running out. There are so many resources, and new ones are being created and shared every day, that I hope these survivors feel that their story, or at least the weave of history made of others' stories has taken root in human culture such that we understand and can't in good conscience, forget. History has witnessed and will not forget. Though we need to keep remembering and reminding. And drawing connections to past and future events.

I'm working on a novel which engages with the Holocaust and I was uncertain as to why I was doing this, writing yet another Holocaust-related story. However, I think that it is exactly this. To keep remembering. To continually make new connections with both past and future, with our own culture's history and others'. History should always be rhizomatic and I think we need to keep those often subterranean connections spreading. That kind of forest you can't knock down.

Doing research recently, I came across this documentary about one of the only entire families to survive the camps. They were Jewish, performers, and seven of them had dwarfism. Being discovered by Mengele at Auschwitz was both a curse and blessing. It was his fascination with this family of little people that ultimately kept them alive.

It's a fascinating film, even if the style and narration is quite cheesy.


Launch of Paul Dutton selected & new: Sonosyntactics

I had the great delight & honour to edit this book and write an introduction. It launches tomorrow night in Toronto. There's pizza, the work is fantastic, and Dutton is a masterful performer.

Poem: Mountains of Orpheus

after Lawren Harris

Mountains of Orpheus

the beautiful Rhodope mountains
the beauty of the Rhodope mountains

the red beauty of the rolling Rhodope mountains
the rolling red beauty of the Rhodope mountains

what are you feeling, chronic mountaineer?
all is not lost

there is a tunnel through the darkness which is dark itself
or rather which itself is dark

a dog wins the half marathon after being let out to pee
because there is wonder and joy in the world, even still

last line from a Facebook comment by Paul Vermeersch about a headline about the second last line.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Yiddish for Pirates: a harbinger of spring?

image of action figure Freud, semi-colon and Inuit
hunter which has nothing whatsoever to do with the text below.

Yiddish for Pirates and my not-new faceness made the Quill and Quire Spring 2016 preview. I'm pleased that it also made the CBC Spring books preview. I know I'm excited that it's coming out in spring. It's great that some other people are too.

Is Yiddish for Pirates a harbinger of spring? Nah. More likely a hardanger.

Digital Typewriter Performance

(photo by Alex Zafer)

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of performing at Gallery 435 on Barton St. E. in Hamilton, Ontario. Dave Gould and I played a couple sets of improvised music. I performed on saxophone and flute, laptop and my trusty Underwood typewriter (mic'd and processed through said laptop. Even the typewriter wanted to be David Bowie and dress up in space, and so together we got cosmic.) Dave played a keyboardless piano (the strings and soundboard exposed) and his invented instruments made of whale bone and caribou horn, strung and amplified.

The day before, I read at variety of work at Except for Kenneth as one of 6 performers in Lisa Pijuan-Nomura's new performance series, Red. A lovely night of diverse performances: music, dance, comedy, fiction, and poetry.

Friday, January 15, 2016


The Matador network posted a great little article about unusual words with each word illustrated. My friend, the writer, Lauren B. Davis sent it to me, knowing that I love obscure words. Of course, I took it as a challenge to use all of the words in a story. I wasn't quite able to use them all in order, but I did manage to use them all, plus a bunch of other favourite obscure words.


It is truth: look to those with those with intemperate and untampered heads, those virginal to barbers and stylists whose first-growth hairs have neither been severed nor tempered for they are possessed of the most truth, the undebunkable verities, the tales, and most candid learning, for history is locked in the distant ends of their do. And I am such an acerecomic, for save a handful lost in the turbulent clutches and snatching moil of a tavern bust-up, my hair has been dutifully preserved, permitted to grow as it so desires and by its own physics and gravity, like a treasured library, to expand and increase and thereby retain news of the past. Though we all have our nits to bear, our worms, the head is such a library and I am against the biblioclasms and libricides of those who would be shorn of history or fleas. For though our head is our hair shirt, our hirsute of many colours both brown and grey, I devote myself to such bibliogasms and storied pleasures of both head and history.

They spit at me, “You nit-tonsured cacodemonomanic! You believe yourself suffused with the refuse of past days, this history.” The smugwormy glibness of their tight smiles, the dactylion of their middle finger stuck deep inside their wordbooks, marking the source of this newly acquired lexical plunder they seek to heave against me.

But I know this is but enantiodromic fanfaronade! As witch with toad, they have turned this thing into its opposite, then parade in boasting swagger. They’ll not gorgonize me with mere bluster.

I may be obliged to scratch and tweeze, to herd the minions that scurry across my pate’s long grass, but I have no such prideful hamartia. History is in my hair and I stand by its tangle of lessons, whether unspeakable, too infandous for casual repetition, too odious for song or the weak, or worthy of the poetry intoned to the child and the dying.

Skeptics, doubters, forgetists! Barberists and those barbarous to knowledge! Mesmerists and antimnemonites! Human razors and those devoted to the obscurations of the past! If I could brush aside my fringes and cast the evil eye as a champion jettaturicist, if I could but have completed my diploma in ktenology and become shrewd in the science of death, the scraggy fingerling of your leptosomic bodies would snap under my osteniferous gaze.

For as I wander, montivagant, over hills and mountains, and those other various high places close to truth, I proclaim in words that should be understood by all, the verifiable assurity of pogonotrophic noegenesis! We create knowledge by cultivating our hair. We make Edenic knowledgetrees of our mustache, beard, and sideburns. The thicket of our armpits and pubic forests, the brambledom of our abdominal savannah.

I defy the fatuous quockerwodgers and rum bewilderers to deliver a recumbentibus, an argument sufficiently powerful to knock my faith in this history to the floor. They are but seized with the fetid loquacity and deluded scripturience of the ultracrepidarian and opine interminably and fulminate unceasingly on matters distant to them as God’s own dark star from the luminous excrescence of his ethereal brows.

This lexical tarantism wherein they must spin in the weltery web of their own deluded thought, their fervid brainstems a cotillion of bunkum does verily inspire me to seek a yonderly place of Classical reflection. I leave the sputtering objections of the abject xenizates who travel as blind strangers through the fecund and unshorn lands of memory, knowledge and reason, and peripateticate in vernalagic tranquilitude beneath the coppice of my own hirsute skull.

Instead, I leave them to the zugzwang of their own impoverished and atemporal incredulity—the prison cell of their present is so infinitesimal and bereft of feature like the cropped and fallow deathskull of forgetting that surely they shall languish in its silent, solitary and stony maw. Instead, I make my exuberant and attentive peregrinations to where history becomes shaggy with the fertile irrigations of memory and I have the rich tapestry of both past and future as the rich pilgrimage of possibility beneath the unkempt stubble of my ever-hopeful toes.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


This is what I learned: submarines are small, unlike space, so playing the accordion can be a disaster, considering one’s elbow and the pressure gauge and all of us diving deeper into the black oblivion of the trench, losing faith in the outside world and getting the bends. And Martin lost his chess game.

Also, if something is a rock, something else is scissors. And then, just as you shake your fist out the porthole at the miracles of obscurity, evolutionary adaptation and blindness, in a dramatic and unexpected piece of narrative hijinks, something else becomes paper and there goes your rock, your place at the top of the food chain. You open your hand. It’s empty. It’s paper and it’s the accordion incident all over again.

Your other hand? Paper also. What is written there? What’s on the other side? A single sheet of paper in a book of a thousand karate chops. If I forget you, let my right hand forget its cunning. But you’re dreaming. The rock is gone and you’re left with Martin weeping.

In space, if you had an accordion, you could begin a note and that note would go on forever as the bellows opened, as one side of the accordion travelled past Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and all the planets, then ventured into deep space, like a probe, a time traveller, music that requires no air. And down on earth, your children and lovers gathered round your right hand, you play those songs you all love, knowing that far away, like God or an alien civilization or the beginning of the universe, your left hand plays the bass line and is a miracle and time itself must imagine the tune.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie, Dvorak, The Kansas City Seven and Me.

:Lester Young

With the news of David Bowie's death, I've been reflecting on what he meant to many people. There have been some beautiful tributes, many of which reflect on how he was a model and mentor for peoples' non-normative identity, indeed, even opening up the possibility that that was even possible. The power to discover, explore, and be one's self. Very powerful. From Ziggy Stardust to Rebel Rebel he was a brilliant articulator and enactor of alterity.

I wasn't a fan, really rarely being engaged with pop or rock music, particularly as a teen. I think I once bought a Pretenders album and there were those very dated Rick Wakeman albums based on Journey to the Centre of the Earth and King Arthur, but really my interests and inspirations were elsewhere. This is not to disparage or look down on anyone's tastes, but to acknowledge that certain musical languages connect.

I was wondering, in trying to understand how people connected with Bowie, if I had some other analogous models or musical languages that showed me how the world was bigger than my own personal experience or circumstance, that showed me that I could forge an identity that was outside my immediate experience or the experience of my immediate milieu.

I played recorder and cello avidly until I was about 14. I deeply connected with cello music -- I remember requesting Casals playing the Bach solo cello suites for a birthday. Both cello and recorder were powerful voices through both space and time for me. Through both playing and listening. When I was 8 or 9 my very favourite recording was Dvorak's Cello Concerto. I remember strong tactile, or maybe more accurately, the synaesthetic feelings evoked by the cassette. The olive yellow colour, the little image of a weaving of thick yarn tapestry on the little white cassette cover, the metal blue of the label. The distant world of longing in the music. The sombre, intense and thoughtful clarinet, the larger heart of the cello in its role as deeply feeling protagonist. These were big emotions which I discovered in myself through listening. This was what it was to understand one's self, to have a "self" which could conceive (and feel) emotional places outside of the everyday, but yet emotional places which affected how one saw one's daily life. The sun came in through the window. It was filtered through my experience of the timbre of the cello. Walking in the woods had the tone of a recorder. The timbre of the trees, yes, but a vision of what Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music knew, how they felt. Many things were in the dorian mode. I had dorian feelings. Or phrygian emotions.

I played lots of early music on recorder and then discovered Irish music (one reason for my interest was that it connected me with Ireland, where I had lived until I was 9.) . I had the Chieftain's Bonaparte's Retreat and a great Boys of the Lough LP. There were bittersweet moments of melancholy. Tunes with sounds peat-infused. Ancient. And alternative to suburban Ottawa.

And then I began saxophone in Grade 7. From then on, I listened to every recording of every saxophonist that I could. I read biographies of Coltrane and Parker. I devoured the liner notes and scrutinized the images, design, and faces on the covers. What was it like to be from Kansas City? To be so moved as to write and then record "Alabama" in a club after the murder of schoolgirls by southern racists? What was it like to seek through music, to reinvent oneself? To search for a voice, a language, a way toward a larger narrative? To feel compelled to create and to explore new ways of creating? If you were Sidney Bechet, what did that vibrato say about your conception of life? There was that Gerry Mulligan duet with Dave Brubeck, "Sermon on the Mount" where I could feel my own teenage soul in the sound of his baritone saxophone, creeping, hollow, plaintive, earnest, arboreal, prayerful.

"Lester Young and the Kansas City Seven" was the first LP that I bought.  It was a sound from a time, a climate, a audioscape that was far from where I was yet I felt it led me out of my green shag carpeted bedroom, down the hot streets of a Kansas City night and into the perfect choreography of its music.

I also remember buying Moe Koffman's "Four Seasons." I remember going in with a handful of Bar Mitzvah-money silver dollars to Sam the Record Man in Bayshore Shopping Centre in Ottawa to buy it. The inside of Moe Koffman's double album had a photo of a bulletin board, ostensibly Moe's own. There were postcards, to do lists ("buy bread and wine"), notes about recording, etc. This might be the kind of life someone who made the kind of music Koffman did could live. I could live it too. Maybe I was supposed to, one day, when I was an adult.  When I wasn't being John Coltrane or the guy with the Dvorak feelings. I could have a life (and a life of identity and feelings) that might be different than what might be the default expectations of one like me. This was my Ziggy Stardust, my Thin White Duke, perhaps not as profound an alterity, a non-normativity, but one that allows me to understand how he was important to many.