Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pirate Stories, Shalom Village, Memory and Yiddish

I write in the Hamilton Jewish News about some the sources of my novel including Yiddish, the Shalom Village retirement home and walking my dog (pictured above. "Please love me,  oh please please," his eyes say.)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

An Encyclopedia of Everything: Artist Statement

An Encyclopedia of Everything

Everything that is one is also two because two is one just more so. One and then some. Joined at the hip you might say. Or the shoulder or wing. Yes, it’s all hybrid and go seek in the Encyclopedia of Everything because we live in hybridity. Language is hybrid. Looking is hybrid. Culture is hybrid. Memory. For this I went to collage? These images explore the hybrid connection between humans and animals, between the real world and images, between the natural and the human-made world, between language and language. 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. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jewishness as a specific response to the condition of being Jewish: Charles Bernstein and all the blackbirds in heaven

"I am interested in Jewishness as a specific response to the condition of being Jewish (the circular reasoning is liberating)—and as an argument with that condition."
This from "Jellyfish with a Jew's Ear," a great little review/discussion of Charles Bernstein and his latest book of essays, Pitch of Poetry at Tablet magazine.

They discuss Bernstein's frankly very moving poem,"All the Whiskey in Heaven" (the title poem of his selected) and link to a video of him reading it.

As part of an ongoing project of exploring the repopulation of poems with a variety of species, I wrote this version some years ago (it was published in Arc Poetry magazine) and will appear next year in my poetry book No TV for Woodpeckers from Wolsak and Wynn next year--unless of course my editor, Paul Vermeersch cuts it. Don't cut it, Paul! I like it!):


for all the blackbirds
for all the blackbirds
for a million blackbirds

for the blackbirds’ wings
for the blackbirds’ eyes
for a sky of blackbirds

if you paid me feather
if you paid me wing
if you gave me flight
if you gave me nest

for all the blackbirds
for all the blackbirds
for the mind of blackbirds
for the whole heart of blackbirds

Friday, March 18, 2016

Stumbling Before the Law

A gatekeeper sits before the gate. As always, it stands open. A traveller asks to be let in. 
        “No,” the gatekeeper says. 
“Maybe,” the gatekeeper says. “But understand that though I am powerful, I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. Before each of the many gates, one after the other, there are other gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. For instance, I can’t manage even one look at the third.” 

“I understand,” the traveller says. “But you look hungry. Have some soup.” The traveller takes a bowl and spoon from his greatcoat and offers some to the gatekeeper. As he does, he trips, and trying to not to spill the soup, stumbles through the gate. He staggers past the first gatekeeper and, still balancing the soup, staggers past the second gatekeeper and the second gate, and as he stumbles through the third gate, he spills soup on the third gatekeeper, so terrible to behold.

“Sorry, sorry,” he says as continues to stumble, now past the fourth gatekeeper, more terrible still, and the fourth gate. 

The traveller continues to stagger. He continues to stumble past both gates and gatekeepers, spilling soup on many. He may be stumbling still. It is a mystery not easily explained and he has left the bowl and spoon on the outside.

An Encyclopedia of Everything: Paperworks. An Upcoming Art Exhibition

In Memoriam

a knock on the door
they try to sell me
an encyclopedia

look, I say
outside is an encyclopedia
inside is an encyclopedia

right, they say
and try to sell me
the door

but I remember
a heart he had
a heart she also had

a heart an encyclopedia
of everything
an open grave
a door

Love You Forever

Love You Forever

don’t be nervous, baby says to frog
I have a knife

don’t you be nervous, frog says to baby
I, too, have a knife

no, you dropped it, baby says
I picked it up

I stole it back, frog says
ok, says baby, but when I’m a teenager, I dissect you

ok, says frog, but first I jump into a pond
and oh the sound of water the sound of water

Craig Conley posted the above amazing image on his Dansk Javlarna tumblr, always a repository of fascinating visual archivery.

This past week, I suggested to my novel writing class at Mohawk College that they use the image as a prompt for writing a short scene. Then that they go back and rewrite the scene, interleaving more words and details.

Last class we had been talking about editing and about paring back, about how much could be implied or inferred and how often what isn't said creates more power or intensity in writing. And indeed, how much one can leave out to create a dynamic field for the reader to imagine within.

So this class we tried the opposite. We thought of the basic structure of a text as the equivalent of a wireframe representation of a 3-D shape. In our former exercise, the reader might fill that in with surface detail, but in this class we spoke about the idea of the writer elaborating the surface. I think of it like the crenelations of the cerebral cortex. Each of those folds creates a world of detail, association, richness and complexity of thought and emotion.

I always try to write along with my students. And I even try to follow my own instructions. In this case, however, I came up with some text that I found interesting but that worked better as a poem. I then laved and chiselled until I came up with the above short poem / riff off Basho.

Monday, March 14, 2016

An audio recording of the Prologue to Yiddish for Pirates

I spent a very pleasant morning recording the prologue to my novel, Yiddish for Pirates. I wish I could do a Yiddish accent, but instead I went for the spirit of the Yiddish narrator. Besides, the narrator is a parrot, a Polly-glot, so maybe there's some latitude with his accent.

And I created a little intro and outro music which sounds vaguely Klezmorish. A piratey accordion sound and a piano that could lurch its syncopated tune on any galleon.

Here is recording of the prologue.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

We fall into the ditch: a homophonic translation of Rilke

after Rilke

we run away like deer
we make the world

wander and take
a long time to die

we die randomly like when
flowers halt

exhausted and their colours
suddenly become others

we become a heavenly
Fahrenheit of elms and fat
fall into the ditch

what is lost from us
we cannot know
how it is gained in bird time

night gains by dunking the house in darkness
night gains such that wigs flourish on our naked heads

what we know about stars, night games, and states
the less said is a kind of butter

our life bangs with the heft of reason and refrigeration
so what is bald begreened and bald beginning—

wait—stars are in the words that have snuck up behind me
we go unwisely to the worm


I discovered this forgotten poem on my computer. It is a homophonic translation from Rilke, that is, I imagined reading the original German as if it were filtered English and tried to find the closest sounding English words. Of course, this required me to squint my ear somewhat, both to discover the English word, but also to try to hear something that might communicate and make some kind of poem. Then, this afternoon, I made this image. The face is from a photograph of Rilke. I've been thinking a lot about Walter Benjamin's Angel of History / Paul Klee's Angelus Novus and there is certainly something of that earnest hopeful/hopeful figure here.

Here a more direct riff off Benjamin where I construe the Angel of History as more like the Angel of the Future.

Future Pastoral

there are sheep
far from now

so distant it makes you
nostalgic for small

I know what happens
just not yet

but time and space
are the same

or that’s what my landlord said
renting me the room

there’s me and a star
one of us may already be gone

I turn my back

look toward the future
I would like to awaken

those who will be dead
make whole what will be smashed

but a storm propels me
toward the past

while the future grows
those who do not

learn the future
are doomed to repeat it

until it’s gone


Wednesday, March 09, 2016

My New Spine!

My new spine! (My almost-in-bookstores novel Yiddish for Pirates without its jacket.) I love the embossing on hardcovers and always look under the dustjackets to see what the book looks like when “naked.” I was very thrilled to discover this. And as the book is narrated by a parrot, there is even a parrot on the spine (just above the title.)

Also pictured is the what the book was wearing before I “undressed it,” replete with an image of my rather rosy mug and the lovely back cover blurbs courtesy of Gary Shteyngart, Emily Schultz, Lauren B. Davis, and Terry Fallis.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Authors for Indies Day

Authors for Indies 2 from KOVE productions on Vimeo.

I was really happy to be part of this video previewing a book that I'll be recommending on Authors for Indies day. I'll be a Bryan Prince Bookseller and Epic Books, both in Hamilton, Ontario.

From the Authors for Indies Day website:

Authors for Indies Day (Saturday, April 30, 2016) is a day when authors show their appreciation for Canadian independent bookstores (indies). We do this by volunteering as guest booksellers for the day. When you visit an indie bookstore on AFI Day, you'll have the opportunity to meet local authors, chat with us booklover to booklover, and get book recommendations from us. Perhaps share your recommendations with us. You may buy a book or two, or just get to know your local bookstore better.  Authors are doing this to raise awareness of indie bookstores and how important they are to our communities, our reading lives, and our cultural well-being. It's a day to give some love to your local neighbourhood bookstore.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Writers in the House

I repost this from the Art Forms blog. Exciting news about a fantastic project that I get to be part of. 

Thanks to generous funding from the Ontario Arts Council as well as the Lawson Foundation, we are excited to announce a brand new project with Gary Barwin!

"Writers in the House" is a nine-month project in which the artist, Gary, will offer workshops and spend time at a handful of youth residences (shelter, temporary housing, and assisted housing).

Here in Hamilton there are many youth shelters and services like this. Each location will act as Gary Barwin's creative "residence" for period of 4 to 8 weeks. Throughout these weeks, Gary will lead two introductory 
workshops, and then will be on site for collaborative writing, writing help, and for ongoing guidance. Youth will have time explore ideas, share stories find commonalities with their peers, and enjoy excellent artistic guidance from Gary. The youth will also collaboratively contribute to an anthology of their collected works, which would be printed and distributed widely. We also recently decided to add a podcast series as part of this project, where youth can share their creative work by recording it rather than writing. In turn, Gary will also write and create based off his interactions with the youth, location, and overall based off his experience as one the lead "Writer in the House."

Why are the arts important for marginalized youth in Hamilton?  
When Art Forms was just getting started, we partnered with the Social Planning & Research Council to research this very question. The resulting report presented several key findings, ones which came to serve as the very foundation for Art Forms:

     1. Engaging in arts and creative opportunities contribute to better health and social outcomes for at-risk, street-involved and homeless youth.
     2. Stakeholders (including youth) from the Hamilton community have identified the need for arts opportunities and provided advice on the strengths to build on and potential resources for moving forward. 

     3. A comprehensive arts program for at-risk youth must be centred on the experience and influence of young people, must strive for social inclusion and innovation.  

"Writers in the House" is designed to specifically facilitate, encourage and enable the youth's creative work, in collaboration with Gary. Sharing their thoughts and expression with the greater community will bring better understanding about young people and the lives they lead and their capacity for thoughtful, nuanced, and articulate expression. We also want to celebrate the creative capacity of young people, and with this project we hope to share broadly and promote the excellent work that young people are capable of.

We can't wait to share more about the project as it develops! So far we have agreed to work with:
Good Shepherd Notre Dame
Banyan & 
Arrell Youth Centre

More to come! 

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

First review of Yiddish for Pirates!

We come to recognize how disfigured we are by our histories, by our inquisitions and conquests and colonizations, by our loves and hatreds and other losses.

Jeremy Luke Hill has written an extremely thoughtful, articulate, and insightful review of my forthcoming novel. I am really grateful and blown away by how well he has expressed and connected themes in the novel.

Here's the review.

Yiddish for Pirates: Book launch!!!

Yiddish for Pirates is launching in Hamilton on April 13, 2016!

Needleminer: a poem for/after C.D. Wright

George Murray runs a great online literary journal called NewPoetry.ca. It features a diverse range of different kind of poetry. I'm delighted that a section from my poem, "Needleminer" has just been posted.

This poem takes a section from the great and recently deceased American poet C.D. Wright's Deepstep Come Shining and riffs off it. One technique is to replace nouns and verbs with human anatomical terminology and the names of species found in Hamilton, Ontario where I live. The species include the names of birds, wildflowers, trees, butterflies, moths, insects, fish, mammals, and reptiles. This is part of a larger piece (here's some other bits: 1, 2 ) where I repopulate poems with these species names in order to reconsider what it means to live in this post-industrial city, one that has many significant natural spaces that aren't usually part of the concept of the city. Further, using anatomical names explores the entanglement between human and nature, inside and outside, the invironment, the unviroment, and the exvirnoment. The entire piece will appear in my forthcoming book, No TV for Woodpeckers (Wolsak & Wynn, 2017)

Here's the poem.