Friday, November 24, 2017

The Canadian Parliament, the Criminal Code novel....

Sometimes I'm surprised by what Google search turns up on my auto-vanity search.

For example, this mention of my novel in a discussion of the Criminal Code Bill C-51 in Parliament from June 15, 2017.

Tom Kmiec, Calgary Shepard, AB: "Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to be joining the debate on Bill C-51, this late in the night...I was so pleased today to hear you, Mr. Speaker, mention in the House Yiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin, who is one of my favourite authors.

Everybody in the House knows I am a big lover of Yiddish proverbs, and I have one also for this legislation. It speaks to our pinch points. Everyone knows where his or her shoes pinch. I will explain the pinch points I have in this legislation..."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Two new serif of nottingham chapbooks: beaulieu and Porco.

Cover spreads from the new chapbooks

I'm so delighted have had the opportunity to publish two chapbooks by two of my favourite writers.

Alex Porco's poetry manages to combine sophisticated wit, irony and wry humour with great emotional incision as well as with an energizing and perceptive take on the zeitgeist.  His work is also keenly aware of what it is to use language, to create a poem, to attempt to make or represent meaning. "The Low End Theory" is part of his ongoing serial poem "The Minutes." Here's the beginning of the poem:

I am in
Room #513 at
The Aloft Hotel
In Atlanta. I
Have fears. Real
And particular. But
Also unreal and
Particular. I’ll get
To ’em in
One sec. First,
I’m thinking about
Naming this poem
“Poem about Fears,”
But am worried
That’s too on
The nose. I
Like my nose.
I do not
Fear it, and
You shouldn’t either.

derek beaulieu's "Koloss" is part of his continued investigation into the concrete materiality of language, the nearly tactile experience of thought and semiotics. These works use the cosmos of  Koloss typeface letterforms as they appear in a Letraset sheet. Some of the letters have cracked, their fractures rivershaped neural branches, the suggestive materiality of time and meaning as it becomes ghostnoise in the sign.

The cover is a visual piece that I created by combining and manipulating derek's images. In laying out the inner pages, I tried to place derek's individual pieces in dialogue with each other and with the page. Blank space is a sign, too. 

Both chapbooks can be ordered directly from me for $8 including postage. (US$ or CDN$—the conversion covers mailing costs.)

himself  {at}  garybarwin  {dot}  com

Monday, October 23, 2017

Remarks from the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards about Yiddish for Pirates

I made these brief remarks at the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards last week.

One of the inspirations for my novel was a historical figure, a pirate from a family of rabbis who came out of retirement for one last exploit: to retrieve some treasure. What was the treasure? Some Jewish books. To me, this seemed like such a perfectly Jewish way to be a pirate.

In my novel, I quote a Yiddish proverb. The tongue is not in exile. No matter where Jews found themselves—when we were forced to leave our homes, through immigration or expulsion or persecution—and we had to leave often without any of our possessions—we could always bring our language: our stories, our teachings, our jokes and sayings. The tongue is not in exile. So wherever we went, we brought ourselves with us. I don’t know if language is our shadow or if we are language’s shadow, but to me to be a Jew is to believe in language and to believe in books.

So it is a very special honour to receive this recognition from the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards. Thank you to the clearly very wise jury and to everyone else involved in organizing. I’m really very honoured. And congratulations to my fellow award winners, and especially my old friend Stuart Ross. It’s a thrill to be here with him. We’ve been friends and writing colleagues for about 35 years. And thank you to my family, for making the book—and everything else— possible: my wife Beth, my parents,  in-laws and my kids.

And you know that old joke which asks, “so when is a Jewish fetus viable?” So, when is a Jewish fetus viable? After it graduates from Law or Medical school. But now I’m hoping that winning this award has finally made me viable.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

It's Never Too Dark to Read: On Reviews and Unread Books

Very happy to have an essay published in the Hamilton Literary Review, a great online publication that comes out of Hamilton, Ontario (where I live) created by an editorial board of excellent Hamilton writers.

My essay is  It's Never Too Dark to Read: On Reviews and Unread Books.  I had to laugh when my Google vanity search sent me a link to Rob Taylor who said that this essay is
Gary Barwin going full-Gary-Barwin (or at least 3/4s) 
I don't quite know what that means (we're always the last to know!) but I thought it was hilarious. He quotes a bit from the essay, including:

However, I would like to take this opportunity... to thank those who have never bought or never heard of my books — all those on this planet and all those lifeforms extant in other places of the present, past, and all possible universes. You help make my books mysterious, unknown, a sanctuary for initiates and cognoscenti. You maintain the notion of my books as places of infinite possibility, as thought-and-feeling machines of limitless potential energy. You make special dogs of those who have dog-eared my work, those who have actually read it.

His entire blog looks fascinating and has excellent discussions and interviews.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Yiddish for Pirates.

The Jury Citation for Yiddish for Pirates

I was so very delighted to attend the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards yesterday where Yiddish for Pirates won for Fiction.  Many brilliant and important books honoured in other categories. I was particularly delighted to share the experience with my friend and writing colleague/collaborator of nearly 35 years, Stuart Ross, who won in the poetry category for his marvellous, A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak & Wynn)

Friday, October 13, 2017

First American Review of Yiddish for Pirates

Samekh, from my ongoing Hebrew letter palindrome series.

If you’re looking for a tale of love, adventure, courage and friendship, “X” marks the spot. You won’t read anything else like it.

I'm very happy to have this first US review of Yiddish for Pirates which appears in the Philadelphia-based Jewish Exponent since the novel is now available as an audiobook and as a paperback in the good ol' U. S. of Merika.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Residencies, aleph nulls, clowns, prizes, audiobooks, US distribution and outer space

Image from Jim Andrews' Aleph Null program using some of my visual work as material for the "brush"

It's been a while since I've posted here.

What's happened?

I became Chancellor of the Exchequer of a land inhabited by small clowns.

I've begun as writer-in-residence at McMaster University and the Hamilton Public Library. It's been fascinating. I've met with a wide range of people already, from the quite young to the more senior, from someone who wanted help with a book on the finer points of kimono collecting to a science fiction writer who was going to write to one of Donald Trump's sons to ask where to publish. I find it inspiring to read work outside my usual range and to try to think about how I can best offer advice, information, or inspiration. I've read some knock-out poetry and some very vivid memoirs.

Yiddish for Pirates has won the Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Fiction—and my good friend, Stuart Ross's book A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn) won for Poetry.

Yiddish for Pirates is now available in the US! And there's a Canadian audiobook version as well as the US version. They have different actors reading. It's fascinating—at least for me—to compare.

I created a story with music for a collaboration with Stephanie Vegh, Laine Groeneweg and Steve Mazza for an art exhibition at Hamilton's The Assembly Gallery. It was inspired by the recently discovered Trappist-1 Planets which add to the list of possibly inhabitable world. Here's a recording of the music and story:

I did some readings in Vancouver (The Real Vancouver Writers Series) and in Sidney by the Sea (on Vancouver Island) for the Sidney Literary Festival. Poems, poems with computer music accompaniment, and readings from Yiddish for Pirates. 

Digital poet Jim Andrews has an amazing program called Aleph Null which creates images or videos out using pre-existing visuals as "brushes." He's recently included my work as a brush choice.  The image at the top of this post is a first little sketch using the program, but I've been working on using the program to make some video imagery, too. Jim has made some fantastic images (he is, of course, an expert in using the program.)

AND....I'm beginning work in earnest on my new novel which is turning out to be some kind of Western set in Eastern Europe. I'm considering posting a word count on the door of my McMaster University office just to shame myself into keeping writing. We'll see if I'm brave enough.

Finally, I didn't really become Chancellor of the Exchequer of that land inhabited by small clowns. I didn't have the shoes. Or the hat.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Cares of a Family Man: Finding Hitler's Moustache

I wrote this story about finding Hitler's moustache a few months ago. I think it is time to post it here. 


Cares of a Family Man
by Gary Barwin

            We found it upstairs in the attic, huddled against the eaves. It was frightened and alone. A sad little squirrel, a little lost mouse. We didn’t know how it got in, perhaps when the weather turned cold, it squeezed through a hole in the roof. The soffit or fascia, though we didn’t remember what they were exactly, they likely needed repair. It was an old house.  It was all we could do to cover the basics. Work, cook, shovel the walk, feed the dog.
            We approached cautiously. It was small but it was scared and we knew fear could cause it to try to hurt us. My wife suggested a broom, just in case, but I thought that might make things worse.
            “Let me talk to it,” I said. “My voice is reassuring.”
            “Yeah,” she said, but I didn’t know what she meant.
            “Hey,” I said, softly. “Hey, there. Don’t be scared.” It moved slightly, pulling itself in a bit. I could see some quivering.
            “Maybe we should offer it food,” my wife said.
            “Sure. What?”
We didn’t know. We tried cheese, pieces of bread, nuts. Then I remembered we had some leftover sausage—bratwurst—wrapped in brown paper at the back of the fridge. We’d been saving it for the dog. I tore it into appropriate bite-size chunks and rolled them close.
            “Here,” I said. “You’ll like this.” There was some uncertain rustling and then it edged slowly forward. It didn’t eat, but nuzzled against the sausage as if proximity gave it comfort. Bratwurst, my familiar, my own.
            “Shh,” I said. “Everything’s ok.” My wife and I crouched beneath the slope of the roof, trying to be quiet and still. I could hear breathing. Our intimate and shared concern.     “Give it time,” I said. “It’s scared.” After about ten minutes it moved further into the room, pressing close and nervously against the next piece of sausage.
            “There you are,” my wife said. “See? It’s alright.”
            “There’s lots of sausage,” I said. “You’re safe here.”
While my wife watched and reassured, I went downstairs, found a shoebox and tissue paper. I punched holes in the lid. I remembered grade school. The things we found. Injured birds, baby rabbits, worms, a broken toy soldier, an escaped hamster.
            We weren’t sure if we should touch it, but finally, my wife slipped the lid of the shoebox underneath it and slid it into the nest of tissue paper.
            “What it is?” I asked.
            “Not sure,” she said. “I have ideas.  I’ve seen things.”
I carried it carefully downstairs in its box and put it on the desk beside the computer. My wife sat down and began typing.
            “I thought so,” she said. “I knew it.”
            I had my own ideas, but I didn’t trust them. It seemed too unlikely. “What?”
            “It’s a moustache,” she said. “That we know. And look. It’s Hitler’s moustache.” She pointed at an image on the screen. The edges, the little bristles, the shape. It wasn’t the same colour, but it had been many years. We read about how it had gone missing after Hitler married Eva Braun in the Bunker and before they committed suicide. It was mentioned in a few accounts. There was a note from Martin Bormann, and among Goering’s papers, a sentence or two. They were surprised when it disappeared, that it escaped the notice of the guards outside the Fuhrerbunker and then at the door of the Vorbunker which led to the Reich Chancellery stairs. But it was small and dark and perhaps in those last intense days of the war, a sense of looming dread, and madness upon all of them, they had been distracted. Hitler fulminated about many things as he lost his grip, stormed about, raved and then fell silent, despondent and hopeless. And then soon after, his suicide on the couch in his private room. Cyanide for Eva, gun to the head for Adolf. A moustache could find an opportunity, and disappear.
            Where had the moustache been all these years? Certainly there had been a network, from Argentina to Canada, many places for the moustache to hide, to begin a new life, to assume a new name. Pictures of the moustache at a London men’s club, trimmed, and brushed. A snapshot of the moustache on a boat in the Adriatic, holidaying with a sheik and an industry titan. The moustache at the wedding of its granddaughter somewhere in Rio, waxed into curls. It had been a happy life, a life of conviviality and friendship, one it seemed, with few regrets. But who knew the moustache’s private moments, the middle of the night awakenings, the early morning beach walks, the trembling, the rage. Had the moustache changed? Was that even possible? Was its escape simply self-preservation, a Himmel- or Goering-like loss of confidence and desire for surrender or a new regime, or was it more? What had the moustache been thinking, all those years under Hitler’s nose, spackled with saliva as his lip convulsed with apoplexy and mania?
            “What do we do now?” I asked.
            “Now?” my wife said.
            “I mean, what next? Do we speak to the authorities?”
Instead we got some food, plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. The moustache was between us, a bowl of popcorn on top of the box’s lid. We scanned the channels. Sports. News. History. Nature. Movies. A few seconds on each, a tiny cross section of complete scenes: bodies moving, trees swaying, a train crash.
            “Wait,” I said and went back to the History channel. Charcoal bombers flickered through a pockmarked grey sky. A documentary about the Battle of Britain. “Maybe it’ll recognize something,” I said. “Maybe it’ll react and…”
            “What?” my wife said.
            “A clue.”
            “About what next?”
            “Yes,” I said.
The expected drone of engines, the indistinct cityscape, pale citizens in rubble, the stentorian voice of the narrator detailing the devastation, the losses, the gumption, the heroism. I listened carefully to the box. A few times the moustache readjusted its position, an indistinct scratching which soon subsided.
            “Nothing,” I said.
            “What were you expecting?”
            “Not sure.”
Weeping, an admission, denunciations, apology, prayer? I was not sure what I anticipated.  I had thought the sounds of battle might cause the moustache to respond. Had it no regrets? Did it live in a self-contained world of certainty, self-congratulation and delusion? Or was it simply too old, frightened, lonely, and hard of hearing?
            I muted the TV. I lifted the lid a few inches. The moustache had balled up the tissue paper into a corner and was mostly hidden underneath. Cautiously, I rested my upturned finger on the floor of the other end of the box.
            “Don’t be scared,” I whispered. “Don’t be scared.”
            The moustache pulled itself completely under the tissue paper.
            “I’m not here to judge you,” I said and then was silent. As we waited, my wife began changing channels, scanning through channels on the muted TV.
            After a while, some of the moustache appeared from beneath the paper. Rippling greens and blues from the screen. The moustache crept carefully across the box and then, after a moment’s hesitation, lay against my finger. I could feel the warm bristles and a kind of breathing or trembling. I stayed still. Then the moustache climbed onto my finger, turned carefully around, and lay down. I didn’t risk moving but remained motionless. My wife had stopped looking through channels and the screen glowed an aquatic blue white. I could hear my wife breathing beside me, my own breathing, the low electric hum of the muted television.
            “What now?” she whispered.
We waited. Then I moved aside the lid and raised my hand as smoothly and slowly as I could. I brought the moustache closer and closer. I bent my head down.
            We were inches away in the undulating light. I touched the moustache to my lip and it held on as if it were my own.

            “It’s a new life,” I said.

from a series of palindromic rabbi's beards.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Audiobook of Yiddish for Pirates, CD edition.

I didn't even know that you could get actual CD copies of audiobooks anymore. I was delighted to receive this in the mail from Audible. My dog appears less excited though he walked with me many miles as I listened to pirate stories on my phone in preparation for writing the book.

I assume the MP in MP3, means "Meshugenah Pirate."

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

“A boy writes inside a bucket”: Hebrew Palindromes

So surprisingly like West coast Indigenous art, although I just stacked a bunch of the Hebrew letter "bet" or "vet" rightway up, backwards, upsidedown and backwards-and-upsidedown in a very standard font. The letter Bet is the letter with the dot in it.

This image is from a palindrome project that I'm working on. All the images have visual elements of the palindrome. I've learned (from Wikipedia) that there is a Hebrew palindrome which goes:

Perhaps we all have felt that we're writing from inside a bucket from time to time...

Friday, August 11, 2017

James Lindsay of Open Book Interviews Me.

From books evaluating how well you read them and microflora and language to forest rangers and repopulating poems with other words, James Lindsay asks me many intriguing questions about my most recent poetry book, No TV for Woodpeckers.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Audiiobook excerpt!

Gevalt! Here is an 11 minute excerpt from the Audible audiobook of Yiddish for Pirates narrated by the great Peter Berkrot. (This is the audiobook for the US and everywhere else in the world except Canada. The Canadian version is due this fall with another narrator.)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Gary Barwin and Stuart Ross perform Sound Poetry.

Stuart Ross and I performed our sound poetry reunion after 26 years at the great Zula Present Something Else Festival last month. Below is an excerpt. Thanks to Taien Ng-Chan for the recording. Our last performance in 1991 is below.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Discovered Review of I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457

cover idea for Greenblatt (which was mislabelled as poems)

For Barwin, the ordinary and the extraordinary are never far apart—and that’s very good indeed.

Somehow I missed this entire review of I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 (Anvil Press) when it originally came out in Canadian Literature. Thanks, Joel Deshaye!

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Sunshine Kvetches: My Leacock Medal for Humour Speech.

I was so delighted that Yiddish for Pirates won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. I was shortlisted with Amy Jones and Drew Hayden Taylor, both fantastic writers, and it was really fun (maybe, in retrospect, more for me than for them...) to get to spend the weekend with them. We were driven around in a 1911 Model T Ford so we could wave at the good people of Orillia, Ontario. We were treated extremely well and the entire event had a lovely small town feel. Many former Leacock winners were present -- all extraordinarily warm people. We toured the Leacock House, saw the Leacock collection at the beautiful new local library, went to a garden party and had the gala by the lake at the YMCA camp/conference centre.

As part of winning the Leacock Medal, I was asked to give a 15-minute speech and so, in addition to thanking people, I said some things about humour and made a bunch of terrible jokes. I called the speech, Sunshine Kvetches of a Little Parrot (borrowing the title from a quip made by my friend Stuart Ross.)

The Leacock Associates posted the speech here. Next week, I'm going into Penguin Random House to record it as it will be a "bonus feature" for the Canadian version of the audiobook that they are doing, so it'll be really fun to get to record something on the audiobook. I'm very glad about the actor that they chose (I got to be in on the decision, too) and more details about that later, but part of me wanted to get to record the audiobook as I've had such a great time hamming it up in readings.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Nonhuman animals and nearhuman nonanimals

Just received this intriguing anthology which I'm very happy to appear in along some fascinating nonnonhuman writers including one of my favourite writers, Gabriel Gudding, and e
edited by A. Marie Houser for Faunary Press. My piece, "The Sky Above Chairs" is from my book, I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 (Anvil Press.)

The anthology is a fiction anthology, but I wrote a little statement about my piece which didn't end up in the anthology and so I thought I'd share it here.

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

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, we 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.