Friday, December 23, 2011

Kingston Radio

Archived radio broadcast from CFRC (Queen's Radio, Kingston) "Finding a Voice" program hosted by Bruce Kauffman which features the Cain-Conley Novel Idea reading and the Mansfield Press launch in Kingston.

My reading of I Can Say Interpellation starts at 4:25

Tim Conley reading "It is Hard to be Different" starts at 15:00

The Mansfield Launch, featuring readings by Lillian Necakov and Carey Toane, starts at 46:05

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Best for the season and see you in 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Favourite Books of 2011

[A couple of which came out in late 2010]

  1. bpNichol: The Captain Poetry Poems Complete (Bookthug)
  2. Andre Alexis: Beauty and Sadness (Anansi)
  3. Phil Hall: Killdeer (Bookthug)
  4. Dionne Brand: Chronicles (WLU P)
  5. Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith, eds. Against Expression (Northwestern UP)
  6. Caroline Bergvall: Meddle English (Nightboat)
  7. Frank Davey: When Tish Happens (ECW)
  8. Marcus Boon: In Praise of Copying (Harvard UP)
  9. Tim Conley: Nothing Could Be Further (Emmerson Street)
  10. Andy Weaver: Gangson (NeWest)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reich and CanLit

As part of background research while working on the Steve McCaffery Open Letter issue I read Grant Goodbrand's Therafields: The Rise and Fall of Lea Hindley-Smith's Psychoanalytic Commune (ECW). Goodbrand's book is complex and deserves a blog-post on its own, but at the very least it seems as fair and balanced an assessment of the organization as we are likely to get from someone who was directly involved in the group. There are no heroes or villains in Goodbrand's book, and he is successful in explaining the human motivations for many of the actions and the resulting disputes that plagued Therafields.

While it's well-known that bpNichol was deeply involved with Therafields and dedicated The Martyrology to Hindley-Smith, Goodbrand's book really foregrounds the importance of Nichol to the psychoanalytic community, and begins each chapter in his study with a quotation from Nichol's poetry.

Another figure that comes up from time to time in Goodbrand's study is the anti-Fascist, pro-sex psychoanalytic theorist Wilhelm Reich. While Therafields was divided about the use of Reichian techniques of breaking down physical "body armour" as way to release psychological blocks, I'm interested to know how many of the community were reading Reich's works.

We know that Nichol was reading Reich, and that since the other members of the Four Horsemen were also involved with Therafields to varying degrees, it is likely they were reading Reich as well. In an essay by Frank Davey on the Four Horsemen, Davey provides this quote from McCaffery about the psychoanalytic influences on his and Nichol's work:

Barrie's theoretical interests at the time were largely psychoanalytic (an interest I am sure that was connected to his own therapeutic work as a lay-analyst). It was Nichol who introduced me to the theories of Wilhelm Reich..., to Alexander Lowen's theories of bio-energetics, to Edmund Bergler's theories of psychic masochism, and to a book of dialogues with his patients by Lacan. This was a radical but different body of theorists from those I was reading.

I have a hunch that knowing which writers, particularly those of experimental and counter-cultural nature, were reading Reich could open doors to investigation in the same way that knowing which Modernists were reading Freud advanced Modernist studies.

I need to revisit Nichol's essays collected in Meanwhile which I recall also mention Reich (one annoying note: both Goodbrand's book and Meanwhile lack indices). But speaking of meanwhile, there are also current writers dealing with Reich's theories such as the poet and artist Sharon Harris who works with modern orgone generators and accumulators. Her orgone site is here.

Anyone who has thoughts on Reich, Therafields, and CanLit, please leave a comment or drop a line.

Friday, December 02, 2011

To wit

I've broken down and started a Twitter account. It's at:


I'm going to use it for micro-reviews of books I'm reading, announcements, and more.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kingston Report

A great time in Kingston this weekend. Hadn't visited since the launch for the Encyclopedia of Fictional and Fantastic Languages five years ago. Certainly nice to do a reading in bookstore--the very cool Novel Idea--which is kid-friendly and to have multiple families in attendance. In the fun snap below by Sharon Harris, I read behind Nature with Tim Conley waiting in the wings beside a pop-up book of The Odyssey.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kingston Trio

I'll be reading next Friday at Novel Idea, the wonderful independent bookstore in Kingston, with Clelia Scala and Tim Conley in support of I Can Say Interpellation and Nothing Could be Further. One night only!

Novel Idea, 156 Princess Street, Kingston
Friday, November 25 from 7-8:30pm

Thursday, November 10, 2011

OL is Out

I received the new Open Letter issue on Steve McCaffery which I edited in the mail today. It looks great and is an exciting collection of new writing including: essays on McCaffery by Geoffrey Hlibchuk, Stephen Voyce, Gregory Betts, Tim Conley, Jason Starnes, Alessandra Capperdoni, Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Matt Carrington, Lori Emerson, Andy Weaver, and Christian Bok; new McCaffery-inspired poems by derek beaulieu, Alan Halsey, and Peter Jaeger; and new poetry from McCaffery himself.

The issue should be on the stands this week, and I'll have copies with me at the Bookthug launch of McCaffery's Panopticon in Toronto on November 26th.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Thoughts on the Rock

Finally finished a draft of an essay that I've been working on for a couple of months about Andre Breton's time in Quebec. I discuss, among many other things, his time exploring the beaches of Perce and his meditations on the Perce Rock, as well as his relationship to the Automatists, the birds of Bonaventure Island, agates, and Tarot cards. As a bit of a preview, the above is a photo of the plaque commemorating the trip Breton made to the Gaspe with Elisa Claro, outside the hotel they stayed at in 1944--just down the road from my paternal grandfather's farm where I spent many of my summers during the 1970s and 1980s.

If anyone knows the copyright holder of the image, taken from the Arcane 17 site, please leave a comment below.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Secret Influences 8: Dali Denied

Like many a young male student I went through a Salvador Dali phase around 1988-89. The presence of his art on dorm walls appears not to have abated over the last two decades--one look around the Imaginus poster sales on Canadian campuses will reveal scores of Dali prints on display, many of which sell out.

As an undergrad I was under the sway of Dali with reproductions of "The Persistence of Memory," "Metamorphosis of Narcissus," "Swans Reflecting Elephants" and several others on my residence walls. Even though I was a perpetually broke student I managed to save up enough coin to purchase the two-volume Taschen hardcover edition of Dali's complete paintings: at the time, and for many years after, it was the most expensive book I owned.

But as deep as the obsession was, it was also fleeting. I think it was particularly the effect of reading through the collected painting that Dali lost his lustre: his work soon became repetitive, his tricks obvious, and his psychoanalytic symbolism immature. His posters soon came off the walls, and I eventually sold the Taschen collection to help with the rent during one sadly destitute month.

And this rejection occurred even before I knew about Dali's politics and repugnant personality.

One of the hardest things about teaching my course on Surrealism at York is trying to convince students that Dali is relatively unimportant to how Surrealism, as envisioned by Andre Breton, arose and evolved. In fact Dali became the public face of Surrealism only in a Hollywood or Disney sense; to the literary Surrealists he was a sell-out, a clown, an avaricious opportunist. Breton memorably dubbed him Avida Dollars, an anagram of Dali's name which deservedly caught on and stuck with Dali until his death.

But this wasn't just professional jealousy--even stronger than the Surrealists' distaste for Dali's greed was their rejection of his clearly fascist politics. And it was not just Franco whom Dali courted, but dictators and despots of all types as this opinion piece by Vicente Navarro from a few years ago makes shocking clear.

I do get some leverage at my dismantling of Dali after showing Un Chien Andalou, and informing the class about Dali's cowardly snitching during the U.S. anti-Communist period, an action which resulted in years of hardship and exile for Luis Bunuel. Strangely, most students find this the most telling evidence of Dali's idiocy, rather than his fascism, which I suppose they might justify by Dali's desire for "stability" in his homeland (but what about Picasso and Miro, I say, they were never fascists....)

So while many of Dali's images may be indelibly inscribed somewhere in my subconscious, these days the only lasting influence from Dali on me would be his "paranoiac-critical method," a system of composition where one would get into a certain mental state and contemplate an object until phantom images and associations would arise which were related to the object but not in a direct or rational way. This appears in countless Dali paintings from eggs turning to sunsets to a bust of Voltaire disappearing into a slave market. As even Breton admitted, this method works well, even for poetic composition, and I've used it in the past to generate some pieces such as "Hydra" where a mediation on the mythical monster transformed into an exploration of an industrial assembly job I once worked at, and it also appears in some of my recent translation projects such as "Stanzas" and "Etc Phrases."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Welcome to the Occupation

The windiest and coldest day since fall began for the beginning of the Toronto occupation. All peaceful and beautiful from what I could see.

Stay warm & stay strong guys. Peace.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

LangPoets at the Occupation

From Charles Bernstein's blog at Jacket2:

Wish I could be there too -- waiting for it to come to Toronto, October 15th. Info here and at the URL below.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


I suppose this should be filed under "not-so-secret influences," and, indeed, there is likely no pop band that has influenced my poetics as much as REM. This is probably obvious, even from the first sequence from my first book dyslexicon. In "Circa Diem," my Cubist portraits of pop albums, REM's fourth album makes the cut (although the title was "corrected" by an over-zealous copy editor to read "Life's Rich Pageant"). Here it is in its entirety, and as it was first composed:


Cole Porter allusion speculation. Buck shot on the cover nevertheless. Insurgency discovery. Simian grappling the cost of murder shoes. Could base the project on bios and feedback. The curve produced follows the narrative too closely to be experiential. Nee experimental. Sample the example. Business cards to distribute randomly when the order has fucked up. All so insistent or merely the ignition. The source of John revealed subconsciously.
     Actually bury the initial remarkable. These days speed provides sentience. Name three. Trains of winter reckon a possible live bait. It can be realized. It can achieve mastery. Nod to those who live with the knowledge. Patricide is appropriate wherever you sow.
     Carbon does begin to decrease in momentum. An agreement among several parties. Fear of looking behind oneself. Revelation of certain peculiarities can bring closeness or abjection. Tonsorial narration alacrity. Idle time can sever hands.
     Always the question. Also the statement. Mood shift nightly. Would edit others when wished transcendence is found in failure. Native words announced properly create news nations. Take a picture here. Je me souviens. A proper finding the apocalypse has a lapse in it with the movement of a latter letter.
     Saves more frequently. Time ends when scavengers appear. Give a Roosevelt aphorism. Two sips to the swallow. Knitting factors. Last chance to preserve. It jams and gels.
     Latin and leave it at that.
     Ghost writing assumed. Get to the point at which it shatters. Flowers grow inside the condition. Say no to shrugs. Say it can receive. Fondness despite her politics. Vinyl caught by the speller. Buy memory when it's cheap.
     Possible trio to go. Absolut Georgics. The difference between the key to want and the lack of need. Change is belief. Young honourable and true. Other situations perfection avoidance brutality manifestos. Spirit in which was perceived. Horse gifts provide sport slippage and fertility. Greek was all to me.
     Question to come. Capital neighbour. Winks without intention. Overlook the glass I drop. Rhyme frost too wicked for good. Light strength pioneer. Trailer talk still holding court with those inferior to the shorn scalp the magic loot the quizzical paradox the pavement certitude the confidence that only the lost can exude.
     Assumed when passage was paid days of future passed. Honky tonk without purposity. Curious mammals. Has that smell that excites still. Almost left to the last. Improvident visitations. Amazing works of giants. Despair of classicism frequently. Wolves knew the presence knew whine was need. Cup of rye. Toothpick speck. All free now. An H becomes the cross that the generation bears happily. Price of fans. Three for one dollar.

I listened to REM intensely throughout the 1980s and 1990s until Automatic for the People, after which my interest declined fairly rapidly, although I would still pick up each album as they came out and references to them continued to appear in my writing: "Three Miles of Bad Road" (a nod to "Crush with Eyeliner" from Monster) became a title of a poem in Torontology, and a shout-out to "Sad Professor" (from 1998's Up album) shows up as recently as Double Helix.

Although it was primarily the lyrics of REM that intrigued and inspired me, there was also the whole mystery of the band in its early incarnation (pre-Out of Time): the strange imagery and album covers (which my high school friends and I poured over obsessively), the blurry photos and videos of the band, and the invocation of a southern gothic (which appeared to us as an odd mixture of religiosity and dark sexuality). It seemed the band evoked a whole culture that was somewhat alien, but was also what was really going on in the late 1980s politically and socially for kids in Reagan and Mulroney's North America. They were self-consciously "arty," at least compared to the heavy metal bands that we mostly listened to, but never artsy for art's sake. In fact it does say quite a bit about their common touch that they could appeal to a working class kid from Oshawa (who, for example, at that time found The Cure a little too outre), and motivate him enough to start writing poetry and experiencing "alternative" culture and politics. And, as I noted above, it wasn't just the sensitive outsider-type that REM spoke to, but to a general popular youth zeitgeist at the time. For my peer group, phrases from REM songs even became part of our shared cant. Case in point, "Feeling Gravity's Pull", a stellar track from Fables of the Reconstruction, became our choice term to describe drunkenness, as in "Hey man, are you drunk yet?" "Yeah, I'm feeling gravity's pull." The video also happens to be REM at one of their coolest points, before real fame came, and still making groundbreaking and unique sounds:

R.I.P REM, a band that, to paraphrase D. Boon, "could be [our] life."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Revolutionary Pedagogy

I've just discovered the exciting writing and theory of Peter McLaren on radical pedagogy while reading the Capilano Review issue on manifestos (3.13, 2011), and am seeking out his other texts. A great moment from his manifesto here:

“The fact is, surely, that we are faced with two choices of how to live our humanity—the liberal model of pleading with the corporations to temper their cruelty and greed, or the reactionary model that has declared war on social and economic equality. And on the evidence that each of these models is fiercely and hopelessly entangled in each other’s conflictual embrace, we can accept neither.” 

(Peter McLaren “Revolutionary Critical Pedagogy for a Socialist Society: A Manifesto”)

Friday, September 16, 2011

ICSI Notice

A nice notice of I Can Say Interpellation by Nathalie Foy here.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Vic D'or on bp

Victor Coleman is conducting a six week course on bpNichol and his influence. Registration information can be found here. It commences on September 26, and here's the course description:

bpNichol was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic poets of his generation. He wrote, he edited, he experimented, he published, he performed, and sadly he died way too young, but not before he produced an incredible body of work. And when he died strange things happened in the writing and publishing community in Canada. It was as though a massive source of creative energy and excitement that supported a huge network of writers and poets suddenly disappeared and things, well, things changed. How could this happen? Why did so many people turn to one person to support them and their work? Who was bpNichol and how did he accomplish so much in such a brief lifetime? In this six-week course led by Victor Coleman, who was Nichol's first editor at The Coach House Press, and his good friend, you will get intimate with bpNichol and his work, and learn about the incredible influence Nichol had on Canadian poetry and poetics.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

I Can Say Audio

An audio recording of my reading of two poems from I Can Say Interpellation here (AKA "the head cold sessions").

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I was going to blog about being at Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday, and give anecdotes and impressions regarding the passing of Jack Layton, but it somehow feels crass.

So instead, a week's silence in memory.

I'll be back again next weekend with a cheerier post.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Nothing Could Be Further

This handsome edition of short fiction by Tim Conley arrived yesterday from Emmerson Street Press.

Most will know I'm a fan of Tim's fiction, and edited his first collection from Insomniac Press in 2006. I blogged about his short story "Eye of the Hawk" here, which is included in Nothing Could Be Further.

Ordering info here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

If the Lettrist International was Still Around

If I was Guy Debord, editing this week's issue of Potlatch, putting the London (and Birmingham, and Manchester, and ...) riots under "The Best News of the Week" would be an obvious decision. Sadly, I'm not Debord, and the year isn't 1954, so we'll have to wait and see what else will result from David Cameron's austerity measures and continued capitulation to neo-liberal mandates.

The Lettrist International might also ask us to the consider the lyrics of The Clash's "London's Burning" (1977):

All across the town, all across the night
Everybody's driving with full headlights
Black or white turn it on, face the new religion
Everybody's sitting 'round watching television!

But they'd also collage and sample sections from today's ruling by Justice Melvyn Green regarding police behaviour during last summer's G20 in Toronto:

“The only organized or collective physical aggression at that location that evening was perpetrated by police each time they advanced on demonstrators...”

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Icelandic Economics

A great article about how one country is resisting the neo-liberal imperatives of the IMF here. Worth reading in light of this week's American meltdown.

Thanks to Sharon Harris for the link.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Defend Toronto Libraries

It's insulting that we must actually fight to protect one of the best organized and utilized library systems in the world from philistine bean-counters. Looks like informed and progressive citizens will be wasting a lot of time and energy putting out fires instigated by Ubu Rob.

Sign the petition here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bookthug Interview

I answer questions about I Can Say Interpellation while struggling through a cold:

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Ian Curtis would have been 55 today.

It's hard to find any Joy Division songs with even remotely positive lyrics, but "Ceremony" comes close.

This is the original recording with Curtis's vocals; the better-known version is by New Order with vocals by Bernard Sumner.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy Canada Day

From American Standard/ Canada Dry:

My pay says heave 'er
So chinooked in Chicoutimi
For all the Mary-Christs & Little Johns
Broken from faith but still wrong

So fuck a grand vessel, tails dance or mastiffs
A shinny I'd say Souris
For liquour laws controlled by the Crown
And the midst leaves no bars

Juicy uncaged deuce ode
Batawa bound with a Bloody Caesar
For inquiring mimes want to show
In a bureaucrat's five-pound drain

Seek ye delay nut
Ookpik onboard an Okanagan outpost
For man bites God
A left hook, a broken aye

Languish new mitten rev sir divest plain
Fiddleheads of Flin Flon
For a priestly demolition
A feckless skimmer in that old lean development

Sizzle bats or canoe havin' bat's teeth
Pogey people passing Penetanguishine
For the Merry Devil of Edmonton
Like fossils on the scrotum of the quay

There's none serving ten
With toques touted to Trenton
For a Bilingual Tim Donut
For the hate stint stinging its part

Feign sea surround petty round taut
Sasquatch skookum stupid so Sackville
For Now's here; why's I?
They are creating new minds for dimming

No try justification, no try method, no try eaten
Tourtiere tastes of Toronto
For it made this town CRAZY for kung fu!
I cruise, a lone rat

Disease our mutters
A potlatch for Point Pelee
For whatever else poetry is free & dumb
And we have acquired the ways of strangers

Monday, June 20, 2011

Puck and Prospero

My Shakespearean take on the Scream is up at Open Book here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book and Profile

The new book's out and it's a beauty.

I also respond to the Open Book "Poets in Profile" here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stanzas Considered

An intelligent and engaging review of Stanzas over at the Northern Poetry Review, courtesy of the awesome Alessandro Porco.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fluxus Feast

Ken Friedman's The Fluxus Reader, out of print for about 10 years, and originally commissioned by George Maciunas himself, is now available as a free pdf courtesy of Swinburne University in Australia.

Thanks to Craig Dworkin for the tip.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Bookthug Spring Launch 2011

MAY 24: The BookThug Book Launch at The Supermarket in Kensington Market, 268 Augusta Avenue, Toronto. Doors open at 7:30 PM

New books will be released by Jake Kennedy • Alessandro Porco • Aisha Sasha John • Richard Krueger • Gary Barwin & Gregory Betts • Phil Hall • ErĂ­n Moure • Niels Frank - Roger Greenwald trans. • Stephen Cain & Clelia Scala

Friday, April 29, 2011

Poly Styrene (1957-2011)

Very sad to hear the news of Poly Styrene's passing from breast cancer on Monday.

While I was in my early 20s I had initially dismissed the importance of her band X-Ray Spex in favour of The Clash and the the Pistols, but I soon realized what a mistake that was. Germ Free Adolescents, the debut album, is just as brilliant and groundbreaking as the early work of the latter two bands, particularly as it appears in 1978, a mere year after punk broke. The album doesn't have a bad track on it, and the band upped the ante for what was possible in punk--in particular transforming the saxophone into a true punk instrument.

Moreover, as a female-fronted band, led by a mixed-race teenager, X-Ray Spex shattered punk's identity as a "white boys club" and her lyrics were both anti-consumerist and feminist. And one can't forget how Poly Styrene changed the visual style and fashion of punk, moving it from safety-pins and scars to the day-glo colours which would be picked up by the New Wave movement several years later.

Three tracks from the aforementioned album below, beginning with "Warrior in Woolworths," a live rendition (a little more sedate than the album version) which nicely showcases Poly's style and political lyrics. I believe some have connected this song to the Italian Autonomia's offshoot group The Metropolitan Indians.

The title track, which shows that it is possible to write a punk ballad. I love Poly's voice in this track; sonorous even as it cracks. Note the awesome day-glo fashion on both the men and women on the album cover.

And of course the inestimable "Oh Bondage Up Yours!"

Oh, bondage no more...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Nothing but rabbits...

As is often the case when Easter approaches I find the lyrics to Mission of Burma's "Fame and Fortune" stuck in my head which, as the Canadian election approaches, seems more apropos than ever:

Fame and fortune, fancy that
Nothing but rabbits come out of the hat

Speaking of which, support the Avaaz advertising initiative on the election here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Great website, spear-headed by Now magazine's Alice Klein, for help with strategic voting in the upcoming election here.

I'm in a riding with two extremely progressive candidates, so there's not much danger of a Conservative here (although it's a waste to run two leftists against each other), but there are other tight races which the above site can help with. It's kind of fun to type in past postal codes to see how things are going in old stomping grounds. For example, Kingston (K7K 3T5), where I lived for about seven years, is in danger of going Blue if the progressives split the vote, while my old hometown of Oshawa might be able to go NDP again, returning to its roots as a strong union town.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Return of Captain Poetry

Most people who know me can guess how I feel about the current election race and Stephen Harper's rapidly increasing disdain for public accountability and democratic process (see, I resisted saying proto-fascism...)

And what I think about boot-licking apologists like Michael Lista (no, I won't link to him).

And how depressed I am about union-busting in Ohio.

So I'll try and be positive this week and mention how overjoyed I was, while meeting with Jay MillAr today, to take a first flip through The Captain Poetry Poems Complete!

Like the re-issue of Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer a few years ago by Coach House, this new re-issue of bpNichol's poems by Bookthug is exacting in its reproduction and beautiful in its design. We are at last granted a legible and corrected version of Nichol's early Captain Poetry sequence (originally issued by blewointment press in 1970), as well as out-takes and drafts, visual sequences published elsewhere that feature Captain Poetry, poetic statements by Nichol on Captain Poetry, and an afterword by original publisher bill bissett (subscribers to Bookthug also get a chapbook essay by George Bowering on Captain Poetry).

A pure delight in these dark days....

Ordering info here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Awaited Weaver Arrives

The second poetry collection by Andy Weaver is finally available. Check it out here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Basement Blues

contra the diction is
the land wage
(when the water comes
--sea pun--you pay a



                                     (how you move from
                                      imperfection to imperfection in
                                      the world)

-- bpNichol, from "Inchoate Road"--

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Secret Influences 7: Sunrise with Sea Monsters

As much as my aesthetic allegiance belongs to the historical avant-garde, and to contemporary experimental art, there's still something that I find inspiring in the later work of J.M.W. Turner. I'm thinking particularly of the mid-1840s when he has left battle scenes and English landscapes behind to focus on elemental matters: light, weather, water, and mist. "Rain, Steam and Speed" (1844) is certainly a favourite for its anticipation of both Impressionism and Futurism, but it is the above piece, "Sunrise with Sea Monsters" (1845) that I am most often drawn to. As it's the only Turner piece that I am aware of that has a fantastical subject matter I wonder what he's attempting to do with the contrast between the title and the image. Is he being literal: that this is a painting of sea monsters? Or is he suggesting that the roiling sea creates a visual illusion of sea monsters when the sun rises? Are we meant to see two sea monsters (a pair of dolphin shaped creatures leaping above the water) or a single sea monster (the large central piscine face resting on the sea's surface)? Or both simultaneously? Moreover, is there a type of Magritte-like play between title, image, and viewer response? That is, do we only see sea monsters in this image because he has titled it so? I think it is this last issue that I find most intriguing, and this was one of the first paintings that alerted me to how ambiguous titling can shape aesthetic response and open up multiple readings, something that I was most involved with in my own poetics when writing Torontology, particularly in the sequences "The Variety of Efflorescence," "deClerambault's Syndrome," "5x4," "4x5," and "Prison Tattoos."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wisconsin Crackdown

As important and revolutionary as the events in Libya and Egypt are, I'm wondering if North American media are diverting attention to North Africa at the expense of one of the biggest stories regarding labour and collective rights occurring right now in Wisconsin.

There has been almost no mainstream coverage of the draconian crackdown on union rights by Governor Scott Walker, nor reports on one of the biggest labour protests in recent history (100, 000 protesters alone on Tuesday and more expected this weekend).

Democracy Now has the most footage and interviews:

In solidarity.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

ICSI: Advance Glance

The publication date for I Can Say Interpellation, my new collection of detourned children's poems, is moving closer (Toronto launch, May 24th). For the past while I've been very excited to see the illustrations that the multi-talented Clelia Scala has been producing for the book, and I wanted to share one as a sneak-peek for the final publication. I'm extremely happy to be working with Clelia, who is co-publisher of In Case of Emergency Press, as well as being a sculptor and Venetian-style mask-maker. The above illustration is for the poem "Goodbye Moon," and there'll be another 10 images in the final book that work to complement and complicate the poems.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Etc Phrase #16

Finished the Etc Phrases sequence this week. Working on the Idiosyntactic poems now...

Etc Phrase #16
Ebbing the ineffable.
The phonics of the palimpsest.
Expletive F exclamation.
Floating or floundering.
No horizon line.
B coming or being.
Thorny thrownness.
E F Geworfenheit.
Still present despite the presence.
Not waving but sounding.

Friday, February 04, 2011


Preparing to teach a unit on Concrete and Sound Poetry for my avant-garde class this week (one of my favourite sections: how can you lose with Finlay, Phillips, Antin, and the Four Horsemen?) I was thrilled to come across the reference online that Eugen Gomringer had just celebrated his 86th birthday on Sunday and was still creating art.

Gomringer's "From Line to Constellation" manifesto is the source for one of the best definitions of first wave Concrete Poetry, as well as containing the coolest German word that I try to work into any conversation on visual poetry: Denkgegenstanddenkspiel.

"So the new poem is simple and can be perceived visually as a whole as well as in its parts. It becomes an object to be both seen and used: an object containing thought but made concrete through play-activity (denkgegenstanddenkspiel), its concern is with brevity and conciseness. It is memorable and imprints itself upon the mind as a picture. Its objective element of play is useful to modern [humanity], whom the poet helps through [his/ her] special gift for this kind of play-activity."

Read the whole manifesto here. Incidentally, Gomringer is also credited with one of most controversial statements about Concrete Poetry: "Concrete poetry has nothing to do with comic strips" (cited in Mary Ellen Solt's Concrete Poetry: A World View, 10)

And I love this playful photo of Gomringer in front of his most famous piece:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Secret Influences 6: Negativland

16 years old, escaping from the cultural wasteland of Oshawa, and on one of my monthly excursions to Toronto to scour headshops and used record stores along Yonge Street I accidentally discovered Negativland. Could it have been at Peter Dunn's Vinyl Museum? It was definitely along that strip, and in the days before CDs dominated, that I remember hearing "Christianity is Stupid" and being blown away. At the time, the extent of my interest in alternative music was REM and Husker Du (I hadn't even discovered the Replacements yet) and I hadn't heard anything remotely like that track--oppressive and just plain heavy. Heavy, that is, without seeming to use traditional rock structure (such a thing seemed impossible to conceive, having been conditioned through my early teens to respond only to Hair Metal and Q107 classic rock). I couldn't figure out what it was doing, or why someone would compose a track like that, but I was intrigued enough to actually ask the surly cashier what album was playing and make the first impulse-buy of my record collecting years.

After a few more listens to the track (on headphones it's an even more intense experience) I came to the conclusion that the song was attempting to replicate the psychic/sonic warfare of Vietnam, or perhaps Korea, where American GIs would hear anti-American broadcasts over shortwave radios, or in POW camps: "The loudspeaker spoke up and said: `Christianity is stupid. Communism is good. Give up.'" But who knew? Maybe Negativland really did think Christianity was stupid? It kept confusing me: it seemed to be a direct assault on American ideology, but seemed equally critical of Communism. And what to make of that final line: "Shop as usual, and avoid panic buying." Surely that was meant to be taken as ironic, and a dig at capitalism?

But that was just the one track. Listening to the entire album of Escape From Noise (1987) was a complete mindfuck, both musically and politically. Some tracks like "Sycamore" were obviously critical of American ideology (guns and good real estate combined in a surreal radio commercial) but what to make of the psychotic rant "Car Bomb" or the sonic-collage about nuclear fall out shelters in "Yellow Black and Rectangular"? I didn't always get what they were doing, but it was clearly oppositional, and something I listened to obsessively for about a year, particularly the radio cut-up "Time Zones."

And it wasn't just the music but the whole package: from the design of the sleeve with the upside down graphic and text along the border, to the contents within the album which included a CAR BOMB bumper sticker (what would that mean, politically, to affix to your car and drive around with?) to a zine which described other Negativland activities and releases (they seemed to be a loose collective of pirate radio broadcasters and record producers). It was my first introduction to interdisciplinary art practice and an attempt to create a immersive aesthetic experience, from sound to visual to tactile.

But this isn't meant to be a record review, but a comment on how Negativland influenced my poetics. At the time I was writing poetry, and was voraciously reading all the Canadian poetry I could get my hands on at the local library. In Oshawa, that mostly meant Leonard Cohen and with a smattering of Irving Layton and Alden Nowlan, although I had just stumbled upon bpNichol and David McFadden. Once Negativland was added to the mix, I started seeking out more political and collage-based writers leading me to read bill bissett and, eventually, the Steve McCaffery of the Carnival period. By the time I was in university and had access to the Queen's library and special collections I was finally able to investigate Nichol's The Journeying and the Returns (which included a vinyl record, concrete poem postcards and objects, and a standard book of poems) and could see the connections between avant-garde poetic practice and the music and politics I had been fumbling towards for the previous five years.

Once I arrived in Toronto in the early 1990s and became involved with the experimental poetry community, it seemed like a home-coming: this was a period of intense self-publishing and material-experimentation with poets producing poems in bottles or baked into pastries, releasing audiotapes of sound poetry, broadsides of concrete poems, and poems affixed to pieces of hardware, bullets, and Rubik's cubes. Everyone seemed to have their own micropress and were pushing the limits of how to distribute and produce poems. I jumped right into the fray, recognizing the connections I had already established through encountering Nichol and Negativland, with my own micropress Kitsch in Ink investigating concretism and alternative forms of material production, as well as starting to engage with the highly-political LANGUAGE and KSW poetries.

In retrospect, and after having read extensively in the avant-garde for the past two decades, it now seems clear that Negativland were merely the late 1980s manifestation of many previous experimental currents including Dada, musique concrete, and most particularly Fluxus and the detournement of the Situationist International. Yet to a 16 year old in 1987, Negativland may as well have been from Mars, and I like to think that my later interest in avant-garde movements in general was sparked by this initial encounter.

Even in my more recent poetry I often find myself looking back to what I learned from Negativland. Most particularly, the importance of found material and manipulating this material to reveal its political ideology (both latent and manifest), and the need to work hegemonic political ideologies against themselves through parody and recontextualization. What I heard in "Time Zones" and "Christianity is Stupid" is present in my own "Hydra" or "American Psycho", and Negativland's ambivalent engagement with American politics and ideological structures is one of the inspirations for the confused and angry flux of "American Standard" as well as my forthcoming publication I Can Say Interpellation.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Postmodernism Noticed

A nice commentary on Re: reading the Postmodern at rob mclennan's blog here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Things to Celebrate on January 15th

The revolution in Tunisia (fingers crossed...)

Raymond Souster's 90th birthday.

And, best of all, the arrival of my new nephew Christian Joseph!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Etc Phrases #5

From a new sequence I'm working on:

Etc Phrases #5

A major.
H flat float.
Shadows the citadel.
Gulliver’s grammar.
Last year in Laputa.
A minor member of the martyrology.
Came down from Cloudtown.
Utopia of the umbra.
Ha the harm.
Ah the awe.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Favourite Books of 2010

(Two of which came out in late 2009)

1. Annihilated Time: Poetry and Other Politics by Jeff Derksen           (Talonbooks)

2. Automaton Biographies by Larissa Lai (Arsenal Pulp)

3. Tale Light: New and Selected Poems 1984-2009 by Karen           Mac Cormack (Bookthug)

4. First as Tragedy, Then As Farce by Slavoj Zizek (Verso)

5. Canadian Poetry 1920 to 1960, edited by Brian Trehearne           (McClelland and Stewart)

6. Nicole Brossard: Selections (University of California)

7. Crystal Flowers by Florine Stettheimer (Bookthug)

8. Patient Frame by Steven Heighton (Anansi)

9. Re: Reading the Postmodern, edited by Robert Stacey      (University of Ottawa)

10. O Resplandor by Erin Moure (Anansi)