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.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Pope, His Toe, and the Afterlife: a videopoem

I created a short videopoem based on my recent poem (see post from a couple of days ago.) Lots of clouds.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Touring China with the International Festival of Authors.

I'm delighted to be doing a four-city book tour of China with the International Festival of Authors beginning this Monday. I'm not sure of the details yet but the above poster is one event on the tour. I will be going to Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, and Suzhou. I'm very excited and so looking forward to this.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Light, the Pope, his Toe and the Afterlife: Two Poems written along with my students in Poetry Class

The Pope, his Toe and the Afterlife

everything you say is bleeped out by birds
you threaten some guy on the ISIS listserve
and all he hears is chickens
but it’s ok, all of ISIS sounds like chickadee-dee-dee

what does the Pope say when he stubs his toe?
(lets get back to that later)
when two continents collide, it sounds like blackbirds
and the bomb that destroyed my village is a hummingbird

even these words are incomprehensible
the entire poem, hollow-boned, hovering
I live by the light of the new philosophy
and all that can be heard is squawks

and maybe it’s not what the Pope says but
what his parrot says when Papa stubs his toe
was is it? that’s easy, the same thing as the Pope:
Soon, goddammit, this’ll all be cloud


A form of darkness that isn’t visible. 

Here’s how. Imagine it’s not your eyelids, but the rest of you which opens. Where? Close. You’re always close. If there are colours beyond the visible spectrum, ultraviolet, infrared, there are other forms of dark. Colour is fast sound just as sound is slow colour. Silence creeps like sunlight on your skin, and you aged eight, lying in the garden, and your mother calls from the side door, come inside soon it’ll all be gone.


The above are two more poems that I wrote as my students wrote in creative writing class. The first one is based on David McGimpsey's "chubby sonnets" and inspired by his investigations into narrative, the self, and popular culture.

The second was inspired by Bhanu Kapil's interventions into the Urban Dictionary where she inserts her own poetic, obliquely narrative "definitions" into UrbanDictionary.com.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Morethan, after Charles North's "The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight."

One of the many pleasures of teaching a creative writing poetry class is that I get to do the writing exercises/prompts/activities alongside the students. In this assignment, I asked the students to create a poem modelled on Charles North's amazing "The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight," where he assembles an amazing list of comparisons that are entirely and delightfully meaningless.

Smarter than morons are you
Shorter than giants

A student in the class asked me about endings. North's poem (like his comparisons) is deliberately antipoetic and anticlimatic. We talked about different ways to end a poem. With a big finish, a fade out, a twist, a turn, a reaching back to the first line or the title. Thinking about our discussion, as I wrote my realization of my North-derived poem, I turned the ending of the poem—after a listing of mostly ridiculous comparisons—into an occasion of sudden emotion. I also chained my comparisons, which North doesn't do, each comparison linking with the one before it. This, too, came from talking to my students about the poem and different ways to create cohesion, different formal ways to weave a poem together outside of narrative or other techniques.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

LitChat: Speaking with Many Tongues

Speaking with Many Tongues

What does it mean to write in more than one language? 
What does it mean to include other languages in your English writing? 
An invitation to discuss and share work.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Leacock Shortlist!

I'm very delighted that Yiddish for Pirates is now on the Leacock Medal for Humour shortlist, along with books by Amy Jones and Drew Hayden Taylor.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Two reviews of No TV for Woodpeckers

Very happy to have two reviews of my new collection, No TV for Woodpeckers this weekend.

Barb Carey at the Toronto Star wrote this lovely assessment.

And then Phillip Crymble  the Hamilton Review of Books wrote this thoughtful discussion of the book.

And check out the entire Hamilton Review of Books.  This second issue expands on the first issue—excellent essays, interviews and review.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Two things: Yiddish for Pirates on the Leacock Medal Longlist! And No TV for Woodpeckers on 49th Shelf Must Reads

My publisher made up this award. My greatest honour.

Very delighted that Yiddish for Pirates is on the Leacock Medal longlist. The prize celebrates Canadian literary humour. What a great list of books.


Also grateful that the great 49th Shelf included No TV for Woodpeckers on their spring poetry must-reads along with a bunch of great books.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

On Writing Exercises

The novelist and poet, Jennifer Lovegrove is this month's Writer-in-Residence at OpenBook. She is running a very interesting series about writing including one on poetry exercises.

She invited a number of poets to discuss their use of exercises and their thoughts about them in general. She kindly invited me to contribute and my interview is posted today.

Here I am!

P.S. Her new book of poetry is just out with BookThug. Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes

Monday, April 17, 2017

Interview on Queen Mobs

Me and Yiddish for Pirates, the morning after Scotiabank Giller Prize celebrations.

Writer and Brock University professor Natalee Caple arranged to have one of her students, Sarah Rockx, interview me. The interview has just appeared on Queen Mobs. I'm grateful for the excellent questions that Sarah Rockx asked me and for Natalee for setting it up. Here's the interview.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Planting Consent: Sunday poem and discussion

"What of the idea of a poem that is both earnest and consoling yet sly and self-aware, fully conscious that you shouldn’t trust it despite how it aspires to soothe? That seems like something worthwhile to consider ‘in these times.'"

My poem, "Planting Consent" is featured on Coach House Books's Sunday Poem. I write about the poem and discuss springtime, David W. McFadden, antennae, birds, mentors, clouds, consolation, Chomsky, and Hamilton, Ontario.

 It's here.