December 23, 2014

A Thought Experiment, Or, Two People, One Swimming Pool

Two people are in an empty swimming pool. There are two guitars in there, nothing else. Imagine all the possible outcomes. Two people are in an empty swimming pool. There is also a small library of assorted books, unending cups of coffee. Imagine all the possible outcomes. Two people are in an empty swimming pool. There is a jar of LSD, a half dozen stretched canvases, and buckets of acrylic paint and paintbrushes. The jar is purple. Imagine all the possible outcomes. Two people are in an empty swimming pool with a series of wooden planters, high-quality soil, heritage seeds, and watering cans. Imagine all the possible outcomes. Two people are in an empty swimming pool with a baseball, an aluminium bat, and a catcher’s glove. Imagine all the possible outcomes. Two people are in an empty swimming pool. There are two semi-automatics and a skid of bullets. Imagine all the possible outcomes. Two people are in an empty swimming pool. There is a nuclear weapon silo, the launch codes on a post-it note above the keypad. Imagine all the possible outcomes. End of thought experiment.
October 8, 2014

Summer 2014 Roundup

By all metrics, it was a terrible summer. War, environmental disasters, political hypocrisy, weaponized hatreds. In my own circumscribed world, however, there were some small successes, a few surprises, and a book deal. So, in no way taking away from the horrors of the macro, here is a round up of my own, inconsequential micro. I read poetry at three events this summer. In June, I headlined the inaugural Firepit Reading Series in London, Ontario, put on and hosted by David Huebert. This was the first time I read my poem “Handwritten Addendum to the Torah Left On The Moon” in public, along with other new–and newish–work. (True to its name, after the reading, the night refocused around the firepit.) In August, I read at the two-day long mega-reading that took place at the BIG on Bloor street festival, hosted by Jess Taylor. Finally, in honour of Leonard Cohen’s eightieth birthday, I read six of Cohen’s poems at Jewish Urban Meeting Place, as well as one of my own poems written to Cohen. Reading through his selected poetry in preparation for the reading, I remembered anew how fundamental Cohen’s poetry is to my own poetic sensibilities. Out of the dozens, […]
June 21, 2014

Acknowledgements Page

It’s true what they say: an individual doesn’t write a novel, a bus of noisy, farty, tired yuppies does. And on that bus were Justin Seely, Noleg Goat, Christopher Frederick Portsmouth, Jeh Johnson, and Anisa Ibrahim, all of them constant distractions; it’s amazing I got any work done at all. This book owes absolutely nothing to any of you. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the spiteful staff at the national library: Sandra Leon, Maureen Samuleh, Ban Ki Moon (no relation), and James Kee, you are all terrible librarians. You made the thirty-five minutes of research I undertook a real drab experience. I sincerely hope your pensions don’t pay out. To all the staff at Hatchet Job Press, what can I say? Each and every one of you has major, deep-seated psychological, physiological, and digestive problems. To my editor, Rebecca Samuel, your unkeen eye and penchant for adjectives has made this a terrible book and me a worse writer. To my pot dealer, Richard Bruno, I know you’ve been shorting me on those half-ounces. To my amphetamine dealer, Emma Joy, thanks for all the late-night lessons in continental philosophy that I neither asked to hear nor understood. To my […]
January 26, 2014

It’s Almost My Birthday, So Here’s Some Nietzsche

Opening Paragraph of “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense,” by Friedrich Nietzsche In some remote corner of the universe, flickering in the light of the countless solar systems into which it had been poured, there was once a planet on which clever animals invented cognition. It was the most arrogant and most mendacious minute in the ‘history of the world’; but a minute was all it was. After nature had drawn just a few more breaths the planet froze and the clever animals had to die. Someone could invent a fable like this and yet they would still not have given a satisfactory illustration of just how pitiful, how insubstantial and transitory, how purposeless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature; there were eternities during which it did not exist; and when it has disappeared again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that might extend beyond the bounds of human life. Rather, the intellect is human, and only its possessor and progenitor regards it with such pathos, as if it housed the axis around which the entire world revolved. But if we could communicate with a midge we would hear that it […]
August 10, 2013

Temagami Respite

You are stopped on an island of rock and pine and blueberry, the gear piled under the blue tarp, the canoe flipped, waiting in a steady rain for the storm you can see grey and hard over the lake, the wind rushing it towards you. You lie down on the flat stone, the rain on your face, and fall into a deep hallucinatory sleep, the dreams coming fast and everywhere, brimming over into your conscious mind before you’re fully under. You dream of warm music, of safe rooms, of her. Minutes later, years, you wake, bigger than your body, than the island, than the lake, the whole rocky wilderness. The rain has turned into a fine drizzle. The wind is gone. Soon you will load the canoe and push back into the water and be on your way, the storm having never materialized.
June 30, 2013

Books, Free Books

It’s graduation and moving season here in the Annex, which means people are culling their book collections. And, for those of us who cannot walk past even a soggy cardboard box if it contains the promise of a single book in it, this is a both a blessing and a curse (if it wasn’t for this strange compunction, how—for example—would I ever have come across Growing up Degrassi?). This late spring/early summer cornucopia means terrific finds, but also swelling bookshelves (of course, we could do our own slimming of the hordes, but who are we kidding?) A few weeks ago the greatest find thus far occurred in the foyer of the building I live in. In a stack of maybe thirty books, which I spent a good fifteen minutes carefully going through, I took upstairs, in a rush of sheepish, bookish joy:
April 9, 2013

Fun at Bookstores

The Institute For Things To Do With Books is happy to present a new game for all those odd, bookish people out there. We here at the IFTTDWB headquarters fondly call it ‘That New Bookstore Game.’ Here’s what you do. Go into your neighbourhood big-box bookstore (the bigger and boxier, the better). Browse through the fiction, poetry, history, essays, and philosophy sections – basically, anywhere you would regularly buy and read – and collect a nice pile of books you would very much like to buy, to read through, to shelve, to own. (During this part of the game it’s important to avoid the teapots, candles, kitchen/bathroom accessories, and all the other non-book paraphernalia that your neighbourhood big-box bookstore likely stocks on the first floor). Now: find a place to sit. A wicker chair, a table at the in-house (and, most likely, corporate) cafe, even the floor, will suffice. Look through your selected titles. Feel the weight of each book in your hand, feed on the words and images of the cover; time permitting, pick a short story or a poem or an essay from one of the books – say, perhaps, that one by David Foster Wallace about eating […]
February 21, 2013

What’s On My Night Table

Hello. As part of the Institute For Things to do With Books’ mandate to participate in things that have to do with books, here is my annual list of books that have piled up on my bedside table. Some of these books have been read through, some (the short story anthologies, certain poetry books) have been dipped into, others have got lost in the shuffle and are as of yet unread. As always, come spring, I’ll reshelve, and start the process all over again. Feel free to contribute your own night table geographies in the comments section. Books are listed from the top of the pile to the bottom Pile A: Happy New Year! And Other Stories by Sholom Aleichem (Translated by Curt Leviant) The Circle Game by Margaret Atwood (Poetry) So Much to Say: Dave Matthews Band 20 Years on the Road by Nikki Van Noy (perhaps the worst book I have ever read) The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol, Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (thank you BMV!) 50 Short Science Fiction Tales, Edited by Isaac Asimov and Groff Conklin An Oak Hunch by Phil Hall (Poetry) Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (BMV again!) February by […]
January 25, 2013

A Patient and His Doctor Learn About Empathy

Dr. K is a large, hairy man, and this is my second time seeing him as my GP. The examining room where I wait for him is a mess of folders and needles and pamphlets, the floors scuffed, the walls in need of a coat of paint; it’s as if the doctor and his office staff pursue the aesthetic of the apocryphal teenage boy. As in most any situation where I will be waiting or sitting for any amount of time, I have a book with me. For the occasion of my first physical with Dr. K, I happen to be reading After the Falls, a memoir by Catherine Gildner about her teenage years in America during the rebellious sixties and seventies (which happens to be a very well-written, very engaging book; I highly recommend it). I came across the book when I found it on the kitchen table at my parents’ house; my aunt had lent it to my mother and as soon as I picked it up I was immersed in Gildner’s world. When Dr. K finally trundles in he notices the book immediately. “What are you reading?” he asks, picking up the book with hands that I […]