Sunday, September 20, 2015

Not Just a Jewish Voice but Jewish Eyes: Henry Balinson and the Jewish Voice of Hamilton.

a panel from the exhibition

I was honoured to be able to give the talk below at the opening of the exhibition, The Jewish Voice of Hamilton about Hamilton's Yiddish language newspaper and its publisher. It was an amazing event with members of the publisher's family speaking also. The exhibition itself was excellently curated by Courtney Link and managed by Wendy Schneider at the Beth Jacob Synagogue in Hamilton. This morning's opening was very well attended


This is an exhibit about the Jewish Voice of Hamilton, the Yiddish language newspaper that was published in Hamilton in the 30s and 40s. It’s also the story of its publisher and editor, Henry Balinson. But it’s more than that. It is the story of how immigrants—Jews specifically—contributed to Hamilton and all of Canada by bringing with them their own culture, perspective, skills, language, learning, and values.

I don’t know what “an old stock Canadian” is, to use Stephen Harper’s recent questionable phrase, unless it refers to the indigenous people, but modern Canada would be a pretty watery broth without our immigrants. And Henry Balinson, as we say in the exhibition, was the same as every immigrant: like everyone else, but uniquely himself.

So let me tell you a bit about him. In 1911, the ambitious and well-educated Henry Balinson, an aspiring writer, poet, and playwright who spoke seven languages, moved from Odessa to Hamilton. A socialist and a unionist, he had a fervent belief in fairness, workers’ rights, mutual support and justice. Asked whether his father was Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, his son, Morley replied, “Labour.”

This reminds me of a joke. It was the depression and Hershel, a young immigrant to America complained to Rockefeller. “It’s not right that you have more than your fair share of money.”
“So Hershel,” Rockefeller asked, “How many people live in America?”
“100 million,” Hershel replied.
“Well, that’s a coincidence I have a 100 million dollars, “ Rockefeller said. “Here’s a dollar, Hershel It’s your share.”

Balinson moved to Hamilton trusting that life would offer opportunities to an enterprising young man passionate about knowledge, healthy debate and the power of ideas. As his daughter-in-law, Joan, put it, “This was a man who really wanted to understand the world.”

He soon established International Press which printed the newspaper and myriad other items for the Jewish community as well as the Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Latvian, and other communities. He would eventually write, typeset and print his own Yiddish publication,  The Jewish Voice of Hamilton newspaper. At  age, Goldie knew the word collating as tThe whole family helped put out the paper, even the kids.

In Canada, both Yiddish newspapers and printing began at the end of  the 19th century, becoming more permanently established in centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg at the beginning of the 20th century. International Press and The Jewish Voice of Hamilton were Hamilton’s first and only Yiddish printer and newspaper. The newspaper was published between 1933 and 1943 with issues generally appearing once a month.

So this reminds me of another old joke, one that I think Henry Balinson might have enjoyed. Abie walks up to Moishe, the editor of a monthly newspaper, “So, this is a newspaper? Why isn’t it a daily—It takes a whole month to print each issue? God himself needed less than week to make the whole world.”
 “Feh,” Moishe replies. “Look at what a mish mash the world is. But look…look at my newspaper!”

Balinson’s Jewish Voice of Hamilton was the only source of local news and commentary from a Jewish perspective. As he wrote in one issue, “It is the Jewish Voice, not a garbled account as interpreted by a gentile reporter.” On the front page of each issue, Balinson wrote a column entitled, “My Stroll Around Hamilton,” in his inimitable style where he thought over “our kingdom of Hamilton,” and wondered “how Jews live, and how Jews don’t live.”

Reading Balinson’s columns today allows one to stroll through 30s and 1940s Hamilton, kibitzing with a charismatic and opinionated observer of the city, seeing local businesses and community leaders, talking about shul politics and universal issues about family and society, about the rise of the Nazis and the war in Europe.

But why is important that the newspaper was in Yiddish? Because language is a library, a storehouse of knowledge and experience, an entire shtetl of philosophy and feeling. It’s a truism that Inuktitut has 100 words for snow. What does Yiddish have? 100 words for fools, shmeckeleh, and a kind of ironic resolve that—though of course, what did you expect? rainbows and roses?—we can keep going through these hard times. Like always. And however little the immigrants were able to carry with them, they always brought their language. As the Yiddish saying goes, “the tongue is not in exile.”

It’s interesting to look at issues of the paper or posters printed by International Press and learn not only about the Jewish community but also the relationship between Jews and the wider non-Jewish community. A call to boycott the German Olympics, a rally at the Royal Connaught Hotel to fundraise for the Red Cross’s war efforts, a paid ad for the 1937 election where a candidate exhorts, “If you don’t want a Hitler in Canada, vote O’Hanley! The advertisements from local businesses also provide a rich window on the civic life of Hamilton. And it’s amazing to see ads for businesses with Irish or Italian names with text written in Yiddish.

And how many Jews spoke Yiddish at the time of the paper’s publication? The 1931 census recorded that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Canadians were bilingual. In Hamilton, almost 90 per cent of the city’s Jewish population were able to speak both Yiddish and English. Across Canada approximately, 150,000 or 1.4 per cent of Canadians spoke Yiddish as a first language. Amazingly, this is roughly the same proportion as that of Canada’s largest language other than English or French today: Punjabi.

Though deeply interested in the local, Balinson was also concerned about the international. Because of his unique and intimate access to the Hamilton Jewish community, he used his paper for vital advocacy, marshalling local action against international crises. This was “Think Global, Act Local.”

Keenly aware of the grave danger posed by the rise of anti-Semitism and Nazism and the outbreak of war, he devoted many pages to rallying the community against Hitler and advocating support for the war effort as well as for the Red Cross.

As the 30s progressed, it became increasingly apparent to international observers such as Balinson that the rise of fascism in Germany marked an emerging political crisis for all of Europe and particularly for its Jews. Balinson wrote that Hitler was “the devil of the civilized world,” and “all intellectuals are his enemies, for he fears the power of thought.” This wasn’t obvious to many Canadians at the time.

For Balinson, his newspaper was a vehicle for “the power of thought” through education, and information and he used it to advocate for the political positions he believed in. In 1935, an English-language article called for the boycott of the Berlin Olympics, exhorting that “the participation by any Canadian athlete in the Olympic Games in Germany should forever remain a blot on his name.”

Balinson also provided a platform for other domestic political opinions against Nazism in the form of advertisements for local elections, such as one Conservative Party supporter advocating against “new and untried parties” because under new political systems, he said, “the Jews have suffered greatly, as witness the situation in Germany.” It is unlikely that Balinson would have agreed with this politician’s politics beyond concurring that the Jews had suffered.

This exhibit tells the story of Hamilton in the 30s and 40s.  It features many items on public display for the first time: many editions of the newspaper, photographs and other valuable historical documents, local letterpress printing artifacts, and video recordings of oral history, all part of the Balinson Family Archive, recently generously donated to the Rosenshein Museum by the Balinson family. Ads in both English and Yiddish for local businesses (some still active today), and their designs and slogans are like walking right into this bygone time in city life.

But it is true that history is not an abstraction but is both lived by individuals and is experienced through their individual stories, and so this exhibition also tells the compelling story of Henry Balinson and his family, and the tragic deaths of three of his children. His four-year-old daughter, Anna Frieda, was playing in the alley with children who had firecrackers. Her dress caught fire, and she was killed. His son, Reuben, died of diphtheria at the age of six. These deaths affected him deeply, however, it was the death of his third son, Alex, in WWII that was the tipping point.

Against his parents’ wishes, Alex enlisted in the Air Force and was posted overseas in 1941. He wrote to his father, “I won’t wait for Hitler to come here.  I will do my duty to eliminate the wild animal.” Flight Sergeant Alexander Balinson died in April 24, 1942 as a result of a bomb attack. In his front page column, his father, Henry Balinson wrote a eulogy for his son.  The entire eulogy is a bitter argument with G-d and humankind and an indictment of war: “Since the time of Adam and Eve, brother has killed brother. And years have passed, and You [G-d] have not found a cure for this plague…When you took away my son, you also gave me a free hand.  I have no more reason to write about my feelings.”

Balinson ended his final column in the final issue of his newspaper: “I swear to you, my son, I will never forget you. Rest in peace. Your beautiful shining face will light my way for the few days that are left of my life.”

Yet that light was not enough to outshine the blackness of his grief. Henry Balinson, the impassioned believer in fairness and justice, ceased writing and publishing and retreated into his own despair and sorrow. As he declared in that final column, “I break off my ties with the world.” This is a powerful expression of one man’s experience of history, one man’s experience of how history is always, ultimately, personal.

But I hope this exhibition demonstrates that this bitterness was not to be Henry Balinson’s ultimate legacy. There is the remarkable record of his Yiddish newspaper which we can view today. And his two sons who were doctors, one of whom served in WWII; and a third son, Morley (who is here with us this morning) who enlisted during WWII, served in Korea and then as an RCMP officer. It seems that Henry Balinson’s vision of support and justice endured. It is certainly celebrated in this exhibition today. His Jewish Voice of Hamilton rings clear with his passionate intelligence and ardent belief in what was right.

Our world is comprised of the stories of a multitude of individuals. Many of these individuals leave records of their stories in the form of letters, documents, or memorabilia. Few leave newspapers. We are lucky that we are able to learn something about one corner of this world and our city through this exhibition about one man and his family, about his unique story expressed in his own unique words.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Not Psychic

I recently participated as a “Non-Psychic” in Tor Lukasik-Foss’s I am Not a Psychic installation/ performance at Hamilton Ontario’s arts festival, Supercrawl.

What I did: I gazed deep into the forlorn Supercrawl souls of the participants, tapping the baleful stalactites of their sorrows and joys with the third eye Hammer of my preternatural charlatanry. Ok, what I really did was this:

I set up an old Underwood typewriter. I had a microphone which picked up keystrokes and carriage returns and sent the sound to live digital processing effects on my computer which were played by little speakers under the table. “I practice the forgotten art of Typomancy. I always use an Underwood because, Underwood, the dark roots know." The way I did the readings evolved over the sessions, but basically when someone arrived, I explained that I was a non-psychic but to set the non-psychic mood, I used typomancy to create a soundscape. I had them type their middle name if they had one and then the secret name they gave themselves, the name for their alter ego, or the one they wished they had. I said that the most significant aspect of a “real” psychic reading, the most profound communication, was the questions that people asked. Whether or not they believed or understood what the cards or the crystal, or the dots on the Dalmatian said about them it was the formulation and self-examination of the questions which was the important part. It revealed what the person wished for, hoped for, desired or feared. So, I explained, I’d asked questions.

The first question I asked was “If you could come back as anything – animal, object, force – what would that be. Some people named an animal, some the ocean, or a lens, or themselves (so they could continue to explore what it meant to live their life.) We discussed why they wanted to come back as this and what were the qualities of that animal or thing that appealed to them, that explained this part of their self.

Then I asked what they would come back as after that. We talked about how the self isn’t just one thing, but has different aspects and talked about what this new reincarnation revealed about them.

Then I asked them to imagine themselves in twenty years. What would this person counsel them to ask a psychic now? What should they know about, what should they think about? Ten or twenty years put them in the middle of their lives, careers, parenting etc. We spoke about the kinds of things that were important.

Then I asked them to imagine themselves as an old person, rocking on a digital porch with digital teeth and wearing a digital cardigan. I asked them to imagine themselves at the end of their lives looking back. What would they think it important for the current self to know? What would they ask the old person? What would the old person counsel that they ask now, given that they’d lived their life. We talked about what might be important in this long view– companionship, good actions, regrets, things they’d be proud of etc.

It was a strangely lovely and moving experience to talk with people about their future selves this afternoon in the rain. People were very earnest, trusting and open. As soon as I established the seriousness and thoughtfulness of the endeavour – even if we joked and weren’t somber – they really tried to think hard about my question and their lives. The meta quality – what would you tell yourself to ask fifty years from now – asking them try to imagine what they might be like and where they’d be as a very old person – was challenging to some. It was also quite often emotional.

One woman was quite sad. She pictured herself as an old woman, alone on a porch without anyone. I discussed her friend’s (who she came in the booth with) choice of animal to come back as: a whale. Her friend had suggested that she chose the whale because it lived in a pod and could communicate great distances, sometimes hearing songs 1000 mile away. So I suggested to the woman that maybe like a whale she has a network of friends that are all around to her even if very distant in time and space. The whale is aware of the presence of other whales all around it and even if they are not close, maybe there are significant presences. So maybe her friends that she has – some she speaks to only occasionally or even mostly on Facebook – are still important. Her “song” reaches 1000s of miles (in time and space) around her and she won’t be/isn’t alone on that porch. She was actually quite moved and consoled by this conversation. I found it very touching and lovely.

I’ve never participated in an art piece that directly engaged with peoples’ emotions in such an intimate way. I had imagined that it was the earnest articulation and discussion of the things that mattered to a person that was at the heart of their visit to a psychic, so it seemed to be with this “non-psychic” visit. The participants became invested in considering their selves and their lives and discussing it with me. I assumed the role of a counsellor, psychic, psychoanalyst, father confessor, seer, even though they knew that I was non of those. It was the kind of intimate transaction that one gets from art. One brings one’s self to an engagement with art that expects that you will do so, that believes that your feelings, thoughts, and self are part of the art and deserve to be considered with sensitivity, dignity, and thoughtfulness.


Thanks to Craig Conley, David Lee, and Lisa Pijuan-Nomura  for very helpful suggestions about the project and of course, to Tor Lukasik-Foss for inviting me to participate.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First Review of the Orthodontist!

I'm pleased that my latest book, I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 has received its first review. Keith Cadieux has reviewed the book in the Winnipeg Review. Here the link.

Recent and Upcomings

I've been neglecting this blog, but only because I've found myself busy with other good things. I have managed to post something-or-other on my tumblr every several days, keeping my toe in the door of the Internet. Y'know. In case it closes. And Facebook. I'm "Moribund Facekvetch" there. Shh. It's secret.

Here are some recent/upcoming events/performances that I'm involved in. (There are actually other people involved in these things. I'll add their names as I get organized. I appreciate performing with them/their organizational efforts.)

August 22 Kalvos and Damian New Music Bazaar 20th anniversary broadcast. (Radio Show) I appeared via pre-recording on this fantastic new music show. Here's my spot.

September 5 Microtalks: Play. A short performance talk about the idea of play. With a digitally processed typewriter.

September 12 Not Psychic: I’m appearing as a non-psychic in Tor Lukasik-Foss’s “Not Psychic” installation at Hamilton's Supercrawl.

September 11-13 Hamilton Arts Council "Listening Post." My recorded performance of my poem Eclogging was featured along with four other Hamilton writers at Supercrawl. Follow the link to hear.

September 16 Chi Featuring: Gary Barwin, Simon McNeil, Rebecca M. Senese. Round Venue, 152A Augusta Avenue, 2nd Floor

September 20 Jewish Voice of Hamilton. Talk at opening of the exhibit about Hamilton’s historical Yiddish newspaper. I was very happy to write the text for the exhibit panels also.

September 20 Reading for middle schoolers Telling Tales Festival, Westfield Heritage Village

September 21 Writing Workshop for Youth. 100 Story Wood, Eden Mills Writers Festival

September 23 Reading celebrating 40th anniversary of the writing program at Interlochen Arts Academy, Interlochen Michigan.

September 24 Reading with Teresa Scollon, Traverse City.

September 25. Reading with Jen Tynes, Grand Rapids, Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters

Beginning Wednesday, September 30 and running 11 weeks, I’ll be teaching a novel-writing course at Mohawk College, Hamilton, Ontario.

October 16 Rampike Magazine Launch, Windsor, Ontario. My work is on the cover  and I’ll be reading.

October 20 Featured reader, Art Bar Poetry Series, Toronto.

October 22 Reading of launch of Translating Horses (Baseline Press) at Supermarket, Toronto.

October 24 Panelist, Living Arts Symposium, Hamilton Arts Council, Hamilton.

November 12 Barwins-Lee 3. Performing music improvisations with Ryan Barwin and David Lee, Waterloo, Ontario

November 15, Barwins-Lee 3. Performing music improvisations with Ryan Barwin and David Lee, ArtWord Art Bar, Hamilton, Ontario Zula Presents Something Else! Creative Music Series. David will be on bass, Ryan on pedal steel, and I'll play saxophone and flute. 

Recent publications

Servants of Dust (complete.) A book based on all of the Shakespeare Sonnets is recently available from GaussPDF.

"Six Sonnets" at ourteeth. Poems exploring redaction, erasure, interrogation.

"Western," (short story) in the upcoming Taddle Creek.Magazine comics issue.

The Smith Coronamancy, chapbook (No Press, Calgary) four visual poems exploring the typewriter.

Several Poems in Event Magazine, Fall 2015

Poem ("Woodpeckers and TV") in Vallum 12:2 Humour Issue

Audio Work in PaleBlue: Artshow and Mixtape 

Also: I was very pleased to be able to blurb a few recent books:

Fauxcassional Poems (Icehouse) by Daniel Scott Tysdal

Fifty Scores (Teksteditions) by Arthur Bull

The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree
 (BookThug)  Josh Massey

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How do you design a beautiful book? A discussion of the cover of "I, Dr. Greenblatt, 251-1457, Orthodontist."

How do you design a beautiful book? Really delighted for this discussion about the cover and design of "I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457" (Anvil Press) over at All Lit Up and the great design work of Clint Hutzulak at Rayola. There's even images a handful of cover outtakes. Fascinating to see a cover develop, I think. (Thanks to Nitang Narang!) 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What happens when a highway decides to beatbox?

I've just posted Here are several new tracks on SoundCloud.

The above track is a short track of manipulated highway sounds. (The picture is of a booth at a street fair for a funeral home. Yes, those are actually balloons on the hearse. It's courtesy of my brother Kevin. Thanks.)

The sound of vehicles driving on Highway 403 heading between Hamilton and Burlington, Ontario and the sounds of a starting car were recorded in the summer of 2010. These sounds were then superimposed, looped and repeated to evoke the relentless rhythms of traffic always present on this highway (the major highway in and out of the city). This highway bisects the regenerating Cootes Paradise marsh, a location both environmentally and historically important to the city, and Kay Drage Park, a recreational park built on the site of a former landfill. For most people passing through Hamilton, the highway is the most iconic audio representation of the former industrial city, however, just beside the highway is the large marsh increasingly filled again with a great variety of the sounds of wildlife. Like the sounds of a train whistle, the traffic sounds are strangely beautiful and compelling but yet evoke the places which are both left behind and arrived at.

There are also a couple other new tracks including work which incorporates sound poetry, opera singing, noise, applause, and other found sounds.

The tracks can be accessed here.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Parliament, a video

"Parliament," a video from my new short fiction collection, I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 (Anvil Press).

"A knock on the door, I open it, and there on my steps is Parliament, wrapped against the cold…"

Monday, June 08, 2015

Old Man Harper Remembers

Old Man Harper Remembers
(for Kathryn Mockler)

strained peas don’t exist
icebergs or glaciers

and yams, yams don’t exist
children downstairs singing

chesterfields of seniors don’t exist
or their teeth which I’ve stolen

pastel walls don’t exist
or linoleum and walkers

personal service workers don’t exist
or their meddling fingers

I hide in the closet
filled with newspapers

news doesn’t exist
or history just an Original Six

and war
Indians don’t exist or their schools

and science, science doesn’t exist
and what it says about the tailings-pond soul

also Canada doesn’t exist
and its metastasizing weather

just a few good elections
I seem to remember

locking us inside

Monday, May 11, 2015

Open the RED DOOR

Happy to have several video poems and visual poems in the latest issue of Red Door Magazine.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Authors for Undies, I mean, Indies Interactive Story at Epic Books.

For Authors for Indies Day I was at Epic Books with Ariel Gordon and Amanda Leduc. I sat in the front of the store and wrote a story. I solicited ideas from customers and the other writers. Some of the content came by asking people to pick a book off the shelf and turn to page 106 and choose the 7th line. For example, there's a line from Lynn Crosbie's new book, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

Here's the story, unedited.

Late one June night, Avigdor broke into a bookstore in the city of Hamilton. He was a standard issue burglar. Dark clothes, black balaclava (“I always confuse that word with baklava, that pastry-thing my nona used to make,” the lanky youth  said) dirty hockey bag, and a backpack full of an assortment of tools of the trade. A mismatched set of screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, and dulled kitchen knives.

Curly headed Avigdor, former chess champion of Prince Vydor Middle School, once caught futilely attempting to cheat during the city championship in Grade Six with a dog-eared book of chess moves hidden beneath his shirt, and so spent the rest of middle school disgraced, alone in his basement, reading Dune approached the bookstore, UPic Book on Locke with acquisitive glee, UPic. This night, he would break into the store in order to steal another chess book, aspiring to regain his former glory and status with his pimply peers, all knights of the black and white squares.

There was a rickety fence surrounding the small yard at the back of UPic Books. Avigdor climbed up on a recycling bin, scrampled up the fence and fell onto the damp grass. Something oozed beneath his shoulder. A frog. “Damn. An ex-frog.” He scraped the frog guts from his shirt and threw the slurry over the fence.

A small window at the back of the store. “I can jimmy that window with my butter knife,” Avigdor said imagining muttering to himself with classic muhahaha while rubbing his evil fingers together. Avigdor standing on a cardboard box, rooting around his hockey bag, searching for the knife. Avigdor unbalanced as his fingers found the handle. Avigdor losing his balance and falling against the shattering glass. “God Bobby Fisher Kasparoving Bishoping Damn,” he said, wiping the blood tasselling from his forehead.

But he was able to reach in and open the little window and pull himself inside. It was dark inside. He was in a womb of cardboard boxes, publishers’ flyers, and old coffee cups. The mysterious and invigorating smell of bookstore. And bookstore owner. The storage cupboard at UPic.

A light under the door. The locked door. Now the return of the butter knife, Avigdor thought. The triumph of the butter knife. The victory of burglar. But the hockey bag was on the outside. And he was not.

What now? Avigdor butted his frog-splattered shoulder against the door but it did not budge. He leaned back and kicked. He ran at the door from within the limited boxy storage cupboard world..

Shards of bright multicoloured light and the sound of ripping fly leaves. Avigdor was free, released into a realm of endless spines and French flaps. Of sycophantic blurbs and the antigravitational pull of narrative. Of the possibility of obscure and well annotated opening gambits as played in the classic games of Casablanca.

“So your arm’s broke, you skinny? I coulda guessed.” There was an ancient man, his skin fissured and folded as old tree, but made of shoe.” The man’s arm was in a sling. “A whistling accident,” he said. “So there was this girl. She needed a whistle and I had just the lips. So these days they’re an old ship’s knot, but what, a man’s still gotta live. I whistled, put my shoulder out and fell over. Crack.”
“W-w-what are…what are you…what are you doing here?”  Avigdor asked looking up from the floor.
“Natural, I think. Looking for a book.”
“What? Why?”
“It’s a bookstore. It’s what one does here. What were you looking for? A portal to Mars?”
“But I know you?” Avigdor said like an idiot
“You do,” the old man said. “And if you tell, ‘I kill you.”
“But grandpa…”
“I  kill you, I said. They don’t know I’m gone.”
“You admit you're too lazy to care that one of the witnesses for the case has disappeared?”
“Caring. All that jumping up and down and pumping blood to the pastel-coloured parts of you. Ach. Who needs it? I’d rather take a snooze in sunlight-coloured hooch.”

The phone rang raising a nimbus of dust from its ancient pre-cellular receiver. Without thinking, Avigdor lifted the receiver. The mouthpiece was caked in Paleolithic lipstick, discarded insect carapaces and spit. Avigdor gave the mouthpiece a quick theoretically antibacterial swipe with his sleeve and answered it.
“Hello?” he said. “Hello?”
“There’s a book I need. It’s blue. It was on the radio. It was written by rain.”

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Fish Species of Hamilton, Ontario Find their Names in Steam

Photo of Cootes' Paradise by Doug Worrall

The Fish Species of Hamilton, Ontario find their names in Steam
after "SAUNA 89" (from Erin Moure’s Kapusta)

and if mooneye were to leave spotfin shiner for brassy
      minnow’s faults

quillback would not defend the spottail shiner’s lameness,
      walking halt

and from northern hognose sucker’s trust, stonecat would elide

mudminnow would not do rainbow smelt wrong and speak of burbot

and (banded killifish) brook silverside’d not look at mottle
      sculpin’s bluegills who say least darker do
es not merit logperch

your blackside darter was sweet and is no more

least darter will not speak of pumpkinseed

nor will brown bullhead walk again where grass pickerel once walked

brook stickleback will not let tadpole madtom’s green sunfish
       evoke trout-perch’s rosyface shiner

mimic shiner’s finescale dace will not be named by creek chub,
      lest american brook lamprey profane

alewife will not name gizzard shad

common carp will not speak (too much profane)

striped shiner gone, emerald shiner could not love northern
      redbelly dace more than freshwater drum

and if logperch love johnny darter not at all, walleye love white
      crapple even less

but oh iowa darter’s blackside darter

channel catfish will not touch white bass’s sand shiner

bowfin will not (shh: trout) brown trout lake trout

In this poem, I took Erin Moure's "Sauna 89" from her new book, Kapusta and replaced each noun (and pronoun) with the name of a fish species found in Hamilton, Ontario. The list is courtesy of the Hamilton Naturalists' Club and their Natural Areas Inventory.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Creating a Treasure Map: Trying to draw the two-dimensional roadkill of a sorcerer’s dreams

I've been trying to make a treasure map for Yiddish for Pirates, my pirate novel. I wanted it to have the right admixture of mystery--arcane Kabbalistic symbols, Hebrew letters, sea monsters--old fashionedness, and wonder. And a kind of submerged piratical humour. I'd like it to have some cryptic clues, jokes, or red herrings (or at least flamingo-coloured smoked salmon.) Also, it should riff off the Treasure Island map that Robert Louis Stevenson created for his novel because my novel borrows many elements of the descriptions of that map and the search for the treasure from that classic tale.

I haven't yet been successful. 

Above is Stevenson's map, stripped of all the place names and with a newly made compass rose. I had planned to add all the elements above, but I'm thinking that even with these it won't be as interesting as the map suggested in the text. I'm wondering, if I should actually try to represent the map that I describe. Now that I try, I'm feeling that describing something but not showing it creates more mystery and wonder. The suggestion is more powerful than the realization. Perhaps a countermap is less powerful than the described "counterfactual imaginary."  Like making a movie out of a book in some cases.

But maps in books are always beguiling. I remember as a child discovering the map in front of The Hobbit. The clear line of the mapmakers/ hand. The contrasting red elements. The drawing of the pointing finger. The unintelligible but powerfully communicative script. I'd return to the map during readings of the book, realizing what it was about, using a key to decode the runic. The map which strongly evoked the world and sensibility of the novel.

Below are the bits where my imaginary map is described. There are also images which I hoped to plunder or be inspired by for elements of my map.

There was much we recognized. The broadside islands of Hispaniola and Cuba with their fussy ongepatshket shores. And below, the pokey little skiff of Jamaica rowing up from the south. And above, the pebble-scatterings of the Bermudas, like stepping stones to nowhere. 
The map was the two-dimensional roadkill of a sorcerer’s dreams, a brainbox of arcana pressed into two-dimensions against the vellum. Archipelagos of eyes, cluttered across the Caribbean, their preternatural gaze drawn as radiant points of a compass rose beaming across the sea. An undulating dolphin-dance of Hebrew script twisted between inky waves. And curious sigils, perhaps from Solomon’s time, marks of demons, angels, cartographers, or whorehouses flocking like alchemical birds on both land and deep.

It was more-or-less apple-shaped, about three leagues across, and had a shaynah fine natural harbour where we could drop anchor. There were, as Moishe had remembered, two enticingly zaftig hills, like the twin knaidlach of a rotund tuches, which dominated the island. They were farprishte-poxed by three marks in red ink: one on the north part of the island, two in the southwest.  Moishe explained that they were Hebrew letters.  Hay. Vav. Hay. In a valley in the centre of this triangle was a small, neat letter Yod written in the same red ink . Buried beneath it: the books. Once we had found the island, and located the valley, we would know where to go.  The tree must be the Yod. 


for Geoeof Huthth