Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Gary Barwin

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Gary Barwin

there is, my love,
a stethoscope whose end
is nowhere
whose earpieces
are everywhere

from Seedpod, Microfiche, by Gary Barwin

Hamilton poet Gary Barwin will be launching his latest chapbook, Seedpod, Microfiche as part of the 20th anniversary party for above/ground press in Ottawa on August 23, 2023. Visit our Events page for details.

In his own take on our Poets in Profile series, Gary tells us how he's been a poet since conception and why there are so many ways to rewrite the same poem.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Gary Barwin:

When two people love each other a lot and get very close. My mother and father. I was born nine months later. It was raining on Ballysillan Rd.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


Inchmarlo School in Northern Ireland when I was nine: ancient, wrinkled Mr. Calvert read to our class from a little leather book of poems from the exotic and distant land of his youth. Robert Service: The Cremation of Sam McGee. I loved his voice reading it, the music of it, the great mystery of the little leather book.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


There are many poems that have become part of my DNA, my language, my synapses and breath, my own personal cultural ecosystem. My way of seeing and imagining. And though there are enormous numbers of poems that I deeply love and admire, I want to write my own poems, even if sometimes (frogments from the frag pool; Franzlations) I have written them through the poems and texts of others.

?Goodbye like the eyes of a whale say goodbye, never having seen one another.? (W.S. Merwin.)


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


?My father, a medical student had his study beneath the stairs. His window, a basement window and his specimens sealed in jars. A tiny fetus in a translucent sac; a small fetus, pale-fisted, white. Edwin. Look, that?s Edwin my older brother, if he?d been born.? (from Big Red Baby, The Mercury Press)


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


I put someone else?s name on it and publish it immediately.

But often I chew on it like a dog a ghost?s bones. I tinker with it. Debone it. Reorder it. Change the ending. Remove line-breaks. Translate it back and forth into many languages. N+7 it. Publish in on my blog and regret it. Return to it and tinker some more. Prepare to send it out for publication and then revise it just before I press SEND on the email. The suddenly clarifying effect of that. Abandon it. Return to it. Add a word. Abandon it. Write it out in reverse order. Love it like an old childhood toy and move on. Reclaim it. Rewrite it. Abandon it. Feed it into a computer program and use it as source material in a collaboration. Find it years later and wonder what my notion of ?just not working? is/was.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


I just listened to this reading by Gabriel Gudding from his upcoming Rivers for Animals.

Gudding is a master of mixing registers in surprising, electric, beautiful, ridiculous, earnest and affecting images that have the intellectual and emotional intensity and insight of a metaphysical jalopy riding down a rhetorical mainstreet.

I also love Márton Koppány?s visual work. Recently, Addenda (Otoliths) I recently wrote about some of it here for a series I?m writing for Jacket2.


What is the best thing about being a poet?and what is the worst?


It sounds ridiculous or twee but I find it hard to separate being a poet/creating person from my experience of the world in general, so the question is kind of like asking what is the best and worst thing about having a brain. And I?m glad I have a brain. Where else would I put my thoughts? Oh yeah, my writing.

Being a poet is rhizomatic. I?m connected to the world and to language. I?m also connected to a network of communities in both space and time. The self is grammar. So is the world.

And the other thing that?s great about being a poet is the clothes. And chapbooks. Books, too. Readings, also. And reading. And my dog. Yes, perhaps, especially my dog.

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, multimedia artist, and the author of 15 books of poetry and fiction. His books include Franzlations (with Craig Conley and Hugh Thomas; New Star), The Obvious Flap (with Gregory Betts; BookThug), The Porcupinity of the Stars (Coach House). Seedpod, Microfiche is Barwin's second above/ground press item after SYNONYMS FOR FISH, STANZAS #26 (March, 2001).

Barwin is winner of the 2013 City of Hamilton Arts Award (Writing), the Hamilton Poetry Book of the Year 2011 and co-winner of 2011 Harbourfront Poetry NOW competition, the 2010 bpNichol chapbook award and the KM Hunter Artist Award. Barwin's work has been published and performed in Canada and internationally. He received a PhD in music composition from SUNY at Buffalo. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario. Visit him at

For more information about Seedpod, Microfiche please visit the above/ground press website.

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to:
rob mclennan, 402 McLeod St #3, Ottawa, ON K2P 1A6 or via Paypal at

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