Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Underground poetry movement

subway reading. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

A weekday afternoon on the northbound Spadina subway; a commuter placidly reads a book.

But wait... above his head... that's not an ad! What is it?

Egads! Poetry!

poetry where you are. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

And by Lexiconjury's own a. raw, no less!

I had nothing to do with this, but was most pleased to encounter it on my way up to campus. And then on the subway ride home, I ran into John Barlow, making it officially Toronto Poetry Day on the TTC, at least from my point of view. If you have comments or questions about those mysteriously-appearing poems, or if you'd like to submit a poem of your own, there's always poetrywhereyouare@hotmail.com.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Pontiac Quarterly: The Cruelty Issue

Lily in motion. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Pontiac Quarterly is Toronto's only live literary magazine. It's just like a paper magazine, but instead of looking at it guiltily when it arrives in the mail and tossing it onto the ever-growing "to-read" pile on your desk or bedside table, you go to the Drake Hotel and get a beer and the authors read the whole thing aloud to you. (And there are none of those annoying subscription cards!) There's a cover image projected on the back of the stage, classifieds, an advice column (entitled "Liz, What the Fuck?!"), and last Thursday, for Volume 3 Issue 3 (the "Cruelty" issue), there was an illustrator -- Lily Prillinger, up from San Francisco. Above, the wall of illustrations towards the end of the evening, with Lily a graceful blur of creative energy.

Here, Alex Pugsley delivers one of three "short scenes on cruelty and desire":

alex. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Every time I hear Alex read, I wish he'd hurry up and finish his novel, and now I also think he needs to assemble and publish a collection of these "short scenes," which apparently have been quietly accumulating for years.

Pontiac editor Damian Rogers actually asked me to take photos, so I felt justified in being even more obnoxious with my camera than usual all evening. Check out the resulting photoset! More dramatic pics of Alex, some clearer pics of Lily at work, plus a dancer, and Damian's go-go boots!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Coach House spring launch

Coach House book table. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

There was a launch party at Revival last night for Coach House Books' spring list. Above, at the book table, Coach House editor Alana Wilcox is told a secret by author Sherwin Tjia. Kyle Buckley wonders what it is.

I bought a copy of Sherwin's book, The World is a Heartbreaker, a collection of "pseudohaikus". What other new release this season contains 1600 poems and fits in your pocket? Here's Sherwin talking to Coach House's Jason McBride and drinking a Shirley Temple:

Sherwin Tjia. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

In fact all of the spring titles are worth checking out; if you like books and are feeling mildly flush, consider the Coach House Commitment, whereby you get all 6 + a backlist title for $100. Bargoon!

As often happens, more photos are on my flickr site. Go look.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fish in a glass house

red fish gold fish. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

I really love greenhouses. Walking into one is like entering a quiet, separate reality, one that runs on plant time, not human time. And the air in them always smells so good. I wandered into the Allan Gardens conservatory yesterday thinking I probably wouldn't bother taking any photos, as the place is so overphotographed already, then as soon as I was in there I thought "Ooooh! Pretty! Pretty flowers! Pretty fish!" etc., and wound up taking loads of pictures. I like the reflection of the greenhouse roof on the surface of the pond in this one.

In an unrelated development, flickr has just been acquired by Yahoo, and one of the things they're doing to mark the occasion is giving all Pro users 2 free Pro accounts to give away to friends. So I now have a Pro account, thanks to the generosity of fellow Flickernaut Edward, aka holgalomaniac, who takes excellent photos around Toronto -- check out his photostream. This means I have lots more bandwidth to play around with. So if you liked that fish, here it is again:

luminous carp. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The QWERTY universe

Darren and Helen. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

The Paddock was jammed full of writers and academics last Friday night, there to celebrate Darren Wershler-Henry's successful defence of his doctoral dissertation. Darren's dissertation is about the typewriter and its effect on the development of literature, and in the fall McClelland & Stewart will publish it as The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting. I'm looking forward to it; I'm told there's a good 50 manuscript pages in there on the whole infinite-number-of-monkeys thing.

The defence had happened Friday morning, and the question everyone at the party was talking about had been lobbed by Marcus Boon: "There are some technologies that may be described as cosmological. Is the typewriter one of them?" Apparently Darren thought about this for a bit & declared that it is not, which came as a surprise to Marcus. It is an interesting question, and I'd tend to side with Marcus, I think. The thing is that people seemed to agree that the computer is a good example of a cosmological technology, but I think that any cosmological edge that the computer appears to have over the typewriter is illusory. Partly the illusion is simply a function of the fact that a computer is opaque, while a typewriter is transparent; the guts of a typewriter are on display & we can see just how it works, while the processing that happens inside a computer is invisible and the way it works is mysterious to most of us: just like the universe! QED! On a more complex level, the question had me thinking back to issues that came up in the neurophenomenology course I took with Evan Thompson last term. Thompson was a collaborator of the late Francisco Varela, who was one of the originators and proponents of the notion of autopoiesis. We can think about the universe as an autopoietic system, as it's clearly self-sustaining and self-perpetuating (although it's an imperfect analogy, as autopoesis involves being situated in and interacting with an environment). The typewriter, however, is obviously an allopoietic system: it is not autonomous and it generates things, texts, which are distinct from itself. We sometimes think of computers as having an autopoietic autonomy, but they really don't. A related idea is that we have a tendency to think of computers as being able to represent things (ie images) to themselves, when in fact they can only represent images to us. This comes up in the debate over mental imagery, because some theorists point to the way computers store and represent visual images as a model that explains how the human mind does it, but the problem (in a nutshell) is that the computer isn't interpreting the image in any meaningful way, just storing it & forking it back over to the human user, so questions about how we visualize wind up back where they started, in the human brain. So, while it's true that a typewriter neither sustains nor understands itself, neither does a computer. They're both and equally cosmological only in a metaphorical sense. I mean, pretty much anything that is not actually the universe is cosmological only in a metaphorical sense, but between the universe and, say, an organism, you could draw some fairly extended analogies; here the metaphor is more strictly poetic.

I have a lot of hilariously embarrassing photos of what Darren looked like after half the Canadian indie literary community had bought him shots of scotch, and I e-mailed them to all his friends the next day, because I am a bad person, but for this post I'm using what I think is a very nice picture indeed of him posing with Helen Tsiriotakis. Congratulations, Darren!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Pickle update: pickle mysteries SOLVED

Update #1:
Duchamp (aka Stefan) explains how he did it:
- make two sharpened probes out of coat hanger
- jam the probes into the rivet holes of a light socket
- skewer the probes into a large pickle lengthwise
- use a powerbar with a breaker switch as your main switch
- run some 120V

Update #2:
Believe it or not, I found out who dropped those pickles! On the last Psychogeography walk, I met a woman who knows the pickle-dropper. Her name is Dale, and this is how she explains it:
A few weeks ago, I met a cute guy named Mark for drinks. He told me this story about how he bought a big jar of pickles on a rare visit to the grocery story one sunny afternoon. I guess he was pretty happy with himself, because he doesn't go grocery shopping all that often and he was carrying quite a few bags. He was probably hungry and thinking about what he'd fix himself when he got home. I bet that jar would have been one of the first things he'd open up for a quick snack. (As an aside, this same guy once bought a really huge jar of really big pickles as a housewarming gift for some friends of ours.)

As he neared his apartment, the bags began to strain under the pressure of his many groceries. He picked up the pace, determined to get home before the plastic gave way. And then mere meters from his front door, the jar of pickles burst through the bag and fell to the ground, smashing to pieces. The sunny day, the proud shopping trip, the promise of pickles once home -- everything was completely ruined. He stood overtop of the broken glass and stared at the mound of pickles now on the street. It was sad. A jar full of delicious pickles gone to waste. But then he noticed that at least one of the pickles on top of the pile hadn't touched the sidewalk. He thought for a moment, looked from side to side, then quickly swiped the pickle from the pile and took a big bite before leaving it all behind him and making his way home.

A few days later, Shawn sent out a link to your blog to the psychogeography mailing list, so I thought I'd check it out. When I saw the 'pickles in peril' pictures, I couldn't believe it. The date that you took the pictures and the location of the mishap were just too big of a coincidence, so I sent the link to Mark, who nearly bust a gut laughing. We wondered how many of our daily events would soon be captured by bloggers and their digital cameras. Now, the fact that I have actually met you, the pickle blogger, is even more hilarious. It's crazy how small and connected the world is.
Much thanks to Dale for e-mailing me this story!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Birdbranch update

Kestrel. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

I haven't seen the red-tailed hawk in the birdbranch since the day I took that photo, but I have seen a lot of the birds I now know are kestrels. Above is a picture I took of one of them on a sunny day; I was shooting through binoculars, so it's blurry, but you can see his markings quite clearly. Today, I watched through my binoculars as a kestrel sat on the birdbranch and ate a freshly caught sparrow. After a couple of minutes, another kestrel swooped out of the sky and tried to steal the carcass; there was a scuffle, and feathers and gobbets of sparrow flew about, then the interloper was rebuffed. It was very exciting, like a Hinterland Who's Who segment unfolding outside my window, without the calming flute music.

Flickr Toronto meetup

Last night I met up with a bunch of Toronto Flickr users at Supermarket in Kensington Market. Though I'd never met any of them before, it wasn't hard to pick out the group: they were the ones at the tables littered with wifi-enabled laptops, digital SLRs, light meters, detachable lenses, etc. Also, they were the ones who were all taking photos of each other at the same time, which was hilarious to watch. Above, Carrie (Delineated) and Ken (monochromejournal) face off.

It was an interesting group: a real mix of ages, genders, occupations, etc. Everyone introduced themselves twice: with their real name, then their screen name. There was a lot of talk about digital photo techie stuff, and also about Flickr and why it works so well, why we love it and how it could be improved. Next time we might do a photo walk, or a scavenger hunt, or something.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Chinatown garden

Garden, originally uploaded by squiddity of toronto.

A rare specimen from the curiously unsuccessful "Lost, Wandering Spirits of the Damned" line of lawn ornaments. Spotted on Huron Street.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Kensington on the upswing

Kensington Market was just a gorgeous place to be this afternoon, in the warm air and sunshine. I'd have photos for you, but I was soon carrying so many bags of groceries that my hands were full.

So far, it seems, the inevitable gentrification of Kensington is going surprisingly well; more West Queen West than Queen Not-So-West (as I now think of Queen east of Spadina). Which is to say, no chain restaurants and big-box retail outlets have sprouted yet, but a number of genuinely interesting shops and bars have recently sprung up. I was on Augusta on a Saturday night last month and was startled to find it swarming with 19-year-old indie kids, most of them trying to get into Supermarket. Some of them were also there for the latest event at XPACE; after seeing that space go through a dozen dodgy incarnations over the last decade, it's nice to see it finally occupied by a decent gallery, which has become a real party and hangout spot. Also on Augusta, that restaurant at the corner of Oxford seems close to completion; I forget what it's going to be called, but I know food writers have been salivating in anticipation for months, as it will be the all-organic pet project of one of the city's big-name chefs. The very shiny new Freshmart just down the street doesn't have much Kensington artsiness about it, but it's run by the Zimmermans, who have been selling groceries in Kensington since before you were born, so it's hard to really complain.

My discovery of the day, though, was the brand-new Alchemy Bakery, also on Augusta at Oxford. It offers a wide range of familiar and exotic rolls and breads; prices are reasonable for artisanal baked goods, and for the financially challenged among us there's a good day-old shelf. The highlight is a row of jars of flavoured shortbreads: from lemon-cardamom, chocolate-ginger, and lavender, to savories like curry. They're AMAZING. Check the place out, if you get a chance; help keep them open, so I can get good bread & cookies close to home!

Update: Thanks to the Globe and Mail for filling me in on what that place across from Alchemy is going to be: "Stephen Gardner, owner/chef of the popular Queen West vegetarian resto Fressen, is turning the old Victorian into the Urban Herbivore, a vegan cooking school that will offer prepared foods when it opens in two weeks." So in fact it's not exactly a restaurant, but I was close.

Glow house

Glow house. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Another Psychogeography walk last night. This time we walked up Palmerston to see Kelly Mark's installation Glow House #3, a Power Plant-sponsored project which runs until April 23. The house is filled with television sets, all tuned to the same channel, so as you stand outside it and watch, all of the windows glow with light that changes colour and flickers continually. The above photo doesn't really do it justice -- it's all about the flickering. Walk by it at night and see.

From Kelly Mark's Power Plant bio blurb:

Another instance of the artist’s engagement with the everyday is her series of video “collaborations” with her cat. In one, Mark plays an assortment of pop and rock songs by musicians from Black Sabbath to Beck—loudly—on speakers next to her sleeping feline. Generally the animal registers little interest or reaction, rendering temporarily absurd the idea that popular music heard at high volume must have an energizing effect. In another series, Mark offers the cat an array of items to sniff, which it does with limited enthusiasm before going back to sleep.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Design student petting zoo

Twister box. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Yesterday I dropped by OCAD to check out Touch Me: Interact 2, a one-night exhibition of projects by first-year students in the "Principles of Interaction Design" course. Sixteen student groups had each constructed a 6'x6' environment with which one could, well, interact.

I got to the Great Hall and immediately ran into Shawn Micallef, who was roaming around looking a little overwhelmed. It was a little overwhelming: the room was packed and a noisy, sweaty, carnivalesque atmosphere prevailed. Shawn's students had set up a pink bathroom stall with a guy in it, dressed as a genie and sitting on a toilet, who would give you your fortune scrawled in green marker on a square of toilet paper. My fortune was, "You will drown in mayo."

Graffiti box. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Pickle news flash

Astonishing! Scientists have created the world's first incandescent pickle!

(Courtesy of Duchamp. Requires Quicktime.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

I go out curling, after midnight

Angela bowls. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Out in the moonlight, just like we used to do. On Friday night, Jeremy and Julie, who have been curling regularly for a while, arranged for a group of us to give the sport a try at the High Park Curling and Tennis Club. Our timeslot started at 11:00 pm, because that's when the rink was free; being a night owl, I was happy about that.

Curling is harder than it looks, and given that many of us (me in particular) are not particularly sporty types at the best of times, we mostly flailed around on the ice like a bunch of landed trout -- much to the amusement of the regulars, who were drinking beer and watching us from the warmth of the lounge. We had a great time, though. We might do it again this week. Thanks again to Jeremy & Julie for making it happen.

Several more photos on my Flickr page -- I had a lot of fun with my camera.

Game in progress. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Introduction to psychogeography

swimming pool. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

On Thursday night I joined some members of the Toronto Psychogeography Society on one of their walks, which was something I'd been thinking about doing for awhile. The walk started in St. Jamestown, Toronto's most densely populated neighbourhood. We meandered amongst the highrises, saw a drained swimming pool (above), then walked past the cemetery. Shawn said he'd visited the cemetery once during Doors Open. It had been quiet, and a worker had opened the door of a cremation oven and let him peer at the pile of human bones inside, awaiting pulverization. Heat still radiated from them, he said.

We walked up and down a posh cul-de-sac and saw, through bay windows, wealthy people watching their plasma-screen TVs. Then we walked around the Rosedale Heights School for the Arts, then down a long wooden stairway that led to a field under the Prince Edward Viaduct. It was very dark down there, and the bridge was vast. We watched subway trains roar back and forth above our heads.

We went back up and walked across the Viaduct. Jessica would like to figure out a way to play the Luminous Veil like a giant harp or zither, and record the sound. She hopped up on the wall so as to better reach the outer strings of the Veil, and we discovered that people honk at you when you do that:

Luminous veil. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Then we found a community garden, and a footbridge, and then we went for beer. There are a few more photos on my Flickr page.

It's so warm out, finally! I highly recommend getting a group of people together and exploring the city.