Juxtapositions: Mumbling Anderson

Mumbling Anderson Laurie  Anderson vs John Mackenzie

As I mentioned when I road tested John Mackenzie’s new album of poetry, I had one more experiment to perform with it. The idea came about while listening to the album, and especially whenever he said the word “days,” I couldn’t help but think of one my favorite artists of all-time Laurie Anderson.

Now, this is odd, as it would be hard to find two artists more diametrically opposed in style or content. On the other hand, both artists are consummate storytellers and deeply concerned with language.  So, given that juxtaposition is at the heart of combinatorial creativity, I decided to put Laurie Anderson’s first album—Big Science, her latest album—Homeland, and John Mackenzie’s Mumbling Jack onto the MP3 player together, select shuffle and hit play.

I was very pleased with what fate tossed up in its wake. The juxtapositions included the humorous –going from John Mackenzie’s “Hey!Hey! I wanna tell ya somethin’” into the wolf howls at the beginning of Anderson’s “Big Science”– to the smooth – transitioning from John Mackenzie’s “the slow, wistful glance/of my mind’s eye over poems/and songs of youth leaves/their glazes cracked, unfit for/wine women wisdom whiskey song” into Anderson’s  “Maybe if I fall/Maybe if I fall asleep/There’ll be a party there”  from “Falling” on the Homeland album – and  on to the magical – Anderson’s “Thinking of You”  leading into Mackenzie’s “Out of the Corners of My Eyes.”

The sombre, melancholic tone of much of Anderson’s music resonates very nicely with Mackenzie’s voice.

Hearing the work mixed together like this allowed for common themes to become clear as well, both are concerned with the passage of time and the hidden patterns in everyday life. Also, unlike her earlier work, Anderson’s later work is more reliant on nature metaphors of the type favoured by Mackenzie.

Overall, it was a very successful experiment.  Try it out for yourself. Take Mumbling Jack by John Mackenzie, put it on an MPS player with your favourite musician/poet, hit shuffle and see what pops up.


Depth Charge: Here is Laurie Anderson being interviewed about her latest performance Piece,Dirtday, and her work in general. 


Cruising Online

This pillow book binds

This pillow book binds
Ten thousand electric leaves
More than ever could be kissed
Caught in this—spider-less web


Depth ChargeThe Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon 枕草子, Man’yoshu – Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves 万葉, Kokinshu/Kokin wakashu  古今集/古今和歌集, The Ink Dark Moon. If you want to read more poetry inspired by online cruising for gay sex, read or download Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin below.

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

Our Lady of Perpetual Dementia


Whatever pain you feel
We will never ever know
Neurons—snow-covered branches
Soul—so much electric meat


Depth Charge: Some conscious sources for this poem include re-reading poems and writings from 30 years ago about my grandmother’s slow death from Alzheimer’s; the equation of “soul” to “electric meat” comes from hearing Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, speaking on CBC radio’s Tapestry–the second half-hour; and the central visual image comes from looking at the snow-covered branches outside my window.

To read Songs about Sex, Death & Cicadas by Andrew Grimes Griffin, just click on the link. To download a pdf, right click on the link and select “Save link as…”

The Catalog of New Emotions: Disrobia


Disrobia (pronounced: /dɪsˈroʊ biə/) noun — the mixture of lust, anticipation, curiosity and dash of trepidation felt while undressing someone you are about to have sex with for the first time.

Usage:             She had not felt such intense disrobia since she was sixteen.

Disrobia is one of the best parts of having sex with someone new.

Etymology:  The excitement, anticipation and building sexual tension all make disrobing someone else before sex a very unique experience, especially when it is the first time. Even the most experienced and expert lovers will often fumble over the belts, snaps, buttons and clasps.

The Catalog of New Emotions is a project to refine our emotional sensibilities through the creation of new emotions and the development of a vocabulary to express these new emotions. If you would like to contribute to this project leave a comment. Your definition of the new emotion should include pronunciation; examples of usage; etymology of the word and why this new emotion is necessary.

To see all the entries in  The Catalog of New Emotions, click here.


The Catalog of New Emotions: Beastophilia

human male

Beastophilia (pronounced: /ˌbistəˈfɪliə/) noun — an affective disorder in which the attraction to and concern for non-human creatures becomes more powerful than that felt for humans.

Usage:             A sure sign of beastophilia is supporting PETA.

His beastophilia regularly got the better of him and he would spend whole days accompanied only by his dog.

Etymology:  People who have very little exposure to animals in their natural or productive environments, i.e. the wild and farms, are particularly prone to beastophilia, their feelings about animals having been shaped by television, films, cat videos on the Internet, and their interactions with their dependent bio-slaves, i.e. pets.

The Catalog of New Emotions is a project to refine our emotional sensibilities through the creation of new emotions and the development of a vocabulary to express these new emotions. If you would like to contribute to this project leave a comment. Your definition of the new emotion should include pronunciation; examples of usage; etymology of the word and why this new emotion is necessary.

To see all the entries in  The Catalog of New Emotions, click here.

Taking the Plunge with Li Bai: Tanka and Infinite Depth at the Surface

李白墓园 The Garment Tomb of Li Bai

Defeated by heat
We failed to reach your tombstone
West of Ma’anshan
We lacked your intense desire
To embrace the shining moon


The endless depth of both the natural world and the conscious mind meet in the images of the Tanka form, like a reflection of the moon on the surface of a dark lake that hints at both the depth of the sky and the water.

In his essay “Depth,” Tor Nørretranders writes: “It is not the informational surface of things but its informational depth that attracts our curiosity. It took a lot to bring it here before our eyes. It is not what is there but what used to be there that matters. Depth is about that.”

This honing down, crystallizing, is what poet John Mackenzie refers to as shoehorning—the process by which the poet forces his language to fit the self-imposed discipline of a particular form, in this case, Tanka: “I now had constraints coming from two directions–the tension between the syllable count and marrying of subject matter and image (which is further constrained by a tradition of using the image chosen to link the inner world of the poem’s speaker to an object or objects in the outer, so-called natural world…”

What is left is the orderly form of the poem, but as Nørretranders says, “Very orderly things like crystals are not complex. They are simple.” What initially catches our eye and ear in Tanka is the crystal clarity of its form, but it is the hidden depths, the process by which the crystal was produced that fascinates us.

Italo Calvino, in his essay entitled “Exactitude” from Six Memos for the Next Millennium, refers to the symbols of the crystal (self-organizing system) and the flame (order out of noise): “The contrasting images of flame and crystal are used to make visible the alternatives offered to biology, and from this pass on to the theories of language and the ability to learn.”

When the flame is refracted through the crystal, when the mind of poet succeeds in revealing itself through language and imagery, when the simple fossil of syllables hints at ancient life still evolving, it is only then that things begin to get interesting.

This is my one-hundredth post on this blog, the first one being a brief explanation of Tanka and why I write it.  One reader asked “Why explain? It sounds like an apology. Just say what you want to say,” but that is ranting, not poetry, and rants are all flame and no crystal. Lord knows I love a good rant as much as the next person, but it is the tension between simple surface and complex depth that attracts me as poet.

“Intellectual life is very much about the ability to distinguish between the shallow and the deep abstractions. You need to know if there is any depth before you make that headlong dive and jump into it,” says Nørretranders.

But depths can be dangerous and demand attention and dedication. In June of 2004, I was living in Nanjing, China. On a blisteringly hot Saturday morning we were up at 5:30 am to catch the 6:45 am bus to Ma’anshan, Anhui, about an hour or so Southwest of Nanjing.  Ma’anshan ‘s claim to fame is that it is close to the spot where Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai is believed to have died. Legend has it that he was drunk on a boat and, reaching out to touch the reflection of the moon on the water, he fell in and drowned. The body was never found, so the poet’s cap and cloak are buried on a mountainside just west of Ma’anshan as a memorial to him.

We were in Ma’anshan for the wedding of one of our classmates, a British lad, to a Chinese woman. The day got off to a rousing start. We were loaded into limos and driven to her parents’ house. Outside they were setting off roll after roll of firecrackers. We proceeded to pound on the door of the apartment, demanding that the bride be brought out. Inside they asked for money, which we slipped under the door in red envelopes. Much pounding, yelling and many red envelopes later, the front door was finally opened. But the bride was now locked in her own room and we had to repeat the whole process over again. Finally, that door was opened, thereupon he went in and, on bended knee, asked her to marry him.

Li Bai Garment Tomb Ma'anshan Anhui ChinaWe had several hours before the wedding banquet, to which over 550 guest were invited, so we decided to go see the Garment Tomb of Li Bai. Dressed in our formal wear we started up the hill in the 40+ degree weather. The whining soon started and we were forced to turn back, also being worried about being late for the banquet and insulting our host.

In the end we never saw the tomb, and the wedding of our classmate that began with such fanfare ended in divorce several years later. Unfulfilled goals, broken promises, memories, a cap and gown in an empty tomb, and a simple poem are all that remain. None of the back story is visible in the poem, not even Li Bai’s name, but the poem would not exist without both the legend and this personal history. That is what depth is all about.


Mumbling Jack: The Road Test

A couple of weeks back I wrote a review of John Mackenzie’s new album of poetry, Mumbling Jack. This review was based solely on armchair listening, but the true test of any recording is the road test.

Now, for me, hitting the road means walking. There is something about walking which liberates my thinking, and such thoughts as I do have almost always spring to mind in mid-stride, thus necessitating my love of notebooks. (I have a completely untested hypothesis that walking activates but does not completely monopolize the rational unconscious, thereby facilitating unconscious associations, like I said, completely untested and quite possibly untestable.)

Anyhoo, part of the ritual of the road for me includes listening to music and spoken word that has proven itself to be productive of ideas and images, so I loaded up Mumbling Jack on the mp3 and headed out into the winter morning, and I am happy to report that it passed the road test with flying colours, mainly the black of flying crows.

The intense imagery of John Mackenzies’ poems both confirmed and contradicted the world I walked through, at times spotlighting what I saw, at other times eclipsing it. The varied rhythms, tonalities and emotional content of his voice sometimes fading into the background, at other times bursting into my full awareness. This was not stupid stuff, Terence. This was the stuff that excellent walks are made of.

I have one more experiment to perform with Mumbling Jack, but have not had the time to set it up. In the meantime, Here is the link to John Mackenzie’s blog and instructions on how to purchase his album. You can take it for a stroll yourself.