Archives for posts with tag: Richard Harrison

listen ill tell ya about th chicken wing
what is see     say
yuv found ths chickn wing in th street
yu pick it up start playn with it
yur showin off fr yr frends
thrown it aroun walkin fancy swing it like a cane
fly wthit jump upanddown eat it beat it
wile thsis goin on yr frends
ar gettn in th car     ther goin away
yuv cum out to say gud by rite?
an yuv found ths chikn wng
wich binow is limp an grey
an as yu stand ther wavn gudby wth the chikn wing
(standn alon in th street wavn gudby wth the chikn wing)
yu kno wat it is
th bone u th chikn wng mvs loos wthin th skin now
fat an muscl hang whn yu shake it
its like yuv stopd on citystreetcornr
tu stand ther in th roar you kno sumthngs goin on
yu see th sky yu feel muvment wthin ya like th wing  chiknwng
© 2014, Riley Tench

Unless you were among the loosely connected — often divided — little community known 20 years ago as “The Peterborough Poets,” most likely you’ve never heard of ”wing 2” by Riley Tench. But every time I read it, I can feel the excitement of its first performance when Riley “found” the discarded chicken wing in the street, when he leaned back on his left foot, his right leg extended like Chaplin while he mimed himself with the twirling wing, “walkin fancy swing it like a cane.” I can still see the wan look of a man pretending, or perhaps remembering, how it was to look down the road long after his friends have departed and the joke is over. It seemed to me then that Riley’s performance of the poem actually got to the point where it peeled aside the urban skin and actually looked at that “muvment,” that “sumthng” that’s always “goin on” to which our words seem only able to point and never name.

When I got to the words on the page, I had the poem in my ear spelled and punctuated in the familiar Essay English of my education. With the exception of my daughter’s infant speech, I’ve never been a writer for whom the spelling of the word itself is a field of experiment. But it’s only a narrow (and yet prevalent) view of appreciation that says one can only enjoy something of the same kind as one’s own work. Rather, like all poems you should love, this one, in its very difference from my work, has only taught me more over time about poetry as a whole.

Content is first. I don’t just mean that in the philosophical sense that if form is an extension of content, the content must be logically prior to form, but in the practical artistic sense that content inspires form. Only certain contents make certain forms possible; every change of form is the expression of a new content also.

The central image of this poem starts as one of civilization’s waste products; it becomes the material for play, then for art, then for vision. A chicken wing is resurrected from the gutter — brought alive again — only to pull the body of its savior back down to the grave. And yet the man, through the wing, glimpses the unnamable both outside and inside himself. Look at the line by line changes in the words “chicken wing”:

1. chicken wing
3. chickn wing
11. chickn wng
13. chikn wing
14. chikn wing
16. chikn wng
20. chiknwng

From lines 1 to 11, the chicken wing decays in language, the way it’s rotting in life, the soft tissue of vowels vanishing. But suddenly, at line 13, when human memory recalls the object, the vowel returns, life resuscitated by art (though not fully; art immortalizes but it cannot give life). Then the wing decays again until the difference between its parts, between it and the rest of the world — the space between “chicken” and “wing” collapses. All of this is happening in the context of the phonetic spelling the poem inherits from cummings to bissett to nichol. That spelling ”system” reminds us of the newness of words. Yet this poem doesn’t just spell the old word in one new way. It spells the word in such a way that the spelling recapitulates the object’s discovery, decay, revitalization by art and the decay again which takes the artist with it. The form of the word recapitulates the content of the poem itself, makes both world and the eyes with which I view it new again.

This is a poem that doesn’t just see the universe in a grain of sand I ignore; it sees it in what repulses me. Not only that, in making the content of the poem teach me how to read its form, it refreshes a spelling device that I had become used to. And thus the poem also renews my wonder at words, the instruments of poetic insight. It’s a truism that all real poetry explores the world and the word at once. It’s one thing to know that, another to feel it, to have a poem that I can always go to to find that feeling again.

The Daily

Let us romanticize shit. Yesterday’s dinner, diaper curled away from
pelvis like petals of a tiger lily, examined shit, yes, today
everything is working thank you. Speaking from the gut, we are
successful parents; let us say the new diaper is a fresh page. It will
hold the questions posed by a magnificent poem, say the whole half-
truth of literature itself—surely the analogy is at hand, though it
comes far removed from the body worshipped by the brooding
bachelors of Academy and Romance. But consider how a good firm
shit is a sign this past resembled the past before it, the future will be
good, the gods smiled and we loved well when sent the invitation
of a fertile egg. So far our daughter has nothing to regret which is
why we mourn every stage that brings her closer to us; at the same
time we mark up one more without trauma (so we say), her
inimitable smell seizing consciousness through the nose and writing
in big letters on the brain, You must change your kid.
© 2014, Richard Harrison
reprinted from the New Quarterly, 1999.


I see Riley downstairs in the Arthur office while I typed the first literary section he let me do. I’m working on the IBM Selectric – top of the line stuff in those days: New Technology: snapsnapsnapsnapsnap like a machine gun. He called up, “Hey, Spitfire! It’s poetry, enjoy it!” Riley finding my copy of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet open at an especially passionate and romantic passage about why the poet writes, and leaving me a note beside it – “Well, That’s Bizarre! You write poems to give pleasure to your friends and pain to your enemies.” Riley on stage giving pleasure to his friends with his raggedy-Andy hair and wide eyed yet experienced look that knew the world but could still be amazed by it. What was it this time? “say yuv found this chikn wing in th street,” Riley tipping back like Chaplin, “yur shoin off fr yr frends//walkin fancy, swing it like a cane” – a chicken wing! I bet right now Riley is entertaining the gods of poetry; they’re asking him, “Do that one again, the one about the chicken wing – Everyone loves them, but do you know how long since we created them it took for someone to find the poetry there?” Riley in Peter Robinson College’s infamous pub-and-smoke house, giving pain to his enemies who heckled so much I thought the Hangman Poetry Series was done for, Riley jumping up on the table screaming, You think this is just for fun? This … .Is… MY… LIFE!” shouting down an entire unruly bar. Riley sitting me down and talking about where I was and where I might fit into the group of poets he had around him, brilliant poets who gave me the hard-to-bear gift of being better than I was. Riley said, when I finally had the nerve to ask “Mr. Wher” where I fit, replied, “These are young and clumsy, but you belong.” Riley gave me the gift of speaking the truth with love. He was one of those people who could open your world for you if you listened. Last time we talked, I told him that he had helped make a path for me, and for that I have always been thankful. He gave me that look. And whenever I say farewell, he gave me the image for that, too: standn alon in the street wavn gudby with th chikn wing” Goodbye Riley. You did so much good here.

Richard Harrison
December 1, 2006
© 2014

I first saw Rob Wipond on stage. He was lithe and he had a hugely expressive face: expansive mouth, actor’s eyes, and a haircut I’ve only ever seen in the 21st Century on the head of Weird Al Yankovich. And when he recited, it was the roar of a challenge. The young always take on The Man, and for most of us then, that meant a corporation or a government or the administration of the university – easy targets to hit – but not Rob. Rob hurled it out, fists in the air, body bending like a dancer’s: “Break Down the Establishment … of Rock and Roll!” And by the end of it, Rock looked bloated, out of touch with its outcast roots and grown too used to its own hard-earned, easy life. It was excoriating and beautiful. After Rob came off the stage, Ian David Arlett, as big from the stage as anyone I’d seen, bowed to him as to a prince. I’ve stayed in touch with Rob, on and off, ever since. Our current conversation began when I had a student who reminded me of him, the first such person I’d met in the over 30 years, and I wanted some advice on how to help my student keep that fire in him alive in a world that does its best to dowse such human fires. Rob is much more the journalist now, taking his insights to articles and videos – check these out ( or Rob Wipond on YouTube) – and you’ll experience there that same voice I heard 40 years ago: full of the satirist’s love for humanity mixed with sadness at its tragic failings, channeled, as in all great poets, into pushing the language as far as it will go.

Richard Harrison, Sept, 2014


Batman symbol V2

Say what any has, all at war fall by war at last – that’s a fact a man can grasp. My flat mandala traps sky at dark. My sharp hand, a batarang, fancy car, a castaway lad, all act my avatar. And a Barbary grammar blasts back: Bam! And Zap! Kablam! and Crash! And … and what? All drang and raw drama; a black palm hangs an arm span away – Smash – a bad man sags, all rags and mass. Glad, all afar clap as at a play (any hand can smack away all that damns). Apart, an ark sans an Ararat, a man stands at an abyss and an abyss asks, Why? All fall anyway as ash – all happy and all sad; all angst, all calm as a man that prays all day. All tasks. All plans. All Adam’s clay. And Batman? A man may pass as man and mask: a half that falls, a half that stays.

© Richard Harrison

<this is the end of the Gotham Monologues — new work tomorrow>


The Batman and other character artwork quoted by the collages in this series is by various artists, most prominently Bob Powell (pencils) and Norm Saunders (painting) for the Topps Black, Blue and Red Bat series of bubblegum cards first issued in 1966, Batman and all associated characters property of DC Comics.
The Gotham Monologues: Cover card: Art by Emma Rouleau
Joker (No I): Collage by Emma Rouleau; original Joker face puzzle from the reverse of the Blue Bat series.
P.N. Guin (No E): Art by Richard Harrison.
Ms Kyle: Art by Kevin Kurytnik, Carol Beecher, and William Dyer of 15-Pound Pink Animation Studios.
Riddle Me This! Photo/painting collage by Emma Rouleau.
Mr. Dent for the Prosecution: Art by Riley Rossmo (Two-Face’s Left in pen and ink) and derek beaulieu (Two-Face’s Right in letters)
Mr. Freeze: Art by Jeremy Tankard.
Batman: Logo by Emma Rouleau


We gather, and we talk, and they’re at it again. It’s always him. I understand. I’ve read behind the scenes. Michel is right, when all that can be said is written, insanity is just a mistake in etiquette. The straight man makes the laughter. The warm-up act defines the main event. The supplemental figure, the crew’s expendable man, the girlfriend, the victim, the villain (especially the villain), all the same: in twenty pages we keep existence within his grip, take a punch, and head to jail. He thinks he has it all, and everything I’ve been denied – warm bread, a bath, the sex he never indulges in. But I am suited perfectly. In every meeting the advantage falls my way. I never change. I understand why I am here.

© Richard Harrison
art by Jeremy Tankard

twoface - beaulieu & rossmo

I used to run this city. This morning, I mugged someone in the street for 20 cents. I defilemyself. See the profile on this coin? It’s the pretty one. On the reverse, he bleeds where I knifed him under the midnight in my thumb. You see one side or the other with the coin. With me, see both. Now you comprehend the grotesque: every side of the self tunnels through the body to the light. The bold led them there. Trouble is, by decision-time, they’re either good or evil – to me, the difference is the shift key for the letter it springs from the prison-house of type, but people get upset. You know how it must be: either either, or or, no in-between. Flip the coin. This is logic purified of prejudice. I see your judgment, but give me this: you need guts to see it through. Your hero’s petty foes live petrified of the good they might do if they just let go, yet see how deep in their cupidinous bones they long for even two ounces of good’s return. I could give them the dimes to turn on, but they could not.. Him? My true opposite number in this town? He never lets himself love his flip-side devil – though every night he covers himself in its ink.

for derek beaulieu

© Richard Harrison

Art by Riley Rossmo (Two-Face’s Left in pen and ink) and derek beaulieu (Two-Face’s Right in letters)


I am essential for the plot yet nowhere in the story, the one loved most by those that live for words at play. Riddle me this: What is the mirror’s image? Maybe I’m the reflection within the glass instead, thin as light, waiting for this existence I enjoy so very well, the face twisted to contemplate itself (What stares back?) Where does all the pretty go when the beholder closes their eye? Riddle me this, Boy Wonder: She loves coffee; she hates tea. What a giveaway! Then again, I delight in being an E. Nigma to myself, the box inside the box and always black. I am the something no one wants to have and no one wants to lose: the answer to that one is still waiting to be called before the bench. Catch me. Riddle me this, wannabe hero: I am cat in the morning, bird in the afternoon, grinning demon balanced on its tail in the pale moonlight (who among all villains can lay claim to that?) Every mythology needs its Echo, voice and no body, mockery in its clearest form, agreed? Call me Raven, Jack Daw, Tanatalizer. For all the right reasons, everyone remembers my manic giggle best.

© Richard Harrison
image by Emma Rouleau


To him, everything feminine sweet greed inducing is me. To the boys, too, who followed my episodic lives. Consider only two of these: first, sensuous, white, the Venus to his lonely sculptor. Not to him in solitude, either. I could not guess the number of you out there who longed to stroke my preening thighs. I like to keep my lives in order (unlike some). Then, ghetto hetto queen to his bourgeois muscle, I met him toe to toe purr – don’t tell me I don’t know the concept of screwed over. I know. He knows, too, chewed up like he is. But this is the secret of how his story continues month to month: his worst wounds were inflicted on someone else. Not quite like Nietzsche put it. The thing which killed them left him stronger. I know him. He knows me. Our hurts connect like one of those twisted prints where everyone strides to the top, only to wind up below where they once stood. If he confessed, it would be to this: loving the lowest murmurs within my neck, the sound like dying mixed with joy.

© Richard Harrison

Image by Emma Harrison Rouleau

Finished Joker WP

All a poor clown ever asked for, truth to tell, was to be seen. Lucky for me, that was easy on account of my blanched up features, green mop of fun, ruby mouth, loaded gun, n’all. Now my face appears on TV every day. Yay! And yet, you weren’t happy. You wanted more. But what could a man become who has no past (at least not one he remembers day to day), what could such a man become but a leaky vessel of gargoyle selves he offers up for your amusement, only to have them make a mess when they pour out between the cracks? Why do you people want more than what appears? Why can’t you be content to have all that anyone can show? What’s your problem? Oh … memory needs an anchor, you say? One slender letter to hold together what falls apart even as you get your eye real close and try to see? Sorry – we’re out of stock. You should only speak of yourself when you know who you are anyway. The dead do so; no more guesswork for them. But they can’t talk! That’s the gag! Why don’t you laugh? Why so somber?

© Richard Harrison

Image by Emma Harrison Rouleau

<I’m catching up — had the wrong image with this poem last week>

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