28 February 2022

Kobzar Quatrain (Poem for the People of the Ukraine)

Kobzar Quatrain


Bury what’s left of me near | home. What’s done needs to be done.

Word is, to get free requires | even the meek to shoot back. 

Go soak your broken shackles | in some bogus tyrant’s blood.

But spare those you leave behind | a last kind line, if you can.


Reworked from Taras Shevchenko’s “Testament” (1845), 

28 February 2022

This four-line impromptu translates, very loosely, and expands upon some lines extracted from "Testament" (Zapovit), a poem by the nineteenth-century Ukrainian bard (Kobzar, in Ukrainian, which I don't speak or read) and artist Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), who was born near Kyiv and who died in St. Petersburg, in the Russian Empire. The poem is known by heart by many in the Ukrainian diaspora. I'm thinking, also, of John K. Samson's songs derived from the experiences of Ukrainian-Canadians, of Geeshie Wiley, of Joe Strummer, and of the beatitudes, and of today's events around the invasion of Ukraine.

23 May 2021

Poem: Horn Threnody 3.11 (feat. Toshinori Kondo)


Here is the print text for an audio-poem I have made, which I'll be premiering today on The Words & Music Show from Montreal. It's a reflection, for me, on distant witness and a meditation on global responsibility. The recording uses some electric trumpet lines from Toshinori Kondo, offered by his family license-free through Bandcamp, over--or under--which I have layered some of my own muted pocket trumpet textures. My own recording is available free of charge on Bandcamp, although any payment I receive for downloads will be matched by me and donated to local food banks here in Vancouver. Toshinori Kondo passed away--transitioned--at the age of 71 on October 17, 2020, so this piece is also an elegy for him, offered with deep respect for his life and art. The audio from which I have borrowed is Mr. Kondo's posthumously-released recording called "Blow for 3.11." 

Horn Threnody 3.11 (feat. Toshinori Kondo)


Ce ton qui nous colle aux oreilles, la vision de la catastrophe collée sur la rétine, se superposent à d'autres que nous avons connus depuis l'enfance, et il faut vivre avec cette vision de notre futur possible, à jamais gravée sur la rétine, qui hélas surgit parfois distinctement devant nos yeux. 

—Ryoku Sekiguchi, Ce n’est pas un hasard


No form of lament seems massive enough:

tectonic peal, 

the supersaturated keen

of jacked electric brass wet with effects,                       

like denatured gull screech, like seismic shriek,

woebegone siren wail; a frazzled taps;

atrocious, injured blare—irradiant, cranked.

Lachrymal squelch beaches itself in slabs.

Come ten years back, one bad March afternoon

saw Tōhoku swallow 

its own live east coast whole,

tongue to pelagic tail, entire shorelines 

sucker-punched by a sudden obese surge,

the trench-deep pitch and heave made by a wall 

of blunt ocean murk walloping landfall;

crude, big seabed upchuck; catastrophic, 


headlong saltwater slap, pulverizing

harbours, houses, and power-plants 

in the hard churn

of its remorseless, whelming gut. Take out 

your mute. Retaliate with what small dose 

of spitty empathy your human mouth

can muster. The word tsunami blisters

your lip like leakage from unquenched fuel rods.

02 June 2020


Listen can’t breathe. Listen what voice whose voice can’t breathe. Listen what broke what voice who says listen can’t breathe. Listen cop knee to neck what broke can’t breathe. Listen what hope can’t breathe. Listen whose neck whose voice what broke can’t breathe. Listen cop knee to neck speak up can’t breathe can’t speak shut up listen shut up. Listen what broke whose voice cop knee to neck don’t choke who says can’t breathe speak up. Listen shut up what hope don’t speak don’t choke whose voice cop knee to neck what broke can’t breathe what voice listen. Listen speak up what hope who says. Listen can’t breathe.  Listen.

29 April 2020

Voiceover / Shoring, a videopoem

This video poem, completed two years or so ago, is made from edited scrap Super 8 footage taken by my grandparents — mostly by my grandmother — during a return visit to Nova Scotia in the summer of 1962. I composed the texts for the two poems, "Voiceover" and "Shoring," and read them. Geoff Mitchell composed and performed the music and constructed the soundscapes from field audio he recorded around the Bedford Basin in Nova Scotia. The voice and music were recorded at a studio in Montreal in June-July 2017. The texts form part of an ongoing series around the idea of the nostos, the return journey, and address, for me, something like what Svetlana Boym has called off-modern nostalgia.

Voiceover / Shoring, a videopoem from Kevin McNeilly on Vimeo.

Constable (poem)

I’m using this blog to self-publish a few poems from home, most of them elegies and other public pieces that have emerged in the recent months. “Constable” is an elegy respectfully dedicated to RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was murdered in Nova Scotia a week and a half ago. It’s intended to offer sincere condolences. I grew up in Truro, Nova Scotia, and still have friends there.

Heidi Stevenson, 1971-2020
Maintiens le droit.

You’re told, hold to what’s right, no matter what,
which if taken to heart you take to mean,
first off, you’re the one called to look out for  
the wounded, the bewildered, and the shunned.
Service inscribes its craft across the law.
There’s anybody could be your neighbour:
common decency forms the better part
of what ought to pass for justice. You swore
to temper fear, favour, and affection,
but maybe not at the cost of close-grained
kindness. From the folks you stand on guard for
you learn what real care costs. Come the last shift
on your current patch, for instance, a good
ways north of Cole Harbour up the 102,
you might pull your cruiser to the shoulder
to think through how your oath might get you killed,
how kids and husband, left to reconcile
duty to loss, might persevere, and how
no place else comes remotely close to home.

13 April 2020

For Saff, made famous on Netflix (poem)

Here is a poem I wrote on Good Friday morning, in response to an article I read about Saff, and after a two-day binge-watch of Tiger King on Netflix. Saff feels to me like a voice of relative calm amid the furor.

For Saff
The most anybody could claim to come to know
about you would be by what you look like and how
you talk when you’re on screen. Reality tv
gets you to rethink life. Before Joe Exotic
made it onto Netflix, he cared enough to give
you refuge and a job. Manspreading on a green
plastic Adirondack chair near the zoo tool shed,
flanked by discarded propane tanks and jerry cans,
by stained tarps, building scrap, and one chrome-rimmed spare wheel,
your black trucker’s cap turned backwards, you take a drag
on a freshly lit cigarette and shake your head,
brushing off some producer’s glib, mis-pronouned prompt.
The fact is you returned to work within a week
of having had your lower left arm torn half off
by an honest-to-fuck tiger. You say you can’t
expect actual animals, let alone people,
to check their instincts. What happens, happens. Keep chill.
Better to accept what you’ll never overcome,
the unjust husbandry of this imprisoned world.

                                             Good Friday, in the year of COVID-19

If you're interested, here is a link to an image taken from one of Saff's confessionals in Tiger King; this is the image I'm describing in the poem.

Here is some video from Tiger King in which Saff describes his accident: