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Latest Chapbook: Like

aboveground harris likecover

Available at above/ground press.

It’s difficult to write about your own work, but I think it’s safe to say I seem to be an experimental love poet who is interested in our most basic language of affection. I studied the countless ways we express love’s quintessential statement, “I love you,” (in art, science, religion, history, popular culture, and more) for seven years. The main theme of my first book, Avatar, was connection through various online technologies (2006: pre-Facebook and Twitter).

Like examines the words of social media — Friend, Follow, Like, and Favourite. At the click of a virtual button, they cover a wide range of emotions for us.

When I was a kid, the art form that most represented pure emotion to me was pop music. Couples chose “our song,” teenagers curated mixed tapes for friends and crushes, and songs were dedicated on radio programs. The right song seemed to know how I felt — or were my feelings influenced by the song? Sure, I might fancy someone, but did I need to feel that every breath he took and move he made needed to be watched, or that I couldn’t live with or without him? My young self felt every note of these songs, anyway.

Like mixes the lexicon of pop song titles and social media. When I Follow someone on Twitter, the accompanying earworm is U2′s “I Will Follow.”

Maybe the default emotions of social media limit the wide range of possible feelings, as a radio mix of a pop song flattens its frequencies into a small band optimized for broadcast. Maybe it’s easier to feel that which is suggested and deemed acceptable. Or it’s easier not to feel.

It ain’t easy being a love poet when the dominant emotion is Like. If you find these poems flat, and if you feel a little bit disgusted after reading them, I feel all the things.

Another manuscript in progress, Chemical Valley Girl, addresses Valspeak — another language of repressed emotions. Maybe my work is about the understanding of repressed emotions, rather than the expression of emotions, and the unwritten rules made by unseen powers who benefit from an emotionally lazy populace.

I can’t even.


Jennifer Lovegrove Longlisted for 2014 Giller Prize


Congratulations to Jennifer Lovegrove, whose novel Watch How We Walk (ECW Press), was longlisted for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize! I’m honoured to have photographed the above portrait of Jen, which appears on the book.


robford_firetruck Photo: CTV News

 “Billion Dollar Lie” is an arrangement of direct quotes from two politicians who are are well-known to Torontonians (hint to others: their names are Rob and Doug, and one of them is mayor of North America’s fourth most populous city).

The poem contains a line that is not attributable to the Fords because folks, everyone lies. Can you spot the lie?




Received my contributor’s copy of The Broadview Introduction to Literature: Poetry today! Thanks to Editors Lisa Chalykoff, Neta Gordon, and Paul Lumsden.

I’m honoured to be included in this anthology alongside Chaucer, Blake, Dickinson,  Plath, Ondaatje, and many others; it’s a thrill to find my name at the end of this impressive Table of Contents.



A Toronto Tree Primer, after Ice Storm 2013


Before the storm, Toronto had approximately 20% forest cover—10.2 million trees—providing $60 million in ecological services each year. The urban tree canopy is a vital city asset with an estimated structural value of $7 billion. Toronto’s urban forest improves air quality by intercepting 1,430 metric tonnes of air pollutants annually. (Every Tree Counts)

Also, 8.4% of our canopy is ash, which is being wiped out by the Emerald Ash Borer. Pretty much all of our ash trees are expected to die by 2017.  A U.S. study showed that with the loss of canopy there, human health suffered: there was a significant increase in cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illnesses.

In just a few days, we lost approximately 20% of our 20% forest cover, roughly 2 million trees. (my mistake: urban tree canopy (UTC) is the layer of leaves, branches, and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above — not the number of trees).


With amalgamation, Urban Forestry was deeply cut. In 1990, prior to amalgamation, the old City of Toronto spent $128,000 per square kilometre per year maintaining the urban forest. By 2007, the city spent less than one quarter of that amount. Then, there were more budget cuts in 2012, all the while having a plan in place to increase the canopy.

“Total funding for the Hazard Tree Abatement Program will be reduced by $0.800 million from $1.400 million to $0.600 million in 2012. $.8M reduction in 2012 meant the Tree Abatement Program became a ‘reactive response to hazardous trees in parks and natural areas.’ The 2012 Operating Budget for Parks, Forestry and Recreation included $0.174M reduction by eliminating 3 permanent positions.”


–Tweets by Jude MacDonald (@judemacdonald)

Meanwhile, in 2007, Toronto City Council adopted a plan to significantly expand the City’s forest cover to between 30-40%.


Ecological Services Provided by Toronto’s Urban Forest (from Every Tree Counts)

a. Toronto’s urban forest provides the equivalent of at least $60 million in ecological services each year. The benefits derived from the urban forest significantly exceed the annual cost of management.

b. Toronto’s trees store 1.1 million metric tonnes of carbon annually or the equivalent of annual carbon emissions from 733,000 automobiles.

c. Gross carbon sequestration by trees in Toronto is estimated at 46,700 metric tons of carbon per year with an associated value of $1.3 million. Net carbon sequestration in the urban forest is 36,500 metric tons.

d. Trees affect energy consumption by shading buildings, providing evaporative cooling, and blocking winter winds. Toronto’s urban forest is estimated to reduce energy use from heating and cooling of residential buildings by 41,200 MWH ($9.7 million/year).

e. Toronto’s urban forest improves air quality, intercepting 1,430 metric tonnes of air pollutants annually (the equivalent value of $16.1 million/year).

f. Urban tree canopy helps to mitigate storm water runoff. Simulations that doubled the tree canopy in the Don watershed indicate a 2.5% decrease in overall flow. Simulating removal of impervious cover in the watershed reduces total flow by an average of 23.8%.


General Facts about Trees


a. Help to settle out, trap and hold particulate pollutants (dust, ash, pollen and smoke) that damage human lungs.

b. Absorb CO2 and other dangerous gases and, in turn, replenish the atmosphere with oxygen.

c. Absorb enough CO2, on each acre, over a year’s time, to equal the amount you produce when you drive your car 26,000 miles.

d. Trees absorb stormwater, preventing the contamination of streams, rivers, and lakes.

e. Studies suggest that loss of trees increased mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness. This fınding adds to the growing evidence that the natural environment provides major public health benefıts: see The Relationship Between Trees and Human Health.


Strategically placed trees can be as effective as other energy saving home improvements, such as insulation and the installation of weather-tight windows and doors. Trees can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 – 50 percent in energy used for heating.

Well-treed neighbourhoods = higher real estate value. A tree increases the property value of your home (up to 20 percent).


Trees absorb and block noise from the urban environment.


a. Add natural character to our city.

b. Provide us with colours, flowers, and beautiful shapes, forms and textures.

c. Screen harsh scenery, softening masonry, metal, and glass.

d. In a study of inner city neighbourhoods , greener residences had lower crime rates.


Trees create local ecosystems that provide habitat and food for birds and animals. They offer suitable mini-climates for other plants that would otherwise be absent from urban areas. Biodiversity is an important part of urban forestry.


I’m a poet who loves and writes about trees. Many people think I’m sentimental and romantic when I say trees are vital for our well-being, so I’m spouting science and statistics, saving love and poetry for last. But not least, etc.


“We have tons of parks, but unfortunately, that tree can’t employ anybody … As a businessman, I have the experience of creating jobs, meeting payrolls, and I understand how the real world works, the business world.” -Rob Ford

“Urban forestry has as much to do with sociology as it does with ecology. One of the largest threats to the trees in our city is the attitudes of humans and the actions these attitudes engender.” -Todd Irvine, arborist

I’m not a tree expert. Please add to this list, which was compiled in about an hour. There seems to be much misunderstanding about trees as infrastructure. It would be best if those who enjoy breathing get up to speed.

This list does not include suggestions for the future — that’s a whole other conversation. It is estimated that summers will be hotter and storms will be more extreme, so we have a lot of work to do.



Hello world!

Yes, hi there. This is the first blog post even though the website isn’t finished; kinda hoping it’s presentable before Google gets around to indexing it.

Meanwhile, I’m appearing on Ottawa radio station CKCU‘s Friday Special Blend tomorrow morning (Dec. 6) at 7:35 a.m. Will be chatting with host Susan Johnston and reading poems.

Heading to Canada’s capital Saturday to help launch the first title of Chaudiere Books’ re-launch, Ground Rules: the best of the second decade of above/ground press 2003-2013, edited by rob mclennan. Ground Rules includes poems by Artie Gold, Mark Cochrane, Suzanne Zelazo, derek beaulieu, Stephanie Bolster, Amanda Earl, Nathanaël, Lisa Samuels, Rachel Zolf, D. G. Jones, Julia Williams, Eric Folsom, Gregory Betts, Natalie Simpson, Monty Reid, William Hawkins, Emily Carr, Cameron Anstee, Helen Hajnoczky, Marilyn Irwin, Stephen Brockwell, Robert Kroetsch and rob mclennan.

Stoked to read with poets Marilyn Irwin and Stephen Brockwell in Ottawa on December 7 at 5 p.m. rob mclennan will host the event, which is co-sponsored by the Ottawa International Writers Festival and The Plan 99 Series at The Manx Pub. There’s a nice write-up about the launch in Ottawa Tonight.

Thanks to Mitchell Kaplan for having me on his radio show, Click Here, last night. A recording will be online at CHUO for one month.

The anthology arrived from the printer today! It’s available at Chaudiere Books. Co-publisher Christine McNair writes, “I finished all the typesetting whilst 40weeks pregnant and confirmed the cover stock with the printer during labour. (Really.)”


 Photo: rob mclennan and Christine McNair