Barwin, Gary 1964-
BARWIN, Gary 1964-
PERSONAL: Born February 10, 1964, in Ireland; immigrated to Canada, c. 1973. Education: York University, B.F.A. (music), B.A. (creative writing); State University of New York, Buffalo, Ph.D. (music composition).
ADDRESSES: Home—180 Dufferin S., Hamilton, Ontario L8S 3N7, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer, poet, musician, composer, and educator. McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, teacher of online courses in creative writing and music composition.
AWARDS, HONORS: Emerging Artist Award, K. M. Hunter Foundation, 1998.
The Racing Worm Brothers, illustrated by Kitty Macaulay, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
The Magic Mustache, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch, Annick Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Grandpa's Snowman, illustrated by Kitty Macaulay, Annick Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.
A Flapping Red Flag (poetry), Nottingham Editions (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
Cruelty to Fabulous Animals (poetry), Moonstone Press (Goderich, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
(With Stuart Ross) The Mud Game (novel), Mercury Press (Stratford, Ontario, Canada), 1995.
Big Red Baby (stories), Mercury Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
Outside the Hat (poetry), Coach House Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
Raising Eyebrows, Coach House Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.
Seeing Stars (young adult), Stoddart Kids (New York, NY), 2001.
Sound poetry recordings include These Are the Clams I'm Breathing, Burning Press; contributor of fiction, poetry, and music-related articles to periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: Gary Barwin writes poetry and fiction for a broad range of readers, from young children to adults. Barwin, born in Northern Ireland, moved to Canada as a child, and in college, he studied creative writing and music composition, both subjects in which he has taught online courses.
For his young audience, Barwin has written a number of picture books, including The Racing Worm Brothers, which tells the story of Aaron and Ryan, two brothers who adopt worms as pets because Aaron's allergies prevent them from having traditional animals.
They name their worms Pinky and Worm and treat them as well as they would furry pets. When they decide to race them to see which is the fastest, the worms disappear into the ground, surfacing months later when a rainstorm forces them to emerge. Quill and Quire's Ann Louise Mahoney felt the story "will appeal to young children whose imaginations know no bounds."
Similarly, in a Books in Canada review, Theo Heras called Barwin's pun-filled The Magic Mustache "really off-the-wall!" Barwin's main character is a nose, the son of eyes, who, in "Jack-in-the-Beanstalk" fashion, trades their glasses for a mustache with a pair of ears. When he brings it home, his angry parents throw it out the window, where it rapidly grows toward the sky and leads the nose to the land of the nose-eating mouth. Heras said that the book "is well designed to get maximum laughs. It is truly an original, imaginative retelling." Quill and Quire's Katherine Mathews wrote that "It's a real (or is that surreal?) treat to read."
Grandpa's Snowman is the story of a young boy's relationship with his grandfather, and their shared love of both the violin and building snowmen. Canadian Materials online reviewer Catherine Hoyt said that the picture book's "magic . . . lies in the combination of its warm illustrations and the story of a special bond between a boy and his grandfather."
Seeing Stars is Barwin's first young adult book, and it tells the story of fifteen-year-old Alex, who has cared for his mother since his father deserted them twelve years earlier. His mother, an extremely obese telephone psychic, took to her bed when her husband left and has stayed there ever since. Other family members in the novel include a sister, who Alex has never met, and an eccentric uncle named Bernard. School Library Journal's Ronni Krasnow stated that Barwin's novel "lacks an authentic voice or style." Resource Links contributor Cora Lee, however, called the story "one big hyperbole," stating that Barwin has "taken ordinary adolescent problems and supercharged them with exaggeration and pun-riddled humor." Likewise, Booklist's Roger Leslie felt that Seeing Stars "has a resonance and youthful wit that teen readers will relish."
Barwin's first collection of poetry, A Flapping Red Flag, expresses a desire to return to the kind of innocence and purity associated with pre-birth. SmallPress Review contributor Michael Basinski wrote that "poetry for Barwin is the act of it. To be lost in the ever-fluctuating imagination is a continuous struggling rebirth."
Cruelty to Fabulous Animals is a collection of Barwin's experimental prose poems and poetry. Louise E. Allin, in Canadian Book Review Annual, said that "images come fast, with the jumble of a kaleidoscope, and the reader either submits to the chaos . . . or gives up." Basinski, meanwhile, wrote that Barwin "uses Surreal techniques and fictional praxis. . . . Of the many practicing stream of conscious writing, Barwin is a natural master."
Basinski also reviewed The Mud Game, a short novel written by Barwin and Stuart Ross, and described it as "an art novel" and a "Surreal, odd, sometimes bizarre, and yet comfortable text." Canadian Book Review Annual's Matt Hartman, however, said the book "is accessible only to readers willing to slough off expectations of a linear storyline."
The story begins with the disappearance of a philosopher's lawn, after which strange rains begin to fall. When eleven-year-old Celia makes a case in class for life as it is presented on television over the real thing, the school shuts down. Throughout the novel, mud repeatedly appears, as when young Raymond imagines streaks of mud on his window to be fireworks.
Eva Tihanyi, in Books in Canada, wrote that the novel lacked "character development" and "general coherence." Basinski, however, wrote that the authors "are working with mud," and said that as the story unfolds, "the fiction and writing and craft and imagination develop simultaneously. . . . And it is entertaining and not intellectually heavy. This makes it readable."
Other Barwin volumes include a collection of poems titled Outside the Hat that features a French-speaking dog and dancing woodcuts. In Barwin's story collection Big Red Baby similarly fantastic elements combine. One story, for example, features a businessman whose heart calls him by telephone, and another tells a tale about a man sleeps with the tooth fairy.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 2002, Roger Leslie, review of SeeingStars, p. 1837.
Books in Canada, December, 1995, Eva Tihanyi, review of The Mud Game,, p. 36; February, 2000, Theo Heras, review of The Magic Mustache, p. 35.
Canadian Book Review Annual, 1995, Matt Hartman, review of The Mud Game,, p. 3009; 1996, Louise E. Allin, review of Cruelty to Fabulous Animals, pp. 194-195; 2000, Joan Buchanan, review of Grandpa's Snowman, p. 428.
Canadian Materials, June 11, 1999, Alison Mews, review of The Racing Worm Brothers; February 18, 2000, Joan Payzant, review of The Magic Mustache; March 16, 2001, Catherine Hoyt, review of Grandpa's Snowman.
Quill and Quire, July, 1998, Anne Louise Mahoney, review of The Racing Worm Brothers, p. 41; October, 1999, Katherine Matthews, review of The Magic Mustache, p. 44.
Resource Links, February, 1999, review of The RacingWorm Brothers, p. 1; December, 2000, review of Grandpa's Snowman, p. 1; February, 2002, Cora Lee, review of Seeing Stars, p. 26.
School Library Journal, December, 1998, Jennifer Oyama, review of The Racing Worm Brothers, p. 75; March, 2000, Denise E. Agosto, review of The Magic Mustache, p. 178; May, 2002, Ronni Krasnow, review of Seeing Stars, p. 146.
Small Press Review, April, 1996, Michael Basinski, reviews of A Flapping Red Flag, Cruelty to Fabulous Animals, and The Mud Game, p. 10.*