Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Poetry Canadian

The Most Charming Creatures


by (author) Gary Barwin

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2022
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


With uncanny wit, inventive beauty, and numinous surprise, The Most Charming Creatures explores the contemporary and its language, considering our wonder, sorrow, bewilderment, anxiety, and tenderness. While these poems energize and connect and “turn the paren- / theses inside out so that / we mean everything,” they are also alive to the alluring complicity of language and its duplicity and deceptions. “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but / while we watch.”

A follow-up to the award-winning author’s acclaimed selected poems, this new collection continues Barwin’s examination of the possibilities of the poem: a celebration, a story, an investigation, a riff, a word machine, a parable, a transformation. But what are the “most charming creatures” of the title? In 1862, scientific illustrator Ernst Haeckel termed radiolarians (ancient single-celled organisms with mineral skeletons) “the most charming creatures,” but here Barwin turns the microscope around to consider something just as strange and mysterious: language, our culture, and the self. From microorganisms, onion rings, grief, and Gerard Manley Hopkins to beetles, neoliberalism, sandwiches, Martin Luther, and stand-up comedy, he offers: “it’s a miracle that we’ve survived / it’s a miracle that we’ve survived at all.”

About the author

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, and performer. He is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry and fiction including the poetry collections frogments from the frag pool: haiku after basho (written with derek beaulieu) and Raising Eyebrows and Outside the Hat (Coach House Books) and the fiction collections Doctor Weep and other strange teeth, Big Red Baby (The Mercury Press), and Cruelty to Fabulous Animals (Moonstone Press). He is the author of The Mud Game, a novel written with Stuart Ross (The Mercury Press). Barwin is also the author of several books for children including Seeing Stars, a young adult novel (Stoddart Kids) nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award and the CLA YA Book of the Year, and Killer Poodle Made Me Island King (Fox Meadow), co-winner of the Muskoka Novel Marathon 2003. Barwin received a PhD in Music Composition and currently teaches music at Hillfield-Strathallan College and creative writing at McMaster University. Barwin lives in Hamilton, where he has cultivated vague but colourful illusions about his writing. Please don’t tell him.

Gary Barwin's profile page


  • Short-listed, Annual Hamilton Literary Awards
  • Winner, Canadian Jewish Literary Awards

Excerpt: The Most Charming Creatures: Poems (by (author) Gary Barwin)

I won’t claim


(for Alice Burdick)

this is all that happens
but I will say it is a true
representation of what you see here.

By the time you finish reading
you will be older. Sadder.
Wiser. If you were a flower and
you read this, you would be a flower
desired by bees.

You lie in the green bristles
friend to grass, lover of grass, ally of softness
and open like petals. That’s where
the bee gets in, shimmies through pollen.

I won’t claim the calm of sky but
you’ve got a good view there
on the grass and you think
what you can. Jams. Jellies.

Small faces floating peacefully, closed eyes
like petals. It’s your brain
that’s a can. Inside things float that last.
Summer song. An old bicycle. Beer.
Your children loving you the length of
their lengthening bones.

You sit to a bowl of clam chowder made by
daughter. A hurricane. Sugar cane.
Citizen Kane. Abel’s brother. Day seeps
over one horizon making room
for night to pour over the other

I won’t claim night
for dreams where you’re double
booked for funerals. Goodnight mother.
Grandpa. Father. Or that life

represents your life. If I had to choose
between bee and flower I’d
choose summer day.


Several Fishes Can Walk on Land


the hip bone is a sacral rib
within the fish we studied
a sacral rider —

several fjords walk on landslides
walk on flashbacks
flame-throw latch-key
walk languid

the hive bookcase is a rifle
secretly walking lanterns
fistfuls waking landowners
flames milling a lasso

the hoax cooking is a sacral rig
a morphological vehicle
that secretly walks on lapels
a subject consistency

a sacral right-hander that
washes larches
morphological vendettas
secretly wilting lard

the hobo shelf is a sacral rigmarole
a submarine consonant
secretly walloping clerks
flash cubes wait laughs

secret larval welks
a wet-dream larynx
the holograph boozer’s sacral ring
a secreted lash

those with the most robust “hip”-bones have
the best walking ability
several fishes warp land

Editorial Reviews

“There’s a way through which Barwin’s surrealism and play with puns and banter display, most of all, a deep empathy and engagement with others, something always present in his work, but somehow more forefront through the poems in this particular collection. And perhaps that, by itself, is the difference here: Barwin wearing his heart so openly, while still allowing language and play to swirl around that particular centre.” — rob mclennan’s blog

“[Gary Barwin's] latest delightful effusion of verse The Most Charming Creatures only adds to the accomplishment of his selected, For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe from 2019.” — WordCityLit blog

“Barwin’s words are bright and vivacious as he delights in modes of creation, the impetus triggering each poem often laid bare or explicitly referenced.” — Vallum Magazine

Other titles by