About the Author

Kenneth Sherman

Kenneth Sherman was born in Toronto in 1950. He has a BA from York University, where he studied with Eli Mandel and Irving Layton, and an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. While a student at York, Sherman co-founded and edited the literary journal Waves. From 1974--1975 he travelled extensively through Asia. He is a full-time faculty member at Sheridan College where he teaches Communications; he also teaches a course in creative writing at the University of Toronto.

In 1982, Sherman was writer-in-residence at Trent University. In 1986 he was invited by the Chinese government to lecture on contemporary Canadian literature at universities and government institutions in Beijing. In 1988, he received a Canada Council grant to travel through Poland and Russia. This experience inspired several of the essays in his book Void and Voice (1998). Sherman, author of the acclaimed Words for Elephant Man, and The Well: New and Selected Poems, lives in Toronto with his wife, Marie, an artist.

Books by this Author
Jogging with the Great Ray Charles



Vanishing Ink

A phone text is not a letter.

An email does not possess

the density of paper.

Hitting “delete”

is not to crumple or tear.

To hold in the hand

an indictment or a love letter

is heavier than peering

through glass. Electricity

is fast but some things

need to linger, to get lost

in the soul’s attic

and be rediscovered.



It’s a crime

to sit by a pool

while the sun is shining

and your friends

are talking

and you’re off in the corner,

pen in hand,

groping for words.

It’s slightly inhuman

to record rather than


to act the sieve

collecting each day’s


and passing time

retrospectively —

saying not what you mean

but what you meant.


The Beach, Today, Is Closed

This Portuguese man-of-war

did not wish

to be washed ashore,

but lacking means

to control its direction

found itself wedged

between sea and sand.

Its only hope

is the one Great Wave

whose arrival’s


So it waits

and seethes in the sun,

a blue translucent sphere

gathering venom.



A cruise ship

sailing into the blue.

Toodle-oo. We don’t

say that anymore.

It’s an expression

from another age

when people rhymed themselves

to sleep and dreamed

in metaphor.

When blue meant more.


De la Cruz Gallery, Miami

Next to the objects

found in this

installation — the segmented

plumber’s pipes and dented

paint cans, the twisted

tortured bicycle wheels

suggesting life is random



more than material —

there’s a large Peter Doig

painting titled “Rainbow

Ferris Wheel.” The many-hued

wheel is intact and rendered

with precision

offering a seat for the human

and an alternate view.



It’s good to watch him work

in white shirt, black

pants, mixing the

spirits, slicing lemons,

limes, shaking a tumbler

close to the ear as though

listening to a whisper.

What hasn’t he heard

from the lips of the frustrated,

the forlorn, the obsessed? His

is not to pass judgement

but to pour colours —

burgundy, emerald, amber —

and to stop only

if one stumbles

or slurs.


Obuse, Japan

This is the town

where Hokusai lived

in old age. Everyone recognizes

his “Great Wave”

which, in my book,

is no longer a cliché

but the Nothing

you can drown in.

Legend has it

he would kneel before

this Shinto altar

with the little mirror,


and charred sticks.

Not much to pray to.







So the boat sets out

the contractors flee

the storm comes on

and thirty-three men, women

and children risking freedom

go under. I can hear their death chatter.

Voices, what do you say

of the low metallic clouds, the whiplash

wind, the unforgiving turbulence

that refused to cough you up?

Can you describe your new kingdom?



I unlace my shoes.

I strap on sandals

and walk along a beach

that appears endless

under a sun that does not quit.

It is so easy in the tropics:

palm trees indifferent

surf hypnotic

shore breeze a soft eraser.

Only geckoes

darting between stones and flora

seem to sense danger.

Little creatures, what do you hear

aside from hip hop at the hotel

aside from poolside splashes

and laughter?

Can you hear the lost ones

whispering over sonar?



After thirty seconds

the brain signs off

the heart slams shut

the blood congregates in pools.

The drowned float on the surface

like limp marionettes.

Their skin turns to grave wax

pecked at by small fish.

Their rags bulge with sea slugs —

slimed, curious.

They welter in the parching wind.

Beneath the whirring propellers

of heaven they are anonymous specks,

a radioed position

then a bloating weight

for the winch ropes and pulleys

that haul them up —

a mechanized ascension —


unclaimed on land.



In this place

birds bear no malice

not even when they’re scooping fish

or pecking shells for flesh.

Waiters named after angels —

Michael, Gabriel —

dress in white

and black.

Sun drifts off to late sunset

and sky reddens like a stage set

over distant, opalescent islands.

Here there are no

charred prayers

or stained petitions

as darkness descends

and voices soften.


rise to lips.

Gin’s drowsy kiss.



In their country

sand glints like steel

or diamonds

stretching the long length

of the horizon.

In their country

a woman once told an elephant

to stand still,

which is why their trees

stay motionless.

Fed by myth,

nourished by earth’s

turbulent decay,

they remain rooted.

But the people flee





The proprietors have clouded my mirror.

They have dimmed the light

in the elevator.

They have made my martini dirty.

To be drunk is to be intimate with a man

practised in the art of forgetting.

Soon it will be a question

of only remembering

how to put my one foot

in front of

the other

of finding

the right




Their journey is harder.

Dead but still vulnerable,

they sail by islands

that remain untouchable.

They must weather our breaking currents

careful not to sink

through piles of yellowing newspapers

careful not to pass too quickly

from our pulsing


They must find a way

to rise above the daily clamour

and have their voices heard

then they must learn to forgive us

our coldness,

our fleeting


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The Well

The Well

New and Selected Poems
tagged : canadian
More Info
Wait Time

Wait Time

A Memoir of Cancer
also available: Paperback
More Info
Words for Elephant Man

'In the Year of Our Lord, 1875'

Father got me a license to hawk:
gloves, stockings, general haber-
dashery. Mother worked hours
sewing clothes to fit
and still,
I was a sight.
A small crowd
always followed me
some bought
from pity
some for the novelty

while some went on
at my expense.

Man is a
fascinating animal,
I have had
the opportunity to study him
from many different angles,

I passed a mirror in a hat shop
window and stared at myself
and the people jeering about me.

I stared and stared and then I
not just for me,
but for
the spectacle,
the story.

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