Trevor Abes: Writer


—After “Minnows” by Sabrina Benaim.

I saw you perform one poem at some bar in Vancouver

And woke up the next morning in Toronto terrified we’d never meet


You loosened up by shimmy shaking your shoulders like a ball player,

Like you just posterized some defenseless rookie and walked over their body

Howling fe-fi-fo- motherfucking-fum


You took the mic and your voice was so high

I felt like a dog in your arms, paddling my paws

For earth in the air.

Your hair, swept to the right, a frozen waterfall,

Melting like someone just said, “Green light.”

Your eyes were pools, yes, but the public kind

That welcome the beaten and the broken.

Your hands traced what your words would look like

If they did not evaporate once spoken


You spoke of a boy whose love was an ocean,

And how you sang to him from its depths for him to jump in,

Or at least check in on you while you slept,

But all you got were minnows in your stomach


In my first draft of this poem, your minnows were little

Fish MacGuyvers, no mullets, just mad skills.

They managed to call my cell from your stomach

And ask if I would show you back to the surface.

When I asked, “Why me?” They said, “This is plenty miraculous already”


So in draft two, your minnows didn’t talk anymore.

But when they saw you were about to drown in their ocean,

They swam into your lungs and breathed for you.

When they realized you’d called them butterflies,

They taught you to breathe underwater so you’d stick around.

They’d never felt lifted without getting hooked on something


It was only when they caught you staring at his shadow

On the surface that they knew it was unrequited love.

So they let you be with your desperate burning,

Your infinite string of maybes and hopes that were nooses,

Praying you’d do chin-ups with them to loosen his hold on you.

But you just floated in place


It took me three drafts to say what I meant to from the start:

I have this habit of falling for people’s essences

Before getting to know the rest of them.

It’s where my electricity comes from.

It’s how I know I’m everyone I’ve ever run into.

It’s how I know they compose me


And that I’m a little more me after visiting this bar in Vancouver

I can’t remember the name of.

I wish I remembered your name.

The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #19: Starting Over

Wherein the author speculates about the future of conceptual art in the name of the Christie’s, the Charles Saatchi, the Holy Sotheby’s, Steve Wynn.

Val Murdoch, singer, performs her weekly 40-minute set at Guelph’s The Welf and Good in a cappella whispers. The crowd of drinkers, initially rowdy, grows quiet and confused. Some gulp their drinks and leave. Some watch her, but only after sharing a look of wide-eyed awareness with their tablemates that what is happening on stage is shameful. Some turn away and continue talking because Val isn’t holding their attention. The majority take out their phones and film her, involuntarily standing closer and closer the better to hear her. She ends on “I’d Rather Go Blind,” whispers thank you and goes home.

The venue manager calls her late at night to ask if anything is the matter and she whispers no. When he calls her mother and her mother calls Val to ask if she needs help, she whispers no. She shows up the following week to perform her set and whisper-sings again. The manager pulls her off stage and says she can either sing at an acceptable volume or find a gig someplace else. Val whispers OK and walks into the night.

Within a month she’s cancelled internet accounts, cell phone, credit cards, sold her apartment, traded in her car, changed her name and filled out the forms for brand new documents for personal identification. Her family and friends do not get a goodbye.

She reemerges as Jenny Muller, silkscreen printer, in downtown Victoria, British Columbia, to start her life again.

Materials — your self, another self.

The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #18: Solving the World’s Problems (Through Naiveté)

Wherein the author speculates about the future of conceptual art in the name of the Christie’s, the Charles Saatchi, the Holy Sotheby’s, Steve Wynn.

Luna Kuvula, syringe and needle delivery person to the homeless, installs GPS tracking devices on each of her recipients that grants her consent. She tracks their movements per day for a week and hires recent grads from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) to paint the patterns onto each their canvas. She hires a second group of OCAD grads to paint the patterns on the ground as their owner’s trod them, the colour depending on the pattern’s owner’s preference. She hires a third group of OCAD grads to film first-person trips along the second group’s work. She hires a fourth group of OCAD grads to take flight in a helicopter and take aerial photographs of the second group’s work. She hires a fifth group of OCAD grads to record soundscapes of the patterns by traveling the same way the third group did except with microphones. She hires a sixth group of OCAD grads to go for full physicals before being homeless with the homeless people for the week and doing exactly as they do. They visit doctors the day after for a second physical to complete the befores and afters, and call it art … She hires an Nth group of OCAD grads to curate, mount and market it all into an art show.

The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #17: Invoicing the %1

Wherein the author speculates about the future of conceptual art in the name of the Christie’s, the Charles Saatchi, the Holy Sotheby’s, Steve Wynn.

Tanner Bartholomew, fruit bruise remover at Ivor’s Cakes and Ices, begins collecting buckets filled with slices of rotted banana, apple, peach, mango, pear and watermelon in clear plastic containers in his parents’ shed. He leaves the door unlatched and the containers half-covered to attract fruit flies for breeding.

After three days, Tanner enters the shed wearing a pair of raincoats cut up and stapled together into a hazmat suit. He breathes with an air tank he traded at a pawn shop for a gold ring his mother never wears and he hopes she won’t remember owning. He soaked the mouthpiece in alcohol overnight to ward off disease. To harvest the flies, Tanner quickly snaps the container lids shut and pokes small holes in each through which he pours a quarter cup of chloroform.

Five minutes pass.

He bags the cleanest specimens and vacuum seals them, shipping them express to Damien Hirst‘s studio in Baja, Mexico, to be incorporated into his next round of paintings. Tanner includes an invoice in the package for $675000 dollars.




The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #16: Urban Digs

(Look out for this or something like it in Opprobrium)

Wherein the author speculates about the future of conceptual art in the name of the Christie’s, the Charles Saatchi, the Holy Sotheby’s, Steve Wynn


Trevor Abes, archaeologist, attends a spoken-word poetry show in Toronto’s Little Italy. The hostess ain’t no cupcake. Her upper lip’s curl would have made Elvis fatter quicker. Her drink, clouded by pounded mint leaves, is potent with the scratched out memories of her literary heroes. She introduces the evening by extolling her lack of control over what it will become. Everything about her burns


A string of performers take the stage at the back of a gastropub that thinks itself pretty awesome for serving bone marrow on toast. The first impersonates a comedian who uses narcissism as a defense mechanism. The second reaches orgasm through guitar solo. The third finds himself in Denver. The fourth self-identifies as the only woman on the bill. The fifth tries to explain the difference between your mother’s lasagna and lasagna


It’s time for the open mic. The hostess, up to julep number eleventy, buries her alcoholic lover copied in red by a friend into handwriting more legible than her own. She tosses each page to the floor once she’s done with it, declares that she is tired of hosting, and returns to the bar without picking them up. Other brave performers follow, now ushered on by the hostess’ understudy born from the rye sweat pooling at her sides. One professes his love for coffee in the presence of his girlfriend, who doesn’t seem to mind. Another drives a stake through a vampire’s heart and collects jug upon jug of glitter from the wound until the creature don’t shine no more. The closers are caught on video and they catch it back with their teeth.


Everybody leaves


But before Trevor joins the exodus for a cheap tallboy around the corner, he takes out his hand brush to dust the ground for signs of life. He uncovers footprint fragments on 8×5 sheets of paper and displays them as the first in his series of Urban Digs

Exhibit A-0001


Exhibit A-0001

Exhibit A-0002

Exhibit A-0002

Exhibit A-0003

Exhibit A-0003

The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #15: Motorboating the Justice System

(Look out for this or something like it in Opprobrium)

Wherein the author speculates about the future of conceptual art in the name of the Christie’s, the Charles Saatchi, the Holy Sotheby’s, Steve Wynn


Nadia Dresden, aesthetician at You’s a Beaute, shampoos a little girl’s hair with relaxer and goes to jail. She explains to the judge how she grabbed the wrong bottle by mistake, her own hands have the chemical burns to prove it. A fine, sure, she’d understand, but time? The judge says nay, criminal negligence is a thing, hammers down a two-year sentence and hollers for the next case


In her cell, Nadia and her roomie, Jade, scissor to pass the time but eventually get to knowing each other. Jade used to own a butter tart emporium until she used raw milk butter one day instead of the pasteurized stuff and gave a little girl E. coli. She only had patches of hair, Jade says, the rest looked burnt off


A week before Nadia’s release date — two months early for good behaviour and the prettiest license plates in the whole of The Catherine Guichelin Correctional Facility for Women — a group of straight-haired inmates bathe her in the showers with leftovers from a dozen bottles of smuggled SoftSheen-Carson Optimum Care Salon Collection No-Lye Relaxer. She survives because her assailants fail to turn her water off before leaving her for the guards


During her first night alone in her apartment, refreshed and nourished both materially and immaterially by a few days at her parents’, Nadia removes her wig and examines her cratered head before bed. The lesions across her body have almost healed; still, she has to line her mattress with pressure-relief cushions to achieve sleep. The phone rings. She mumbles hello


It’s Shaniqua, and she’s not so little anymore. She’s says, “Miss Dresden, I came looking for you at You’s a Beaute. Your colleagues refused to tell me where you were. I said I didn’t mean any harm. I can understand why they wouldn’t believe me. Can I tell you something, Miss Dresden?”




“I’m in your bathroom”


Viewers are invited to argue for whether or not Nadia is murdered. The winner receives a makeover


Materials — actors, relaxer, wigs, cushions, makeup, beauty salon, court house, bakery, women’s prison, town house lived in for 20+ years for Nadia’s parents’ abode, apartment lived in less than 10 years for Nadia’s abode


The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #14: I Got That Work

(Look out for this or something like it in Opprobrium)

Wherein the author speculates about the future of conceptual art in the name of the Christie’s, the Charles Saatchi, the Holy Sotheby’s, Steve Wynn


Paul Sheboygan, copy editor for the Government of Canada, is in charge of reading over answers to the pre-approved questions texted to politicians’ Blackberries before their interviews for radio and TV. Every day at 5:30 a.m. he reports to an office in a building perpetually under construction and sits at a desktop computer monitored by three security cameras. One is above him on the ceiling, one is set on him from the top of the computer screen, and the last is set on the computer screen from the top of his high-back chair. A middle man, known only as Dashiel, emails Paul an encrypted .docx document divided into question and answer pairs he is to return corrected at no less than seven minutes per page. Dashiel then cuts it up and distributes it to the appropriate talking heads.  The document contains no information about who the Q-and-A’s are for or what programs they will air on. Paul’s contract includes a clause that threatens jail time if confidentiality is broken


Viewers are invited to guess Paul’s per-page pay rate and leave the difference between their guesses and the correct answer as his Christmas bonus


Materials — actors, computers, cameras, desolate building.

Spoken Word Takes a Turn for the Outrageous

Outrageous is a new spoken word series in Toronto that’s turning heads and making friends by breaking all the rules. Read my article about it here or by clicking on one of the images below.

If you’re in the city, come by for Outrageous X on September 29 at 8 p.m.

From Outrageous VIII: Alex Hood on bass and Callum MacKenzie on sax as the Rainbow Jackson Free Jazz Experience. Photo by Maite Jacobson.

From Outrageous VIII: Alex Hood on bass and Callum MacKenzie on sax as the Rainbow Jackson Free Jazz Experience. Photo by Maite Jacobson.

Outrageous screenshot

The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #13: Drawn and Quartered

Wherein the author speculates about the future of conceptual art in the name of the Christie’s, the Charles Saatchi, the Holy Sotheby’s, Steve Wynn.

Norm Lietzke, dog walker, walks by a tree that sulks over to one side. Last November an ice storm coated its branches with ice, weighing it down he fears permanently. At thigh height, weeds that look like ex-cons claim the surrounding soil, choking the tree to death, citing opportunism.

Compelled by heart flutters, gut stirs, and brain bells, Norm takes a machete to the weeds and blends them into a fine mixture he lets rot into fertilizer. He applies it under the tree with the moral certainty of a medieval monarchy, the first in his Drawn and Quartered series.

The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #12: Suddenly Playgrounds Everywhere

Beulah Fandango, unemployed millennial, mails her cover letter and resume for the position of Panhandler, intersection of Yonge Street and King Street, in Toronto’s downtown core. Two weeks pass and she receives the following response.

Dear Miss Fandango,

After careful review of your experience and skills, we would like to offer you the corners of Yonge Street and King Street for a probationary panhandling period of three months.

Please see Bert Dorham on top of the subway ventilation grate in front of Old City Hall on Wednesday, September 17th at 7 a.m. for basic training.

Welcome to the team!

The Broken, Beaten, and the Damned

Beulah tells her parents how happy she is to have someone take a chance on her.

Materials — paper, ink, actors, old clothes, house in affluent neighbourhood.

The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #11: Autostereograms

Sidney Tinsley marries May San Porter, his first girlfriend, when they’re both 23 and halfway through medical school. By the time they’re doctors, neither remembers who Katy Perry is, which wars are being waged, or whether maple and bacon donuts are still a thing.

Though the couple work in the same hospital, they only see each other for a half-hour lunch frequently interrupted by death’s intermittent emergences. Sidney and May devise a project to feel closer than work allows. One that gives them a story to share each night before bed. They asks each patient that passes through their offices a simple question: can I take your portrait?

If yes, the patient is asked to stand behind a large, framed pane of museum glass, on a stool made of transparent tubing. The stool’s see-through look over a white wall background makes it easier to remove in post-production in Gimp or Photoshop. The given doctor then snaps the patient’s picture after prompting them with a backwards count from three and files it categorically by ailment — from abdominal pain to Kabuki syndrome to zinc toxicity. Over the decades and into senior citizenship, these tableaux make up May and Sidney’s Autostereograms.

The New Frontiers of Conceptual Art #10: Look, I’m John Baldessari; No, Wait, I’m Richard Prince

jeans shoes pic


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