Involuntary Tongue

I started on my first exploratory writing project following the completion of the Canadian Correct in this culture tour. I heard about Tourette’s Syndrome on CBC’s As it Happens, where the involuntary ticks, clicks, coughs, and expletives were investigated particularly in relation to Mennonites, specifically those in the Peace River District. With the help of a Saskatchewan Arts Board grant I was able to research the subject, and the subjects in Peace River. I have distant family there (see “Johnny Cash” in boy,) and it was interesting if a bit difficult. (Note to self: Never rent a Chevy Cavalier for a ten hour drive, without a CD player or radio reception). The Mennonites there so much wanted to be seen as normal white folk, what with the highway, television and the new church.

I was also able to travel to New York, for one day.  After a good nights sleep in the Mennonite hostel the in the East side pastor’s study, reading about Mennonite liturgy, I interviewed one of the few remaining Freudian shrinks in the city who clearly connected repression with Tourette’s.

I spent the afternoon in MOMA before catching a small plane for Ithaca. I should have taken a bus. There was huge thunderstorm, a major drop with passengers screaming and an emergency landing. Then another small plane making me very late for Marianne Coleman’s pickup.  The next day, following a lovely swim (in my tighty whities) with her kids in a pond on her property we had a lovely dinner at the Moosewood Restaurant.

The next day she delivered me to the clinic in Rochester where two research doctors were running computer analyses of the blood they had taken in Peace River. They were starting to get nervous, as they were closing in on the 80% of the genetic material available to them in the sample. I checked back – nope – they did not find the Tourette’s gene.  I liked the Freudian idea myself having just read his Totem and Taboo, Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, Kristeva’s Revolution in Poetic Language, William Gass’s On being blue and Bataille – criticism, his novels including my favourite Blue of Noon. 

The research was followed with a three-month writing leave from the SWG capped by a reading to startled Saskatchewan literati. Who they asked, would publish this stuff? Still a question, the book is still available for publication.  I revisited the manuscript completing a decent draft in 2005 before starting in on boy

I let it marinate for a while, working on other projects. Then I saw the notice of Snare Books’ Kroetsch Innovative Poetry Award, and revised IT completely before entering in 2011, making the shortlist, but not being the ultimate choice with a small prize – but missing out on the all important publication. Damn you Neil Besner!!

January 28, 2011

Victor Enns
200 Lenore Street
Winnipeg, MB R3G 2C5
[email protected]

The Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry
Snare Books,  c/o Matrix
1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. LB 658
Montreal QC  H3G 1M8

I have enclosed my submission to the Robert Kroetsch Innovative poetry award. The first page of the ms will have my identification, the second  page will continue without identification, so it may judged blindly.

Involuntary Tongue was one of two long poems of my mine, successful in a Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild competition in 1989 blindly adjudicated by Mary di Michele when she was the Regina Library writer-in-residence. The other was a Poem of Pears, a homage to Kroetsch, based on Sketches of a Lemon. The Poem of Pears was published in my most recent collection, Lucky Man   (Hagios Press, 2005) which was nominated for the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year Award.

Now I want to find a place for the other sequence as it was part of the Involuntary Tongue.  I have had some disagreements with my colleagues who see this just as a rant on “the seven words you can’t say.” I think it goes beyond that, I sure hope it does, but the question they put to me is – who will publish it.

It’s mildly problematic. My friend , mentor and sometime editor, Ted Dyck was pushing me to enter my most recent manuscript Afghanistan Confessions, making good arguments for how it was more innovative than IT, but not enough for me to follow through. For one thing everybody in Winnipeg (and I imagine including Neil) knows I’ve been to Afghanistan and have written 365 poems from the soldiers’ point of view. It will make another way to the public (or so I hope).

There are few people in Winnipeg know about IT, and certainly not Neil so I think this will help preserve blind judging though god only knows how worried I am about how he responds to fuck words.

So this is the Involuntary Tongue begun in 1985 and finished in 2006, and never sent to a publisher. I wish the manuscript well, and am grateful  for your consideration. This award is a very fitting tribute to Kroetsch. Thanks for doing this.

Victor Enns


an excerpt from Involuntary Tongue, shortlisted for Snare’s Robert Kroetsch Innovative Poetry Award

The Temptation of Peter Abraham Dyck

Last night they tempted me with the devil, in the form of cousin Sara, who they also have taken. They brought her to me, insisting we sleep on the same straw tick. They stripped away most of her clothes, then thrust her into my cell, wearing only her white shift as an undergarment. I took my rough woolen blanket and put it around her shoulders, to cover her nakedness and for warmth. She entreated me to come to her for comfort, but I resisted saying,” only the Lord can provide true comfort, in this our hour of need.”

Together we prayed the night through. The Lord was kind and heard our supplications. And the devil left Sara.

But the devil refused to leave our company. As we were praying near morning, he entered my head, and from deep in my throat he forced my tongue to utter many strange and filthy words.

I tried to restrain myself, biting my lips and trying to bar my tongue with my teeth. Though my lips and tongue were blue and bleeding, I could not stop, for all my prayers. Though I did not understand all that I said, I knew my utterances to be the devils inspiration, and certainly not of the Lord’s.

Sara, frightened, left my side, ran to the door to call for the jailers to remove her from the side of the devil. At first when they saw her, they only laughed. They thought she was scheming to avoid my rough advances. Then they heard my tongue, involuntarily shout, through the cover of my prayers, foul obscenity. Looking closer they could see me twitch, and stick out my swollen tongue. Roughly they removed her.

Peter Dyck is given and gives the word flesh

Ja, verdammte     ich
habe es erst        gesprochen
das wort           das wort
das wort
im jahre unser gott funfzehn hundred acht und zwanzig
aus mein kopf
von mein mund
mein maul meen meu

Aber Sarah hab ich nicht zunichts gemacht.  Freue mich darueber.
Sie war nagt und huebsch, vielen Gebet hat es genommen, Dank Gott
Und dann, un dann, mitten Gebet, kam das wort auf mein Zunge,

Damned,  in the midst of prayer,
I invented it. Said it first.
the word       the word
the word

came storming
out of my head
out of my mouth, my gob
in the year if our lord 1528.


a simple ich
 I eye ei yei
gott nimm dann so meine haenden
und fuerhre mich
und fuehre mm mmmm

meine haende
unter ihre klieder
meine Haende
uber ihre Maul
uber ihre Brust

da auf die Steiner
im Gefangnis
Verdammte, Preister, ich

ja ICH   



unterkleider zarissen
zwisschen ihre beine
sie schweigend
unter mir
und ich inn sie

und von mein maul



Gott is die Liebe
er Liebt auch mich!
drum sag ich noch einmal                         



Peter Dyck writes a letter to his brother

I write in the name of the one true God, who sent his only begotten son to die for our sins.  Peace be with you. I  have been  arrested because  my neigbour who owed me money informed, saying  I, Peter Dyck, former priest from Friesland, had been re-baptized upon the true confession of faith, in February 1527.

I now await the arrival of the exorcist. It is apparent my captors believe I am filled with the devil, and wish to drive him out, along with the Anabaptist heresy I was to be tried for. Perhaps, they believe, if they are successful, the devil will take the heresy with him when he goes! If they are successful in only driving the devil out of my tongue and I do not recant, it is certain I shall be tried and burned for heresy.

If the exorcist is successful, I just may. The first night they tempted me with the devil in the form of cousin Sara.  They brought her to me, insisting we sleep on the same straw tick. They stripped away most of her clothes, and thrust her into my cell,  I took my rough woolen blanket and put it around her shoulders, to cover her nakedness and for warmth. She entreated me to come to her for comfort, but I resisted saying, “only the Lord can provide true comfort through Jesus Christ. “ Together we prayed the night through. When the devil left Sara they took her away. The jailers and inquisitors may spread false witness about

the night we spent in prayer. But believe me brother I did not know her. What is  true, is that in her place I have been afflicted with words that seem unclean,

and unknown to me. The Devil’s handiwork, vengeance for not gaining dominance over me and Sarah.

Twice now they have put me in a cage on a cart to show me in the marketplace. Here, say the friars, look at what the Anabaptist heresy leads to. It fills your mouth with the foulness of the Devil! I work hard to still my tongue. I pray and think of the kingdom of heaven, but the curses still come and force their way out of my lips. Curses of fornication, urination, defecation, all. But so far, not the Lord’s name in vain. I am weary. Should the exorcist have the power over the violent devil crashing around in my brains, spitting curses out of my mouth, though my mind be set on naught else but the adoration of the Lord, I must reconsider what I know I have believed.

Dear Joseph, though our jailers may try to shake our faith, and those of our brethren outside these thick walls, let not their tongues do the harm they have not been able to wring out of us here with their beating, tortures and temptations. They may say I knew Sara, which would be a lie, a lie they might believe to be in the service of the Lord if it can shake your faith and return you to the state church. They most certainly will tell of my involuntarily utterances, of the devil in my tongue. Though this be true, I do not stop for an instant to worship the Lord and  believe in Jesus Christ. It is a plague, and a trial. Pray for me, that I may be delivered in the Lord.

The torture of Peter Dyck

I shall be released. I am  indeed fortunate in the Lord.

The morning after the night I spent praying with Sarah ,  the agents of the anti-Christ opened many wounds on my body with switches, the inquisitors laid me on the rack;  urinated and defecated in my mouth, and  rubbed my wounds with their faeces stinking of cabbage and onions. Choking in shame,  I recanted and named fellow believers including he who had named me, a cousin,  my beloved sister and her husband, newlywed, who were  fetched from town and brought before me.  They were stripped and tortured in my sight.

Remaining steadfast in the Lord, mercifully, their sufferings were short. They did not hear me name my only begotten son. As soon as it was certain they would not recant or name other believers; their arms, legs and breasts were hewn from their bodies. One of her breasts was stuffed in his mouth, and his organ in hers as if they were suckling. They were put in a sack, with their heads sticking out, organs lolling, to be used for eel bait;  they told me, laughing at my erection.

The sins of the father are visited on the son Theodor Issac Dyck

They came for me. I was deep in prayer, full
aaaaaaaaa grace. they called me forward

to recant.

I couldn’t.
the holy spirit
or the devil
lo0osed my tongue with
flying curses

Littel  did it matter  it was not what I meant
to say

and when the friars  demanded I stop

stop say


and when they demanded I stop






and when they demanded I stop






it was all I could say

I swear

I swear I was praying.

I couldn’t stop

couldn’t stop.

As I was brought back into the prison
to be confined, I addressed some remarks  to the
common people

setting forth
belief as the crime

not sorcery or possession
or the devil got my tongue

this the world
could not endure

          even my brethern
turned their backs and scorned me

when    when   when    when   when

I tried, when I was tried, father

where   where  where  where   where
were you?

Son Theodor Has a Vision in his cell

Trauemerei, nein alpdruecken dies
irae, last night I dreamt I saw St. Augustine

in what might have been Rome
burning, first with his desire

then the city in flames;  ich
kein retter,  erloeser       nein

I did not save him, nor him me
with my little sword

I drove it into his breast and brain
then into his groin, the cause of much

suffering I cut out his eyes
then his COCK and BALLS

I cooked over one of the many
small fires, in a communion wine sauce

delicious consummation,
new found strength

throwing up his body
corporal to the fire

the city in flames
a vision, a vision of hell

Theodor hears the executioner’s humsung

he   comes to me
is   humming a hymn
under his breath
the garlic, the stew
under his breath
the executioner comes to me
he is humming a hymn
he knows what he is about
to do.


Peter Dyck counts his blessings

Following my renunciation, and confession; my son Theodor Issac whom I had named and forsaken was brought before me.  Three times cursed; for his faith, for his father, for his words.

To still his utterances, the executioner commanded him to put out his tongue which he, faithful and pious servant of God, willingly did. He had not a member on his body which he was not willing to deliver up in the name of Christ, well assured of the joy and the glory of God.

The executioner fastened his tongue with a piece of iron, and screwed it tight with a vise. He touched the end of Theodor’s tongue with a hot iron, that swelling, the vise might not slip off. When they had thus closed his mouth and screwed fast his tongue, he was placed in a cart to be taken to be burned.

For the love of God, here I stand, fortunate to have a good woman waiting who takes the devil out of my tongue.  I’m glad for my trade, for idle hands make for the Devil’s handiwork.  I count my blessings.

Too bad for Theodor. May God have mercy on his soul.

Theodor Dyck Receives Holy Communion 

on my knees before the cross
I draw my tongue
into my mouth

the padre has placed
the body of jesus christ
on my tongue

placed jesus on my tongue
christ in my mouth
I swallow him.

+ my tongue is stilled.

blindfolded, on my knees before the cross
a chalice held to my lips

the blood of Jesus
fills my mouth

my tongue my mouth my throat
washed by the blood of the lamb

+     peace
peace returns to my soul

The friars deliver

die deevil in die form

ein engel ob lich
we dump him,
on the common


briefly his eyes seek heaven


oh the unrepentant heretic sinner
full of the devil’s licht
bids him shine


oh he open his mouth
for (he believes) GOD!

The drovers testify

die deevil
die deevil disguised
als n’ engel of licht

kneels before God’s
serpents, his tongue fastened,

his hands tied
behind him

ein preista
es  nicht saut, es geuert
dat kjindt es als an Engel geduldig

“Bengel!” in
Saegt dem preister,
sein Latinisch gaunz

“Didt kann ek nicht lieden;
Dievel! Verdammdt! Du
jehst nu zu                 HELL!

A mendicant friar prepares the sacrifice

with   one strong hand in his hair
with   one strong hand on his jaws
ready for almost any thing
but mostly
ta  throw one more on the fire

oh but first

pull the iron out
of the fire oh

pull the iron
out of the devil’s


WE’RE gonna git rid of
git rid of it
rid of it

for h…..  ever and h…. ever you know
the rest of it
get rid of it


the devil you say!
the devil you know!


just the knife
need   enter the mouth

severs                 the tongue  first

it jump into the hut
it jump into the hat
it jump into the fire

jump into the fire
jump into the fire

the tongue
(on its own a chord) 

The presiding dominican priest speaks

pluck it out if it offends thee
pluck it out if it offends me
this we do in the name of the

I feel

the tongue of the devil in my hand
the tongue of the devil in my hand
cast it out
I feel the miscreant tongue of the devil
fill my hand
cast it in the fire
cast it in the fire
rush of wind
spill no blood.


The father on a distant hillside

Fuck I’m lucky
it isn’t   me.

Shit  I’m lucky
all I really had to do
was leave the priesthood.

Piss  thanks to Christ
for driving the devil out of my tongue.
Fucking shit I’m lucky
the exorcism worked.

Holy Mary, mother of God
Jesus loves me.

Fucking cunt I’m lucky
to find such a good woman
to still my tongue.

Cocksucker I’m lucky
for my hats, dear jesus
I’m truly thankful.

Holy Mary, mother of god
Goddamn I’m a lucky man.

Lucky,  but,
too bad for Theo
too bad for  Theo

Fuck piss and shit
I’m lucky
it wasn’t me.


a memory

she is patient
her hallucination
stepping into his

quiet green light
with a  long white finger
on the trigger

her green eyes
see his head turn
towards her

the bearded daemon
sprouts horns
his hairy mouth gapes

the colour
Gilles de la Tourette

she has opened
a door
she has entered

her hallucination

in a green dress –
long sleeves pull at her
wrists as she raises her arm

her hands clasp
the ivory
handled silver pistol

she pulls backs
the hammer, he puts down
his pen, he is writing

his sister, her picture
on his writing desk
next to the green shaded lamp

this is not his mother
who has entered his chamber
with an ivory handled silver pistol

cocked, with a message
in her hand

He utters
her name. She squeezes
the trigger

the first shot enters
his shoulder through
an elegant lapel

she raises the pistol
slightly, the second
shot shatters his jaw

still unsatisfied she
comes again, closer range
for the third shot, she

opens his head, nightfall
his last memory
green flame

the smell of sulphur,
the sound of disorder running
down the stairs.


“Hi, Victor. Glad to hear you are going great guns. I wish you all the luck in the world with your endeavours — you are really angling intriguingly! Alas, I am swamped in prep for a big shoot and am not allowed outside the house at all for the next two months. I wish I could see you shoot in person, but I’ll have to watch the finished films instead. Thanks so much for thinking of me. xoxoxoGUYMADDIN”





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