is a superb collection of criticism, interviews, concrete poetry, and fugitive pieces by bpNichol, the poet who is, arguably, the most important experimental writer Canada has produced. Nichol's writing is playful, form-obsessed, equally informed by Pataphysics and semiotics, pun-ridden, and intensely readable. Assembled by Nichol's friend Roy Miki (winner of the 2002 Governor General's Award for poetry for Surrender
contains 500 pages of Nichlol's criticism, making it a key document for anyone with an interest in the first heady rush of the Canadian avant-garde. Nichol, whose too-brief career lasted from the mid-sixties to his death in 1988, was an incredibly prolific writer, and the nature of his art led him to favour small presses and even more ephemeral forms of publication. Much of his work appeared only in magazines or chapbooks, and while this established him as one of the most visible avant-garde writers of his day, it has made his works all but inaccessible--until now--to younger readers who weren't around to collect grOnk
, Open Letter
, blew ointment
, and their ilk while they were in circulation.
No bland historical appreciation will do justice to Nichol's legacy. He seems to have been the central nervous system of the Canadian avant-garde--he knew everyone, corresponded with everyone, and drew from everyone from Sheila Watson to George Bowering to bill bissett. He was also a consistently innovative and dedicated artist, and one of the most unpretentious experimental writers that this country has produced. Anyone who cares about poetry in Canada must engage with his work; even those who dismiss him as an empty poststructuralist gamester have to admire the wit and rigor of his achievement. --Jack Illingworth
A singular figure in Canadian letters, bpNichol (1944-1988) excelled in more areas of literary endeavour than the average author ever even considers. Internationally renowned for his visual poetry by the age of twenty-two, a Governor Generals Award winner for poetry (jointly with Michael Ondaatje in 1970), before he was thirty, a pioneer of sound poetry in Canada, a major exponent of the long poem (his multi-volume The Martyrology remains in print and on courses), lyric poet, fictioneer, essayist, and childrens author, he also created cross-genre poem-drawings and comics, wrote comic-book adaptations of his own and others material (childrens and sci-fi), as well as numerous childrens television shows, to which he contributed song lyrics-something he had practice in from the two or three musicals he wrote.
Compilations of Nichols work in two different areas are now out from Talonbooks. Meanwhile collects the bulk of his published critical writings, plus a handful of unpublished pieces and a number of interviews. bpNichol Comics, despite the inclusiveness suggested by its title, offers a strangely constricted selection of comics that Nichol drew and wrote-as distinct from the comic books for which he provided only the text.
The essays, reviews, and interviews in Meanwhile: The Critical Writings of bpNichol resonate with the passionate devotion, profound respect, and enduring humility with which Nichol approached language, as both reader and writer. At the early age of twenty-one he resolved to overcome what he termed the arrogance of trying to impose myself on the language, realizing that I was coming to the occasion of the poem to force myself on it
rather than learning, and further, that the language could speak for itself, had its own qualities separate from whatever the meaning I might wish to will into it. Legions of poets, young and old, could benefit from such an attitude.
In one of the essays here, Nichol stresses that he has, in his critical writings, always tried to foreground the fact that I am a writer writing about other writers. As such, he provides commentary that is informed, insightful, and illuminating. Meanwhile is, among other things, a veritable handbook on how to read poetry, be it that of Gertrude Stein, James Reaney, Earle Birney, Margaret Avison, Al Purdy, Douglas Barbour, Frank Davey, Shaunt Basmajian, David McFadden, or Bill Bissett-to list those who come in for special attention in the book. Not the least of Nichols subjects is his own creative writing, and some of the essays, plus most of the interviews relate to his poetry, poetic craft, and poetic process. In that light, it is a lamentable fact that so much of his work that he discusses-Still Water, Love: a Book of Remembrances, ABC: The Aleph Beth Book, and others- remains out of print. While unfamiliarity with them wont diminish the value or pleasure of reading Meanwhile, the richness of experiencing the works themselves is attainable by the public only through library holdings.
Its important to note that, while the focus of Nichols writing on writers is sharp, it is not narrow. Central to his life and work was the concept of community, the relationship of the individual to the collectivity, the me and the we, as he liked to put it. Meanwhile presents Nichol working, within a critical framework, on a central element that informed his creative work: the relationship of the individual to the vast social collectivity implied by and embodied in the English language and language in general. It is this that makes Meanwhile a book for the broader literary audience, and in fact, for all users of the language.
Editor Roy Miki, himself a Governor Generals Award winning poet, as well as a professor and critic, has done a thorough and laudable job of pulling together these texts from disparate sources. His afterword refers readers to a further repository of Nichols writing on writers, another Talonbooks collection, Rational Geomancy: The Kids of the Book-Machine (1992), which draws together the collaborative essays Nichol wrote with Steve McCaffery. Paul Dutton
(Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada