Editing Modernism in Canada


May 30, 2013

bp Poems in Hand and on Screen

An update on my bpNichol project is long overdue, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my recent work and also share some bp with everyone by uploading a couple texts to the Modernist Commons.

Most recently, I have been spending time in the Dalhousie special collections, examining all of the bp works available. As I read through countless texts and (literally) unpack various book objects, I am keeping two objectives in mind: finding poems to include in my Dada-centric survey of Nichol’s more material-oriented poetry , and tracking down multiple versions of individual poems.

On the Dada end of things, it has proven an interesting challenge to select poems for the digital critical edition I am creating. I want to select poems that best represent Nichol’s connections and responses to the avant-garde poetry of the Dada movement. Firstly, Dada (as described by the Dadas themselves) is everything and nothing, so I am finding that any bp work when examined with enough creative analysis can be Dada or cannot be Dada. I have been using Dada manifestos and flipping through numerous compilations of Dada art and literature to train my eyes and ears to make the Dada connection, but to be more selective I am focusing on Nichol’s poetry that exemplifies materiality, deconstruction of language, and a primitive approach to sound. These characteristics are most easily found in his concrete experiments, his visual poem images, and his sound poetry. These works display Nichol’s playfulness with printing technology; the page as a message; the book as an object; and, letters, words, and primitive sound as unmediated raw language– a playfulness that is present in many Dada works as well. However, it has been challenging to decide where to draw the line in regards to what is poetry. Nichol did an excellent job of blurring this line by creating novels composed of visual poems ordered in a narrative arc, and by using doodles of birds and sketches of landscapes as notation, and by featuring letters as characters in comics and drawings.

As far as hunting for variations of oft-published Nichol poems, I have found a wealth of early Nichol publications in small literary periodicals and tiny presses, and it has been fascinating to see ideas germinate in more traditional poetic forms, evolve in concrete creations in his later publications, and then be translated back into other genres such as prose. While at DHSI I will explore more Nichol texts in the UVic special collections before travelling to Simon Fraser to look at their extensive bpNichol fonds.

I recently added two full collections of Nichol’s poetry– Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer (1973) and Still Water (1970)–  to the Modernist Commons. These works are scanned in their entirety and include some of the poems that I previously ingested individually and then grouped together into small “books.” I welcome anyone interested in bp’s works to play around with all of the poems I have ingested. TEI is not well suited to concrete poetry, but the poems are ideal for testing out the annotations tool. If you are eager to experiment with annotations please feel free to practice with the bp poetry. Many of the poems can be treated as both texts and images, so you can really get creative with annotating.

I have also been uploading digitized bp works to bpnichol.ca, an online archive that has collected many of Nichol’s publications. The site is a great resource for locating the vast output of one of Canada’s most innovative writers. Most recently I added the 1969 edition of Konfessions, which has a few different poems than the 1973 edition.

If you end up enjoying Nichol as much as I do, I must admit that there is still no substitute for encountering one of his original works in person. While I am excited to test the possibilities of a digital edition, I know that there is no technology to recreate the experience of opening a work like Letters Home and finding a colourful assortment of paper objects of various textures, fonts, and sizes. I have had to accept the fact that I cannot recreate the urge to follow the instructions on the “Cold Mountain” flip-book (to curl it into cones and burn it) that you get from holding it in your hands. (I also had to resist the urge because special collections tends to frown on setting fires in the library and destroying pieces from their holdings.) The best I can do is hope to create new interactions with bp’s creations through a digital environment (and direct anyone with further interest to seek out tangible Nichol works through used book dealers– if I haven’t snatched all the burnable treasures up first!).

2 Responses to “bp Poems in Hand and on Screen”

  1. j.copithorne says:

    Hi Katherine Wooler

    I was interested in your work regarding bp nichol. Are you aware of the 3,000 page bibliography of bp nichol produced by jwcurry which can be accessed on flickr?

  2. Katherine Wooler says:

    Thanks for your interest! Yes, I just discovered curry’s amazing flickr bibliography recently. curry’s work has been very helpful– I have referenced his Open Letter article “notes toward a beepliography” many times when establishing publishing dates and editions for Nichol texts.

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