The Alphabet Game: a bpNichol reader

Barrie Phillip Nichol aka bpNichol experimented with visual and concrete poetry, performed as a member of The Four Horsemen and was a scriptwriter for Fraggle Rock.

The Alphabet Game surprised me with its earnest love of place and people–the poems take you along Toronto streets, on trips in trains, into human relationships. Nichol’s poetry plays around with language: it pushes, stretches and jokes. But it goes beyond that into a search for meaning in communication.

In “ABC: the aleph beth book,” Nichol writes: “POETRY BEING AT A DEAD END POETRY IS DEAD. HAVING ACCEPTED THIS FACT WE ARE FREE TO LIVE THE POEM.” It is a theme that runs through many of Nichol’s poems; poetry is a living, oral thing that comes out of people. Nichol explores the oral theme again in series of poems about mouths (vagina, mouth, tonsils).

Nichol’s poems are often process-driven. In Book V of his life-long poem The Martyrology the reader can choose between different chains of “thot” in the poem. The visual poems are often puzzles that can be solved by moving your eyes around the poem until you can see what it means–some of them more obvious than others. In poems from Translating Translating Appolinaire Nichol takes a poem and puts it through a series of changes: alphabetizing, sound translation, line drawing, etc.

There’s a lot here to explore and enjoy. I hope the people at Coach House put the website (bpnichol.ca) up soon so readers can hear Nichol perform his sound poetry. (Sarah Greene)

by bpNichol, edited by Darren Wershler-Henry and Lori Emerson, $21.95, 334 pgs, Coach House Books, 401 Huron Street on bpNichol Lane, Toronto, ON, M5S 2G5, chbooks.com

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