- bill bissett (Author)
narrativ enigma / rumours uv hurricane. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- bill bissett (Author)
northern wild roses / deth interrupts th dansing. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Jeff Pew (Editor) and Stephen Roxborough (Editor)
radiant danse uv being: a poetic portrait of bill bissett. Nightwood Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Karl Jirgens
Beat poet Anne Waldman celebrates radiant danse uv being as a portrait of bill bissett as “Canadian artist, poetry trickster and bodhisattva.” At the Toronto launch of radiant danse Tarot cards were distributed featuring bissett wearing fedora and multi-coloured jacket (see Marijke Friesen’s illustration in this collection). Captioned “th fuul,” the card provides divinatory meanings: “There is a possibility of failure in success . . . the opportunity of success coming from failure.” And conversely, “Generosity of spirit is always its own reward and the unexpected way might be the best path to take.” Robert Kasher offers a variation of this card in the collection, co-relating meanings of “Fool” to “O” the mysterious symbol of nothing and everything, the hole, the circle and the trickster. It is important to recognize First Nations as opposed to other global tricksters, but bissett’s undifferentiated consciousness and open-mindedness verifies this Tarot-portrait. Alternatively, George Bowering’s portrayal: “Round & Round he goes & round where he stops/the inky smudge of words of words . . . ” depicts a spiritual “inkster.” Praise from other writers including Jack Kerouac, James Reaney, Warren Tallman and Margaret Atwood embellishes the back cover. Indeed, in this collection, nearly eight-dozen “frenz of bill” pay homage to his work.
It is high time for this homage. bissett’s innovations in sound poetry, shaped poetry, music, painting, and publishing have stimulated, provoked, influenced, shocked, and delighted audiences for half a century. There are movements to award bissett the Order of Canada and to nominate him for other honours. Poetic forms abound in this collection. Striking visual texts are generated by Alan Briemaster, Penn Kemp, Gus Morin, Carl Peters, and Jamie Reid. Darren Wershler-Henry’s poem was produced by running bissett’s “i was printing billy th kid” through an MSWord spell checker. Paul Dutton’s ingenious lipogram “oh bill bissett” includes only letters of bissett’s name plus the exclamatory “oh.” Here’s an excerpt:
bill’s titles to islet lots—hot sites—
let bill sit still to sell belts, bells.
bill’ll till his islet lots.
bill’ll settle his islet lots.
Leonard Cohen’s urbanely witty “dear bill” is both summation and exclamation:
for leaving nothing out
Pew and Roxborough’s “Prelude” explains their aim of producing “an intoxicating kaleidoscopic reflection-portrait.” The introduction comments on the “true revolutionary,” compassionate, aware of chaos and the need to transform human interaction. In his “bare bones biography” bissett summarizes past jobs including ditch-digger, musician, writer, and publisher, while commenting on the counter-productivity of dominating cultures that overlook natural energies. He supplies a playful self-portrait at the anthology’s end, outlining his birth on Lunaria, and identifying his books as “field research” undertaken during his incarnation on earth. MAC Farrant’s postscript emphasizes the importance of unrestricted perception coupled with universal awareness. Nightwood has crafted this book into a nine-inch-square format, including a useful chronology of bissett’s life. Anecdotes by contributors are included. Atwood calls bill her “Astral Twin” informing us that his illustration in lunaria served as a signpost while she wrote Oryx and Crake. bissett and Atwood form a strange binary. Both are Scorpios born on the same day, month and year. The book closes with succinct contributor’s notes, an acknowledgments page and another of bissett’s self-portraits, this time focusing on early youth. The tasteful cover features an early photo of bissett and a colour reproduction of one of his remarkable paintings. Raging and fabulous!
Both narrativ enigma / rumours uv hurricane and northern wild roses / deth interrupts th dansing, are vintage bissett. bissett is highly prolific, receiving regular attention and acclaim, and recently winning the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (2003). Talonbooks offers rich full-colour covers and simple but elegant design. Both collections include diverse typewriter poems and drawings. Poems featuring chant (e.g. “rumours uv hurricane,” “desert wings,” “amazements jaguar jumps”), project states of reverie. Lyric forms such as “ballet boy” offer intimate autobiographical perspectives. bissett has endured near-death experiences and his battle against Thanatos takes many forms. Longer invocative narratives (“I herd the toastr titul sing in my masculine reveree,” “aria 4 isis,” “its in the magik books” or “in the event of accidental deth pleez wud yu change th curtins”) raise questions concerning war, governmental failures, limited human perceptions, and the nature of language. Hybrid poems combine concrete, narrative, visual, and lyric forms (e.g. “aftr life times uv dreems can we wake” or “dreem on”). Self-reflexive texts including “what yu let flow out thru yu” or “eye in yr belee” address creativity and channelling of spirit voices through poet as shamanic medium.
Portions of northern wild roses / deth interrupts th dansing are available on CD (Red Deer Press) mixed by Pete Dako and Ambrose Pottie. This collection continues the journey through lyric, narrative, shaped, and concrete poetry while offering a remarkable departure, specifically, “text bites,” a twenty-six-page, minimalist, hand-drawn essay of text and imagery. “text bites” addresses compositional modes and Futurist-inspired parole in liberta. Marjorie Perloff has commented extensively on this form, and Wittgenstein’s investigations establish an earlier foundation. “text bites,” in the tradition of poets like Ken Patchen, appears deceptively simple but raises profound questions concerning typographic innovation, audience reception, tactility of print, indoctrination of thinking patterns, inter-textuality, tautology, contextuality, musicality, and semiotics, arguing that jouissance and unbridled expression lie in the loop-holes to convention. Appropriately, the structure and conceptual frame of “text bites” illustrates its own points. These three collections offer a sardonic alarm, battling against Thanatos and social travesties, while engaging the creative spirit of Eros.
- Transitions in Poetry by Susie DeCoste
Books reviewed: Arrivals and Departures by Nina Berkhout, Here is Where We Disembark by Clea Roberts, The Good News About Armageddon by Steve McOrmond, Traumatology by Priscila Uppal, and Winter Sport: Poems by Priscila Uppal
- Rambunctions by Laurie Ricou
Books reviewed: Cavatinas for Long Nights by Jim Christy, Water Stair by John Pass, There are Many Ways: Poems New and Selected by Peter Trower, and Sidewalks & Sidehills by Peter Trower
- À la source du chant by Patricia Godbout
Books reviewed: Yellow by Antonio Porta
- Lilies and Realism by Alexis Foo
Books reviewed: A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove by John Newlove, The Essential Don Coles by Don Coles, and Coal and Roses by P. K. Page
- Scènes d'automne by François Paré
Books reviewed: Hennissements by Patrice Desbiens, Humains paysages en temps de paix relative by Robert Dickson, and Le roseau by Serge Patrice Thibodeau
MLA: Jirgens, Karl. Bissettiad. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #196 (Spring 2008), Diasporic Women's Writing. (pg. 120 - 121)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.