- Carl Peters (Editor)
bpNichol Comics. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Roy Miki (Editor)
Meanwhile: The Critical Writings of bpNichol. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Kathryn Grafton
For bpNichol, the poet “is a poet always” regardless of “where he moves or which ‘field’ he chooses to work in”; as such, “his creations can always be looked upon as poems.” These two recent collections offer new ways to look upon this poet and his “poems.” As in all his work, Nichol’s criticism and comic strips confront the problem “of finding as many exits as possible from the self . . . in order to form as many entrances as possible for the other.” Roy Miki and Carl Peters both honour these passageways, yet choose different means to facilitate readers’ exploration of Nichol’s creations.
In Meanwhile, Miki brings together an extensive body of Nichol’s critical writings from 1966 to 1988, the year of the poet’s death. To enter the critical material, Miki focuses on Nichol’s view of the writing act as “the performance of process in the material conditions of language”; process is so central to Nichol’s work that it sounds its “‘bass note / plunk it.’” Because Nichol’s writing always remains in process, Miki suggests that just as “Nichol’s own critical thought remains open to readers so readers coming to Meanwhile are encouraged to dialogue his language to the conditions of their own present.” Miki facilitates this dialogue by removing himself from the conversation: he presents essays, interview excerpts, reviews, lectures and letters in a seemingly unmediated, carefully crafted manner. Meanwhile’s chronological arrangement reveals how Nichol revisits critical concepts throughout his career; as Miki observes, “the Nichol we encounter in Meanwhile always keeps returning to the act of writing, circling its complexities to probe and articulate what attracts him to its sites of production” in a manner that insists (à la Gertrude Stein) on key ideas such as notation, “pataphysics (the initial diacritic is Nichol’s), and punning.
The text’s reviews and dialogues reveal Nichol to be a writer engaged with and energized by a community of Canadian poets that includes bill bissett, George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt and Fred Wah; as such, Meanwhile enriches readers’ understanding not only of Nichol and his work but also of Canadian literature in the 1970s and 1980s. The sense of community in Meanwhile affects readers differently depending on their place within this literary sphere. The collection reads as an insiders’ book that addresses those already familiar with Nichol, his creative canon and critical writings. Nichol refers to people often only by their first name, and responds frequently to unheard arguments, yet Miki chooses not to preface or footnote the writings. The collection does not lend itself to easy consulting: there is no index, and therefore to find Nichol’s many references to such topics as comics, the Four Horsemen, and the long poem, readers must read the entire text or, if insiders, know the exact piece to reference. Miki reveals his editorial hand only in Meanwhile’s final pages through his “Editorial Notes,” which groups writings generically and provides contextual and publication information, and his “Editor’s Afterword,” which includes a brief Nichol biography and a description of Miki’s editorial process. In keeping with Nichol’s vow to abandon “that false surface which insists unity and let the unity find its own point of cohesion. / Or not,” readers of Meanwhile discover their own entrance into and unity with his creative world.
In bpNichol Comics, Carl Peters constructs a three-legged critical scaffolding he navigates “to find and enter the exits that Nichol [has] left for his fellow communicants to enter.” First, he argues that Nichol is a more radical artist than he has been positioned in recent interpretations, and suggests that the formal experimentation and daring expression of faith in Nichol’s comics support this reading. Second, Peters demonstrates the relationship between The Martyrology and the comics through their engagement with ”pataphysics, faith and a mythic base. Finally, focusing on the existential “Lonely Fred,” Peters shows how comics are another notational system for Nichol to perform ”pataphysics and insist on the parallel worlds of the self and other, divided only by the often permeable comicstrip frame. Foregrounding panelogics (the relationship between frames in a comic strip), Peters leads readers through passageways between the frames, between the comic strips, and between the comics and larger Nichol canon (often referring to work gathered in Meanwhile).
Peters groups the comics together by characters such as Bob de Cat and Rover Rawshanks. The strips are sometimes complete, occasionally drafts and often interspersed with character doodles. The collection includes letters between Nichol and Margaret Avison and essays such as “Comics as Myth: Notes on Method in The Martyrology.” Peters prefaces each section with contextual information, description of his editorial process, and his own interpretations; throughout, he reinforces panelogics, which he ties insightfully to such concepts as punning and Gertrude Stein’s reading of Cubism. Although his repeated demonstration of the relationship between Nichol’s frames serves as a productive guided tour, it may also limit readers from discovering their own entry points into the comics.
While Miki encourages readers of Meanwhile to arrive at their own sense of textual unity, Peters frames Nichol’s comics for his audience. The two editorial strategies are read usefully together: Miki’s behind-the-scenes approach reminds readers of new exits and entrances to be discovered in bpNichol Comics; Peters’s tour suggests fruitful reading strategies to seek passageways through Meanwhile. Nichol writes, “i place myself there, with them, . . . who seek to reach themselves and the other thru the poem by as many exits and entrances as are possible”; these collections inspire readers to join Nichol in seeking pathways through his canon of “poems.”
- The Spiritual Subject by Amanda Lim
Books reviewed: Ox by Christopher Patton, More to Keep Us Warm by Jacob Scheier, Riding Backwards on Dragon: A Poet's Journey Through Liuhebafa by Kim Goldberg, I Will Ask for Birds by Kelly Parson, and Duet for Wings and Earth by Barbara Colebrook Peace
- Formally Enlightening by Neil Querengesser
Books reviewed: A Pirouette and Gone by E.D. Blodgett, Apostrophes VII: Sleep, You, a Tree by E.D. Blodgett, and Praha by E.D. Blodgett and Marzia Paton
- Who Were Those Masked Men? by Dermot McCarthy
Books reviewed: Milton Acorn: In Love and Anger by Richard Lemm and Irving Layton: God's Recording Angel by Francis Mansbridge
- L'Élan et le décours by Nelson Charest
Books reviewed: Poème du décours by Robert Berrouet-Oriol and Prière à Blanc by Michael Deslisle
- Poetry's Where is [T]here? by Crystal Hurdle
Books reviewed: (made) by Cara Benson, In the Millennium by Barry McKinnon, Lost Gospels by Lorri Neilsen Glenn, and The Secret Signature of Things by Eve Joseph
MLA: Grafton, Kathryn. Exit/Enter bpNichol. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #182 (Autumn 2004), Black Writing in Canada. (pg. 159 - 160)
***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.