- Stuart Ross (Author)
Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer. Anvil Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- bpNichol (Author)
Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer. Coach House Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Stephen Cain
The value of the reissued or reprinted book often rests with the extra material included in a new production. In these new editions of previously published work by bpNichol and Stuart Ross, the supplement of postscripts, bibliographies, introductions, annotations adds substantial scholarly value to material already of considerable literary merit.
Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer, originally published in 1967 in the UK and revised for publication in Canada in 1973, is Nichol’s most extensive collection of concrete poetry. It is Nichol at his most playful and accessible, yet it also contains some of his most hermetic and challenging visual pieces. Take, for example, his often-anthologized poem “Blues”:
l e o e l o v e o e v o l l o v e o e v o l e o e l
While a quick reading of this piece suggests that “love” becomes “evil” when inverted, the backwards spelling of “love” as “evol” also implies “evolution”—that love evolves. Combined with “Eve” and the Fall, this poem can be read in the Miltonic tradition, but its title “Blues” also implies American popular music with the “e” through-line suggesting a guitar string, the key of E, or a singer’s wail. Many of Nichol’s poems in this collection follow a similar trajectory of reading: on first glance, the pieces appear simplistic, but upon closer examination reveal a myriad of possible interpretations.
The difficulty of reproducing “Blues” on a word processor also foregrounds the material process of many poems in this collection. These are specifically typewriter poems, using the standardized spacing of the typewriter, as well as its conventions of deleting, or crossing-out, with the “x” character. This reliance on the typewriter is made clear by the collection’s cover image of an Underwood, as well as in editor Nelson Ball’s meticulous notes and introduction. Ball, the original Canadian publisher of Konfessions (through weed/flower press), has done scholars of Nichol’s work a great service with his detailed annotations, particularly the concluding bibliography, which lists not only the early appearance of many of the poems in Konfessions, but all of Nichol’s early periodical publications, including lyric poems and uncollected concrete pieces. This compilation is extremely valuable as most of these poems first appeared in small magazines often omitted from periodical databases and listings. Ball also includes a short introduction tracing Nichol’s growth as a concrete poet and a checklist of Nichol’s early interviews.
Together with Roy Miki’s collection of Nichol’s criticism, Meanwhile (2002), Ball’s edition of Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer provides the basis for serious scholarship on Nichol’s writing. Such study is certainly warranted. Fittingly, this new edition is published by Coach House, a press to which Nichol devoted much of his energy in the last years of his life.
As well as sharing the confessions aspect of the title, Stuart Ross shares Nichol’s commitment to the small press community, which is made manifest in his first non-fiction collection Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer. Although a member of the generation that followed Nichol’s, Ross was in contact with Nichol during the 1980s, resulting in an important interview that appeared in Ross’ small press magazine, Mondo Hunkamooga. While Mondo Hunkamooga ceased regular publication in 1997, the spirit of Ross’ enterprise continued with his “Hunkamooga” column that appeared bi-monthly in Toronto’s Word newspaper from 2001 to 2005. These columns are now collected in Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer, along with four new essays.
Of greatest interest to those familiar with this reprinted material are the postscripts that follow many of Ross’ essays. Of particular note are those endnotes which deal with the results of his publishing certain columns—such as losing his publisher, or losing friends from the writing community. This fallout, however, may have been expected as Ross is frequently acerbic and trenchant in his criticism, but no less witty or correct for being so. As also may be expected, not all the pieces in this collection are uniformly excellent—as with any column written on a regular basis, some installments are stronger than others.
The last four new essays, however, are particularly good, dealing with public readings, collaboration, parenthood, and the allure of type. Still, by the collection’s end, one begins to find the title somewhat disingenuous. While Ross is certainly candid about his literary dealings and writing philosophy, these are not complete confessions. As so many of Ross’ literary friendships and associations have ended in animosity, one begins to wonder what the real source of all this discord is, and whether there are stories that Ross isn’t telling. Moreover, and more importantly, Ross demonstrates in many of the essays in this book that he has a wide knowledge of small press activities and people, both in Canada and in the United States. Few have stuck with the small press as long and been so active in doing so. That said, and notwithstanding the brief introduction recounting some of Ross’ publishing history, readers still await the detailed recounting of the history of the North American small press, or at least the Toronto small press, that Ross can surely tell.
- Bissettiad by Karl Jirgens
Books reviewed: narrativ enigma / rumours uv hurricane by bill bissett, northern wild roses / deth interrupts th dansing by bill bissett, and radiant danse uv being: a poetic portrait of bill bissett by Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough
- D'un monde à l'autre by Mélanie Collado
Books reviewed: ...et la nuit by Anne-Marie Alonzo, La Pérégrin chérubinique by Jovette Marchessault, and D'en haut by R. J. Berg
- Sounding Some Poems by Christine Stewart
Books reviewed: Fractal Economies by derek beaulieu, The Good Bacteria by Sharon Thesen, and Airstream Land Yacht by Ken Babstock
- Poésie et pauvreté by Antoine Boisclair
Books reviewed: L'échelle de l'olivier by Jocelyne Felx, Les Abattoirs de la grâce by Fernand Durepos, and Comment serrer la main de ce mort-là by Francois Hebert
- Larger Than Seeing by Diane Stiles
Books reviewed: The Hidden Room: Collected Poems by P. K. Page
MLA: Cain, Stephen. Valuable Confessions. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #190 (Autumn 2006), South Asian Diaspora. (pg. 162 - 163)
***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.