My first glimpse of concrete poetry was in the pages of 20th-Century Poetry & Poetics, Gary Geddes’s essential textbook for English Lit. Toward the back of the book there was a sampling of experimental poems, including three by bpNichol: one typewriter poem, one typeset poem, and one bit of visual poetry that defies description (it was called “eyes”). I’ll add here that even though a term like “typewriter poem” sounds as obsolete as “reel-to-reel recording,” the skill required to compose these works is enough to make you want to retrieve every typewriter from the landfill.
a book of variations (Coach House Books) comprises three out-of-print books by bpNichol, and includes not only concrete poetry, but also more conventional verse, handdrawings, and even some indefinable work that the editor, Stephen Voyce, calls “plotless prose.” In “commentary 2: autobiographical note,” Nichol explains how he became entranced with the letter H (having spent part of his childhood in a place called H-section, in Winnipeg); from there, he became entranced with the rest of the alphabet, and then on to other probable systems. This is a key to viewing his work. For example, “probable systems 7: base issue for the late Marilyn Monroe” becomes an incredibly touching tribute to the movie star’s ever-presence. (In this case, “base issue” means the twenty-six letters with which we have to work.)
Please feel free to read this poem aloud:
A + B + C + D + E + F + G + H + I + J + K + L + M + N + O + P +Q + R + S + T + U + V + W + X + Y + Z = MM