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Friday, October 12, 2007

Poetry Friday/ Reader's Diary #300- bpNichol: Love: A Book of Remembrances (FINISHED)


I admit that I'm skeptical by nature. This usually pervades everything I encounter, including the arts. Often my skepticism requires me to ask, "Do people really like this?" And with more experimental pieces I often conclude that they don't; that they are pretending to because someone else said they should. Even worse, perhaps they don't understand it but rather than appear like a fool, are claiming it's ingenious. Those camps of people must make easy prey for people pretending to be artists. All they must do is convince the right connections and before they know it they are given arts council grants.

But before anyone thinks that I'm completely close-minded, I also appreciate experimentation when it has merit. bpNichol was, as far as I can tell, the real deal. I don't always understand him or where he was coming from, but thanks to the rare piece that I can connect with, such as "Historical Implications of Turnips," I'm convinced he wasn't one of the frauds I alluded to above. Even though I usually miss most of what he was trying to express, I consider what he did very important. It is like a mutation in the evolution of poetry. Sometimes (if you follow natural selection) mutations are detrimental and quickly die off, yet others are beneficial and skew the course of history. While the verdict may still be out on what Nichol's impact will be, it is vital that he and others push the boundaries if poetry is to evolve and survive.

In Love: A Book of Remembrances most of the poems flew right over my head. Made up of a lot of visual poems, these were probably the most problematic for me. In an excellent essay about visual art in Canada, Jack David helps sheds some light on one of the poems from this book, entitled "Allegory #7". Again, it would be easy to dismiss these as frivolous or even phoney, but David makes a good case otherwise. Unfortunately, I didn't have his help with the others and so about half of Love was lost on me.

However, the rest I enjoyed. A while back I thought I had an original idea with what I had termed "Reductionist Poetry" where I advocated getting rid of words altogether in poetry and replacing them with sounds. Astute reader Richard corrected me that bpNichol had already done it with his "Sounds Poems" and that led me here.

I'm not sure if the non-visual poems in Love were intended to be sound poems. They are comprised of letters and words. The problem is, I wasn't quite sure what to do with the letters. Do I read them as letters themselves? Do I replace them with their sounds? Take these two lines from the 43rd untitled poem:

a mood of g
a presence of m


After a while, I found my own approach and ended up loving the book. I replaced each letter with a word beginning with that letter. Lines such as those above became:


a mood of god
a presence of man
Some poems indicate that this wasn't his intention. For instance, when he writes "An r of seeing you" it's impossible to replace the r with say "recollection" because you'd also have to change "an" to "a" to correct the grammar. Still, someone so intent with bending and breaking conventional rules probably wouldn't have so much concern how I approached his art. I had a lot of fun and there's definitely something very exciting about putting that kind of control in the minds of the reader. Why don't you try? Take the poem I wrote (and revised a la bpNichol) and come up with your own in the comments, replacing the letters with words:

fall's the u
of s m, stripped
of all the h


I'll reveal my original poem tomorrow.

(For those people following my Canadian Book Challenge, this marks my first book down out of thirteen. I have decided to do it the White Stripes Way, and bpNichol's Love will be my British Columbian selection.)

13 comments:

TadMack said...

WOW. This is HARD! And amazingly cool at the same time. Requires some thought.

Hm...

Kelly Fineman said...

Fall's the universe
of small miracles, stripped
of all the hope.

I'm not sure I could as readily adapt to bhNichol's stuff as you seem to have, but I find this particular exercise really interesting and enjoyable.

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

fall's the university
of seldom mention, stripped
of all the humans.

That is hard - I don't even think mine makes sense but I was going for the idea that university is seldom mentioned when stripped of students so it falls from grace so to speak. None of that makes sense if you mean the season - that is when it is overrun with students. I ramble.

Sara said...

Fall's the underpinning
of snow, maple stripped
of all the hubris

Can't wait to see yours.

raidergirl3 said...

I'm feeling creative today:


fall's the ultimate
of summer's morn, stripped
of all the heat

Rob Hardy said...

I want to give a prize to Sara's. Brilliant. It sure beats everything I could come up with, all of which seems to involve sado-masochists, or possibly a union of striking machinists, stripped of all the health benefits. I'll stick with Sara's.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I will give that a try, but actually I just like reading it aloud, as is, and drawing out the letters. It's very therapeutic.

John Mutford said...

Thanks for the excellent suggestions everyone. My original was:

Fall's the unveiling
of summer's masterpiece, stripped
of all the hype.

But I loved the suggestions so much, maybe I'll keep it with just the letters. And Rob, with "s" and "m" and "stripped" all in the same line, I was surprised more readers didn't venture down that path.

Allison said...

I really liked this idea, guess I got here too late. You shall have to keep up with this one though, as it was a fun exercise!

TadMack said...

I just like the idea of being able to substitute our own words for the authors. Isn't the best poetry what resonates with us, after all? And so we can enter into the poetic process and make it our own in this way. It is incredibly challenging, yet an incredibly good exercise.

raidergirl3 said...

One more syllable and we would have had haikus.

John Mutford said...

Allison: It's never too late! Go for it.

TadMack: It is a lot of fun, and the give and take between poet and reader almost feels personal.

Raidergirl: Initially I had it written as a typical haiku: "of all the hype" was "of all of the hype". I found it too awkward and removed it. Besides the 5-7-5 thing is just an approximation anyway.

Mary Lee said...

fall's the unrelenting onslaught
of school mayhem, stripped
of all the hallelujah of summer


hmm...still working out my issues with the craziness of the first 6 weeks of school...