B(arrie) P(hillip) Nichol Eldon Garnet - Essay

Eldon Garnet

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In an introduction to his book, ABC, the poet bp Nichol complains about "the artificial boundaries we have placed on the poem." It is his expressed desire to break down these boundaries, to make the poem live again, to free the poem in order to bring it closer to the reader…. The regenerative process begins with experiment; Nichol utilizes basic elements of language and alphabet—sound and shape—in an attempt to remake poetry from its roots.

In the ABC book, the technique is that of a child playing with the shape of the letters of the alphabet. On each page he repeats images of one letter, overlapping, twisting, and combining them until the original shape disappears and a new shape appears from the combinations….

Searching for the primitive roots of poetry, Nichol becomes involved in the minimal poem—a poem articulated in the briefest and least dramatic series of words possible. Minimal poetry, like minimal art—where a white line on a white canvas may constitute the painting—is deliberately low-keyed. A poem may be a single word appearing in small type in the middle of a white page, as it is in the poem "em ty." In the form of the one word graphically represented is contained the feeling which is the poem. The tone of minimal poetry, subdued and seldom changing, runs throughout much of Nichol's work. When he is not chanting, raising his voice in excitement, he works in a monotone. In the...

(The entire section is 515 words.)