B(arrie) P(hillip) Nichol John Robert Colombo - Essay

John Robert Colombo

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

During the early sixties, it was obvious that throughout the entire English-speaking world poetry was lagging far behind the visual arts, and I see bp Nichol's publication [bp] as part of poetry's catching-up process. Nichol has freed poetry from melody and meaning and levitated it above the printed page. He has brought it nearer both music and painting by freeing it from what we used to think songs and pictures were. Although the poet … has no musical training, I found his plastic recording the most impressive of the three units that make up his poetic package.

The two sides of the record give us about eight minutes of 'sound poems,' and I know of no way to describe in words their audio effects (nor does the poet, judging by the makeshift musical score that accompanies the disc), but to me they sound like a recording I have of Aleister Crowley reciting his Enochian chants. Enochian was 'no known language,' so Crowley had a lot of fun improvising, and so does Nichol. It is de rigeur these days … for poets to specialize in sound rather than speech, melody rather than meaning, and distortions rather than drama. Nichol breaks up our conception of a poem into sounds and then discovers the syllables that make them up. I find his effects fascinating when he stumbles upon a word like 'freedom' in the midst of f's and d's, and his thin otherwise unexceptional voice is able to sustain rhythms that are as striking as those of rock singers. The main problem with the record is that there is 'so little for the mind.' Things go on and on. I am reminded of the first coal-burning trains: all they could carry was their own coal, no freight at all. The recording grows tiresome after eight minutes, which is as much as Nichol gives us.

The set of sixteen leaflets of concrete poetry is called 'Letters Home.' These reminded me less of epistles than they did a 'press book' which is handed out to reporters at any event that is at all...

(The entire section is 812 words.)