B(arrie) P(hillip) Nichol

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Stephen Scobie

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

In any discussion of experimental poetry in Canada, the central figure is bpNichol. (p. 213)

[Journeying & the Returns] in its very packaging provides a convenient schema of Nichol's concerns as a poet…. Journeying & the Returns came in a cardboard box, containing three distinct elements: a small printed book, a collection of postcards and other visual presentations, and a record.

The book consisted of a long "trad" poem-sequence actually called "Journeying & the Returns." ("Trad" may provisionally be defined as any poetry which continues to rely on syntax and semantic connection as its basic structural means of operation.) This is, in retrospect, far from the best of Nichol's "trad" poetry. The sequence is too diffuse, its central themes are never clearly articulated, and it relies too much on vaguely romantic images of the sea. The line-lengths are short and choppy, and though Nichol's very pronounced personal rhythms are often in evidence, he is not yet in full control of them. He had not yet found ways to objectify his experience, or controlling narrative images by which a long poem may be structured—that is to say, the things which "Journeying & the Returns" lacks are precisely the things which The Martyrology … provides.

The Martyrology is the culmination, so far, of Nichol's experiments in "trad" poetry. It is of course far too early for any definitive judgements, but it is my suspicion that this book will prove to be of central importance not only to Nichol's own development, but also to the whole tradition of the long, discursive, semi-narrative, "documentary" poem in Canada.

The visual concrete poems contained in Journeying & the Returns are the most witty and elegant ever produced in Canada. (p. 214)

[The] most interesting section of the Journeying & the Returns package is the record, which is called "Borders," and which contains some of Nichol's earliest experiments with sound poetry. (pp. 214-15)

The poems on "Borders" are mostly abstract, though some have verbal elements. The playful "Salad" is perhaps closest to the visual poems in effect; "Cycle No. 22" starts from the phrase "a drum and a wheel" and projects this syllabic pattern through a number of abstract permutations before returning to its original. The two longest and most ambitious pieces on the record are "Scraptures—Fifth Sequence" and "Dada Lama," both of which are entirely abstract. (p. 215)

Stephen Scobie, "'I Dreamed I Saw Hugo Ball': bpNichol, Dada, and Sound Poetry," in boundary 2 (copyright © boundary 2, 1974), Vol. III, No. 1, Fall, 1974, pp. 213-25.∗

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