Bill Bissett Critical Essays


Bissett, Bill 1939–

A Canadian, Bissett is known as the lower case poet, never capitalizing any words and spelling them exactly as they sound. Bissett aims to involve all the senses in his poems and he writes mainly about a search for harmony. Although many critics find his verse both interesting and technically proficient, others argue that his use of language is too radical to be artistic. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 69-72.)

Frank Davey

What [Nobody Owns th Earth,] makes clearest is that Bill Bissett is specifically a religious poet. His vision is of a transcendent, static world, simple and hard in outline, paralleling our own complex and sordid one just beyond the usual limitations of human perception…. More Blakean than Emersonian, this other world can become visible to us during prayers, incantations, or dreams…. (p. 44)

At moments of extreme intensity—religious trances, sexual intercourse—the subject can enter completely into this elemental world of eternal condition. Thus early in Nobody Owns th Earth is a group of love poems…. The religious counterparts to these poems are the mantras, the prayers, the...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Al Purdy

Bissett is a poet-prophet, or at least believes he is. Legalized marijuana, universal love, and the undeniable fact that "nobody owns th earth", are three of Bissett's urgent requirements for Utopia or Heaven on Earth. And the very naiveté of his language and themes, the earnestness and complete personal belief he brings to poems—these make him oddly touching and, I think, worthwhile….

[There] is a core of integrity about poet-prophet-bissett one can't ignore. The reasons why one can't ignore him would be difficult to explain to (say) a panel of fifty middle-aged English profs never entirely weaned from Chaucer, Eliot and alcohol. In many ways, and in my own way, I agree with the things Bissett...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Stephen Scobie

In Bill Bissett, we continue to find a tremendous energy of form, directed almost against itself. Bissett reaches to the edges of language and destroys it, yet keeps returning. The visual forms on the page … always tend towards the destruction of any form they set up, while in sound Bissett returns to the strict and revivifying form of the chant. One tends to think of Bissett as a romantic artist, with a strong innate capacity for self-destruction, but he is also (at what I think is his best) capable of the strong control of his chants, or of the almost classical understatement…. Thus, for me the best things in Drifting Into War are the simple, controlled typestracts, produced by overtyping certain spaces...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Stephen Scobie

[It might be argued that randomness and] deliberate abdication of selectivity and control are so central to Bissett's aesthetic and life-style that it would seem like a distortion of his vision for him to present a tightly edited, carefully chosen selection….

Nor is it absolutely clear that Bissett at his best does depend on uncontrolled haphazardness. On the contrary, his chants depend on a very strict manipulation of rhythmical effects…. Moreover, in some of his longer satirical poems—I'm thinking especially of "Th' Emergency Ward" and "Killer Whale"—the pretence of the poem's being an unadulterated recital of facts is surely just a pretence. These poems practice a kind of...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Len Early

While bissett's poetic is fairly obvious in many of his volumes, two are expressly addressed to questions of language and style: Rush / What Fuckan Theory (1971) and Words in th Fire (1972). The first of these is a book subverted by its own attitudes. As an assertion of bissett's idea that relationships such as hierarchy, cause-effect sequences, and linear writing are repressive, Rush proclaims its defiance by remaining determinedly incoherent. The verbal chaos is extreme; only occasionally are there passages of striking intellectual or lyrical interest. Almost all the important points in bissett's aesthetic view which are diffused, obscured and repeated elsewhere in the book, are tellingly...

(The entire section is 3003 words.)


Bissett's poetry and that of the blewointment coterie is meant to sound like street language, the language of the people in the street, albeit the severely limited vocabulary of a narrow-minded and elitist neighbourhood. Indeed, bissett's and the others' poetry sounds like the talk of people who would be the least interested in the written word—illeducated, arrested adolescents suffering from imaginative fatigue and an OD of imported, second-rate American plastic. What is so ironic about bissett's Anti-American rhetoric is that he is one of the most American poets that we have, in his obsessions and approaches to poetic technique, and with his warmed up left-overs of 60's American counter-culture. Reading bissett...

(The entire section is 146 words.)