Tuesday, November 7, 2017

bpNichol | Still Water

bp Nichol
Still Water
Vancouver, Canada: Talon Books, 1970
[28] pp., 14 x 14 cm., boxed
Edition size unknown

At the age of 26, bp Nichol won the  Governor General’s Award for poetry, for four titles released that year: The True Eventual Story of Billy the Kid*, Beach Head, The Cosmic Chef, and Still Water. The elegant minimal design of the latter reflects its contents: many of the poems consist only of a single word, with slight typographical alterations. The 'o' and the 'u' in the word 'clouds', for example, is replaced by a series of open and closed parentheses. 'plop' is shown to be the reflection of "blob". Another page contains only the letters 'em ty'. A double dotted 'i' predates Nicol's collaborator Steve McCaffery's similar portrait of William Tell (who improves the work by identifying it as the shortest novel ever written).

The boxed loose leaves prevent the poems from being read in a particular sequence, and it's semi-reflective cover perfectly evokes the title. A second edition was released, omitting the author and publisher's names from the cover. It can be viewed at jw curry's flickr site, here.

Ohio concrete poet Endwar/Andrew Russ produced a reverent homage twenty years later called Distilled Water under the pen name of Stuart Pid (ah, get it?). A decade after that, in 2000, Paloin Biloid (Will Napoli) released Water Detail, a response to both.

*Nichol noted later that his portion of the GG Award (which he shared with author Michael Ondaatje) was the same amount as the original ransom for Billy the Kid.

"Visual artist and poet Robert Fones, who has made his own contribution to the use of language in works of visual art, recalls Nichol speaking in the early '70s of an interest in the relationship between the line in poetry and the line in drawing. That interest found expression through what is almost a subgenre in Nichol's oeuvre, the verbal-landscape visual poem, where the lines of the poem announce the words for landscape objects (or state the landscape elements) at the point on the page where drawn lines would be placed in a pictorial depiction of those objects or elements. Greg Curnoe (another artist who worked with language in visual art) used a similar device in his paintings, where he sometimes incorporated verbal descriptions within painted depictions. While the two artists were familiar with each other's work, and Nichol once cited Curnoe in a commentary on his own work, the connection in this regard is parallel rather than derivative, with each artist making distinctive use of a related technique.

Nichol's Still Water contains several typeset instances of his working of the effect. One of these has the word "moon" towards the top left of the page, "owl" some distance down and to the right, and a little less further down, spaced widely apart on one line, the thrice-repeated word "tree," followed by "shadowy." In another poem, the word "tree" appears on three staggered lines above the phrase "the train leaves," with the word "leaves" repeated on three well-spaced lines. Nichol effected a still closer fusion of the drawn and the poetic line in "landscape: 1" in Zygal. Typeset across the middle of the page is a line that is transformed into a horizon by there being set right above it the words, with no spaces between them, "along the horizon grew an unbroken line of trees." Nichol returned frequently to depictions of horizons with lines or words in typeset or pen drawings. He worked an elegantly punning turn on this in a hand-drawn poem rendered in fabric by his wife, Ellie Nichol: about a third of the way up, a line is stitched, at whose left side occurs a large arc that, through the placement of the word "risin"' at the other end of the line, becomes the top portion of both an "O" and the orb of the sun, with the line now a horizon."

Download the PDF at the bpNichol archive, here

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