Along with a nearly complete set of grOnk magazine, Nelson Ball also generously sent me other bpNichol ephemera including this second issue of Nichol’s “Greaseball Comics, featuring Milt the Morph as Lonely Fred” from June 1972. You can download the pdf here.
You can also download the eighth issue from bpnichol.ca
This sixth series of grOnk magazine – at this time, edited by bNichol with Steve McCaffery, bill bissett, dave uu “with an assist from rah smith and david aylward” – is devoted to the work of McCaffery. All but two issues (2-3 was published in 1970) in the series are undated but I’m guessing they were all published in the early 1970s. Every issue was published as single sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper stapled twice.
Issue one (download the pdf here) features five abstract concrete poems by McCaffery using typewriter, dry transfer lettering (I believe), stamp, and copier machine.
Issue two-three (download the pdf here) features McCaffery’s “TRANSITIONS TO THE BEAST” which he calls “post-semiotic poems.” On the final page of the collection, McCaffery writes:
to the beast are for me transitional pieces moving towards a hand drawn set of visual conventions that have their roots both in semiotic poetry & in the comic strip. the semiotic or code poem (invented about 1964 by the brazilians pagnatari & pinto) uses a language of visual signs designed & constructed to suit the individual desires of the poet & the needs that he as linguistic designer assumes for the poem on that particular occasion of construction.
Issue four (download the pdf here) is titled, I believe “MELON LEMON” and continues McCaffery’s investigations into the visual, hand-drawn, typewritten poem that moves to the far edge of semantic meaning.
Issue five (download the pdf here) is “COLLBORATIONS” by both bpNichol and Steve McCaffery which does manage to appear as a perfect meshing of Nichol’s own comic-strip, hand-drawn aesthetic and McCaffery’s more abstract and geometrically precise concrete poems.
Finally, issue eight (download the pdf here) features McCaffery’s “MAPS: a different landscape” in which he experiments with the page as a space for linguistic-cartographic experimentation, taking a cleaner and more legible approach to the notion of cartography in poetry than he did with “Carnival.”
In honour of the exhibit “Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry” and the accompanying symposium on concrete poetry hosted by the University of British Columbia’s Belkin Gallery, I’ve digitized the fifth series of grOnk magazine (issues 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8).
I’m afraid most of these pieces are undated, including the newsletter (“END OF AUGUST GIANT grOnk MAILOUT”) which accompanied the package of grOnks bpNichol mailed out along with the first four issues of this fifth series as well as the fourth issue of the fourth series, David Aylward’s “WAR AGAINST THE ASPS.” Most fascinating to me about the newsletter is the brief editorial by bp that appears on the second page which makes the argument, once again, for how most of the wonderful oddities and ephemera published by Ganglia Press as part of grOnk magazine were intensely invested in the materiality of writing, publication, as well as a kind of distribution that acted much like a social network does today: it attempted to connect an international community of like-minded readers/practitioners as quickly and immediately as Canada Post could deliver the mail-outs.
The first issue of the fifth series (pdf here) – also the second issue of the other journal project, synapsis, bp was involved in – is titled the “runcible spoon special CANADIAN international number.” It includes small, typewritten poems and prose by Paul Dutton, Hart Broudy, Nicholas Zurbrugg, Scott Lawrence, Andrew Suknaski, bpNichol, Barry McKinnon, Gary Fogarty, Belgian writer Ivo Vroom, Dezso Huba, and Dave Phillips.
The second issue (pdf here) features “a reduced & somewhat modified version of an early section” from Steve McCaffery’s tour de force typestract, Carnival. This is the only place I’ve seen McCaffery describe Carnival as a “random purpose construct at present of an unspecified size” whose total idea is “for a phonetic semantic allegory.”
The third issue (pdf here) is a small, stapled booklet of minimalist typewriter poems, Wourneys by David Aylward:
The fourth issue (pdf here) is Something in by Martina Clinton, who Nichol describes on the back-cover as “one of the foremost radicals in the early stages of the Vancouver poetry Renaissance.”
The fifth issue (pdf here) is, as Nichol puts it, “an attempt at integration and keeping in touch…..consisting of this special one shot issue devoted entirely to new notes and featuring excerpts from books mentioned plus a peek at coming attractions.”
The sixth issue (pdf here) is a tiny, funny booklet (that progresses from back to front) simply titled “CAT” with cartoon-like sketches of “cat from behind” (appearing on the back-side of the first page, it is as if the booklet is the cat, moving from position to position), “cat from side,” etc.
The eighth issue (pdf here), “REGARDEZ LA REVOLUTION en MARCHE: a collection of documents from France” consists of two double-sided sheets of poster-sized paper, folded in half and stapled. It is, I assume, a record of some of the street-based poetry work that was being done throughout 1968 and it includes a fascinating announcement by Juliene Blaine that the “Night and Day Awakeners” have decided “1) to give up the book and its family: record, tape, photograph, film, etc 2) to give up the object and its family: painting, sculpture, machinery, environment, etc 3) to give up the show and its family: theatre, circus, event, happening, etc…and to apply to reality the new methods of transformation formerly situated at the language level.”
In April 1969 bpNichol (along with David UU, John Riddell, Bill Bissett, and John Simon) published 300 mimeographed copies of the first issue of the third series of grOnk magazine. “QUOTE” by Gerry Gilbert, written in July 1965, is the most difficult, or impossible, of the grOnk issues to digitize since it consists of 23 separate slips of paper inside a standard letter-sized envelope.
I chose not to scan these slips separately and compile them in a single pdf as the tendency will be to read the slips in the order in which I scan them – which entirely defeats the purpose of this being an open-ended reading experience (since we should be able to come up with 2323 different poems). Instead, I tried to scan as many slips at once as the scanner bed would allow.
You can download the pdf of “QUOTE” at bpnichol.ca.
What a pleasure to open this, the latest issue of the University of Calgary-based Dandelion Magazine dedicated to “mapping.” The editors Dana Avasilichioaei and Kathleen Brown haven’t just produced a special issue which draws together “varied art practitioners from North America and Europe whose work in languages, visual arts, architecture, environmental design, cultural production, sound and moving images investigates mapping as concept and as action.” They have done this – but they’ve also done much more by producing a special issue that is – and should be – visually arresting, from front to back cover.
This is a literary magazine that has attended to the nuances of color, design, typography – a true rarity in the literary world. More, the editors didn’t follow the theme of the issue with literal exactitude – they included innovative and visually-oriented (whether of the book or of the digital) writers such as Derek Beaulieu, Sarah Cullen, Erin Mouré, and Stephanie Strickland alongside writers new to me (such as Kristian Carlsson and Elizabeth Whalley) as well as writers such as George Bowering who I would not have immediately thought of in relation to an engagement with mapping. What this issue gives us, then, is a wide-reaching and thorough thinking-through of the poetics of a map, of mapping as a visual, oral, and tactile activity that records the contours of land as much as the hand, the hand itself that records.
LORI EMERSON: Thanks so much Derek for being willing to talk about your concrete poetry work with me. I’ve long admired your experiments in concrete but recently, since I started to research the origin of the term “dirty concrete” and to think about Steve McCaffery’s Carnival in relation to what I call “digital DIY,” your work has taken on new importance for me. Would you mind starting by giving me a sense of your relation to dirty concrete? What do you think dirty concrete means and when would you say your work started to move in this direction?
DEREK BEAULIEU: I would actually say that my work is growing increasingly clean over the last few years. The way I understand dirty concrete (tho I have yet to use a definition per se) is concrete poetry which foregrounds the degenerated, the broken and the handmade – so for instance, photocopier degeneration (bpNichol’s Sharp Facts), broken letterforms or semantic pieces (McCaffery’s “demiplosive suite” or “punctuation poem”) or some of the collage-based or graffiti-based poems of Bob Cobbing. Clean Concrete on the other hand, I think, is closer to the Russian Suprematists and would be exemplified by the typography based poems of Pete Spence (Australia) and the typestracts of Dom Sylvester Houedard (UK). To overly simplify matters I could say that clean = blocks while dirty = crumbs.
So while I did have quite a bit of dirty concrete in the “calcite gours” series in with wax (Coach House, 2003) and some in fractal economies (Talonbooks, 2006), my work has become cleaner and cleaner with emphasis placed less on the mark and more on the letter and is now best exemplified in my Prose of the Trans-Canada (Bookthug, 2011).
EMERSON: First, what did the dirty offer you or your writing and why would you say you’ve moved away from the mark to the letter? Are there limits to the illegible, do you think?
BEAULIEU: What dirty concrete offers a lot of poets is, in my opinion, a freedom from structure – the style tends to be much looser, much less informed by constraint. That said, it is by no news a less-evolved or less rigorous form of poetry by any means; just a form which attracts some poets more than others. As I said, there are some poets who have decided to dwell in that style – and I think that Bob Cobbing is a prime example. I don’t think there are limits to the non-semantic. In fact, while I think there are some limit-cases – specifically the Codex Seraphinianus and to a lesser extend, Michael Jacobson’s The Giant’s Fence – neither of these examples are dirty concrete whatsoever, but they both are exemplary examples of nonsemantic writing. The illegible also is an area which deserves increased exploration (as poetry has basically slipped into a position of cultural illegibility as an artform).
EMERSON: Your mention above of Prose of the Trans-Canada (which, incidentally, to me is utterly dirty but you’re right to point out how flexible this term seems to me) gives me the opportunity to let you know I think this piece is absolutely gorgeous – in size, scope, execution…I could go on. But, speaking of execution, I wonder if we could shift our conversation to talk about particular writing media. Prose of the Trans-Canada was created entirely with Letraset, correct? What exactly does dry transfer lettering offer you? Is it the hand-craftedness of it or the tactility of the letters?
BEAULIEU: Okay – would you mind offering your definition of dirty concrete for the sake of the conversation? I tend to see Prose of the Trans-Canada as quite clean, especially with the conceptual framework and am fascinated to hear how you disagree.
Prose of the Trans-Canada (and my previous volume of poetry, Chains) was created entirely using Letraset and other forms of dry-transfer lettering. I am fascinated by the combination of hand-craftednesss (each letter is applied one at a time, by hand) and the uniform nature of the letters themselves. Dry-transfer letting was created for use in graphic design, drafting and other commercial and business applications. Initially its price was prohibitively expensive for artists, and only once it has become antiquated in its intended field has it dropped in price and become more accessible by visual and text-based artists (like Kelly Mark and myself). Much of my artistic practice is based on obsessive acts of reading and writing (Flatland was the hand-traced transcription of an obsessive reading practice, how to write contained every single piece of text in all of Roy Lichtenstein paintings) – and the obsessive placing of individual letters fits well within that practice.
EMERSON: Well, I’m not at all convinced my definition of dirty concrete is correct but I can’t help thinking of it in terms of illegibility and a non-Swiss, less orderly and geometrically precise sense of design – a less graphically neutral use of language, I suppose, than, say, work by Gomringer. As you say, there’s an element of the hand-craftedness to your work that I don’t see in Swiss and Brazilian concrete poetry from the 1950s and 60s. Which brings me to ask: how do you think of your hand-crafted work in relation to the digital, where material evidence of writerly labour is so easily effaced? I also am curious to hear about whether or how your work engages with obsolescence? What does it mean for you to use obsolete writing technologies? This is something I’ve been thinking about lately as it comes up frequently in Marshall McLuhan’s writing – for example, in The Mechanic Muse, he seems to be saying that obsolete writing technologies undo the cultural tendency to render machines invisible.
BEAULIEU: The digital I think is the future of concrete poetry (as Kenny Goldsmith has frequently argued, most recently in the introduction to Bessa’s Mary Ellen Solt: Towards a Theory of Concrete Poetry), but I have rarely seen any concrete which adequately deals with the media. I think that concrete poets – like many poets – struggle with two major issues: editorial acumen and learning new skills. Too many visual poets churn out work without a quality-control filter (like many poets), and that if the form is truly going to move forward then the idea of learning new skills can not be an anathema to poetry. That said, most of my work engages with either obsessive practice (like Flatland and Local Colour) or obsolete technology – like Prose of the Trans-Canada. With my concrete poetry I have to become very aware of every letter I place – each letter is placed individually, scratched down with a stylus or pencil from a sheet of plastic. Each vinyl letter is suspended on the sheet until placed by rubbing it into place and once the letter is placed it can not be moved, removed or replaced. Each letter can only be used once. I have to become very aware of obsolete technology, as dry-transfer lettering is no longer made, and every letter I place (and some of my work uses thousand of characters) I will never be able to use again.
To an extent it’s a metaphor for poetry, each poem written is another step forward into obsolescence.
EMERSON: Do you foresee yourself using digital technology in the near future as a way to continue your engagement with writing technologies and obsolescence? I ask because I’m interested in how old technology such as dry transfer lettering, approached from the perspective of the digital, has the unexpected result of making the digital more visible to us – and in being more visible, it also opens the digital up to tinkering and the production of new modes of writing.
BEAULIEU: I have used technology as a means of dissemination – especially in terms of email and Pdfs. Both Ubu and Eclipse include full-text Pdfs of my work – Flatland is at Ubu, Local Colour at Eclipse as a means of circumventing yet another supposedly obsolescent technology: print. I continue to have a print fetish, but believe that the readership is, in many ways, better served by posting work online for free.
I am also just starting a tenure as Ubu’s new visual poetry editor. My aim is to develop Ubu’s holdings of visual poetry through a series of Pdfs of historic and contemporary visual poetry manuscripts…
Earlier today I wrote a long-ish blog post on netpoetic (a communal blog on digital poetry/poetics and e-literature) on my (not-over-yet) search for the origin of the term “dirty concrete.” I have been trying to figure out who first came up with this term for an essay I’m working on, “Marking as Meaning: Reading Steve McCaffery’s Dirty Concrete as Digital D.I.Y.”; in it I’ve tried to delineate a history of the term “dirty concrete” – a term which is frequently used to describe a messy, typed-over aesthetic of concrete poems by McCaffery as well as bpNichol and bill bissett. I thought it worthwhile posting some of the bits and pieces I’ve picked up along the way on this strange, long journey to discover the origin of the term – “the origin of the term “dirty concrete poetry” (en route to digital D.I.Y.).”