bpNichol’s Translating Translating Apollinaire is a series of typewriter poems, not simply poems written on a typewriter, Nichol wrote between 1975 and 1979. In its relentless exploration of homolinguistic translation, it has become something of a cult serial poem in certain experimental writing circles, spawning iterations such as Stuart Pid’s Translating translating translating Apollinaire and Andrew Russ’s Translating, translating, translating Apollinaire, or, Translating, translating bp Nichol (both from 1991). Writes Nichol by way of an introduction:
May 27th 1975 en route from London England to Toronto with Gerry Gilbert…in a mood of dissatisfaction re certain aspects of my writing (always the feeling there is more one should be learning – more limitations one should be pushing against & breaking down) i began this present series. In my mind was the idea of a pure bit of research one in which the creativity would be entirely at the level of the research, of formal inventiveness, and not at the level of content per se i.e. i recalled the first poem i had ever had published — Translating Apollnaire in Bill Bissett’s BLEW OINTMENT magazine circa 1964…& decided to put that poem thru as many translation/ transformation processes as i & other people could think of. I conceived of it as an openended, probably unpublishable in its entirety, piece. As of this date (August 29, 1978) i have elaborated 55 different systems & or results with TTA 16, 26, 27, 29, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40, 41, 50, 54, 55 & some other tentative ideas still not fully executed. But it seemed a good point in time, particularly when Karl Young expressed his enthusiasm & support, to issue a preliminary report on discoveries made in terms of the results arrived at. Thus this present selection from the inevitably titled TRANSLATING TRANSLATING APOLLINAIRE.
(You can find the original version of the poem here along with the rest of the selection from The Alphabet Game).
I want to call them typewriter poems instead of simply poems written on a typewriter because it’s clear Nichol understood precisely the ways in which the grid of the typewriter page and the typewriter’s non-proportional font lend themselves to investigations of form – even form freed from the burdens of content. Not surprisingly Nichol’s entire oeuvre is defined by his experiments with the limits and possibilities of different writing media – to such an extent that I have become convinced that Nichol wasn’t simply reading his fellow Torontonian Marshall McLuhan (by the mid-70s, who wasn’t reading McLuhan? but as it turns out McLuhan was reading Nichol as evidenced by his inclusion in the General Bibliography at the end of his 1977 City as Classroom). But he was absorbing McLuhan’s writing wholesale. Before this week, I had only come across a few fleeting references to McLuhan by Nichol – one in Rational Geomancy and a short 1982 memoir Nichol wrote of him titled “The Medium Was the Message.” Several days ago, however, I obtained a copy of Nichol’s Sharp Facts: Selections from TTA26 and was astounded to read this series of poems that are both typewriter and photocopier poems – given his love of the pun, a love he also shared with McLuhan, not surprisingly one of his favorite photocopiers is the Sharpfax Copier. Writing as an experienced writing media technician, a mere two years before his McLuhan memoir, Nichol declares in the introduction:
The translative system involved here entails the use of…copying machine disintegrative tendencies. Which is to say that an image fed through a copying machine over & over again (feeding the image of the image, & then the image of the image of the image, & so on) thru a great many generations, disintegrates. & it does this differently depending on which type of copying machine you’re using.
And he concludes, “In this case the machine is the message. The text itself ultimately disappears.”
These are poems of the machine – poems that aren’t so much interested in their own illegibility as they are invested in reading, vis-a-vis writing, the typewriter through the copier machine.