bpNichol’s “Singing Hands Series”: Canadian Concrete Poetry 1966 (Part 2)

I’m starting to understand that part of the reason why few people, if anyone, has a complete run of grOnk is because it appears the print runs for each issue varied vastly (from 20 to, say, 200 copies); some Nichol simply gave away to friends, others he distributed through the Village Bookstore in Toronto, and others he mailed out to an international mailing list. More, while Nichol intended to have eight issues in each series, after the mid-1970s it seems that publication became more erratic and some series are missing issues while other series had issues published later alongside issues from a different series altogether. grOnk is, then, a bibliographer’s nightmare. To complicate matters further: Nichol published separate but parallel mini-series of chapbooks, pamphlets, postcards etc alongside grOnk. As you can see in the “Ganglia Press Index,” there was also the Ganglia Concrete Series, the Singing Hand Series, the 5¢ Mimeo Series, Tonto or Series, and the 35¢ Mimeo Series (just to name a few). Some of these series were then later absorbed into certain grOnk issues (for example, John Riddell’s “Pope Leo: El Elope” was published in 1969 as part of the 35¢ Mimeo Series but then later absorbed into grOnk Series 2 issue 6.

The Singing Hand Series is particularly interesting as it was published from 1965 to 1966 and so pre-dates grOnk by several years. Nichol used this series to publish work by David Harris and d.a. levy as well as a couple works by himself. The piece I have and which I’ve digitized here is “COLD MOUNTAIN” which Nichol has annotated in the “Ganglia Press Index” by writing “burnable mimeo edition (never ordered & thus never released).” The piece is undated but it was likely published (though not distributed) in 1966 and would have sold for 10¢.

I’ve created a pdf of “COLD MOUNTAIN” but, as it’s a kind of flip-book – a resolutely bookbound genre whose materiality does not translate into the digital – my description here will hopefully augment the digital version. The piece is about 3 x 3 inches, with four strips of paper folded in half and a single sheet inserted in the middle – all of which are stapled together. It has clearly been written with a typewriter and while the structure of the poem doesn’t necessarily depend on the typewriter, the precise distance between letters no doubt helped to visually create words that ascend and descend as along the contours of a mountain. Opening the small pamphlet we read, “MOUNTAIN / COLD / TO / GO”; flipping to the back page we read, “RETURN / FROM / COLD / MOUNTAIN.”

Already its charm, not to mention the meaning behind its material structure, is lost in this kind of description as well as in the digital scan of the front and back pages – for, as we turn over each strip of paper that is marked with a single word, we find directly underneath two or three other typewritten lines which we can read along with the word on the verso, the words above, and even the lines on the next strip of paper. In other words, following on Raymond Queneau’s unreadable Cent mille milliards de poemes from 1961, “COLD MOUNTAIN” is a more modest – though still compelling in its minimalism – work of potential literature.

> See also grOnk magazine: Canadian Concrete Poetry 1967-1988 (Part 1)

> See also grOnk magazine: first and second series 1967 – 1970 (Part 3)

> See also grOnk magazine: third series, issue 1 1969 (part 4)

> See also grOnk magazine: third series, issues 3, 4, 7, 8 1969 (part 5)

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Categories: criticism, poetry

Author:Lori Emerson

I am an Associate Professor of English and Intermedia Arts, Writing, and Performance at the University of Colorado Boulder. I'm the author of Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound and co-editor of the Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media.

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One Comment on “bpNichol’s “Singing Hands Series”: Canadian Concrete Poetry 1966 (Part 2)”

  1. September 13, 2011 at 12:21 PM #

    COLD MOUNTAIN was released in 2 additional editions that i know of.

    In 1967, an edition with a different cover, describing the piece as “a kinetic poem/sculpt for eventual distruction” [sic] was included in Nichol’s Coach House box “bp” (aka “Journeying and the Returns”).

    In October 1992 damian lopes’ fingerprinting inkoperated issued a 3rd edition of “120 undestroyed copies.” This edition was later accompanied by an “assembly instructions” broadside (July 1993) and two “finally back in print…” advertising broadsides (a 1st edition of 200 copies, and a 2nd corrected edition of 400 copies)

    each of these small editions open up bibliographical trapdoors, eh?
    –derek

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