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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

In August 1967 bpNichol published the last (and eighth) issue of the first series of grOnk magazine; this issue features the almost entirely non-textual, visual, comic-book-like, frames-within-frames structure of “Scraptures: Sequence Eleven.” (This work is already available on bpnichol.ca.)

The second series of grOnk was begun in September 1968 and the issues for this series were published irregularly. The fourth issue of the second series features Barbara O’Connelly’s “THERE WERE DREAMS.” The cover is a sheet of 17 x 22″ cream card-stock folded in half; inside are seven individual sheets of cream 8.5 x 11 paper stapled together. Curiously: while the first couple issues of the series were published in 1968, this work by Connelly was printed at Ganglia Press in July 1967. “THERE WERE DREAMS” is a lovely exploration of concrete poetry as a hand-drawn, hand-written art that’s resolutely not of the machinic.

The fifth issue of grOnk features Nichol’s “The Captain Poetry Poems,” published by Bill Bissett’s Blew Ointment Press and later incorporated into grOnk magazine in 1970. (This work is already available on bpnichol.ca.)

Another publishing curiosity: the sixth issue of the second series was published in 1969, a year earlier than the fifth issue, and featured John Riddell’s “POPE LEO: EL ELOPE” with drawings by bpNichol. This is an early but fascinating work by the Toronto-based John Riddell (whom I’ve written already about here) that is a anagrammatic exploration of the language possibilities inherent in letters ‘p,’ ‘o,’ ‘l,’ and ‘e’ (hence the sub-title, “a tragedy in four letters”) – sometimes using one of the letters twice, sometimes dropping one, always rearranging. It’s a remarkable meshing together of concrete poetry and combinatorial writing practices.

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

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

> 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)

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)

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

The most remarkable package arrived in the mail last week from Nelson Ball, longstanding Canadian poet, editor, book-seller and husband to the remarkable Canadian painter Barbara Caruso: a nearly complete set of grOnk magazine along with bpNichol’s Captain Poetry Poems, the second issue of Grease Ball Comics, and Nichol’s “Cold Mountain.” It’s difficult for me to describe the sense of awe and gratitude that came over me as I pulled out each piece, one at a time. I was holding what was for me a crucial piece of Canadian poetry/publishing history – one that I’d only read about and occasionally seen isolated pdfs. Given the importance and the rarity of these documents, what I’d like to do is write a short blog post on each issue, each item, and include a pdf of each that I’ll also put up on the online archive bpnichol.ca. I hope you enjoy!

*

I haven’t yet found any articles on the history of grOnk magazine – at the moment, all I know is that bpNichol established Ganglia Magazine in 1965, which was published by Ganglia Press, which in turn published grOnk magazine with David Aylward & Rob Hindley-Smith in 1967. Included in the bundle of goodies from Ball is the “Ganglia Press Index”, compiled by Nichol for Ganglia Press/grOnk series 8 number 7 in 1972. (The entire bibliography is now online here.). In the “Introduction” Nichol writes:

somewhere in 66 i met dave UU for the first time  he and i and rob (nee rah) smith decided it’d be nice to publish a monthly mag of concrete & related poetries & distribute it free so we invited dave aylward along for the ride launching the first issue of grOnk in january of 67  we ran them thru on a monthly schedule to august of 67 when dave uu moved west & grOnk went under wraps for a year   in september of 68 i started it up again   dave uu was still the most active co-editor with bill bissett & steve mccaffery in there in 3rd & 4th   we kept churning it out free right up to the present and mailing it out every four to eight months in big chunky envelopes which made for nice gifts of poems for people all 64 issues   anyway now times change  the frequency of grOnk as of this date (july 28 1972 is decreasing to make way for other projects   GANGLIA PRESS has served its function as a free information service to an audience of about 250 people…

And so, to inaugurate this series of blog posts on grOnk – and in the spirit of the gift economy that Nichol, UU and Smith had in mind – here is a pdf of the “Ganglia Press Index.” Scroll down to the bottom of the page on bpnichol.ca to download.

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

> 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)

from concrete poetry to the poetics of obsolescence: an interview with Derek Beaulieu

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…

from Derek Beaulieu’s Flatland (Information as Material, 2007)

Derek Beaulieu’s Prose of the Trans-Canada (BookThug, 2011)

copier machine poetics

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.

media studies and the typewriter poem

Media studies is commonly associated with the study of digital media structures and related phenomena. But the more media theory I read (and lately I’ve been voraciously reading everything by Marshall McLuhan that’s outside of the well-worn Understanding Media) the more drawn I am to thinking through the defining effects of earlier analogue and digital writing interfaces as instances of media – from paper/pencil to typewriter to command-line. As such, I’ve been pursuing my interest in dirty concrete poetry – poetry I’ve written about here that courts illegibility and a kind of non-representationality as a way of drawing attention to the limits and possibilities of the typewriter as a writing medium. In that very small world of people who write about dirty concrete, Steve McCaffery’s “Carnival” is as well worn an exemplar as McLuhan’s Understanding Media. But, partly as a result of reading work by derek beaulieu (a contemporary Canadian visual poet who identifies with dirty concrete), I’ve stumbled upon the typewriter poems of John Riddell – a figure known, it seems, only to a handful of poets and critics in Canada.

Of Riddell I only know that he was McCaffery’s partner in his airport limo business as well as his housemate for a brief time; I believe he is now a lay therapist. Of his work, all I’ve so far seen is E clips E (Underwhich Editions 1989) – a startling book of concrete poems that reads like evidence of Riddell’s hell-bent mission to push writing media from xerography to the typewriter, the lettraset, stamps, cut-outs and cut-ups to the breaking point of legibility and interpretability. But that’s not to say they’re not comprehendable or meaningful – they are meaning pushed to another register, that may defy close-reading at the same time as they court a reading more properly sensitive to both its marks and the process of marking.

“coda” is, for me, one of the more intriguing pieces in the book – perhaps because it gives me more of an interpretative foot-hold than a piece such as “in take” does:

“coda,” on the other hand, has much more of what I can only call “alphabetic patterning”. Below is a scan just of first of this four page poem:

Still, it’s appropriate that the definition of “coda” is most firmly tied to music – an art, I learned from R. Murray Schaeffer, of notation as much as sound – not literature. I can’t help feeling the point, the meaning, is purposefully just a little out of reach. Yet, at the same time, I also feel sure there’s a pattern in those columns of text – on the upper left of the first column on the first page, ‘t’ and ‘f’ appear side by side yet it has clearly been written on a typewriter, on which ‘t’ and ‘f’ are diagonally stacked on top of each other, ‘t’ up and to the right, ‘f’ below and to the left. Likewise ‘b’, ‘u’ and ‘j’ are similarly slightly mis-aligned on the page versus their placement on the keys.

Surely this is a media-studies-inflected poem as I’m forced, for the first time since I learned to type in grade 8 (when I was punished for paying too much attention to the keys), to scrutinize the visual arrangement, the alignment of the typewriter keys in relation to their written characters. It’s typewriter poetry that rejects Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse” declaration that the typewriter can “indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends” while it relentlessly courts Olson’s claim that “For the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had.”