grOnk magazine, sixth series: issues 1, 2-3, 4, 5, 8 (part 8)

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.”

> 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, issue 1 1969 (part 4)

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

> See also grOnk magazine, fourth series: issues 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 1968-1971 (part 6)

> See also grOnk magazine, fifth series: issues 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 (part 7)

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Marshall McLuhan and the Avant-Garde

Recently I stumbled upon an odd but thrilling little publication from 1966 called Astronauts of Inner-Space: An International Collection of Avant-Garde Activity which includes – according to the front cover –  17 manifestoes, articles, letters, 28 poems and 1 filmscript. The collection is so astounding that I had to make a pdf of it – available here, if you’re interested. And why should you be interested? Because it documents a rare moment when media theorists such as Marshall McLuhan are not just influencing but are actively in dialogue with artists, painters, poets, filmmakers, from the avant-garde of the early 20th century to the mid-1960s.

Look at the table of contents and you’ll see that McLuhan’s piece, “Culture and Technology,” is nestled among contributions by pioneers of Dada such as Rauol Hausmann to pioneers of computer generated poetry Max Bense and Margaret Masterman; it’s also included along with essays and poems by “typescape” poets Franz Mon and Dom Sylvester Houedard, work by cut-up master William Burroughs, and even the more bookbound Robert Creeley.

In this single collection, we not only get a sense of McLuhan as engaged with poetics but we see the poets as writing thoroughly activist media poems. They are even activist in the sense that McLuhan was imagining when he wrote in his Astronauts of Inner-Space contribution that “…if politics is the art of the possible, its scope must now, in the electric age, include the shaping and programming of the entire sensory environment as a luminous work of art.” Politics as art and poetry; art and poetry as politics.

women dirty concrete poets

I would be blind indeed if I didn’t notice or acknowledge the fact that these dirty concrete/typewriter poets – Steve McCaffery, bpNichol, bill bissett, John Riddell – I’ve been writing about here and in my book project are all men…and nearly all them reference or acknowledge other like-minded men (though of course not always – I gather McCaffery has written on Beth Learn). I’m not entirely sure whether it’s my own unintentional bias. But I can say for sure that in many of the collections of typewriter/dirty concrete poetry I’ve looked at the vast majority of contributors are men. I asked Judith Copithorne, who has written a small book of dirty concrete called Horizon, to speculate on the absence of women and she replied to me something to the effect that back in those days, dirty concrete was considered pretty ‘out there’ and women were already having a hard enough time getting noticed for less ‘out there’ work.

However, thanks entirely to the assistance of Darren Wershler and Judith Copithorne, below is a short list of women from Canada and the U.K. who are or were dirty concrete poets. Perhaps this can serve as a kind of bookmark to myself and others about the archaeological research and writing that has yet to be done on these women:

  • Bettina Adler
  • Mirella Bentivoglio
  • Jennifer Books
  • Paula Claire
  • Jennifer Pike Cobbing
  • Jo Cooke
  • Judith Copithorne
  • Patricia Farrell
  • Maxine Gadd
  • Beth Learn
  • Peggy Lefler
  • Maggie O’Sullivan
  • Sylvia Ptak
  • Betty Radin
  • Rhoda Rosenfeld

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.

history of the term “dirty concrete”

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.).”