Visual Poetry



In a sense, to write is a visual act--to put letters on a page, to create lines with a pencil or pen. There's a very definite visual moment. The page is a visual field and that's one of the elements of writing... The minute you start to look at what you write, there's a whole set of visual possibilities that open up.

- bpNichol        

In the 1960s, it was Fluxus artist, writer, and scholar Dick Higgins who, speaking of conrete poetry, said that there was "[an] ongoing human wish to combine the visual and literary impulses" [1]. This is certainly true of the visual poems of bpNichol.

Even in a literary landscape, Nichol's visual sensibility is well rooted. Nichol's visual poems render language visible with destabilizing playfulness. His love of words and letters in all their aspects shows that he a keen eye for visual ambiguities, a refined aesthetic, a well-honed sense of humour, sophisticated taste in typography, and an awareness of language as both model and shaper of the human operations and experience. He constantly explored the dualism of language as both container and content. His visual poetry constantly reminds the reader-viewer of the physical and mental processes in the creating of the writing-drawing.

bpNichol's visual poetry developed several techniques in his personal style using elements from the grid of the typewriter, comic strips, and using breathline poetry and hand-drawn visual text that toy with narrative logic and their status as material texts. Nichol was interested in the tactile quality of language and poetry, and he wrote that "if the poet's need is to touch you physically he creates a poem/object for you to touch and is not a sculptor for he is still moved by the language and sculpts with words..." [2]

bpNichol experimented with a number of different strategies in his visual poems, ranging from the more "classical" concrete poetry to his post-concrete style that relied less on verbal elements (like his drawings of letters or landscapes), a static individual image than on a sequence, or on serial development and metamorphosis. In this way, Nichol found many routes out of the impasse that concrete poetry found itself in the late 1960s, and solidified his interest in the visuality of language.

His visual poems can be grouped into several categories; click on one of the following to learn more about the visual poetry of bpNichol.

[1] Dick Higgins quoted by Paul Dutton in "bpNichol: Drawing the Poetic Line" inSt. Art: The Visual Poetry of bpNichol, exhibition catalogue, June 2000, Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. (Call No. SPC PS 8527. I24. A6. 2000)

[2] bpNichol quoted from the cover copy for bp / JOURNEYING & the returns (1967) box set. (Call No. SPC PS 8527. I24. J68 1967D)