Typewriter Poems

Typewriter Poems

Covers of Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer, Still Water, Love: a book of remembrances, and Extreme Positions

One of bpNichol's most well-known concrete poems is Blues (1966) which is depicted on the cover of love: a book of remembrances (top right corner). This poem demonstrates an exploration of the grid-like qualities of the typewriter. On the other hand, this poem also expresses an interest in narrative visual strategy that shrugs off semantic conventions. With only a single word, he explores the visual permutations across the horizontal and vertical axes of the page. The intention of Blues plays with the concept of the word "love" and how it is spelled backwards, "evol." Nichol does not mean to say that love is evil (a semantic connection to the sound of the pronunciation of "evol"), but that rather that it evolves and is the start of change. [1]

Nichol's poems from this period tended to have a very Minimalist aesthetic where the logic of the typewriter is self-contained, and the poems are true to their material and their making.

Typewriter concrete consists of visual poems whose ideal realisation is on a typewritten or mimeographed page; they use letters (and, sometimes, other visual symbols) and the typewritter's ability to evenly space out letters. With a typewriter a poet had more direct control over the matter and the visual structure of language. Until the typewriter, the grid was the exclusive preserve of the typsetter.

bpNichol's first major collection of typewriter poetry was Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer. Many of the poems in this collection take on a shape that also reflects their content, such as "Christian Cross #4 for e.e. cummings." Similarly, in "Tribute to Vasarely," the visual arrangement mimics the optical effects of Vasarely's paintings. This incites the reader to construct words out of the fluctuating surface (e.g. sing, song, so, spa, pawn, wow, etc.).

Nichol's other major collection of typewriter poetry was Still Water. The typewriter effects become even more minimal in this collection. Many of the poems consist only of a single word with slight typographical alterations. For example, the poem from Still Water depicted in the image on the left is simply consists of the letters "em ty. The reader is left to fill in the missing letter, which only reinforces the idea of emptiness which the word conveys.

Another collection, Extreme Positions works through the spatial dispositions of visual poetry, and also plays with word fragmentation and the use of individual letters. This leaves the construction and intepretation of the narrative entirely up to the reader. Like all visual poetry, it requires the reader's participation in a "semantic space" which has not been fixd or directed by syntax. This is similar to bpNichol's idea that language has a multiplicity of meanings: "language does not exist on just one level it exists on many. and rather than trying to find the one true level you must become fluent in all of them... two truths can exist side by side without contradicting each other." [2]

Nichol's ultimate typewriter poem is "The Complete Works," and reproduces an entire keyboard with the addition of a footnote which explains: "Any possible permutation of all listed elements," which would indeed encompass the "complete works."

bpNichol's The Complete Works from An H in the Heart

[1] see "Captain Poetry: In Love" in Captain Poetry Poems. blewointmentpress, 1971. (Call No. SPC PS 8527. I24. C36 1970)

[2] bpNichol, "Little Boy Lost Meets Mother Tongue" CBC radio serial, 1968. (full transcript of this serial is in the bpNichol collection at Simon Fraser University archives.