How did I come to find you? Barrie? Can you hear me?
It's not just the works of the fixed stars in my constellation that I would keep track of, it's also my relationship to them (it's the astronomy and the astrology), but I'm not sure where bpNichol came in. It seems that it may have been in the first package of Score magazine that Crag sent me, it may have been the Emmett Williams anthology. I'm not sure. I remember that I stumbled on the Martyrology in Powell's, and bought books 1 & 2 (which is one book), and I was confused by the clearly elucidated language, the modest but significant emotional introspection, which pivots between an eye (an I) on the saints, a thin veil peopling a self's landscape. I was confused because I was looking for the most out there work, and had found it in his concrete- or maybe that's not right. I found the most out there, experimental work that made complete sense to me, that touched on things new, and also touched me, talking about the visual and concrete work. And then, finding the Martyrology, and being shocked by the openness and honesty of the poem (is it ok to like this?). In spite of these disconcerting thoughts, I read through the book pretty fast. One or two sittings.
Then came across the sound poems somewhere. Probably watched Crag sing "What is a poem" before I met him, and that may have been my first bite. Also disconcerting (how sweet!). But it was the works he first published as Aleph Unit that I think asked me to keep coming back (and read the Martyrology). The Aleph Unit visual poems bridge concrete poetry and comic illustration, taking letter forms and making a nexus of the images that compose the sequence, within the individual images as well as across the sequence. You also find some of the first breaks with the concrete tradition as Crag would define it (a verbal/visual score that can be pronounced, performed). In the Aleph Unit and other series the gesture of making the letter forms becomes the arena, and this makes bp not the first, but certainly some of the first recognizable work to mark the transition from "proper" "concrete" to the very gesture-defined and defying generation of visual poets at work now. Go Canada!
I have a new ritual of picking up another section of the Martyrology from Open Books whenever I'm in Seattle. I read 3&4 (most of it) taking the train back last year, and picked up 5 a few weeks ago. Book 5 of The Martyrology is going to be trickier for me to read in completion because its structure allows one to take different paths through the book. I gave it one terrific reading (in one sitting) and it was fantastic, absolutely beautiful. I can't imagine giving another reading of it and competing, but I am having as much trouble putting the book back on the shelf.
Derek Beaulieu of No Press just sent me a chapbook version he has republished of Lungs: A Draft, which is a part of bp's Selected Organs autobiographical sections. I believe the Selected Organs are going to be re-published themselves again soon. I'll quote Paul Dutton's blurb on the back of The Alphabet Game: a bpNichol Reader: "Read him! Read him! Read him!"