U N D E R S T A N D I N G
now that we have reached the point where people have finally come to see that language means communication and that communication does not just mean language, we have come up against the problem, the actual fact, of diversification, of finding as many exits as possible from the self (language/communication exits) in order to form as many entrances as possible for the other...
... there is not a barrier. there are no barriers in art. where there are barriers the art is made small by them. but this is to say no matter where he moves or which 'field' he chooses to work in, he is always a poet and his creations can be looked upon as poems.
there is a new humanism afoot that will one day touch the world to its core. traditional poetry is only of the means by which to reach out and touch the other. the other is emerging as the necessary prerequisite for dialogues with the self that clarify the soul & heart and deepen the ability to love. I place myself there, with them, whoever they are, wherever they are, who seek to reach themselves and the other thru the poem by as many exits and entrances as are possible.
— excerpt from "Statement," from bp or JOURNEYING & the returns dated November 1966
bpNichol certainly found a wealth of exits and entrances from and to the poem throughout his career. His literary influences are varied and far-reaching. There are a number of poets who have influenced his style and approach to writing poetry, including: Olson and Creeley, e. e. cummings, James Joyce, Rube Goldberg, and the children's books of Dr. Seuss (his favourite book was On Beyond ZebraI).
It wasn't until 1963 when he was in Toronto that he really began to explore concrete poetry; this interest stemmed from his explorations in Dada, Gertrude Stein, Kenneth Patchen, Earle Birney, Pierre Coupey, and bill bissett. Furthermore, his interest in Chinese, Japanese, Haida and Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) poetic modes and the ideogrammatic potential of the Arabic alphabet also had an impact on his conception of concrete poetry—or "ideopomes" as he called his visual poems. Two of his biggest influences were Kenneth Patchen and Gertrude Stein.
Kenneth Patchen had a significant influence on bpNichol's career as a visual poet. Nichol attributes his interest in visual poetry to Patchen's "picture poems," like those he found in The Journal of Albion Moonlight, where Patchen experimented with the typographical arrangement of words to convey meaning. Patchen shared with the Dadaists and Surrealists a dislike for the traditional moral and aesthetic objectives of literature. He did not make his work conform to preconceived literary patterns or expectations, rather he was concerned with the way language can create or reflect subtle moods and emotional states, and his work was extremely experimental in seeking that end and sometimes included painting and musical accompaniment. Also at around the same time that Nichol encountered Patchen's work in the early 1960s, he was also introduced to several of the Dadaists, like Hugo Ball, and the work of surrealist and concrete poet, Guillaume Apollinaire.
Another great influence on Nichol's work was the writing of Gertrude Stein. Nichol had a great admiration and interest in Stein's style of poetry, and he included many references to this influence in his own work; for example, The Martyrology includes a quotation from "St.Ein," and he also wrote a several poems, like "Stein Song" which reflects her famous dictum "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose," and his sound poem, "A Love Song for Gertrude Stein." Stein's writing has been described as 'verbal cubism.' Just as cubist paintings broke objects down into smaller units and abandoned a singular point of view or perspective, Stein's poems work with associative rather than cumulative phrasing, in a manner akin to collage. Her poetry is characterized by a playful approach to language, an emphasis on the malleability of nouns, a minimalist attitude to punctuation, and a rejection of fixed meaning—which is something that we also see in the poems of bpNichol.
bpNichol was an inheritor of the modernism of the early years of the century, which found its fullest expression in Cubist painting and in the kind of writing that Stein was involved in producing. However, both Cubism and Stein's poetry were still largely referential to the outside world. Given the inherent referentiality of words, the drive to abstraction was much more difficult in language than it was in painting. The experimental writing of Stein and bpNichol violated grammatical convention in order to prevent normal reading. This impediment to the normal channels of linguistic communication was one of the central aspects of the new humanism that Nichol refers to in his "Statement" from 1966.