Lament: A Sound Poem

As a student of Gertrude Stein, Nichol was aware of the use of repetition to insist upon meaning. In sound poetry, the chant is one of the most basic rhythmic techniques and often relies on repetition to provide coherent continuity for the poem. However, repetition can function in two widely different ways: it can be used (as Stein suggested) to insist upon meaning, or it can be used to cancel meaning.

One of bpNichol's sound poems where repetition does insist upon meaning is Lament: a sound poem (to the memory of d.a. levy who took his own life november 1968. This poem consists of a basic text that has a repetition of the lines

you are city hall, my people

and look what you've become, I said

you are city hall, my people

and look what you've done, I said

There is a very clear sense of the poem's meaning and that it is about civic politics and the responsibility of each citizen for the actions of their government (e.g. "you are your own fuzz" and, ultimately, "you are your own distortion"). The repetition of the lines and the insistence of the rhythm of the chant work to insist upon the idea that the words contain.

On the other hand, the effect of repetition can also produce opaqueness; the rhythm and the repetition will come to refer more to themselves rather than the meaning and ideas signified by the words. Nichol suggests this in the printed/visual text of the poem by moving from a legible single printing of the lines to multiple overprintig in which the words become an illegible blur. In this way, "Lament" begins at a level of recognisable meaning and towards the end is subjected to semantic abstraction.

The poem can be angry or mournful depending on the inflection of the voice. The text of a sound poem is no more than a basis for improvisation, which means that no two performances will ever be alike. The performer may also shift the mood, tempo and duration of the delivery of the poem to create a different effect depending on the conditions of the performance and the audience. In this way, the meaning may change for each person listening to the poem.

bpNichol's ambition, which was never realised, was to deliver this poem over the loud speaker system at the Toronto City Hall.