Alphabets

Alphabets

In the places I go there are things that I see

That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z

I'm telling you this 'cause you're one of my friends

My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!

- On Beyond Zebra, Dr. Seuss.

The title and subtitle of ABC: The Aleph Beth Book provoke a child-like and playful apprehension of language and the alphabet. This collection begins with a theoretical statement that the poem is dead, "Poetry being at a dead end poetry is dead... what has been constant till now have been the artificial boundaries we have placed on the poem. We must put the poem in our lives by freeing it from the necessity to be. The poem will live again when we accept finally the fact of the poem's death." [1] This statement has an obvious deconstructionist influence that seeks to break down and explore the aplhabet in a new way.

The aesthetic with which this book treats the letter shapes is a testament to Nichol's interest in transforming the alphabet, and making us rethink our conception of what an alphabet really is. In this way, his approach to the alphabet in this book is very similar to Dr. Seuss' approach in the classic children's book, On Beyond Zebra.

This collection portrays the alphabet in a series of letter overlays. Nichol takes the shape of the letter and overlays it upon itself numerous times in order to create an unexpected and new way of experiencing the alphabet. For example, the letter T in Nichol's alphabet (depicted on the right of the bottom image) appears as if it was a spiralling staircase, and shares some aesthetic characteristics with Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (1912). The letter looks just as abstracted as the figure and the staircase itself.

In this alphabet, Nichol was interested in the play of negative space and light through the overlapping letters and what happened to the letter-form when it overlapped with itself. These are some of the most "classical" of the visual poetry that he has done.

Another alphabet that he made was in collaboration with silkscreen artist Barbara Caruso (best known for her Colour Lock series of paintings). Alphhabet/Ilphabet was published in 1978 by Caruso's press, Seripress.This collection contains two silkscreen prints of two different alphabets where there is a combination one letter with all of the letters of the alphabet. Alphhabet (depicted on the left side of the bottom image) combines the letter "H"--bpNichol's favourite letter--with the other letters of the alphabet. Meanwhile, Ilphabet combined the alphabet with the letter "I."

When Nichol showed Caruso his sketches for these alphabets, she saw a graphic potential in them and asked to work on them with him. She made the silkscreen print by using a square shape to configure the "H" alphabet and a lozenge shape to configure the "I" alphabet.

According to Caruso, this was not a collaboration since the alphabets were Nichols; however, Nichol believed it was. He liked to explore new forms of expression with others, because it was through collaboration that his perceptions were expanded. [2] Caruso and Nichol's collaborations started with Milt the Morph in the early 1970s, and almost half of Caruso's publications under Seripress in that decade were collaborations with bpNichol.

Alphhabet/Ilphabet (left) and The Aleph Beth Book (right)

[1] bpNichol, ABC: The Aleph Beth Book, Toronto: Oberon Press and Coach House Press, 1971. (Call No, SPC PS 8527. I24. A72 1971)

[2] Barbara Caruso, "The Seripress Collaborations: Nichol and Caruso" in St. 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)