Who is bpNichol?

Who is bpNichol?

Barrie Phillip Nichol (aka bpNichol) records this passage from Henry Miller in 1979 in his Houses of the Alphabet notebook. It is one of many moments when his concerns for both the genre of biography and the way he would be remembered become apparent. This is also a theme in many of his poems as well, which can be linked to a much larger context, origin. For him, both biography and autobiography are fictions that try to make sense of incomplete data, memories, perspectives, and facts through plausible interpretations.

bpNichol (Barrie Phillip Nichol) was born in Vancouver, BC, in 1944. In 1963, he received a teaching certificate from the University of British Columbia and briefly taught elementary school. He also worked for the University of Toronto Libraries, was a theradramatist and administrator for a therapy foundation called Therafields, and, in the 1980s, wrote for several children’s television shows, such as Fraggle Rock and The Carebears. bpNichol died in 1988 in Toronto.

His career as a poet began in the early 1960s, and his early attempts at writing produced  fiction and lyric poetry. It wasn't until the late 1960s, upon arriving in Toronto that Nichol decided to concentrate on visual poetry, or "ideopomes," as he called them. This decision ended up gaining him attention and reknown as a poet, because visual poetry had been, unbeknowst to him, enjoying since the early 1950s an international surge of interest as "concrete poetry."

Nichol's first major collection of concrete poetry, Konfessions of an Elizbethan Fan Dancer, marked the beginning of a long engagement with the typewriter and the visual possibilities that it could produce. The grid-like qualities of typewritten text allowed him to reproduce letters exact distances apart, and to create meaning semantically and visually. Soon after this he published bp, a boxed set of concrete poems, and in 1970 the Governor General's Award-winning collection of loose poems, Still Water.

Among his many books of prose, Craft Dinner: Stories & Texts, 1966-1976 (1978), Journal (1978), Still (1983), and Selected Organs: Parts of an Autobiography (1988) stand out as the most important and interesting. bpNichol also spent a considerable amount of time over the years developing several series of poems, including his concrete letter poems, and the series ‘Probable Systems;' however many believe that The Martyrology is his most significant poem and is the culmination of his life's work as a poet.  

bpNichol also performed sound poetry in solo concerts, with various other performers, and as one of the group The Four Horsemen. He founded Ganglia Press in 1965 with David Aylward and grOnk magazine in 1967 with Bill Bissett and David UU (David W. Harris). He edited various magazines and anthologies, as well as bringing many books by other writers out through a long involvement with Coach House Press. As for his own work, he published a wide range of poetry and prose in too many books and pamphlets to count, and always with the small presses, whose work he passionately believed in.

Throughout his life, Nichol continued to subvert formal and thematic conventions in his shorter poems and sequences—effortlessly moving between genres, blurring and experimenting with generic boundaries. bpNichol is considered to be one of Canada's greatest poets.