Ad Sanctos Martyrology

by B. P. Nichol,
ISBN: 0889104549

A Book of Fictions

by B. P. Nichol, Irene Niechoda,
ISBN: 0920544983

A Sourcery for Books One & Two of B. P. Nichol's The Martyrology

by Irene Niechoda,
214 pages,
ISBN: 1550221027

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Experimentalism Lite
by Clint Burnham

THERE'S A KIND of urban myth that's been floating around for the past 15 or 20 years about experimental writing or metafiction or whatever term it is we agree to use to describe prose that refuses transparent language and causal narrative. The myth, in sum, is that this sort of writing is both more difficult to write and more difficult to read. A corollary to this second proposition is usually that it is also boring or at least serious: thus a reviewer in these pages said earlier this year that Steve McCaffery's Theory of Sediment is not light reading. I would maintain, however, that the experimental writing that has flourished in Canada and elsewhere in the past three decades is quite often fun or light to read, and not necessarily difficult in the old Eliot-Joyce way.

So bpNichol's "latest" posthumous publication, Truth: A Book of Fictions, brings together many "fictions" that are interesting both as examples of experimenting with convention and texts that are a hoot to read. A recurrent series in the book, for instance, is "Studies in the Book Machine." The last one begins on the last page of the book and is simply the words "if this is a page," and is followed on the inside of the back cover with "is this a page?" Many other texts in the collection play with the page and what goes on it; "Unsigned: A Book of the Unwritten" ends with six or seven blank pages, thus playing with the pun on writing as signs on the page and the author's signature. Three or four poems take some letters from a typography sample and dedicate them to another writer -McCaffery, Dom Sylvester Houedard, Hesse, Blake. Call it "lite" metafiction or experimental writing if you like, but only if we don't get on some high horse about how every bit of text has to be rigorous or profound.

What I like about the collection, carefully edited by Irene Niechoda, is its heady mix of these kinds of "lite" experimentalisms, concrete poetry, more conventional verse (as if Nichol was ever that conventional, of course), and mock-essays in the so-called "pataphysical" school. This parody of scholarship, which owes its origins to the French writer Alfred Jarry, I find a bit tedious - sometimes pataphysics can be even more boring than the scientific linguistics it's poking fun at. (But check out Nichol's "catalogue" from the Pataphysical Hardware Company; it's priceless.)

The admixture is important. By including such disparate sorts of texts in what is called "a book of fictions," Niechoda keeps in the reader's eye and mind the variety of Nichol's oeuvre and his desire to indulge in both the trivial and the experimental.

Niechoda's own book on Nichol, A Sourcery for Books I and 2 of bpNichol's The Martyrology, I'm not so sure about. That is, she does provide a great deal of explanation for the often obscure lines and intertexts or sources in Nichol's great long poem The Martyrology. But this volume, which is based on interviews with Nichol, manifestly falls prey to what our grandparents called the "intentional fallacy"; and which in the newer vernacular has been replaced with "the death of the author." This is not to say that such an impossible project as determining Nichol's references and the genealogy of the poem should not be attempted, and everyone who reads Nichol's work seriously will be grateful that Niechoda has done so much groundwork.

I can't think of anyone who would be grateful for the latest volume in The Martyrology, however: Ad Sanctos (Book 9) appears to be an uncompleted libretto, and probably should not have been published. But it was, all 36 pages of it, along with a 240-page score by Howard Gerhard. Well, at least I didn't have to pay for it.


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