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Landscape: I -- bpNichol

(Poem #497) Landscape: I
(for thomas a. clark)

-- bpNichol
In recent weeks I've been exploring various aspects of the relationship between
poetry and the visual arts - first, with the series of poems on Brueghel's
'Hunters in the Snow', and then with e. e. cummings' typographical experiments
in 'Poem 42'. 'Landscape' is another take on the same theme - here, though, the
words do not describe a picture (as in the Brueghel poems), nor is their
arrangement a way of enhancing their effect (as in the cummings). Rather, the
words themselves _are_ the picture; their visual impact is at least as important
as the meanings they convey.



Four poems based on Brueghel's painting 'Hunters in the Snow':
poem #483, Poem #484, Poem #485, and Poem #486.

Auden's 'Musee des Beaux Arts' is another poem based on a Brueghel; this time,
his 'Fall of Icarus': poem #68

e. e. cummings is probably the most famous exponent of 'visual' poetry; the poem
mentioned above, Poem 42, is archived at poem #493

Geoffrey Hill's 'A Prayer to the Sun' is another example of (semi-)visual
poetry; you can read it (along with an essay on the nature of poetry
itself), at poem #349.

Nohow and contrariwise, it should also be remembered that the origins of poetry
are fundamentally oral/aural; check out
'The Seafarer': poem #326
'Gnomic Stanzas': poem #333
and of course any number of song lyrics on the Minstrels website.

We've run one bpNichol poem before, the wonderfully titled 'Dear Captain
Poetry', which you can read at poem #189

There's a decent bpNichol homepage at

[More on Nichol]

"... Nichol's Translating Translating Apollinaire went back to a point of
origin, and was intended as a life-long project. The basic proposition of the
work was to subject a single poem to every possible transformational process.
Quite naturally, he chose his first published poem, 'Translating Apollinaire',
as the base for the work. Much of the series works out visual strategies
specific to a typewriter's unit spacing in a number of ways. As visual poetry,
the most interesting are those described in terms of three dimensional space.
The fifth of the 'Ten Views' sequence, for instance, charts the poem in terms of
"walking west along the southern boundary looking north", while the last is a
labyrinthine view beginning on the exterior and walking in. The series also
includes visual poems composed by other people and some done by Nichol in the
style of others...

... perhaps Nichol's most extreme ephemeral poem, and extreme poem period, was
the short booklet Cold Mountain. This booklet contained instructions for folding
the book and burning it. In this case the real visual poem was something you
could only see for a few minutes: the book burning in front of you.
Paradoxically, perhaps, I doubt that many recipients actually burned their
copies, and beyond that, a large part of the edition was destroyed by

... Nichol could tinker with just about anything in terms of visual poetry. He
rang numerous variations on Basho's most famous haiku ("old pond/frog jumps
in/water sound") - again, note that this is a form of returning to square one,
the basic poem of a genre. His last variation, apparently never published, was
simply a capital letter Q - the circle is the pond, and the tail is the frog's
diving board. As far as I know, the last Basho poem he prepared for print (in
Art Facts) was a poem found in a newspaper: 'Frog Pond turns into gold mine'..."

        -- Karl Young, an essay bpNichol's visual poetry
Complete article at

A generous extract from 'Translating Translating Apollinaire' can be found at

The Basho haiku mentioned above has featured on the Minstrels; you can read it
at poem #23


If you're interested in concepts such as translation, transliteration and
transformation, if you like reflecting on the music of language and the mystery
of meaning, or if you just want to indulge yourself in a wild intellectual ride,
well, I can't do better than to recommend Douglas Hofstadter's new book, 'Le ton
beau de Marot'. Read it!

22 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Julian Tepper said...

While the shape resulting from these words having been strung together may
illustrate the picture they describe, one thing yet puzzles me.

I do not contend that the words do not constitute a poem, but I do not
understand why they do. Would it be possible for someone to explain that to
me, and do so by using a definition of a poem and showing how the words come
within that definition? Thanks.


Julian Tepper said...

Or, how about this:


Now that's a poem; just shows to go 'em.


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Thanks for share, i'm not a very poetic person, but i like to narrate stories in first person because i can tell what's going on and at the same time tell some sarcastic joke but well sometimes this also applies in poems.

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JT said...

So, there is no explanation why it comprises a poem.

As I suspected.

Julian Tepper

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