A History of Poetry Comics #12

Canadian poet bpNichol (1944-1988) explored the outer limits of words, sound, and pictures, starting with concrete poetry, moving through sound poetry, and creating a treasury of poetry comics.

In the poet’s own words: hence for me there is no discrepancy to pass back and forth between trad poetry, concrete poetry, sound poetry, film, comic strips, the novel or what have you in order to reproduce the muse that musses up my own brain. (Quoted in the introduction to bpNichol Comics (Talonbooks 2002))

He incorporated many of the restraints of comics into his poetry comics – lettering, frames and strips, superhero homage (Captain Poetry), recurring characters, captions, speech bubbles, and emanata. He also featured letters of the alphabet including a starring role for *H*, signifying H-section in Winnipeg where he lived as a child. But he also pushed against these restraints – ignored the frame, lettering ranging from precise to illegible, empty speech bubbles.

Here are 3 examples that illustrate how Nichol used the conceit of the comic book strip or grid but pushed against what was expected.

bpNichol from “Notebook 1971” collected in bpNichol Comics (Talonbooks 2002)
bpNichol from “The True Tale of Tommy Turk” collected in bpNichol Comics (Talonbooks 2002)
bpNichol from “The True Tale of Tommy Turk” collected in bpNichol Comics (Talonbooks 2002)

These are wild! There are frames coming out of pictures, frames inside frames, a network of frames, frames fanning and folding, frames ignoring gutters while creating their own runaway gutters, frames that are crossed out. They make their own universe with their own context and logic – surreal, meta, morphed – while carrying simple yet profound poetic messages. Much to admire here and be inspired by.

To be continued …

Timeline: 1960-1980+

Warning: This incomplete history maps my journey as a poet learning about comics and doesn’t follow a strict chronological order.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s