Adore adore (PoemTalk #159)
bpNichol, 'Dada Lama' and 'A Small Song That Is His'
Derek notes of “Dada Lama” that it’s an early piece in which bpNichol’s clearly working through his influences. At that point the sound poem was “really new to the Canadian conversation.” It echoes Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara. By the time you get to “A Small Song” there’s more confidence in bpNichol’s grasp of the sound poem, such that he can begin to “come up with a poetics of the letter.” “And poems are not made of feelings,” Derek reminds us. “Poems are made of letters.” Doug sees — in the alphabetically ordered “DEF” of “A Small Song” — that bpNichol is assigning “an acoustic image” to the typographical image of each letter. You have, Doug observes, a visual pun in the opening (indeed, an opening of a field) made with the “O.” That having been established, we then soon have the “H” of a leg, a table: “H” with its high vertical ascender becomes that table with legs. Doug senses that we begin to be able to map the sky, the lake, as emanations from the alphabet, in a sense reversing the conventional idea of what happens to letters as letters when they are deployed to signify things, whereupon their initial fundamental role as makers of meaning is typically repressed or forgotten or, at least, taken for granted. A bpNichol sound poem can undo that repression. Tracie interprets “Dada Lama” as a lullaby, and hears the vowels as an opening and an openness, a calming opacity, while the consonants then bring in a limitation. In the openness of the sound in the opening of the poem, Tracie hears a very particular cultural pointing and significance, an aesthetic stake in the ground being put down, in the “Canadian-ness” of the sound of the verbs. And this, argues Tracie, enables us to see bpNichol in the act of “establishing his place.”