Barrie Phillip Nichol, "bpNichol," writer, sound poet, editor, teacher (b at Vancouver 30 Sept 1944; d at Toronto 25 Sept 1988). bpNichol's tragic early death in 1988 robbed us of one of Canada's leading experimental writers, and a truly generous individual and imagination. First achieving international recognition for concrete poetry in the 1960s, he published and recorded his work in many different places and ways. A great believer in the power and reach of collaboration, he wrote and performed with a wide variety of people around the world, including composer R. Murray Schafer and visual artist Barbara Caruso.
He performed sound poetry in solo concerts, with various other performers, and as one of the group The Four Horsemen; and he explored a wide variety of theoretical possibilities in the Toronto Research Group, which he founded with Steve McCaffery; he edited various magazines and anthologies, as well as bringing many books by other writers out through 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.
In the 1980s, he also wrote for Fraggle Rock, as well as a number of musical plays. In 1970 he won the Governor General's Award for poetry for 4 volumes that demonstrated his range: Beach Head (1970), a small collection of lyric poems; Still Water (1970), a box of concrete poetry cards; The True Eventual Story of Billy the Kid (1970), a hilarious and witty deconstruction of the Western mythos in 4 pages; and The Cosmic Chef Glee & Perloo Memorial Society under the Direction of Captain Poetry Presents an Evening of Concrete Courtesy Oberon Cement Works (1970), a boxed anthology of Canadian concrete poems Nichol edited. 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. In Selected Organs, Nichol truly writes the body as an inscription of a life, yet does so with a love and humour that is classically comic.
There is also First Screening (1993), a set of computer concrete poems which Nichol first programmed on a primitive Apple IIe in the early 1980s, an absolutely delightful work. All Nichol's writing forms a unity, but his long ongoing poem, The Martyrology, Books 1-9 (1972-1992), was the central work of both exploration and consolidation. It is, as Robert Kroetsch has called it, "the life-long poem." "A method, then, and then, and then, of composition; against the 'and then' of story." Nichol, who saw himself all his life as both "an apprentice to language" and "a language researcher," continually expanded the formal possibilities of this ongoing poem in order to inscribe ever more of the writing and written self into the Heraclitean flux of history.
Nichol's first selected works, As Elected: Selected Writing (1980), was edited by him and Jack David; George Bowering and Michael Ondaatje have edited a new selected works, Nichol's first collection from a major publisher, An H in the Heart: A Reader (1994). Major critical works are Stephen Scobie, bpNichol: What History Teaches (1984), Paul Dutton and Steve Smith, eds., Read the Way He Writes: A Festschrift for bpNichol (1986), Roy Miki, ed., Tracing the Paths: Reading=Writing "The Martyrology" (1988), Irene Niechoda, A Sourcery for Books 1 and 2 of bpNichol's The Martyrology (1992), and Douglas Barbour, bpNichol and His Works (1992).