WHAT FUCKAN THEORY: bill bissett in Ottawa
On Friday, January 20th, 2006, Ottawa residents in the know were treated to the second installment of jwcurry's Hit 'N' Run Lecture Series (see my note on the first one), as Toronto poet bill bissett read the entirety of his book of theory, Rush what fukan theory a study uv language (grOnk / blewointmentpress, 1971). Consisting of nearly an hour of continuous reading (and perhaps more; the time flew by, and I don’t think a single person checked a watch), it was an important reading of what many of us realized was an important document in Canadian literature. In many ways, bissett has perhaps produced more work and been treated to less serious critical consideration than almost anyone over the past few decades in Canadian writing. Imagine: every eighteen months, bissett has had a book (each one thoroughly line-edited by editor/publisher Karl Seigler) with Vancouver's Talonbooks since at least the early 1970s, if not the late 1960s (most recently northern wild roses / deth interrupts th dansing, published in 2005), with dozens of other publications going back another ten years or so. Still, even with such a large body of published work, text and visual, so much of bissett's work is performative, and needs to be seen/heard to really open up an understanding of what he is doing with it, and has been doing with it for decades.
With an audience of twenty or thirty (curry would have a better sense of numbers, since he made us all sign something afterwards), spectators/participants included Max Middle, Jennifer Mulligan (bissett kept calling her "Chloe" -- apparently he mistook her for a gallery curator?), Anita Dolman, Michelle April, Grant Wilkins, Jennifer Books, Riley Tench, John W. MacDonald (some of the photos he took of the reading, including pics of bissett, curry, Tench, myself and Mulligan are here) and even some of our lovely National Librarians (interesting to see anyone from the library/archives come to such a strange and radical (for this city) event).
During the reading, bissett told the story of when, the day after bpNichol won (co-won, actually) the Governor General's Award for Poetry, he called Nichol to borrow money. The result was Nichol giving bill $100, with the stipulation that he produce a book of theory, thus making Rush what fukan theory a study uv language not only a document written relatively quickly (bill was pretty sure, as far as his memory goes, that he wasn’t getting the money until after the completion of the manuscript), but one that was a co-publication between bill's publishing house, blewointmentpress, and bpNichol's grOnk. (In jwcurry's note for the event, he gets further into detail by explaining that Rush what fukan theory a study uv language was issued as the last publication of bpNichol's grOnk series, Volume 8 #8, and published by blewointmentpress.)
Held in the former Dragon's Tail location at 880 Somerset Street West (directly underneath the current location of jwcurry's Room 302 Books), in the space of a driving school, the only real strange part of the reading was Riley Tench's intermittent demands that bissett read/perform the poem "a warm place to shit," despite the fact that the whole event was set up for bill to read/perform a specific text (Tench wasn't terribly interested in waiting for his request to be performed afterwards). Usually quieter, and quite wry in his humour, Tench was part of a loose contingent of late 1970s and early 1980s Peterborough, Ontario poets and artists that eventually relocated to Ottawa, including Michael Dennis and Dennis Tourbin; other parts of the disparate group, such as Maggie Helwig, moved in the other direction, to Toronto. Unfortunately, Tench, an active poet and publisher, hasn’t produced any material in perhaps twenty years, but has started coming back out to readings since the founding of the ottawa international writers festival. Also, throughout the reading, I realized I wasn't learning a single thing about driving. What I did learn, was a theory that still held about the fear of most writers and writing of anything not straight linear, and how collage works of text over text over text usually get the short end of the stick, let alone critical considerations (I really need to sit down with this document….).
Originally produced in an edition of 500 copies in 1971, I'm now wondering if it would be worth putting bissett's document of theory ("what theory / its a fact") back in print? And who the hell would be interested in doing such a thing? A scattered collage of theory, speculation, drawings, commentary and visual/concrete pieces, much of which feels still ahead of most contemporary poetic thinking, Rush what fukan theory a study uv language is a document that certainly requires (on my part) further study. I'm hoping some university library has a copy for me to bootleg, somewhere (curry says he has a copy or two available for $75 each). Part of the evening made me wonder what curry will come up with next; if further installments might involve/include Steve McCaffery or Daniel f. Bradley, perhaps?
Related (recent) posts: bill bissett: inkorrect thots & the bill bissett-related blog that ross priddle introduced me to.