all things fallOn Saturday, July 29, 2006, Ottawa poet, publisher and editor jwcurry held a reading of bpNichol's The Martyrology, a nine-volume poem that appeared in trade form with The Martyrology Books 1 & 2 (1971) and ended with the posthumous The Martyrology Book 9 (1993). Being the bibliographer of bpNichol for some twenty years or so, curry has been working toward completion and publication of A Beepliographic Cyclopoedia and its side-project, a concordance to the martyrology for some time; this reading, to continue from the beginnings of Book 1 and continue until audience or voice gave out, was planned as both teaser/tester and a consideration of fundraisings for such a project (the pre-sale price of the complete A Beepliographic Cyclopedia is $3000.00, at an estimated 4,000 manuscript pages, and he has already sold a copy); what is it about this work that so completely holds the attention of so many people? (One can even argue, why is there a disproportionate amount of work on bpNichol's The Martyrology against all the other things he did, which easily outnumber the pages and the range of such a work?) What is it that keeps jwcurry coming back to the work again and again, making the life work of bpNichol the subject of his own?
all things are one in the end
all that is all encompassed in that word
ah sweet saints of sameness
you are that saint
his all (bpNichol, The Martyrology)
Held secretly at the gazebo [a photo of such here] behind Parliament Hill, promoted almost exclusively by word-of-mouth, the former Barrack's Hill gave the most spectacular dusk view of the Ottawa River, Gatineau and at least six inter-provincial bridges, various boats and boat-noises, and the sun soothing down over the rolling buildings of Ottawa's sister city across the water. The reading started at 8:30 and moved through all of Book 1 and through most of Book 2. There is something very interesting about listening to a complete book (even if not a complete work) in one sitting, taking in all the things that exist there to be taken in as one extended idea, as opposed to simply dipping in.
At one point there were seventeen deliberate audience members in attendance (as opposed to the curious onlookers, who dipped in and out of listening range), including Stephen Brockwell, Steve Zytveld and Cathy MacDonald-Zytveld, Katherine Hunt, Amanda and Charles Earl, Monty Reid, Anita Dolman, James Moran (he brought a big bottle of wine and very little plastic wine glasses) and Carmel Purkis. With the gathered crowd for fireworks across the water at the Hull Casino, the break after the first hour or so was longer than curry expected (he was pretty excited about the crowd and the fireworks, though), he eventually resumed around 11pm to complete Book 2, and read straight through near the end of Book 3 around 12:45, when the three of us left (Steve, Cathy and I) took his pause as the time to call it a night (that's a lot of reading to take in).
In what other country, curry asked, could you have a sly reading of poetry by the national government buildings? Not in the Kremlin or at the White House, he said, that's for sure; he even reminded me of how we were but inches away from where bpNichol got talked about in the House of Commons for writing "filthy material." If you can imagine, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, as well as a number of his colleagues, didn’t like a number of things, including bpNichol's references to Billy the Kid's dick in THE TRUE EVENTUAL STORY OF BILLY THE KID (1970), or that both it and Michael Ondaatje's own The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970), co-winners of that years' Governor General's Award for Poetry, were about an American and not a Canadian.
On the whole, curry seemed enormously pleased at the event, and probably would have been, even if no one had actually showed up (since I left before the other three did, I have no evidence to say that curry simply just didn’t continue reading after we toddled off).
related notes: Amanda Earl's post on the reading; Charles Earl's photoblog of the reading; my previous post on jwcurry.