grain magazine, featuring the Christmas cards of bpNichol
When Toronto poet bpNichol died in 1988 at the age of 44, he left a wealth of writing, living & friends behind to mourn the loss, & his life & work have spawned a whole range of admirers, imitators & celebrations, such as the current issue of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s grain magazine, featuring a number of the Christmas cards that bpNichol produced as annual handouts. As Stephen Ross Smith & Gerry Shikatani write in their brief introduction:
“In 1979 bpNichol and his wife Ellie began sending or handing out a special edition of a poem by bp as a Christmas ‘card’ to friends and family. The first card was red, and featured a hand-drawn cartoon with an ‘H’. By the ‘80s, the cards had, in some cases, become small chapbooks as exemplified by ‘Transformational Unit’ and ‘Some Scapes’, included herein. All the pieces were fine renderings, and included visual poems, poster-poems, and text pieces. By 1987, the year before bp’s death, about 400 cards were being sent out annually.”
Between the regular contributions of poetry & fiction by such as Shannon Bramer, Sara Cassidy & Ian Roy are bpNichol’s “Transformational Unit,” “Middle Initial Sequel,” “Some Scapes,” “Christmas card, 1979” as well as two details, from “Alphabet” & “Ilphabet.” Even the cover, opened, features what ended up being the last card published & sent while Nichol was still alive, the “Landscape #3.” Thanks to my neighbour & bpNichol friend, collaborator, collector & bibliographer jwcurry, I have a copy of the original on my kitchen wall, just over my computer.
Curator & poet Gil McElroy confirms the importance of Nichol’s work & publishing, specifically the Christmas cards in an interview at The Drunken Boat, saying “[. . . ] it was actually bpNichol who confirmed for the the validity and need to publish. He and Ellie were kind enough to include me on their Christmas mailing list, and I began emulating that practice when I could afford to as well.” McElroy himself has emulated the tradition, whether sending poems on cards for Christmas, or through email, as does Arizona poet Sheila Murphy (I can’t comment on where she got the idea, though, if from Nichol or somewhere else).
Still produced annually by Ellie Nichol & their daughter Sarah (much of the past few years have featured fractions of the utanikki “You Too, Nicky”), I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the Christmas card list for a couple of years. So much of Nichol’s work existed outside the boundaries of normal publishing, such as these cards, so it’s good to see a magazine such as grain work to acknowledge the accomplishment. So much of the criticism on Nichol’s work has focused on The Martyrology, when there was always so much more.