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Celebrate the 'smallest' in Canadian poetry at bp Nichol Chapbook Awards

laura kusisto

bp Nichol. Courtesy bpnichol.ca

bp Nichol. Courtesy bpnichol.ca

Is it too ambitious to call chapbooks the quintessential medium for Canadian poetry? Certainly many do.

And it is true that in these tiny works of ephemera have been published some of the most experimental and best work of Canadian poets such as Gwendolyn McEwen, Jay Millar, and of course bp Nichol. Moreover, like the Canadian poetry they contain, chapbooks possess an intimate quality, are disarmingly ordinary though exquisitely rare, and remain frustratingly absent from mainstream Canadian bookstores.

This is all part of the appeal of the annual bp Nichol Chapbook Awards, hosted by the Phoenix Community Works Foundation. The $2,000 prize for the best chapbook released by a Canadian publishing house was initiated in 1984 by the B.C. poet bp Nichol, and named after him following his death in 1988. This year, the award will be given out at a ceremony on Wednesday, June 24, 7 p.m. at Augusta House in Toronto’s Kensington Market area. This free event promises to gather together the city’s literary community, with poetry readings, live music, raffle prizes, and a tribute to Nichol himself.

There is also good news for those who can’t make it, or for others who like me are frustrated by the elusiveness of chapbooks in bookstores and online: The winning book will be featured for all to see on bpnichol.ca, a new website dedicated to reproducing Nichol’s work online. The website, which was developed by the Artmob project in collaboration with bp’s widow Ellie, features an interpretive archive of Nichol’s work “curated” by members of the country’s artistic community. Right now the site covers only a tiny fraction of what was produced by the prolific poet with the tragically short career, and it can still feel a little thin. But the site is trying to encourage (unpaid) submissions, so undoubtedly it will grow.

Hopefully the website will also branch out further than just memorializing Nichol’s work, into more projects like the Chapbook Awards that showcase emerging talent. Nichol was a great believer in the quaint chapbook as a medium for poetic experimentation; but more than that he was a great believer in just about anything as a medium for poetry – including visual art, music, videos, and, even a 1977 Apple IIe computer. Or since he can say it so much better than I:
If [the poet’s] need is to touch you physically he creates a poem /object for you to touch and is not a sculptor for he is still moved by the language and sculpts with words … I place myself there, with them, whoever they are, wherever they are, who seek to reach themselves and the other thru the poem by as many exits and entrances as are possible.

The bp Nichol Poetry awards will take place Wednesday, June 24th at 7 p.m. at the Augusta House, 2nd floor, 152 Augusta Ave. For more information contact [email protected]

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