#105 bill bissett
February 02nd, 2016
LOCATION: Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby Street
As much a painter as he is a poet, bill bissett has supported himself since the 1960s by selling his paintings and reading poetry. The Vancouver Art Gallery hosted an extensive one-man show of bissett’s art, curated by Scott Watson, in 1984, called ‘fires in th tempul’, at the former courthouse building on Georgia Street. The only other major B.C. author with a one-man VAG show has been Douglas Coupland in 2014 with an exhibit called, ‘everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything’.
“bill bissett is a one-man culture… he is a lesson to us all.” — James Reaney
“bill bissett is my astral twin” — Margaret Atwood
“The greatest living poet today” — Jack Kerouac on bill bissett, Paris Review
bill bissett took off in British Columbia where Earle Birney left off. The “man-child mystic” is living proof of William Blake’s adage “the spirit of sweet delight can never be defiled.” He has written more than 60 books of poetry, all identifiable by the incorporation of his artwork and his consistently phonetic (funetik) spelling. His idealistic and ecstatic stances frequently obscure his critical-mindedness, humour and craftmanship.
Born in Halifax in 1939, bissett spent much of his teen years in hospital for treatment of an abdominal condition, peritonitis. During this period he became deeply immersed in movies, to the consternation of his father, a judge, who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. His mother died in 1953. While attending Dalhousie University in 1956, bissett ran away with a preacher’s son to join the circus, ending up in Vancouver (“in either 1958 or ’59”). While the TISH poetry movement was forming at UBC, bissett, according to his Talonbooks publisher Karl Siegler, was “universally recognized as one of the grooviest, stonedest, weird freaks—one of the great Olympians of the Kitsilano hippie scene.” The first issue of his blewointment poetry magazine appeared in 1962. “in th beginning,” he writes, “othr magazeens n publishrs wud not publish us as we wer the downtown oets n mostlee vizual non linear n not cumming from aneewhere n mostlee left wing politikalee.”
From 1963 to 1965, bissett attended the University of British Columbia and met poetry professor Warren Tallman. In 1968, bissett was busted while taking marijuana to a Powell River commune. He spent several weeks at the Oakalla prison farm, plus some time in jail in Powell River, Vancouver and Burnaby. He was fined $500. Federal authorities vowed to appeal the ruling, wanting a stiffer sentence.
The major disaster—or turning point—in bissett’s life occurred at a Kitsilano house party in 1969. He fell through a folding door that was supposed to be latched shut. He plummeted 20 feet to the concrete floor in the basement, severely injuring his head. bissett was paralyzed and catatonic, about to be sent for Riverview for electric shock treatments, when an interning neurologist rescued him by correctly diagnosing his inter-cerebral bleeding. After an emergency operation, bissett couldn’t communicate and he suffered from edema and aphasia (memory loss). “So I was like a write-off.” The neurologist was the only person who believed he might recuperate.
Stirred by visits from poetry comrades such as Tallman and Gerry Gilbert, bissett confounded the physicians by relearning body movements and speech with the aid of the young neurologist who brought him balls to squeeze, taught him the alphabet and insisted he try to paint again. Gradually his combination of aphasia, edema, paralysis and epilepsy abated—and bissett was able to see and paint auras. When federal authorities arrived at the hospital to serve notice of appeal within a prescribed 30-day period, the head nurse advised them bissett would be dead within a week. The case was dropped.
bissett’s poetry was the subject of a six-month brouhaha in Parliament in 1977-78 over the fact that taxpayers were subsidizing allegedly profane poetry. Tallman and Talonbooks organized benefits with poets that included Allen Ginsberg and Margaret Atwood. Since the 1990s, bissett has divided his time between the West Coast and London, Ontario (“Centralia”), where he was the vocalist for a rock group, The Luddites.
After 45 years as a writer and publisher, bissett received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Whlle living in Toronto, bissett recovered from heart surgery brought on by “arteree blockage” in 2014.
After 45 years as a writer and publisher, bill bissett was named the first recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to literature in British Columbia in 2007.
From a literary/historical perspective, bissett took off in British Columbia where Earle Birney left off. Fundamentally Left Coast, but more recently bi-coastal, bissett has written more than 60 books that are immediately identifiable by the incorporation of his artwork and his consistently phonetic (funetik) spelling. As an energetic “man-child mystic,” bill bissett is living proof of William Blake’s adage “the spirit of sweet delight can never be defiled.” His idealistic and ecstatic stances frequently obscure his critical-mindedness, humour and craftmanship.
bill bissett was born in Halifax on November 23, 1939. He spent much of his teen years in hospital for treatment of an abdominal condition, peritonitis. His mother died when he was 14 in 1953. During this period he became deeply immersed in movies, to the consternation of his father, a judge, who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. While attending Dalhousie University in 1956, bissett ran away with a preacher’s son to join the circus, ending up in Vancouver in 1958 (“either 1958 or ’59”). In the early 1960s, bissett worked at the Vancouver Public Library and UBC Library while experimenting with language and drugs, chiefly with Lance Farrell and Martina Clinton. The latter was bissett’s partner for much of the 1960s, from 1961 to 1967, and became the mother of their daughter, Oolijah, born in 1962.
While the TISH poetry movement was forming at UBC, bissett, according to his Talonbooks publisher Karl Siegler, was “universally recognized as one of the grooviest, stonedest, weird freaks–one of the great Olympians of the Kitsilano hippie scene.” From 1963 to 1965, bissett also attended the University of British Columbia where he met professor Warren Tallman. During the early 1960s bissett also met fellow poets such as Patrick Lane, Judith Copithorne, Jim Brown and Maxine Gadd. In 1962, encouraged by fellow writers Robbie Sutherland and Lance Farrell, bissett randomly picked the name for his mimeograph publishing imprint, blewointmentpress, by blindly picking a word from the dictionary [dicksyunaree]. The ointment described in the dictionary entry was a medication for the treatment of crab-lice. He now recalls the first issue of his blewointment poetry magazine appear in 1962. Other early literary cohorts included Kurt Lang, with some support from Earle Birney and Dorothy Livesay.
“in th beginning,” he writes, “othr magazeens n publishrs wud not publish us as we wer the downtown poets n mostlee vizual non linear n not cumming from aneewhere n mostlee left wing politikalee… so manee politikul trubuls sew manee wundrful times thousands uv dayze n nites being coverd with ink lettrs spaces within the phrases.” In 1965, bissett co-founded Very Stone House with Lane, Brown and Seymour Mayne. In 1966, he published his first two books, fires in the tempul OR the jinx ship n othr trips (Very Stone House/blewointment) as well as we sleep inside each other all (bp nichol’s Ganglia Press). Also in 1966, after speaking out against the Viet Nam war on a CBC-TV documentary, bissett began to be followed. He claims he was beaten up and harassed by police. Two social workers bought $800 worth of his paintings and advised him to leave town or else he and Martina Clinton wouldn’t be allowed to keep their daughter.
In 1968, bissett co-founded a cooperative art gallery, Th Mandan Ghetto, with Joy Long and Gregg Simpson, and he was busted while taking marijuana to a Powell River commune. He spent a few weeks in the winter of 1968-69 at the Oakalla prison farm, plus some time in jail in Powell River, Vancouver and Burnaby. He was fined $500 but federal authorities vowed to appeal the ruling, wanting a stiffer sentence. During this period he also released a 12-inch vinyl LP, produced by Jim Brown, in conjunction with his book entitled awake in the red desert (Talonbooks).
The major disaster–or turning point–in bissett’s life occurred during this period at a Kitsilano house party in 1969. Having performed earlier in the evening at a concrete poetry show, bissett fell through a folding door that was supposed to be latched shut–and plummeted 20 feet to the concrete floor in the basement, severely injuring his head. “Or at least that’s what they tell me. Those brain cells have gone.” (The door had been unlatched to let the cat downstairs for its milk. A two-year court case was won by the insurance company and bissett never received any compensation.)
bissett was paralyzed and catatonic, about to be sent to Riverview for electric shock treatments, when an interning neurologist rescued him by correctly diagnosing his inter-cerebral bleeding. After an emergency operation, bissett couldn’t communicate and he suffered from edema and aphasia (memory loss). “So I was like a write-off.” The neurologist was the only person who believed he might recuperate. Stirred by visits from poetry comrades such as Warren Tallman and Gerry Gilbert, bissett confounded the older physicians by relearning body movements and speech with the aid of the young neurologist who brought him balls to squeeze, taught him the alphabet and insisted he try to paint again. Gradually his combination of aphasia, edema, paralysis and epilepsy abated–and bissett was able to see and paint auras. The near-death experience and second long-term hospitalization heightened his appreciation for life and also spared him from returning to prison. When federal authorities arrived at the hospital to serve notice of appeal within a prescribed 30-day period, the head nurse advised them bissett would be dead within a week. Their case was dropped.
bissett’s poetry was the subject of a six-month brouhaha in Parliament in 1977-78 over the fact that taxpayers were subsidizing allegedly profane poetry. A nucleus of Conservatives led by Fraser Valley West MP Bob Wenman complained to the Canada Council about grants to bissett’s main publishers since the mid-1970s, Talonbooks. The controversy arose from material in a book by CJOR hotliner Ed Murphy called A Legacy of Spending in which bissett’s work was reprinted without permission. “I’m a taxpayer, too,” bissett later responded, “but I don’t tell an engineer how to build a bridge.”
Tallman and Talonbooks organized benefits with poets that included Allen Ginsberg and Margaret Atwood. bissett recalls, “th censorios n akusing buzzards wer kept at bay 4 ovr 2 yeers warren held a yeer uv huge poetree reedings dfending my self n othr poets n blewointent n othr small presses n great lawyr friend sid simons prepared writs 2 serv.” Hundreds of supporters lent their names to a full-page ad in the Vancouver Sun. The defence of bissett and Talonbooks was a galvanizing factor in the emergence of the literary culture in British Columbia. Experimentation was validated and the ‘arms-length’ integrity of the Canada Council was reinforced. To silence their critics, bissett and Talonbooks filed suit in the Supreme Court of B.C. on June 23, 1978 against eight Conservative MPs, seven newspapers and 13 others for libel and violation of copyright, but bissett himself never benefited from the controversy. Don Precosky has provided the best journalistic summary of this literary tempest, available elsewhere on the web. He also effectively discusses how academic and mainstream critics such as Al Purdy have chronically skewered bissett with their condescending praise.
Neither bissett nor his own press received any funding from Canada Council in the year of the upheaval. Eventually Canada Council reduced funding support for blewointmentpress by 42% in 1982. bissett went into debt–again. He was exhausted. BC BookWorld publisher Alan Twigg contacted Harbour Publishing’s Howard White and together they paid off bissett’s creditors in order to keep blewointment afloat. bissett no longer wished to manage blewointment so Twigg and White briefly shared ownership of the imprint on an interim basis until Twigg gave away his share soon thereafter (it went to Harbour employee Marisa Alps). After 20 years of Vancouver-based activity, the press was moved to Ontario under the stewardship of White’s brother-in-law, David Lee, in 1983, then subsequently moved back to B.C. as Nightwood Editions. The press continues to publish poetry, mostly by younger poets, and has been chiefly managed by Silas White.
“now publishing in bc is huge,” he writes, “totalee multifasitid vigourous n prinsipuld n tho th forces against art n kultur may try 2 stamp us out we continu on with sew manee voices sew manee platforms ull uv wch is totalee necessaree 2 a civl n demokratik societee without support uv th arts a countree will sink in2 brutalitee…. th rite wing nevr sleeps.”
Powers-that-try-to-be in Canada have often looked askance at bissett, as if he can’t be for real, but when he’s gone, we’ll safely pronounce he was a national treasure. Meanwhile bill bissett has humourously written that he was “on th first shuttul uv childrn from lunaria 2 erth i was with th othr childrn combing th orange lite evree morning the main sours uv enerjee on lunaria i came 2 b heer on erth as part uv a reserch teem 2 undrstad erth wayze iuv bin heer 300 yeers in lunarian time n am getting nowher…” bissett’s first collected works appeared as NOBODY OWNS TH EARTH (House of Anansi, 1971), selected by Dennis Lee and Margaret Atwood. A second collected edition was Beyond Even Faithful Legends, Selected Poems 1962-1976 (Talonbooks, 1980). He has twice won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (in 1993, for inkorrect thots, and in 2003, for peter among th towring boxes) and he received the Milton Acorn People’s Poet Award in 1991. He was one of the Writers-in-Residence in The Capilano Review’s Writing Practices Program and the Capilano College publication devoted its 25th anniversary issue to bissett in 1997, edited by Patrick Friesen, in concert with a tribute at the Vancouver Writers Festival.
Since the 1990s, bissett has divided his time between the West Coast and London, Ontario (“Centralia”), where he was the vocalist for a rock group, The Luddites. As much a painter as he is a poet, bissett has largely supported himself since the 1960s by selling his paintings and by reading poetry. The Vancouver Art Gallery hosted an extensive one-man show of bissett’s art, curated by Scott Watson, in 1984, called fires in th tempul. “The magical world of the child,” wrote Watson, “with all his libidinal precociousness, is what bissett is after in his painting…” That’s a bit much. Sometimes he’s trying to make a buck or two in order to eat. But there’s no question that bissett has been one of the most original and widely appreciated poets Canada has ever produced. Following an art exhibition and performance of bissett’s concrete poetry entitled The Writing on the Wall, curated by Lenore Herb, in Vancouver in 2004, editors Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough solicited poems for a tribute volume about bissett entitled radiant danse uv being (Nightwood, 2006), a blewointment book. Also in 2006, he was the subject of a Bravo film, heart uv a poet, written and produced by Maureen Judge. bissett has released at least five CDs. Everyone who meets him soon realizes he repeatedly uses the words “Excellent!” and “Raging!” in his conversation.
fires in the tempul OR Th Jinx ship nd othr trips: pomes, drawings, collage. Vancouver: Very Stone House, 1966.
we sleep inside each other all. Toronto: Ganglia Press. 1966
what poetiks. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1967.
Th Gossamer Bed Pan. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1967.
where is miss florence riddle? Toronto: Fleye Press, 1967; Vancouver, blewointmentpress, 1973.
heat makes th heart’s window for Martina. Broadside. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1967.
lebanon voices. Toronto: Weed/Flower Press, 1967.
Gertrude Stein. Toronto: Gronk Press, 1967.
Awake in the Red Desert. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1968.
sunday work (?) Vancouver: blewointmentpress. 1968.
Wagon wheeelsss. Broadside. Vancouver: Western Press, 1968.
Of th Land/Divine Service. Toronto: Weed/Flower Press, 1968.
liberating skies. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1969.
lost angel mining co. Ed. Freda Nobbs. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1969.
s th story i to: trew adventure. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1970.
tuff shit: [love pomes]. Windsor: Bandit Press, 1970.
Tell me what attackd yu. Broadside. Vancouver: Pulp Press, 197-?.
why dusint the League of Canadian Poets do sumthing nd get an organizer for cross country poetry reading circuit: [sic] press release/chapbook. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1970.
blew trewz. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1971.
dragon fly. Toronto: Weed/Flower Press, 1971.
IBM (saga uv th relees uv huuman spirit from compuewterr funckshuns) Vancouver: Blewointment Press, 1971.
drifting into war. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1971.
Nobody owns th earth. Toronto: Anansi Press, 1971.
RUSH what fuckan thery: a study uv language. Toronto: Gronk Press, 1971.
Air 6. Vancouver: Air Press, 1971.
Th ice bag (th high green hill, polar bear hunt, words in th fire). Vancouver: Blewointment Press, 1972.
pomes for yoshi. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1972; Talonbooks, 1977.
Air 10-11-12. Vancouver: Air Press, 1972.
Four parts sand: concrete poems. With Earle Birney, Judith Copithorne, and Andy Suknaski. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1972.
th first sufi line. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1973.
pass th food release th spirit book. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1973.
living with the vishyun. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1974.
MEDICINE my mouth on fire. Ottawa: Oberon, 1974.
space travl. Vancouver: Air, 1974.
what. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1974.
yu can eat it at th opening. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1974.
Vancouver mainland ice & cold storage. London: Writer’s Forum, 1974.
image being. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1975.
stardust. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1975.
th fifth sun. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1975.
venus. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1975.
an allusyn to macbeth. Coatsworth, Ont.: Black Moss P, 1976.
plutonium missing. Vancouver: Intermedia Press, 1976.
th wind up tongue. Vancouver: blewointmentpress, 1976.
Sailor. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1978.
Sa n th monkey. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1980.
selected poems: beyond even faithful legends. Ed. bill bissett. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1980.
Soul arrow. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1980.
northern birds in color. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1981.
Sa n his crystal ball. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1981.
parlant. Translated by Bertrand Lachance. Vancouver: Editions blewointment, 1982.
seagull on Yonge Street. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1983.
Ready for framing. Vancouver: Blewointmentpress, 1983.
Write me an adventure. Toronto: Gronk Press, 1983.
Fires in th tempul. [Exhibition catalogue with poetry.] Vancouver Art Gallery, September 28 to November 18, 1984. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1984.
canada gees mate for life. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1985.
animal uproar. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1987.
what we have. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1988.
Rezoning. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1989.
hard 2 beleev. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1990.
inkorrect thots. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1992.
th last photo uv th human soul. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1993.
th influenza uv logik. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1995.
loving without being vulnrabul. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1997.
scars on the seehors. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1999.
ekstaseez uv apricots. Writers Forum, London UK: 1999.
b leev abul char ak trs. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2000.
peter among th towring boxes / text bites. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 2002.
narrativ enigma / rumours uv hurricane. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2004.
ths is erth thees ar peopul. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2007.
sublingual. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2008.
griddle talk: a yeer uv bill n carol dewing brunch (Talonbooks, 2009)
time (Talonbooks, 2010)
novel (Talonbooks, 2011). Part fiction, with essays and poetry.
RUSH: what fuckan theory: a study uv language
(Book Thug 2012) $20 9781927040416;
hungree throat (Talon 2013) $17.95 9780889227453
off th road plus. CD with Chris Meloche, 2000.
rainbow mewsik, Red Deer Press, 2001. (CD with Chris Meloche).
unmatching phenomena, volume 1. Blue Loon Productions. (CD with Dennis Cornies), 2002.
rumours uv hurricane. Red Deer Press, 2003. (CD with Bill Roberts).
deth interrupts th dansing / a strangr space. Red Deer Press, 2005 (CD produced with Pete Dako, Sound Poetry; 40-page booklet from Talonbooks).
For a joint conversation with bill bissett and bp Nichol and interviewer Phyllis Webb, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBmxvfktZaM
bill bissett: Essays on His Works (Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2002) by Linda Rogers.
radiant danse uv being (Nightwood Editions, 2006), a blewointment book, edited by Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough.
Heart of a Poet (documentary film, 2006 ) by Maureen Judge (Toronto: makin’ movies).
textual vishyuns: image and text in the work of bill bissett (Talonbooks 2011) by Carl Peters
scars on the seehors (Talon $15.95)
With hopefuleness and humour, bill bissett is back with scars on the seehors (Talon $15.95), spreading spiritual sanity with eccentric spelling and wry reflections. i see th salmon talks will / resume on monday / well thank god at leest th / salmon ar talking. It’s his 60th-odd book. Poem titles include ‘Life may b apokriful’ and the hilarious ‘i need a nu brain’. 0-88922-387-4
[BCBW SUMMER 1999]
bissett biography (1997) self-profile
born halifax nov23 1939 same day as gerald lampert p.k.page n billy th kid left at 17 2 go west 2 vancouvr seeking freedom from behaviour n sexual role repressyuns n 2 rage out in nu direksyuns in writing painting n living sartid blewointmentpress 64 dottr michelle born in 62 kept writing n painting n printing thru n after 3 partnerships now on my own 4 sum time 97 living in toronto painting writing dewing reedings was living part time in london ontario sins 86 til 91 sang n wrote lyriks in band luddites based in london was also living in vancouvr during thos yeers what brout me 2 ontario eye call centralia was being writr in resindens at western u have writtn ovr 50 books uv poetree manee uv them with Talonbooks wundrful publishr ium wanting 2 xtend th boundareez uv th langwage n the form still go 2 th west coast a lot whn thers work 2 dew that n live in th countree up north in th karibu a lot also its hard 2 separate biographee from bibliographee bin dwing reed ings last few yeers in europe yew s thruout canada latest art show 501 toronto august 97 modern fuel kingston 94 othr wun prson art shows vancouvr a also pizza ricos neo artisan anavada thos in vancouvr forest citee galleree london ont 88 group show rezoning vancouvr art galleree wintr 89 90 th martimes ar veree beautiful th centr is very beautiful praireez veree beautiful coastal area veree beautiful eye love going 2 all uv them n evreewher is th centr uv evreewher n not ium still wanting 2 keep lerning unlerning mor n mor in2 sound poetree fusyun poetree narrativ non narrativ politikul meta physikul spiritual as freeing from linear binaree traps cud we b next book loving without being vulnrabul recent books incorrekt thots th last photo uv th human soul what we have n seegull on yonge street all with Talonbooks most recent cassett longon life most recent cassett with luddites dreemin uv the nite still seeking freedoms from sexual n behaviour repressyuns brout abt by the cruelteez n stupiditeez uv the rite wing or the radikul left whoevr telling us that ther ar onlee thees following few wayze 2 live work n love
Radiant Danse Uv Being
What goes around, comes around. Many years ago, when bill bissett was a poetry pioneer on Fourth Avenue in Kitsilano during the so-called hippie days, he generously published many of the poets he met under an imprint he called blewointmentpress. When money problems forced him to reluctantly transfer ownership of the press decades later, it was moved to Ontario as Nightwood Editions where it specialized in jazz-related books. In the late 1990s, under the direction of Silas White, son of publisher and writer Howard White, the imprint was re-invigorated as a poetry press in Toronto, then brought back to the West Coast, having rekindled the press’ original reputation for publishing yet-to-be-known writers. As an appreciation of bissett’s enduring importance in Canadian literature, Jeff Pew of Kimberley, co-founder of “Poetry on the Rocks”, and Stephen Roxborough of Anacortes, Washington, edited a broad sampling of writing that celebrates bissett, published in 2006 by the press he originated.
Radiant Danse Uv Being: A Poetic Portrait of bill bissett (Nightwood Editions / A blewointment book, 2006). Edited by Jeff Pew and Stephen Roxborough. $23.95 0-88971-210-7
ths is erth thees ar peopul: promotional copy by Talonbooks (2007)
The quest in this latest fusion of song, sound, performance and visual poetry from bill bissett is for a human condition outside the perpetual terror of the twenty-first century—a terror based in an irrational fear that the loss of our ideologies, our home-made gods and bombs will leave us impoverished and vulnerable to the ambitions of others. “I call you again over a vast linguistic valley,” offers the poet. “The brain is a soft flower, tremulous in its aspecting, and wanting to trust, we lose what we seek and find what finds us. This is earth. These are people.”
This tireless quest to find the delight of discovery, wonder and truth in what at first sight seems foreign, mysterious and apparently “incorrect,” defines both bissett’s latest book and his singular poetic genius. The joy of discovery and recognition in our encounter with the poet’s unpunctuated, uncapitalized phonetic spelling and visual presentation offers us a reward in direct proportion to our willingness to engage the work by abandoning all of the baggage of the learned expectations we bring to the act of reading—allowing the words and their new echoes to cross the “vast linguistic valley” that is redolent with the imaginative possibility of entrances to others as they actually appear, and not as we expect them to be. As always, bissett pushes his linguistic palette here into realms that ideographically lend access to his intellectual discoveries. His introduction of an occasionally determined capital A in the middle of a word or phrase, representing “a tent on a mountain,” echoes the profound spirituality of this book, and its suggestion that “The mind is a kaleidoscope— discouragement—satisfaction—and finding the way again. There are no happy endings. Happy moments, yes. The drama and all the poetic approaches continue to be.”
ISBN: 0889225575, ISBN: 978-0-88922-557-2, $17.95 CN; $17.95 US, 6 X 9 in.; 144 pp
th rite wing nevr sleeps by bill bissett (2007)
books n th snow in northern bc kabin brokn in2 books
evreewher being chased n followd in vankouvr go north
lilloett try 2 stay ther ma murray asks 2 see us from th train
arrival she xplains shes th onlee publishr ther n we best go
arriving in north bend a b dick offset masheen dew th huge
occupaysyun issew ther printing hair got caut in th rollrs askd 2
leev go north uv 100 mile stay ther in th bush print print
gestetnr colate stapul ice bag dun ther stay a whil print thn
books by ken west maxine gadd beth jankola jw curry manee
othrs n antholojee magazeen issews hundrids uv writrs hundrids
uv books gestetnr sumhow ancient silk skreen ink going thru
th cut lettrs in th stencil cathy ford candas jane dorsey steven
miller sew manee othrs whn n how did it all start n how did it
finish n what wer sum hi points wch changing galaxee was it
in how did blewointment press get its name
ther wer a numbr uv us poets writrs artists who nowun wud
publish aneewher in th world sew robbee suthrland n lance
farrell n me talking ths selekt a name go thru th dicksyunaree
random fingr fall wher it may blue ointment 1962 first issew
honouring in search of innosence moovee abt artists in
vancouvr len fourrier/jack long nfb producksyun contribs joy
long martina clinton maxine gadd judith copithorne kurt lang
mor n mor 2 cum angels earle birney n dorothy livesay helpd
out gestetnr ink papr universitee peopul wudint give us papr
or supplies we wer mostlee on welfare n 4 me that startid a
twentee yeer publishing adventur printing kollating n stapuling with
in successyun martina clinton bertrand lachance n alan rosen n
oftn by myself n thru all thos yeers angel printr downtown van
kouvr printr george priestman printid th covrs veree oftn even
shulee th insides as things got bettr n it nevr felt like twentee
yeers at th time
th summr 65 issew th yello issew th end uv th world speshul
wch was much latr manee othr antholojeez stan bevington sent
giant amount uv papr by train a gift from toronto blewointpress
was printing manee othr writrs david uu bpNichol d.a.levy gladys
hindmarch rosemary hollingshead al neil margaret atwood
diane di prima pat lowthr gwendolyn macewen evree day printing
kolating stapuling selekting hart broudy lionel kearns dr. wagner
carolyn zonailo my first book we sleep inside each othr all 1965
by bpNichol ganglia press toronto koinsident with fires in th tempul
blewointmentpress /very stone hous ko producksyun th lattr with patrick
lane n jim brown n seymour mayne who each produsd theyr own books
thru very stone house as well as pat lowthr n othrs sew much publish
ing going on th beginnings thn alredee startid thanks 2 th canada council
n all uv us involvd what was nothing a few yeers previous bcame a
veree alive n huge industree involving thousands uv peopul working
in th beginning othr magazeens n publishrs wud not publish us as we
wer th downtown poets n mostlee vizual non linear n not cumming
from aneewher n mostlee left wing politikalee in 1970 blewointment
reseevd a small canada council grant n each yeer slite inkreeses pr
formd in tandem with th nu needs bettr producksyun valus evn bound
books wer cumming out uv blewointmentpress thn in 1980 approx th
block grant was cut ths was part uv th life boating uv th small presses
n i went mor in2 solo work rathr thn kollektiv work th emphasis changing
always still wanting 2 b part uv freeing th word th image n thus freeing
th mnd n spirit
sew manee politikul trubuls keep on printing sew manee wundrful times
thousands uv dayze n nites being coverd with ink lettrs spaces within
th phrases i lovd it returning th writing mor 2 konversaysyunal n mor ekstatik
speech its reelee hard 2 beleev th amayzing twentee yeers wun epik sirtinlee
around 1979 ed murphy hot line show guy startid blasting me n blew
ointmentpress n talonbooks he publishd a book legasy of waste in
govrnment spending an erlee beginning uv th rite wing rise 2 powr
printing pomes by me wch wer not pd 4 i startid reseeving hate calls
ther wer othr items in th pile up rite wing mps etsetera across th countree
heer mor angels apeerd great lawyr frend sid simons n warren tallman
th censorious n akusing buzzards wer kept at bay by sid n warren 4 ovr
2 yeers warren held a yeer uv huge poetree reedings dfending my self n
othr poets n blewointment n othr small presses sid simons prepared writs
2 serv we survivd bcoz uv thees angels n evreewun being sew supportiv
it was awesum sew much work sew much struggul endurans 2 keep
above watr now publishing in bc is huge totalee multifasitid vigourous
n prinsipuld n tho th forces against art n kultur may try 2 stamp us out we
continu on with sew mane voices sew manee platforms all uv wch is
totalee necessaree 2 a civil n demokratik societee without support uv
th arts a countree will sink in2 brutalitee n brutalitee is always redee 2
lunch on a countree sum uv th rite wing accusrs did jail time veree
surprizing was it stoln emeralds as they wer sew upstanding evn
riteshusthey say uv themselvs th rite wing nevr sleeps
Chemical Brothers connection: Harbour Publishing Press Release (2007)
World-renowned electronic music wizards The Chemical Brothers know cool. That’s why they sampled legendary Canadian poet bill bissett on the title track of their latest release, We Are the Night. bissett is heard hypnotically reciting “we are the night’s eyes” from his 1967 recording, an ode to d.a. levy.
bill bissett has been a landmark on the Canadian literary scene since the 1960s, renowned as much for his fascinating life as for his poetics. He is best known for his anti-conventional poetry, which makes use of phonetic spelling and visual elements, and for his performances of concrete sound, chanting, and dancing during poetry readings.
Throughout his life, bissett has attracted a host of admirers and not just from the counterculture movement. Poets of all styles are fans of his work, including Margaret Atwood, George Bowering, Di Brandt, Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, bp Nichol, Steve McCaffery, Jay MillAr, PK Page, and Darren Wershler-Henry.
hungree throat summary (2013)
The ever-fertile bill bissett has returned for his second extended “novel-poem”, hungree throat (Talon $17.95), in which he recounts the ten-year relationship of two men as a meditation on love. Whereas one man is bold and unafraid, the other is burdened by terrible memories and unable to trust. bissett is now beyond seventy books—and not counting… 9780889227453
BILL BISSETT’S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH FOR WOODCOCK AWARD: Speech 2007
bill bissett’s acceptance speech upon receiving the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 at the Reckoning 07 conference at SFU Harbour Centre
a long strange n wundrful road: a tapestree uv names n places
on erth th place uv klinging bin up n down magik hiway 97 a thousand times n bin on hundrids uv planes buses boats all veree great tho ium originalee from lunaria a planet konstellaysyun way past venus 312 months 2 get ther in erthling time mor thn months 2 return i was on th first shuttul uv lunarian childrn being sent from lunaria 2
on lunaria we childrn wud comb th evreewher orange lite in th mornings 2 supply enerjee 4 th entire gallaxee planet konstellaysyun ths devotid n dilligent combing uv th ubiquitous orange lite reelee wud supply all th enerjee needs uv lunaria
th shuttul i was on arrivd in halifax wher i was konseevd from lunarian dna n givn birth from an erthling mothr n erthling fathr i had thot i wud emerg in th littul red school hous on th mgm lot wch louis b mayer had designd from th littul red school houses in rural nu brunswick wher he was from manee othr canadians mary pickford mack sennett wer part uv th birth uv hollywood canadian bizness peopul thot th mosyun pickshur effort wud nevr suceed
it was whn i was 10 n 11 in th oxygen tent in th childrns hospital in hfx nova scotia aftr sum mor operaysyuns on my bellee i realizd i wud nevr now b a ballet dansr or a figur skatr or a hockee playr ther wer way 2 manee scars on my bellee th abdominal musculs all slashd that wer i allowd 2 pursue my first ambishyuns i nevr wud b abul 2 n i notisd in th moovee magazines they bgan bringing me moovee stars thees wer gods n goddesses n thees moovee stars didint go 2 th bathroom eithr like me n i cud draw n paint n write n still b part uv th line mooving thru space n time wch is what i wantid as soons i cud i wud leev home n write n paint 4evr leeving with billie oliver n 2 leev western civilizasyun
in th hospital i wrote a storee abt a boy who liked 2 swim in th undrtow evn tho that wud worree his familee terriblee n he evenshulee welkumd them undrstanding his need 2 get out on his own n swim against th rules reel n metaphorik
whn i got on my own in vancouvr 17 i was writing all th time n meeting lance farrell was dewing non narrativ writing espeshulee embraysing that sylabuls onlee mostlee n totalee eschewing th narrativ line 4 a mor xcellent sylabik uttrans writing n using th space uv th papr th page 2 avoid squares or rektanguls as th onlee shapes wun cud write in
also avoiding th singul vois diktate getting in2 manee voices ideaz accents manee sounds multiplisiteez peopul found ths veree diffikult now sum wud find that mor undrstandabul yes but thn opposisyun 2 th posisyun nowun wud publish us martina clinton maxine gadd judith copithorne lance farrell we cudint evn get free papr from th universiteez sew we startid printing ourselvs 1962 yeer our dottr michelle was born me n martina clinton using th name lance farrell n robbie sutherland n me found in a dicksyunaree blew ointment by dropping my fingr randomlee on2 random page evree yeer th producksyun valus improovd first a hand run gestetner from george priestman th downtown printr in vankouvr with whom i workd 4 almost 20 yeers n we printid hundrids uv peopul from yew k bob cobbing canada bpNichol margaret avison n yewnitid states d.a. levy poland n chekoslovakia ivo vroom japan sew manee places all ovr th world brazil from wher konkreet vizual sound poetree was blossoming almost ovr nite evreewher first we got in2 th canada council publishing program at th lowest levl thn improovd inkre mentz evree yeer thn bertrand lachance n me wer working blewointment press manee books evree yeer n thn alan rosen workd with me produck
syun valus stedilee improoving n it seemd 4 a whil that revenues thru grants n sales wer keeping up almost neerlee with costs veree amayzing ther reelee was a market 4 blewointment books ths preseeding paragraph covrs twentee yeers approximatelee yes n writrs wer pd 100.oo n givn half th copeez if th book wer solee theyrs wch bgan 2 happn aftr th first yeers uv magazeens or antholojeez uv blewointment n i developd a narrativ vois my own that cud hold a storee line viz a vee killer whale th canadian wch wer both n othrs like them th emergency ward latr antholojizd a lot helpd my abilitee 2 perseveer n latelee paddy aldridge jordan stone bob kasher princess rosa adeena karasik carol malyon
2 oftn th main streem wants art writing 2 b a mirror uv itself not 2 show th whol pickshur s or diffrent uses uv langwage n being prseveer lukilee find our audiences feel our xpressyuns realizd n spred 2 join othrs uv like undrstandings n evn thos who dont yet have wiring wide enuff 2 appresiate may opn with th art xperiens as my mothrs jena hamilton n joy masuhara say north amerika is almost entirlee surroundid by mirrors
my mothrs wer th pioneers n paramount enerjeez in th challange 2 have legal marriage 4 gay peopul in canada
thru thees yeers i was drawn 2 th karibu wch i love still dew as well as vancouvr wch i lovd n still love n go 2 work n live oftn iuv livd in vankouvr n th karibu most uv my life sew far n in th karibu printid books n got in2 th magik uv th countree life ther n th sew soulful erth beginning with th hi green hill writtn much ther th karibu n much abt its beauteez n fiersness bears rabbits loons wolves deer swallows ravens kokanee salmon buttrflies bats mostquitoez eaguls hawks ospreys rats foxes crow turkee buzzards giant cadinals iuv seen
its bin a long strange oftn wundrful road mor 2 cum yes halifax long ago human erthling terms in toronto writing ths 2007 livd in london ontario 85-91 it was part time ther with vankouvr mooving back n 4th wher th work was reedings sub leteez three times writr in residens unb frederikton 98 western u london 86-87 alan gedalof n woodstock on tario th libraree 87-88 ellen jaffe mar laymon sew far travelld almost evreewher in canada from vctoria 2 st johns nufoundland frankee rich wuns i sat back whn ther was time 2 remembr them all i did all th detail th xcellens n th comedeee its sew amayzing all th packing n th playing with n sorting all th luggage n th peopul n carreeing my luggage evreewher snow ice heet rain n my paintings getting in2 films ma vie l’escort as parts uv th narrativ ther n l’amnesie castor pollux pro ducksyuns montreal time b4 driving paintings n drawings with joy zemel long 2 burnaby 2 th vincent price kolleksyun wher our works wer lukilee bout evn tho we had quote lost our invite cards 2 th appointments we didint reelee have we sd sumthing abt th wind th tickits wer on th convertibul dash bord th top was opn yes n joys sales ther wer trubul with a galleree ownr evn tho we wer outside th vancouvr citee limits we nevr did that agen but we did well ther n made th rent agen thats usualee th big challeng 4 th artist alwayze trying 2 make th rent
in london ontario working with alternativ rock band luddites we re cordid a lot n did gigs thruout southern ontario 4 a few yeers n just b4 we got 2 th next levl we wer getting air play n stuff we dissolvd tho in 2008 a reissew cd uv our work is being releesd was also in bands mandan massacre n sonik horses dermot foley luddites was gerry collins peter denny murray favro n myself aftr luddites workd n recordid with chris meloche rainbow mewsik n bill roberts rumours uv hurricane pete dako deth interrups th dansing all thees cds with dennis johnson at red deer press n michael antony n cathy ford carolyn zonailo all keeping it going 4 evreewun phylis webb miriam wadington pk page david mcfadden john newlove bileh nickerson with john barton editid th
first canadian gay male poetree antholojee semenal 2007 my work is in 4 arsenal press vancouvr 30 sum yeers aftr ian young editid 4 crossings press th gay male muse north amerikan gay male poetree my work was in dewing reedings as well with lillian allen joe rosenblatt sew manee othrs mark sutherland clifton joseph 4 horsemen paul dutton paul n me did a yew k tour in th 80’s n alwayze dr sean fay ms vicki n th brain doktor dr emma n her teem n gerry n helen geisler who tuk me in wintr carreeing boxes n luggage thru th bush in relays 2 get it ther chopping wood peeling logs working in gas staysyun bringing blewointment books in th karibu beginning hauling watr up from big lake
all th peopul iuv livd with sew amayzing romantik turbulent ekstatik evn with th inevitabul stress uv being in diffikult times always that stress n wanting 2 thank them n jerry n arlene lampert n th leeg uv poets n th writrs yuunyun n th canada council without widespred support uv th arts a countree onlee bcums mor n mor brutal n Lenore herb who has th largest kolleksyun uv my art work in th galaxee who creatid direktid produced dvd uv my work at th top uv th world n jonathan rainbow n michael potvin in toronto who have th second largest kolleksyun uv my work n george n deborah siu n all th othr kollektors n scott watson who put 2gethr my 1st reelee big wun prson show at th vancouvr art galleree in 1985 doris shadbolt had put 2gethr a smallr show ther in 71 n ths aint th rosedale libraree bookstore galleree in toronto with sandra alland n dan bazuin in wintr 05-06 n all th shows inbtween n all th curators n host gallereez pizza ricos with wendee wood curating as wlll as th shows at george sius not just deserts th forest citee galleree in london modern fuel in kingston 94 galleree in sechelt kevin stephens artisan gallereez othrs in van pteros galleree virginia dickson randy resch curators toronto 2002-05 iuv dun mor reedings with adeeka karasick n bin on th same bill as thn anee othr poet inspiring as similarlee n diffrentlee we both deekonstrukt n analyze th present n past templates n linguistik harmoneez dissoances xploring sound meenings kadens stakkato n vowell basins george stanley
linda rogers n rick van krugel in victoria helping keep parts uv my familee 2gethr hosting reedings sew i cud get 2 victoria sew awesum n virginia ratsoy n alan penfold in kamloops hosting sew manee reedings
th stars cascading ovr th mountins th vallee ther n sharon nelson n peter grogono in montreal sumtimes snow up 2 th roofs beacons on th road 4 me 4 yeers without wch n much thanks 2 earle birney n dorothee livesay who helpd me a lot with mss sales n defens uv my work 2 censorious peopul whn i was starting out n joy kuropatwa n bruce kramer n carol malyon who drove me in a huge van 2 toronto from london whn i was getting in2 trubul gettin it on with a guy whos lovr was gettin out uv kingston soon 4 killing th last guy he found him in bed with n sum othr stuff n alma lee n th vancouvr writrs festival n th western front 4 a large wun prson show ther in 79 n in 1980 th canada council cut its grant 2 blewointment press by ovr 40% all my apeels ths time did not work small presses wer being life boatid th rite wing was making its powr moovs hard times wer cumming wake up wun morning th klimate changd its a nu n much tuffr danse n that 20 yeer adventur was 4 me ovr n aftr a greef time moovd on 2 work way mor on my own in sew manee wayze n opend up nu areas uv creativitee 4 me a lot uv terrifik times wer ovr all th work that goez in2 running a press n a lot uv hard times 2 charles huiskin laydee sarah ths aint th rosedale libraree bookstore n art galleree paul duguay jim hudson ben kennedy shelia prudom primus richard browning linda david barrett hilary peach wendy morton frankie rich saide kardar 4 in klewding me in his moovee a private god empress diana kosakova patrick lane seymour mayne jim brown with whom very stone hous was foundid pat lowthr
thanks 2 valerie lapointe n th milton acorn festival wch brout me 2 p e i evree summr 8 yeers awesum meeting n hanging with sew manee xcellent poets n renewing sum familee connkesyuns in nova scotia ther was nevr travl munee unless it was 4 dewing gigs gave me a nu slant on life breething n th jail oakalla prison farm n th trial brillyantlee orchestratid by sid simons sew much thanks 2 n th neurolojee ward was long ago as well n it tuk abt 3 yeers 2 rekovr enuff 2 keep going from that xperiens canadian laws on copee rite ed murphys attacks on kultur legasee uv waste in govrnment spending printing pomes without prmisyun ar not veree gud nor ar candian laws on resposibiliteez uv hosts 4 serious accidents within theyr premises i got bettr tho aftr th epilepsee n th paralyses i was luckee cest sa ium still loving writing n painting n i dont know aneething abt stoln emeralds no n i was luckee in jail n 1979-80 AIDS n th sexual revolushyun was reelee ovr 20 yeers plus uv going 2 funerals n memorials manee teers sew much greef n thanking warren tallman tuk huge time out uv his life 2 dfend me n talonbooks n othr writrs n publishrs who wer being lambastid by th veree narrow mindid rite wing warren sold out th italian cultural centr 4 a yeer huge evree month having huge epik reedings by poets from all ovr north amerika th rite wing lernd it cant reelee push us artists around we will back each othr yes th arts ar as important as breth 4 being susan musgrave rosemary hollingshead roger ten trey gregg simpson terry beauchamp ken west selby hotel 80’s toronto carlton arms nyc 90’s n now blaise enrite all th hosts who have bookd me in2 reedings n don mcleod david mason jack david nelson ball jean baird
ovr 40 yeers its a long way from putting packages undr wash basin stands in gas staysyuns n running like th wind or pleezing sumwun i didint want 2 that much n runnin out uv veins n konstantlee out uv food n living on day old cakes n pastreez from th landladee on robson street b4 starting job shelving books on robson street librare iuv kept mostlee working bin luckee how oftn can i thank talonbooks christy n karl siegler 30 yrs theyv bin publishing my writing awesum 2 work with n now ths honour th george woodcock award thanks sew much alan twigg n bc bookworld yu rock thanks veree much amayzing ther have bin honours lateleee organizd by steven roxborough jeff pew n radiant danse uv being from nitewood press wch usd 2 b blewointment press n all th reedings rox n jeff held 4 me in kimberlee cranbrook vancouvr victoria toronto sheri de wilson n mike roberts 4 dewing that in calgary spokn word festival its great 2 b home agen in vancouvr wher iuv livd reelee most uv my life sew far next week up in th karibu home is also in th lettrs words images th magik taktilitee uv th text pickshurs in th lettrs lettrs in th images i bgan wanting 2 write mostlee non narrativ thn wanting 2 write narrativ romantik sound lyrikul sexual politikul spiritual opn spayshul vizual fuseyun in wch sum or mor uv thees elements apeer in th same pome kontainr non narrativ his her storikul naytur pomes metaphysikul kevan alder jim gilmour big kollektors n stephen reid sfu n york universitee speshul kolleksyuns tons uv mss
always hopeing 2 b xplooring all thees elements approaches taking nothing as set keep going reseeving th dorothee livesay poetree award 93n 2003 inkorrekt thots n peter n th towring boxes both talonbooks n thanking keith wallace 4 show at th vancouvr art galleree in 1989 calld rezoning with jess n al neil works uv konstruksyun found objekts
mostlee from th medows uv th karibu n hammerd 2gethr in organik composisyuns sum uv thees works ar in th permanent kolleksyun ther at th vag as ar sum othrs as well n thanks 2 ian wallace 4 show uv collages at ubc galleree it was 50 – 60 below that wintr carreeing thos works 2 th place 2 ship 2 him great kold wintrs great hot all nite long n long summrs n alvin balkind 4 konkreet poetree show also at th ubc galleree n th show uv vancouvr 6 at harbourfront toronto sum yeers latr
n bpNichol 4 my first book we sleep inside each othr all from his ganglia press 1965 th cosmik chef his editing 4 oberon press also erlee seven teez a brillyant box uv manee poets konkreet vizual work n 2 gertrude stein who influensd both uv us n our writing each othr abt n othr pome thots back n forth th erlee mid sixteez n latr i was reelee helpd sew much by lsd n latr mda n meditaysyun wch i still dew evree morning n steev clay at granary books nu york citee 4 th art book lunaria wch i workd on 2001 til 2002 evree day hand painting ovr th drawings i had made alredee printid in th book archival papr 9 x 12 86 pp in gold box blu cloth covrs i workd i wud cum 2 evree day eschewing all els 2 xperiens th illuminaysyn watr colours soluabul drawing pencils 42 copeez illumiating mss n captin carol n mr javier dr carol ribner john wieners
want 2 thank geoff invararity joanne randle margaret avison n alan ginsberg jack kerouac whos howl n on th road gave me moral support 4 leeving home robert duncan john rechy a lot uv inspiraysyun diane di prima ths kind uv bird flies backward kedrick james jamie n carol reid wallace stevens edith sitwell e e cummings endre farkas Gwendolyn macewen th t,e, lawrance pomes n leonard cohen book uv mercy n th enerjeez uv slaves goez without saying manee othr pomes by both thees poets as with evreewun menshyund heer sew much thanks 4 helping n 4 being n all th un named prsons along th way in parks at nite in sacrid alleewayze by day on th see shore neer th magik stars also my thanks 2 arthur richardson jeffrey birkin dennis robbins hank green
how trollee bus rick stenhouse vahe andonian ken karasick stanlee kammerer byron chief moon n familee russ n donna mcfee sew manee brite lites rudolph nadassky helen mcaferty ann n john walsh working with irene karasick a name is a label ekstasis press dr bill berinati
2006 – 7 ium working with jordan stone foundr n direktor uv th secret handshake th first n onlee peer support group n network 4 n with peopul with schizophrenia in canada iuv seen mirakuls n peopul regaining theyr lives a brothrhood n sistrhood meetings wuns a week n manee peer support calls n events
th first blewointment 1962 was in honour uv in search uv innosens a jack long len foret nfb producksyun abt van artists n paintrs few yeers latr maurice embra made a film abt me n my work strange grey day ths embra producksyuns 2006 a heart uv a poet episode abt me n my work makin movies produsr thanks 2 maureen judge direktor amay
zing 2 work with bravo timothee priske steven weir warren knechtel steve powell mr gull renee rodin in halifax george grant art davis
working on nu book hopefulee 4 talon 09 sublingual i cant thank talon enuff evr reelee karl n christy awesum as is evreewun iuv men syund heer 2 me past present n futur n nu cd with composr pete dako n a nu book uv konversaysyuns 52 plus brekfasts at th goldn gridl with carol malyon iuv slept like a lot uv yu in sew manee places barns hotels motels billets fields warehouses apartments houses rooms n playd with my luggage thruout canada parts uv yewnitis states nu york citee anacortes seattul whidby island detroit sew manee xcellent adventurs as well as thruout northern europe yew k a lot mexico sew thers a lot mor 2 see boat from roslaire 2 marseilles going ovr th curv uv th erth seeing it like evreething 4 a changing spell that was on a tour with adeena karasick thru europe n yew k 93 n thanks sew veree much 2 we both xploor langwage n templates wanting 2 serch find delinate each awareness uv each lettr a gift discoveree n a previous tour i went with alan rosen 74 n a latr wun thn that with susan musgrave george johnston 79 n by myself 99 oftn dreem uv th old ships inn
on th top uv th atlantik ther th pink pavilion briteon n ireland wales scotland london working ther with espeshulee bob cobbing wun uv th originators uv contemporaree sound poetree n clive fencott n chris cheek
paula claire manee othrs dennis cornies playing piano with me in concerts n on 2 cds unmatching phenomena 1 n 2 tom graff produck syuns n thanks 2 james reaney 4 helping sew much at th beginning
like sew manee writrs n artists iuv bin veree bizee th debts have onlee inkreesd n ium grateful 4 that n ium grateful 4 th peopul who havint helpd that reelee helps as well its like a dreem isint it time space bcumming being sum kind uv mirage veree oftn evn if th prep work is reelee redee sew its veree thrilling n th qwestyun how much dew we selekt n how much dew we xperiens thru fate destinee n how much is onlee in our heds wher els cud it b tho we chose ths planet erth th places uv klinging n th places uv ekstasee lerning un lerning othr gallereez twice at iron works th most recent show i had ther hung by dr carl peters n th book carl peters is preparing on my art work textual vishyun galleree in anacortes othr presses iuv publisht with black moss oberon nu star books weed flower press working w margaret atwood n dennis lee on nobody owns th erth from anansi choosing or fate wch all thees qwestyuns n magik temporaree destinaysyuns shine oftn repeet themselvs n ar in our art n our lives isint it a great n amayzing adventur ths long n strange n wundrful n skaree road yes n it goez on 4
thousands uv yeers wev all travelld 2gethr n much thanks 2 kathy n bill sheffeld n th saturna island free school n sittin heer with penny east on her wundrful balconee at pal in beautiful toronto reeding ths 10th draft uv ths essay sayin whew ms pennee yu awake yes n 4 ths
inkredibul honour bc bookworld thank yu veree much sew much n evreewun heer 4 ths george woodcock award ther ar sew manee awesum writrs n artists n as iuv lernd 2 say from beverley rosen-simons
lots uv love n thanks
Bissett INTERVIEW #1 by Alan Twigg, 1978
T: I’ve come to collect your life story. So let’s start at the beginning.
BISSETT: I was born in Halifax. I started working when I was thirteen and fourteen in record stores. I used to do commercials for one store where I had two characters. I was like a hip young kid and I would push the rock n’ roll and then I had this other voice where I would push classical music and stuff. So it was really bizarre and stuff. And I worked in a gas station. Crap like that.
T: Was your family middle-class?
BISSETT: If there hadn’t been so much sickness in the family it would have been like upper-middle-class. But there were hospital debts continually. My mother was sick for years. Then I was sick for three years when I was ten, eleven and twelve. Two years in the hospital, then another year to get better.
T: What did you have?
BISSETT: I had peritonitis. That’s when you have an appendicitis operation and something goes wrong. The doctor leaves a hand in, or a glove. I dunno. The poison spreads through your blood and you can’t crap. I couldn’t go to the bathroom for two years. They put tubes in you so you get these scars.
Now it’s so far out because I’ve been meditating for almost eight months. I worry less, have a more relaxed body system, smoke a little less tobacco, drink a little less coffee. I’m starting to get healthier without going on a head trip. It’s just sorta happening. So anyway, hair is starting to grow on my belly. It’s covering the scars and it’s so far out. Like in Halifax when I’d go swimming they used to yell at me all the time. They wouldn’t play with me sometimes because I had too many scars. [laughing] So I’m getting more confident on beaches!
T: Thanks to some hair on your belly.
BISSETT: Yeah. It took a long time for me to get better. They didn’t think I would live. After the twelfth operation it was okay. I missed two grades and just carried on. I couldn’t do sports for two years.
T: What did you take?
BISSETT: English and philosophy. I was supposed to be a lawyer cuz my father was one. He was a very idealistic lawyer who would take cases from people who couldn’t afford to pay. A lot of that. He was never sick so he was always grumbling about doctor bills. That’s where everything went. So no one wanted me to be an artist. I think my mother mightn’t have minded but she had gone into spirit by then.
T: Were you the eldest son by any chance?
BISSETT: Two daughters and me. Then I wanted to leave Halifax. I used to run away all the time. When I was legal age, I split. I ran away to a circus once. The cops used to always get me back. So I came out west and starved here. Then I got a job with the library downtown and went to UBC. I did two years but I could never finish.
T: When would this be?
BISSETT: Around ’64. I’m not sure. Anyway, I remember I was in this other course with a guy named Dr. Daniels. It was a Milton course because they thought I had promise as an English student person. But I didn’t have that much promise because there was this seating plan and stuff and I would never sit in my right seat. I couldn’t deal with this seating plan at all. There was a lot of other crap I couldn’t deal with either. I wanted to write and paint.
[laughing] I remember I had to get this dumb language credit. I was writing this exam for German or something. I didn’t like studying that stuff. I’d already bummed out of two other language courses. It was cool but it was weird. So I just put my pen down and walked out of the campus. It was my own little interior drama. I never came back.
T: Did you have many art friends in those days?
BISSETT: No. I hardly knew anybody. I worked at the library and I read. I started meeting other writers and stuff downtown eventually, but I never melted with the university scene.
T: Did you have any books out by then?
BISSETT: No, the first issue of blewointment started in ’64, I think. I went directly into that when I left school. In ’65, maybe there were three issues. It was a group thing. By ’67 we were doing about five books a year. In the’ 70′ s it’s been averaging seven books a year.
T: Where did the impetus to start blewointment press come from?
BISSETT: We started it in the ’60’s cuz no one else would print us. Visual writing was just too weird for other magazines. I guess that’s the way most presses start. You get a bunch of people who are organically together and no one else will print them. It just grows and grows.
T: When you started blewointment, was it the starving artist routine? Eating potatoes and Kraft dinners?
BISSETT: Yeah. Living on welfare and stuff like that. In ’66, a movie was made about me called In Search of Innocence. It took about six months with the director, Morris Embra. It was a beautiful movie.
T: Then you got busted?
BISSETT: Yeah, me and this folk singer from Seattle got busted. We were like the second bust in Vancouver. It was really a hot thing. A big deal and crap like that. The social workers were trying to take our child away. The police were coming all the time and I was getting beaten up. It was really getting bizarre. Crap was flying in every direction. The cops would come to bust the place and they’d tear my paintings apart. They would scream, “Why do you paint like this? This is insane!”
One day two social workers came to the door and they bought $800 worth of paintings and told us to get out of town. Or we couldn’t keep our daughter. Before that they took our daughter away from us a couple of times. Because she didn’t have pants on or something. We got hassled because we were artists.
T: Did you get dragged down by all that?
BISSETT: Well, we understood it all and fortunately we had a really great lawyer, Sid Simons. And Warren Tallman [UBC poetry professor] was a character witness. But like if our daughter walked down to the neighbourhood pool and took her pants off, which all the other kids did, the police would bring our daughter home. We’d get picked on. I suppose the movie we made didn’t really help, even though it was a really peaceful movie about writing and painting. But there weren’t any hippies yet. They didn’t have a word to identify us. They didn’t know what we were.
T: Post-beatnik, pre-hippie.
BISSETT: Yeah, they didn’t know what destruction we might do. [laughing] All we were doing was painting and writing and living and smoking a little dope. Stuff like that.
T: Who’s we? The mother?
BISSETT: Yeah, Martina. We’ve all gone different places but it’s still together.
T: Where do they live now?
BISSETT: Different places.
T: Then you got busted again later in the ’60’s, is that right?
BISSETT: For possession. It was another big hoopla with a two-year trial. But it was like old times for me. Then things got raging in the ’70’s when blewointment got a bit more Canada Council support. In 1978, we got a $2,000 increase so we’re printing nine books on $6,800.
T: Compared to other publishing houses, that’s not much.
BISSETT: It’s the fourth lowest block grant in the country. Me and Allen [Rosen] are running seven thousand dollars in debt all the time. You keep hanging in there and conditions eventually improve. The dope thing isn’t so heavy any more. No one is frightened by paintings any more. And concrete poetry doesn’t scare people so much now.
T: So you more or less survived that era intact.
BISSETT: Yeah. Warren [Tallman] put his house up for me on the second trial for bail. Just incredible really.
T: Do you ever look back on those years in the hospital and speculate how being aware of life and death at such an early age might have affected you? Most kids growing up these days aren’t tuned into that. BISSETT: Unless you’re in Chile or Vietnam. Yeah, that was pretty bizarre all right. Everything was backwards. I used to get presents before each operation. It was tempting to have an operation, just to get a present. I used to think a lot about dying. And movie stars. That’s when I got into movies. It’s in my book, Stardust. I used to have movie stars all over my wall. They were my friends. They talked to me. They were closer to me than anything.
T: Do you ever get tired of people asking why you don’t capitalize your name?
BISSETT: It’s just because there’s nothing to emphasize with it.
T: Yeah, I know but—
BISSETT: It’s fun when people ask because then I get to talk about
spelling and stuff like that.
T: So let’s talk about spelling and stuff like that. You’re someone who seems to believe there’s a power-mongering segment of society “up there” somewhere so if you spell in a way that’s foreign to those people, it keeps the poetry safe. Maybe it’s a protective thing. The only people who will read them are people who want to read them.
BISSETT: Yeah, I never thought of that. Wow, far out.
T: They open a book and feel instant irritation. So maybe there’s also
a political side of you that wants to provoke a reaction, too.
BISSETT: Far out.
T: Also if you spell phonetically like you do, it gives you an affinity with people who aren’t literate. Like children.
BISSETT: Like a lot of people don’t spell right. Like maybe two-thirds of the world or something. That’s really neat. Those are three super reasons right there, aren’t they? Of course the other reason is simply to get words closer to the way they really sound.
T: Have you ever been actively involved in politics the way you’re involved in your art?
BISSETT: Not for a while. I used to do a lot of stuff with the Viet Nam war trip. And Ban the Bomb marches. And art auctions to raise money, that sort of stuff.
T: Do you see the pendulum in society swinging back to the right these days?
BISSETT: Yeah, there’s a conservative backlash. But that conservative backlash is funny because the revolution never got off the ground. [laughing] We’re having a backlash without even having had a revolution. It’s very Canadian!
T: Do you think the reaction to your poetry in Parliament is political grandstanding? Or do you think these politicians are genuinely shocked?
BISSETT: I don’t know. I find it real puzzling, like a tempest in a teapot. I can’t figure out what their motive is. Maybe they think they can mobilize a vote. These five Conservative MP’s have written this letter and xeroxed copies of my poems for all their constituents, which may be a copyright infringement. They’re trying to get their constituents to write letters to the Council and try and take the autonomy of the Council away. But without the Council, it would be really rough. I’m a taxpayer too, but I don’t tell an engineer how to build a bridge. That’s going back to Plato and The Republic, right? The only trouble with the Canada Council is that it needs more money.
T: You’ve said that if you were really writing pornography, you wouldn’t need grants.
BISSETT: Yeah. So shame on me for writing what I feel. Why do they get upset about writing? We’re not going to be a puritan culture. We’re going to have erotic literature as well as any other kind of literature. We’re going to have a culture that includes a whole range of experience.
T: Would you agree Canada has a tendency to be liberal about artists just so long as we can ignore them?
BISSETT: Unless you’re saying something they can use for their benefit, it’s a freak-out. That’s the trouble with politicians. I think political activity can be tremendous if it can be communal in some way. Like the world is a commune. Politics should be for getting things together. Like providing guaranteed minimum incomes or fixing things so that senior citizens aren’t eating cat food. Or cleaning the water. There are legitimate things that our politicians should be concerned about. Like the defense budget or the food in Super-Valu. Or what the Bank of Nova Scotia and Noranda Mines are doing in Chile, for example. We stood by while Allende got eliminated.
T: Is there any difference for you between where your paintings come from and where poetry comes from?
BISSETT: I think they come from the same place. I approach them both
the same way, feeling what can come through me rather than directing it. Sometimes when you look at a linear or more traditional poem, it might look like it’s been worked. But it’s still receiving. Like it’s an “always learning” thing. I might direct with notation and polishing in different drafts, making it closer to how it really is, but it’s still trying to listen and hear and see how it is. To let the poem or the painting become what it is. Like one time I was painting and the brush started dancing. It was really exciting because the figures came alive.
T: Are you aware of a common theme in your painting? Because I notice a lot of your figures are illuminated with a glow, like a sun radiating from out of the figure’s inside.
BISSETT: I’m sort of aware. Like when I came out of surgery after my brain thing I started seeing people with auras.
T: Tell me about that accident. What happened?
BISSETT: I was at this party after this concrete poetry show I’d been in. There was a folding door made to look like a wall, so it would blend in. The door was supposed to have a latch, because if you went through it was twenty feet to the concrete. I was leaning against this door and I fell through. Or at least that’s what they tell me cuz I don’t remember. [laughing] Those cells have gone.
It took two years to get better so we took it to court. The insurance company was bucking it. The thing that came up in court was whether the cat had gone down for its milk or not. They unlatched the door to let the cat down for its milk. So there was this testimony as to what time I had fallen through. If I’d fallen through after the cat had already come upstairs, that would prove I couldn’t have fallen through. Even though I did. On that basis, the judge threw us out of court. [laughing] I don’t remember any bowl of milk! I never even saw the damn cat!
So they took me to the hospital and took the glass out of my hand. But my brain was bleeding. People from the party had left me there for a while because it was a party, you know. Then they got it together to take me to the hospital. They left me in emergency. Then this shrink came in. He started yelling at me. He thought I was catatonic. I couldn’t move so he was taking me to Riverview for shock treatment. I couldn’t walk. My hearing would go and then it would come back again. I couldn’t say words. I couldn’t move. It was really weird. This shrink was bundling me up into a stretcher. I was going off into an ambulance to Riverview. But my brain was bleeding so that would have killed me and stuff.
Then this neurologist who was an intern came in. She was fantastic. She said, “Stop! That’s an inter-cerebral bleed.” He said it wasn’t, it was catatonia. “He’s a screwed-up artist and we’re going to shock him and rehabilitate him.”
So they made a deal. They’d take me to the operating room and go into my brain. If it was an inter-cerebral bleed, then I’d go to a neurology ward. If it wasn’t, he would get me. She won.
T: How long were you unable to communicate?
BISSETT: About a week. I was paralyzed on my right side for about three weeks. They sponged up the blood in my brain. I was a staff patient. I didn’t have a private doctor. They took me back to a ward and they’d use me as a demonstration for classes. They’d bring in these students and say this is a person who has not got long to live. You see I had aphasia, which means the echoes were not meeting in my head. It means you can’t function. Then also I had edema, which is something connected with memory loss. Plus a swelling of the brain or something. And I was paralyzed so I was like a write-off.
T: Could you talk yet?
BISSETT: No. But I got inspired by this neurologist. She was there all the time. There was this light coming from her head. I knew she was on my side. She said my chances were very little but if we really push we could make a good try of it. She said she was the only person there who thought I might live. She wanted me to believe that, too, if nothing else than a joke before dying.
I remember Gerry Gilbert came over one day and they were having this group poetry reading which I was supposed to be part of at the Art Gallery. He wanted to tape me. He said it would be great. My last poetry reading. [laughing] Some other people there at the time got a little uptight. They thought it was a little morbid. I couldn’t really handle a reading anyway.
Warren Tallman was so far out. He brought me tapes of Allen Ginsberg, Ezra Pound, Robert Duncan. No one could stay very long but nurses would come in and play the tapes for me. It was to remind me that I was a poet. It was so far out. Everything would just go: I couldn’t remember who anyone was half the time.
But there was something lucky about it all. The accident happened just after I got out of Oakalla. I’d paid my five hundred dollar fine and done my time. But the federal justice department was uptight. They figured I hadn’t been punished properly after the two-year trial, a $500 fine, and a little bit of time in Powell River, and some in Burnaby, and some in the city bucket here, and a few weeks in Oakalla. They were appealing. They had to appeal within thirty days of my coming out. They came to the hospital with the papers. The head nurse told them I’d be dead within a week. So that was that.
T: Have you ever tried to get in touch with that neurologist?
BISSETT: Yeah. I’m going to try and find her again. She was so incredible. She was maybe twenty-five. To all those sixty-to seventy year-old doctors, she was a toy to them. And I was a dead person. They didn’t believe her at all because they’d seen so much. But she just kept believing. Then I got epileptic and started having seizures.
T: And that really convinced them.
BISSETT: I was a complete write-off! A combination of aphasia, edema, paralysis and epilepsy is about it! But she was fresh. She kept working on me. She started bringing me balls to squeeze even though I couldn’t move my hand. She would leave the ball in my hand anyway. She said you’ll get the idea, you’ll make the connection. She was sticking pins in me everywhere. Normally you have one echo test every two days. I had ten tests every day. She came in with these blackboards and taught me the alphabet all over again. She said, if you live your right side is never going to work, but we don’t care. She said there’s a lot of people worse off than that.
She got me into occupational therapy as soon as she could get me there. There you see people who are so bad off, like in Coming Home. They have so many parts missing from their bodies, or if they have parts there’s no feeling cuz their spine got blown away. So you don’t get self-pity at all.
She started programming me with my left side. The first day in occupational therapy, it took seven people to get me there. They held me up in front of this ping-pong table. Two guys were sending the ball towards me and they were in worse shape than me! I mean, they had lots missing!
T: I’m sorry. I shouldn’t laugh.
BISSETT: [laughing] Well, it is funny. I couldn’t laugh but I made gurgling noises. Anyway, two toes twitched one night. My neurologist had this very crackpot theory but she wanted to share it with me. The epilepsy was supposed to mean you’re finished, but she figured it might mean there’s something that’s ticking. She figured with all the electricity it was getting drier in there and a scab was starting to form. So she was getting really excited.
She had me in a sling. She said you’re a painter, you’re going to keep painting. Enough of this b.s. It doesn’t matter what kind of machine we have to make for you to sit in. We can put batteries in you, we can do lots of things.
After the epilepsy, I became spastic. The other people all hung their heads but she and I were getting real excited. At least it was movement. Playing ping-pong, I’d miss the ball and fall on the table. It was a riot. She said rest was fatal. She took my sleeping pills away. She’d say if all you can sleep is four hours a night, that’s all your body needs. If there’s nothing to do at night, you’ve got balls to squeeze. Or you can prick yourself with pins.
T: Are you completely recovered now?
BISSETT: Pretty well. I remember the first time I ate in public. It was really far out. I was living with a whole bunch of people as an outpatient. My whole right side was spastic. We had a wood stove. I started to cook some food and everything fell into the fire. I started crying. Everyone freaked out. We lived in this old warehouse and no matter what was going on, I’d always coped. Things used to get pretty raging there. We had this big bolt on the door because we used to get raided and stuff. We’d be smoking outrageous things inside and the cops couldn’t get in. So we’d always been crazy there but they’d never seen me like this before. So I had to go out by myself to this restaurant where everyone used to hang out. I ordered food. It was bacon and eggs, the first thing I’d eaten all day. They brought it and I picked up my knife and fork. That was it. It was all over the floor. Little by little I got less and less spastic. I had dyladin for about six months. I had barbells and weights. And I had to type. They would check to see how many hours I spent typing. It was terrible. You’d feel like breaking the typewriter. But it was neat the first time she made me paint. It was so far out. They got me propped up there in this sling from the ceiling. It was a metal thing on a hook. There was paper kept down with masking tape. They taped a brush around my fingers. They pulled this sling back and then they let it go. They had paint on the brush. I would make a mark. Then she’d say you’ve done your first painting, you’re back in business. You could never beat her. So I was really lucky.
T: After all this, you started seeing auras.
BISSETT: Yeah. Hers was the first. But they still thought I would just die in my sleep one night. I got freaked out and crawled out the window once. They found me spastically walking along Broadway and brought me back. She calmed me down and got me inspired again.
T: So do you think your art has come out of this experience to a great extent?
BISSETT: Yeah, a lot.
T: Maybe when you have to relearn almost everything at a later age, you really pare things down to essentials.
BISSETT: It’s like a fresh start. You get reprogrammed with a new bunch of cells. [laughing] It’s really far out. More people should have it happen.
bissett INTERVIEW #2 by Alan Twigg 1992
BCBW: Why is your new book called “inkorrect thots”?
bissett: On the campuses, especially when it comes to writing, there’s a lot of talk about being politically correct. People often ask if I think something is politically correct or not. People’s concern for political correctness seems somehow retrograde to me. I actually find the whole concept very Victorian, even though it may have some things to offer. I thas a very puritan ingredient to it. So I wrote this poem called inkorrect thots. The Ministry of Korrect Thots explains everything for everyone, but then it has to apologize because it can’t explain everything.
BCBW: You’ve been in the poetry game since 1963. Do you realize that you’ve become something of a role model?
bissett: Well, I always remember what Bobby Dylan says: “Don’t follow the leaders, watch your parking meters”. When I started writing I was helped a lot by older poets and professors and people that liked poetry. So all that mutuality is really important. But I think people do things because they want to do them and because it’s necessary –not because of role models.
Being senior or junior really doesn’t have much meaning for me anyway. When I was very sick as a child, that made me see older people as not really older, because I almost died myself a number of times. So I was old when I was young, and I got younger when I got older.
BCBW: After 20 years as a publisher, how did you feel about having to sell blewointment press in 1983?
bissett: It was hard. The letting go took two years. I had put so much into it. I was very angry at the jury and I was very angry at the Canada Council at the time. I had to sell blewointment to pay for a few months of loan payments at the bank. But I still owed $12,000. It took a long time to pay it all back, all because of the erratic behaviour of the doinks on the jury who suddenly gave the press a big decrease.
bissett: I don’t think I’m being negative in calling them doinks. Some of them are. Some people on the juries have only had jobs as professors. They may be very good at their job, but they may have no experience of living without a salary, and they have no idea how dedicated the people of the art world are in Canada, and how many sacrifices we make. People just don’t know.
BCBW: Artists have been dealing with all this for centuries…
bissett: Yes. Most of us are still trying to get just a living wage. There’s no glamour in being envied or put down, and that particular merry-go-round goes on constantly. So you just do your work because you love your work, and when people are great to you it’s terrific and it happens just as much as when people are not great. It would be insincere to harp on any regrets, because I know better stuff has occurred since the blewointment days, or at least just as good stuff.
BCBW: Was your show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, “fires in th tempul”, a major turning point?
bissett: Yes. That was very lucky. I didn’t do anything for that to happen. The price of my paintings raised somewhat after that show, and I was treated differently in a lot of areas. It’s very encouraging to be treated as a hard working artist rather than the other things I’d often been treated as. You can work your buns off but if you don’t get no luck you still are in deep shit.
BCBW: Through all your changes since blewointment at least you’ve had the consistency of being with Talonbooks for 15 years.
bissett: Yes, Talon is amazing. They’ve been so good to me. In my personal life I’m still restless. The ‘greener pastures’ thing kicks in fairly regularly with its attendant mythologies and blind alleys. But with someone to publish me I don’t feel like going anywhere else.
BCBW: Nowadays when you read over your earlier books, what do you see?
bissett: I think the writing knew more than I did.
BCBW: When you give your reading at the Free Press festival, which will you read?
bissett: I never know what I’m going to read before a reading.
BCBW: Why is that?
bissett: I prefer to gauge life, and my mood. Some poems don’t work one night, others do. It’s the same with being in the band. We’re always surprised by what works. You think it’s quite cool, you hope it’s fine. If the audience loves it, terrific. If they hate it, terrific. But I feel very encouraged if people like what I do. That’s really important to me. I love it if they love it. It really does help me.
BCBW: After all these years I think many people still only regard you as an ecstatic artist. The weirdo hippie poet who spells funny…
bissett: Well, it’s possible that my ecstasy is different from their ecstasy, and they don’t accept that. It’s possible that they don’t write about their ecstasy and they don’t want me to write about mine. It’s possible, too, that they don’t see where we have a lot in common. They may think that since they don’t write about ecstasy and I do, there isn’t a cognitive process, a real knowing going on in what I do.
BCBW: How do you feel about coming back to B.C. for the Festival?
bissett: I’ve been living in Centralia most of the time since ’85. It’s a thrill to come back here and see close friends. The climate in Centralia is very hot and very cold and very sultry and very humid and very totally freezing. My body’s got quite used to it. And so has my mind, almost. So when I come back here in winter, it’s a luxury.
BCBW: Speaking of Centralia [Central Canada] what’s your response to the political schisms in Canada?
bissett: I’ve been watching the constitutional workshops on tv. Rogers Cable has them on until 2 o’clock. It’s amazing! We live in a kind of shadow country. Our constitutional workshops are on the cable channels and are not even on the large networks.
I’ve been very impressed with Ovide Mercredi and the clarity of his mind and the presence of his being. Some of the people I saw were reacting like ‘the Family Compact rides again’. Upper and Lower Canada were obsessively concerned about themselves. Then he persisted and continued with the clarity of his mind and his position. I saw a real turnaround in people’s minds. They started to get it and understand it. I’m very encouraged by all this.
Maybe we’ll get a whole bunch of words that promote the distinctiveness of Quebec and promote the inherent self-government of aboriginal peoples. It could happen. I’m still hopeful. I get really into it. Without being Pollyandrew about it, I live in hope.
BCBW: You’ve always been a keen political observer. What do you think about Brian Mulroney?
bissett: I’ve been bummed out by him. I’m just waiting until he’s no longer in office, so we can do something about restoring our own sovereignty. The Gulf War was a reminder that we don’t want to get too involved in American policy making and how cruel their society is. Now we’re just realizing that all this bullshit about globalization and free trade and privatization and deregulation is all a big power-grab by the ruling class for more luxury. It’s basically union-busting. Hopefully we can come back to some democratic sense rather than blatant oligarchy.
BCBW: You don’t recognize Canada as democratic?
bissett: Well, the word democracy can be applied to Canada, but in a lot of respects it’s bullshit. Look at the stacking of the Senate to get the GST through, or shoving Free Trade down people’s throats. Even the chief negotiator Simon Reisman said it was a disgrace and would not work to our benefit.
Mulroney and Bush and Reagan and Thatcher really felt they could provide more jobs if they eliminated the taxes on wealthy people. But I think most people are seeing through it now. If you don’t tax wealthy people then there are no jobs and they’ll just put their factories where the cheap labour is, like in Mexico with workers working for $5 a day. Labatt’s from London, Ontario is moving to Cancun, Mexico.
By the way, do you agree? Or are you the classical interviewer that doesn’t have to agree or disagree?
BCBW: I’m the classical interviewer.
bissett: I worry now that the Free Trade talks are really affecting support for the arts. Hills, the American free trade negotiator, wants the Canada Council on the table. But I think there’s a democratic move towards establishing values and rights in the United States by all the people who’ve become disenfranchised through Reagan and Bush. This actually will help us. We’ve got to help ourselves. We can’t rely on the empire. Canadians are waking up. We can assert ourselves and take control of our own sovereign destiny.
BCBW: So what did the swans have to say to you this morning?
bissett: I asked them about theory and art, and they liked the question. They said art can be theory if it really wants to, but its not art; art is about living directly. That’s what’s ecstatic and illuminating about it, it emphasizes living directly rather than theoretically.
BCBW: What else have the swans been saying?
bissett: Well, the swans told me the trees are meeting secretly to decide our fate on the planet. The trees are trying to decide whether they’ll grow more leaves and branches to protect us from the ozone, or just let us burn. This is a big controversy in the tree population. Some trees are bitter about us, but others want to help.
BCBW: As you get older, do you get better at being happy?
bissett: It keeps going backwards and forwards. You go through so many things: for a while, The Loved One is God, for a while Writing is God, for a while Art is God, for a while The Community is God. All these things have their down sides, as well. But this is, relatively speaking, the healthiest period of my life, which I’m very grateful for.