Dr. Derek Beaulieu and his Prose of the Trans-Canada

Derek Beaulieu, Calgary’s Poet Laureate, discusses his visual poem Prose of the Trans-Canada (Bookthug, 2011) and how the poem was crafted with an eye towards cartography and contemporary graphic design. The poem was projected on the high-resolution screen in the Visualization Studio of the Taylor Family Digital Library. Photo by Dave Brown

At a public lecture last month in the Taylor Family Digital Library, Calgary Poet Laureate Derek Beaulieu presented his work Prose of the Trans-Canada, an eye-catching, contemporary visual response to La prose du transsibérien by high modernists Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay in 1913.

Beaulieu’s work combines traditional poetry with cartography and graphic design into a dynamic field which is designed to be looked at instead of read.

The massive 24.5-million pixel screen in the TFDL’s Visualization Studio allowed for the high-resolution projection of both poems, treating audience members to the discovery of detail and nuance that would be otherwise undetectable.

This representation manifests in multiple ways — abstractly, poetically, even symbolically. Published in 1913, La prose du transsibérien is 1/150 the height of the Eiffel Tower. Beaulieu’s concrete poem, published a century later, is 1/150 the height of the Calgary Tower.

“Not only did I have the rare pleasure of seeing Cendrars’ work side by side with my own, and in a new light, the Visualization Studio allowed me a unique approach to teaching. It was a real glimpse into the future of the classroom,” said Beaulieu.

“These poems are major achievements in the evolution of the artist book,” French professor Jean-Jacques Poucel said in his introductory remarks at the February event. “Each offers, in its own way, a lasting artistic representation of the rapidly shifting modernity of two cosmopolitan cities, Paris and Calgary.”

For Poucel — whose graduate seminar Modern and Contemporary Poetics inspired this public lecture — both digital and tangible formats are important.

“I’m pleased my students also have access to paper facsimiles of these poems in the university’s collections,” he says. “This dual experience broadens their perspectives about concrete poetry and the artists who create it.”

This event was sponsored by the Department of French, Italian and Spanish with support from Libraries and Cultural Resources. Facsimiles of the poems are held in Archives and Special Collections. They may be viewed by appointment by contacting specccoll@ucalgary.ca.

Arnold McBay has incorporated a pair of my visual poems into Fresnel lenses in his new exhibition Parallax, now on display at the Gimsby Public Art Gallery .invite.. beaulieu 2 beaulieubeaulieu from leftbeaulieu from rightbeaulieu 2 from right 2  beaulieu two beaulieu 2 from left  Parallax view from right 2

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Calgary ArtsCommon’s Stephen Magazine has just published my reflections on being the first artist-in-residence in the Lightbox Studio. Pick up a free copy today!

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Cultural Weekly has recently reviewed Kern...

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Ordinary language can hardly do justice to these poems by Derek Beaulieu. Utilizing signs, logos and slogans, these suggestive glyphs make for unprecedented concrete poetry. Beaulieu is a renowned member of the Poetry avant-garde and is currently the Poet Laureate of Calgary, Canada. In his author’s note, Beaulieu writes, “Kern is made by using dry-transfer lettering without the use of computers. Ubiquitous in graphic design, technical drafting, and advertising from the early 1960s to early 1990s, dry-transfer lettering was used in order to standardize graphic elements, eliminate the individuality of the artists’ hand, and speed up the creative process.” He constructs these poems without the help of plans or sketches, creating each one by hand a letter at a time. The resulting image-field created by Beaulieu is similar to an abstract painting and can even be called otherworldly. Marjorie Perloff says these poems, “present moments of poetic nostalgia for the signposts of a past that never fully existed.”

This book is the latest in Les Figues’s “Global Poetics Series,” and definitely carries on their reputation of pushing poetic boundaries. The book begins with simple logos and gradually evolves and explodes into complicated constellations. As the author writes, “These poems are the street-signs, the signage, and the advertising logos for the shops and corporations that are just beyond reach. They are not islands of meaning—semantic or corporate.” Similar to the “performative typography” espoused by Douglas Kearney, these poems present arresting images that transcend tradition or even description. Beaulieu “occupies the page in the same way that the Nike swoosh sits on a shoe, or how the neon overwhelms the Tokyo streetscape.”

Chris Turnbull has recently replaced my visual poems in the Baxter Conservation Area after the 1st series were destroyed by the weather…TTA rout-e 2105 Baxter 2 close up TTA rout-e 2015 distant TTA Baxter 2 2015 TTA side Baxter 2 2015

A few views of “A Generative Library” (BDP Berlin, Jan 31 – Feb 28, 2015) which features my conceptual piece “The Plastic Cast”…

Books shape existence: some have been the teachers of our pasts, some have set the stage for how we have come to perceive our present, and some will be the guides to our future(s). There are the old, worn books we have read over and over throughout life; the books we wish we’d read and then there are all the potential, hypothetical books – the ones we dream about holding in our hands, and then there also those ones we can only hope will never materialize, those books of nightmares, impossible books.For the opening of the new Büro BDP we have asked former and future collaborators to contribute to a generative library, a collective curriculum for the past and future practices of BDP, the books that have and will guide us through our future. The range is telling, from the old and manhandled to the paperless PDF, the school book that offered clandestine secrets to active assistants in current research projects. With this opening gesture, we hope to establish Büro BDP as an active space for book research, publishing and indeed reading.
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pRoses From Trans-Siberian to Trans-Canadian

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Once updrytransferon a time, back before desktop computers were everywhere, dry-transfer lettering (Letraset) was in wide use by graphic designers, artists, advertisers, printing studios and more … it was sold in a variety of typefaces and symbols, sizes and colours.

Today, it has nowhere near the distribution or appeal that it once had.

Except it’s my media of choice.

As a visual artist, writer and as Calgary’s Poet Laureate, I use Letraset as an on-going part of my practice to create pieces ranging in size from smaller than a quarter to entire walls … and I’m quickly running out. Every piece I create results in one less letter or symbol that I can use for future work.

Perhaps you can help?

I’m seeking donations from the back-closets, unused drawers, storage rooms and tickle trunks out there — do you have any dry-transfer lettering that you no longer desire and would be happy to pass along to a good home?

If you do, please drop me a line at derek.beaulieu@acad.ca … or donations could be mailed to:

Derek Beaulieu, School of Critical & Creative Studies, Alberta College of Art & Design, 1407 14 Avenue Northwest, Calgary, AB T2N 4R3

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