Gary Barwin has just posted an essay on my “Prose of the Trans-Canada” on Jacket2: “derek beaulieu’s Prose of the Trans-Canada is an epic inscribed scroll, a graphemic saga as Odyssean and graphic a roadtrip as traveling the eponymous Trans-Canada highway.“
The publication of bill bissett’s Rush: what fuckan theory; a study uv language in 1972 firmly ushered Canadian poetics into the postmodern era. Out of print for 40 years – and reissued here complete with an interview with bissett about the book’s creation and a critical afterword by derek beaulieu and Gregory Betts – Rush embodies a collagist, multi-conscious approach to art that recognizes no division between the work and the world, the author and his sexuality, his breath, his influences; the theory and the practice. Arguing that “a new line has started,” Rush captures the urgency of a new model of production that resists the closure and mastery of any one mind. It is an elegant rejection of aesthetic ego and all presumptions of authority. Rush: what fuckan theory; a study uv language is a vital, vocal protest against business as usual and the exploitation of the individual from one of Canada’s most important avant-garde poets.
The publication of bill bissett’s Rush: what fuckan theory; a study of language in 1972 firmly ushered Canadian poetics into the postmodern era. Out of print for 40 years – and reissued here complete with an interview with bissett about the book’s creation and a critical afterword by derek beaulieu and Gregory Betts – Rush embodies a collagist, multi-conscious approach to art that recognizes no division between the work and the world, the author and his sexuality, his breath, his influences; the theory and the practice. Arguing that “a new line has startid,” Rush captures the urgency of a new model of production that resists the closure and mastery of any one mind. It is an elegant rejection of aesthetic ego and all presumptions of authority. Rush: what fuckan theory; a study of language is a vital, vocal protest against business as usual and the exploitation of the individual from one of Canada’s most important avant-garde poets.
bill bissett opened Canadian poetry to postmodernism and from there proceeded in every direction all at once. Since his invention of the blewointment press in 1963, bissett has worked diligently to explode all boundaries of author, text, and context, radically disrupting static and disciplinary modes of art making. Read, taught, studied, and imitated all around the world, he now lives in Toronto, painting and writing somewhere between painting and poetry.
derek beaulieu is the author of nine books of poetry and conceptual fiction, editor of the acclaimed small presses housepress and No Press. He is an instructor at Mount Royal University and the Alberta College of Art + Design.
Gregory Betts is the Director of Canadian Studies and the Graduate Program Director of Canadian and American Studies at Brock University. He is the author of five books of poetry, and the editor of four books of experimental Canadian writing.
112 pages | 7×10 inches | paperback
EPUB ISBN 9781927040454
I’m pleased to announce that Prose of the Trans Canada will be included in Language to Cover a Wall: Visual Poetry through its changing Media (Nov 17, 2011 – Feb 18, 2012) at The UB Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.
I’m thrilled to announce that Wordfest 2011 is augmenting my appearance at the festival in support of Seen of the Crime by projecting Prose of the Trans-Canada on the side of the Calgary Tower for the duration of the festival:
derek beaulieu’s work is consistently praised as some of the most radical and challenging contemporary Canadian writing. A towering moment in beaulieu’s on-going exploration of letraset as a medium for concrete poetry, Prose of the Trans-Canada, will be on display, after dark, as an “illuminated light sculpture” on the façade of the Calgary Tower from October 11–14. Rising over 20 metres, the visual poem will illuminate the Calgary Tower and provide a new platform for this cutting-edge artist.
Charged with teaching 22 young students how to write fiction, I shirked my task and concentrated on challenging the students to question their assumptions about how (or if) fiction “works.”
Weekly writing assignments requested that they model their work on poetic texts, Oulipan exercises and abstract comics. I asked them to transcribe every word on their street and all the words they said for an hour of typical conversation. They wrote using only questions, using only other people’s texts (excising and overwriting), starting every sentence with “I Remember…”; they sculpted their assignments, recorded their assignments—and some went so far as to build their work into self-creating video games.
They discussed and crafted responses to Melville, Gogol, Kafka, Moure, Slater, Calvino, Borges, Molotiu, rawlings, Blonk, Morris, Lethem and more. Their mid-term assignment was to reply in a piece of “fiction” (however they defined that) to Jonathan Ball’s Ex Machina.
Catalogued by the National Library of Canada as “poems,” Ball’s Ex Machina (which he considers a SF/horror novel) is a series of footnoted and intertwined aphorisms, quotations, statements and diagrams about the un-holy combination of book and machine, writer and reader, host and parasite.
With each page, the text becomes a labyrinth in which the reader’s breadcrumbs are devoured by mice as fast as they can be placed. Ex Machina is a predator with an elusive cat-and-mouse game in which it teases the reader into defining the terms of engagement, but “[i]n the garden of forking paths, you appear always to move forward.” (28) Ball’s text is purposefully evasive, preferring to challenge the reader on her need for clarity and purposefulness, for “If you are going to insist / on a poem, / I am going to persist / in this evasion.” (39)
Ball posits that the poetic text—or, in this case, a horror novel masquerading as a poetic text—is a textual symbiote which uses the reader to perpetuate its own survival:
The poem is not written by the author.  It is the root, the cause of authors.  Like a virus moving inside your skull.  To eat, and grow, and change. . (51)
William Carlos Williams notably argued
There’s nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words. […]Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matter like a ship. But poetry is a machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character. (“Introduction to The Wedge”, in Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions, 1969. 256.)
William S. Burroughs notoriously postulated “language is a virus from outer space” and that we are simply hosts for the spread of this linguistic extraterrestrial disease. Ball’s novel articulates the nature of the parasitic relationship between book, text and reader. While Phyllis Webb famously stated “[t]he proper response to a poem is another poem,” Ball makes the generative quality that Webb desired fraught with the sinister overtones of mutation, for the book machine seeks those “who process the poem, to great effect: host minds for newer and stronger strains” (57)
Ball has published Ex Machina under a Creative Commons License, and encourages readers to respond. He hopes that readers will allow the text to infect their own writing practices for “[t]he human being [is] a larval stage in the reproductive process of the book-machines.” (57)
Ex Machina used my “larval stage” undergraduate students to reproduce as video games, hollowed-out books, 15-minute sitcoms, Norwegian rock operas, illustrated shuffle-texts, scrapbooks made from ransom-note-like assembled texts, photo-essays, comic books and narrative-driven short stories.
With Ex Machina the meme speaks and it is hungry.
In 1913 Blaise Cendrars created his monumental Prose of the Trans-Siberian, a milestone in the history of artists books and visual poetry. When the intended edition of 150 copies was laid end-to-end they measured the same length as the height of the symbol of Parisian Modernity, the Eiffel Tower. Prose of the Trans-Canada responds to Cendrars’ legacy in a 16″ x 52″ visual poem. When all 150 copies of this limited edition are placed end-to-end, the resultant length is the same as the symbol of Calgarian Modernity, the Calgary Tower.
“A towering moment in beaulieu’s on-going exploration of letraset as a medium for concrete poetry, Prose of the Trans-Canada, issued as Moments Cafe No. 8, is published in a strictly limited edition of 150 copies printed on matte polypro film and available for order here.”