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B. P. Nichol

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Barrie Phillip Nichol (1944-1988), who often goes by his lower-case initials and last name, with no spaces (bpNichol), is a Canadian poet. He was born on September 30, 1944, in Vancouver, British Columbia, and became widely known for his concrete poetry while living there in the 1960s. He received his elementary teaching certificate from the University of British Columbia in 1963, but he only worked a brief stint as a teacher. He had audited creative writing courses while in university, and his life moved in that direction after about a year of teaching. It is safe to say that Nichol was at least partly responsible for changing the way subsequent Canadian poets deal with text and even meaning itself.

His most famous published work is probably The Martyrology. The Martyrology is a long poem, encompassing 9 books in 6 volumes.

Nichol also worked in a wide variety of other genres, including musical theatre, children's books, collage/assemblage, pamphlets[?], spoken word[?], computer texts, fiction, and television. For having such a brief lifespan, Nichol produced a highly prolific volume of work. However, it was often ephemeral, such as performance.

Fortunately for those interested in Nichol's less publishable work, his early work in sound poetry was documented in Michael Ondaatje's film Sons of Captain Poetry (1970); in Borders, a small phonodisc included with his poetic work Journeying & the returns (1967); and in the long-playing record Motherlove (1968). Also, the 1998 film bp/pushing the boundaries was made on Nicol and his contributions to art by Brian Nash (director) and Elizabeth Yake (producer).

Although Nichol had been writing since 1961, he first attracted public notice in the mid-1960s with his hand-drawn or "concrete" poems, and received international acclaim. The "visual book" Still water, together with the booklets The true eventual story of Billy the Kid and Beach Head as well as the anthology of concrete poetry, The cosmic chef, won the Governor General's Award for poetry.

In 1970, he began to collaborate with fellow poets Rafael Barreto-Rivera[?], Paul Dutton[?], and Steve McCaffery[?], forming the sound-poetry group The Four Horsemen[?].

He is known as a promoter of poetry and the small press, a manipulator of the lines between genres, and a prolific Canadian word artist. It is next to impossible to form a complete list of what Nichol has accomplished, but below is a list of some of his published work.

Table of contents

Published Works


  • Cold Mountain. Singing Hands Series 3 (1966)
  • Journeying & the returns (1967)
  • Monotones (1971)
  • The Captain Poetry Poems (1971)
  • The Martyrology, Books 1 and 2 (1972)
  • The Martyrology, Books 3 and 4 (1976)
  • The Martyrology, Book 5 (1982)
  • The Martyrology, Book 6 (1987)
  • Gifts: The Martyrology Book[s] 7& (1990)
  • Ad Sanctos (a choral performance work) (1993)


  • The true eventual story of Billy the Kid (1970)
  • Beach Head (1970)
(and many others)


Visual Books

  • Still water (1970)
  • ABC: the Aleph Beth book (1971)



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