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Why bpNichol Still Matters

Last month, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by Alexandra Alter with the heavily alliterative and assonantal title “Web Poets’ Society: New Breed Succeeds in Taking Verse Viral.” Alter describes how Instagram and Tumblr poets with thousands of followers are becoming “best-selling celebrity poet[s].” The article begins with a profile of Tyler Knott Gregson, whose first book “has more than 120,000 copies in print” and whose new book All the Words Are Yours: Haiku on Love had a first run of 100,000 copies (those figures are not typos):

On a recent Friday night, Tyler Knott Gregson, a blond, tattooed poet from Montana, took the stage at a Manhattan bookstore and beamed at the crowd that had come to celebrate his new haiku collection.

“This is rad. I appreciate it,” he said, taking in the roughly 150 people who had crowded into Barnes & Noble. The response from the mostly young, mostly female audience amounted to a collective swoon.

I read ten or so haiku from All the Words Are Yours, using the “Look inside” function on Amazon.com, and the pieces are on par with the one the NY Times quotes via screenshot: “We stumble headfirst / into another season. / The leaves watch us fall.”

Instagram Poets
I think the great bpNichol (1944-88) can offer some insight on this “new generation of best-selling poets.” This haiku-like piece is from his 1970 collection of concrete poetry Still Water:

bpNichol_ from Still Water


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Michael Leong is the author of the poetry books e.s.p., Cutting Time with a Knife, Who Unfolded My Origami Brain?, and Words on Edge. His creative work has been anthologized in THE &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing, Best American Experimental Writing 2018, and Bettering American Poetry, Volume 3. His co-translation, with Ignacio Infante, of Vicente Huidobro’s long poem Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven is forthcoming from co•im•press in late 2019. His critical monograph Contested Records: The Turn to Documents in Contemporary North American Poetry is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press in May 2020. He has received grants from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts.

2 thoughts on “Why bpNichol Still Matters

  1. This new generation of “poets” is adopting the self-aggrandizement of the younger fashion designers and digital writers on such formats as JukePop. They recognize the importance of presenting a total package, albeit one that favors branding over substance. To be fair, I’m sure that when the novel emerged in the beginning of the 19th century, there were a thousand throwaways for every Dickens or Austen.

    1. I didn’t know about JukePop–but, yes, it seems quite related to what folks are calling “platform” (a term that I learned–somewhat to my dismay–from one of my creative writing students a few years back). Favoring branding over substance can certainly be like putting the cart before the horse. But–yes, to be fair–I’d like to think that Instagram and Tumblr can be used in formally innovative ways for poets who want to go beyond mere self-aggrandizement.

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