Who Can Resist?: bpNichol’s Organ Music


There have been an enormous number of bpNichol titles produced over the past few years. Organ Music is one such volume, a longer version of Selected Organs (Black Moss Press, 1988) that contains one previously unpublished poem. It is constructed of eleven autobiographical sequences of prose poems composed throughout the 1980s on the subject of the body—“The Vagina,” “The Mouth,” “The Tonsils,” etc.—introduced by a brief statement from the late author.

Nichol’s prose embodies the loveliest ease, bouncing from point to point along a trajectory through each of the eleven sequences, each composed in a playful train-of-thought series of extended sentences as long as he could make them. As the first section of “The Toes” begins:

I was lying on my back on the grass in the park in front of our house staring at them & thot how ugly they looked. I was fifteen & really depressed & the clouds blew over the park & I stared at these two great clubs of flesh & bone with five little stubs sticking out of each of them & thot how ugly they looked & how maybe I should kill myself.

Frustratingly, the book doesn’t include any consideration of what selections from Organ Music are in print for the first time, or might have appeared in other forms—whether in anthologies or journals or in that prior edition. I found myself pining for a slightly more critically enhanced edition of Organ Music, one that would have also explained the author’s introduction—whether it was included in the original Selected Organs or whether it too appears for the first time here. Further, I found myself wondering: how does releasing this work, posthumously, some two decades after the author’s death, add to the conversations in which his work engaged? the conversations his work initiated?

Nichol’s introduction does provide some answers to these questions, as he speaks to us from the near-distant past:

Marty Gervais approached me about publishing Organ Music as a book I told him the work wasn’t finished. But who knows how long it will take me to finish the rest? I’m not even sure how many the ‘rest’ are. For some reason the number twenty keeps flashing before my eyes. So I’ve decided to gather them together into this collection, a kind of interim autobiography as it were. There’s more I could add but I’ll leave the rest to you. I know most of the parts you’ll read about in here aren’t organs but who could resist a title like Organ Music? Not me.

This new visioning of Nichol’s “organ” poems, despite its critical silences, is an excellent way to reconnect not only with his work but also with his personality via the autobiographical nature of the pieces. It’s a must for any follower of Nichol’s oeuvre.

rob mclennan is author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. The most recent is The Uncertainty Principle: stories (2014). He blogs at robmclennan.blogspot.com.


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