Language and the Sacred in Canadian Poet Bp Nichol’s the Martyrology

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This book explores the circular relationship between notation and faith in bp Nichol’s life-long poem, The Martyrology. Pun and paradox, the ability to believe simultaneously in apparently contradictory things, lie at the heart of Nichol’s writing. This study proposes ‘pataphysics’, the science of the supplementary realm beyond metaphysics, as a useful category for understanding Nichol’s poetics.


"Dr. Billingham’s brilliant study, focused on Nichol’s magnum opus, The Martyrology, but encompassing all of Nichol’s career, is the first major assessment of his poetry and poetics to be published since his death. . . . begins with a brief sketch of Nichol’s life, followed by a careful positioning of his overall career in relation to the most relevant generic and aesthetic contexts. This introductory chapter continues with an extremely useful survey of the poetics informing Nichol's writing. . . . While exploring the sometimes dazzlingly complex poetic and spiritual ambiguities of Nichol’s poetry, Dr. Billingham never veers from painstakingly lucid and precise analysis and explanation. . . the signal defining strength of Dr. Billingham’s study is that without distortion or simplification of the more radical complexities of Nichol’s work, she analyses these elements in a language an style both accessible and persuasive to any informed reader." Leslie Monkman

"Despite his untimely death in 1988, bp Nichol remains Canada’s premier experimental poet, and his eight volume poem Martyrology is the largest and one of the most demanding poetic works in English in the past half century. In light of the difficulties of the material, then, one can only marvel at Dr. Billingham’s total command of the text. . . . involves a minute scrutiny of Nichol’s evolving poetics unfolding concurrently with the composition of his Martyrology. The supporting materials, by fellow poets, critics, and by Nichol himself, are copious; yet Dr. Billingham has not only mastered them, but shaped them into a fluid and intricate exposition. Her manuscript demonstrates a polymathic command of resources necessary for understanding The Martyrology, as well as a nearly clairvoyant access to the span of Nichol’s literary career, encompassing the theoretical disputes, as well as the conflicting assertions by the poet at different stages and in different venues. . . . will extend a much needed service to the scholarly community and to readers of contemporary poetry." Jed Rasula

Table of Contents

Table of Contents (Main headings)
Foreword; Preface
1. Introduction: Intertexts; Poetics, Pataphysics as Poetics
2. The Language Trap
3. Inscription versus Invocation: The Martyrology as Paragram
4. Pilgrim’s Progress: The Martyrology as Journal
5. A region of the real: The Martyrology as Necessary Fiction
6. Conclusion
Notes, Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Works; Appendix – List of Leaf-numbers; Index

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