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Gus Morin’s Talk: Typerwriter, Dadaist, Concrete Poetries

a poem from penny dreadful
Gustave Morin‘s talk on concrete, typewriter and visual poems at the AB Series was absorbing. The 2 hours until break was 20 years of retrospective on career. It passed like 10 minutes. I think the whole thing clocked in at over 3 hours. One of the best literary things I’ve seen in years. It got into depth of history, influences, life which ran concurrently with directions in art, a view of his work from an artist-as-audience-across-time-distance perspective. Lots to learn and absorb and find out more about.

His slides included original images of poems such as this one above from his Insomiac Press book A Penny Dreadful. my only legitimate book because it has a spine and you can buy it at Chapters and he waved off getting down into that long-standing debate.

The painstaking work and the time he spends composing makes visual poems and concrete poems now make more sense to me. Compositional tools at their base are not words but concepts. There doesn’t need to be such a divide between image and word and shape and space and part of a letter. One can compose poetically with light and shadow and shape. It may be the symbol coding of the language you speak, or using characters of another or a “made up” alphabet. I’ve seen collage done, even well, as by Jeffrey Meyer or text as composition as Eric Zboya but this amount of scope of concrete poetry seems to have clicked my head into understanding that it can be done seriously and give the same sort of visceral top of head blown off as any word-poem. It is a different way of listening, a different yet comparable clustering of meaning and non-meaning.

first book This was his first book, published before he entered university. Who he was reading at that time included bpNichol, jwcurry, david uu, daniel f bradley, greg evason and bill bissett’s dirty concrete poems.

Morin was coming late to the mimeo revolution that started in the 60s, but it is still going on. The idea of cheap means of production and human-scaled distribution was a shift in who decided what was worth publishing. That call was in the hands of who had access to photocopies. It meant the possibility of a parallel system to the complexities of a publishing behemoth.

It was/is a route of self-determination in a world where the Comics Code Authority would self-elect what is safe or fit to print. The alternatives of small scale printing, photocopies, underground letterpress and lithograph, stamping and handmade books that were photocopied open up the access to who can publish and what they publish. (And now, blogs, and POD such as Lulu, offer a relatively cheap glossy aesthetic as well.)

book table activity
Host/Organizer Max Middle took a picture of some of publications for sale.

Morin explores “obsolete tools” of letraset, typewriters, overheads and cannabalizes his own old texts and appropriates printed matter from the 1930s onwards, ads and comics and illustrations to pull into collages.

The sandbox that he plays in is not new and yet somehow 150 years in, after such a length of historical precedents, seems radical, at least if one were giving a talk at the local mall to shoppers.

He takes as forebears dadaists whose passive protests resisted conventional reading and thinking. The idea of poetry fodder of boy meets girl, pining ensues, doesn’t have an appeal. Haiku appeals – the concision of text, the well-tuned concision of language.

He has collages that he calls haiku — sparse type and two images strike me as having more of the spirit of haiku, with economy and elegance of concepts shifting, than most verbal promoted as such which stay within the some chosen parameters of words, subject, syllables and form.

For a while he made images that mimicked the form of poems on the page, the shape of maxims and duties of what poetry should look like on a page. He made collage images that fit together from different sources without changing the scale of the image as we would digitally. For example, he traffics in found text and found images without alteration of the material of components. He appropriates an image of a window from a Hitchcock movie and eventually found another image of a view that suited the shape and in it was a sign of text that naturally filled the gap with different content than before.

What does any image “mean”? He interrogates his unconscious and can be speculative interpretive audience but he doesn’t want to be the authority on his own work. He doesn’t want the work to be an authority. I admire that. He says, I’ve been doing this over 20 years. I’m 38 and I can convince myself that I haven’t done anything yet.. Having gone thru provocation of punk and meditation of buddhism, it makes sense that beginner mind would be well-seated. Books are dangerous things, he said. They never tell you that in the beginning. I’m virtually unemployable. I couldn’t even work at Mac’s Milk. (Many chuckled in recognition at that.)

Where does one place text art that follows Nerval taking his lobster for a walk? Morin said, There’s something about the small that’s monumental as he shows a slide of a giant slug going up the arc of a roller coaster.

He occasionally has bonfired his previous work or cannabalized it for other projects. I admire that prioritizing growth over keeping old things static and precious. Though his presentation he showed various tributes. It is so nourishing to see someone who isn’t half-assed about the art and someone who reads and absorbs to understand and extend, rather than read in order to rip off or riff off. There’s an intellectual rigour at play. I was immensely impressed by the elegant compression and consideration he’d put into work.

He’s studying language and concepts not just at the scale of book, or poem or line but using individual letters or shapes of parts of letters as material. He has 14 typewriters, each with particular letter shapes, kerning and other characteristics. One is Hebrew-Aramaic. Two are custom which he has taken a dremel to to cut the letters on the typebars to make characters that exist in no language. He then uses all the collective potential of all the typewriters to make texts. The poster (below) included one of his recent typewriter poems which has the symmetry and clean look of concrete poems.

gustave morin visual poetry presentation - A B Series - April 2 2011
A digital-made image or text can perpetuate and be hyperplastic. A collage poem may be forgiving. A dirty concrete poem has a certain anarchy in it and a process of mishmash but a typewriter poem is unforgiving. It may take 16 hours to type a page and a mistake on a character part way down and need to begin again.

Gus Morin
He showed on transparencies typewriter poems. It aims to be above all of the cultural fray, inside the meaning of letters and characters. Some has the political creeping in on it, like this one that John W MacDonald pointed out.

He incorporates many influences into his literary creations. For example tthe gidouille, the name for the swirled symbol of pataphysics, and the name of the absurdist film: Ubu and the Great Gidouille by Jan Lenic. Lenic’s films of the 1950s “led an aesthetic revolution in Poland that sent reverberations all over the Eastern European animation scene.” All this interesting things have been happening over the last century. It seems a pity what so many poets are bringing forward as a legacy is their immediate experiences and some legends of ancient times.

Some of his work is surrealist, absurdism out of dadaism. Some of his work is like Adbusters, satirizing companies and their objectives, coming out of the thought-lineage of Goya’s Caprichos of the 1700s.

Some falls into prankster art, performance are. He has made “left poems”, i.e. the opposite of found poems. “Left poems” are released to the public for strangers to sort out and apply what meaning to them that they will, such as replacing a Toronto Sun in the window of its newspaper box with one from the 1930s.

His upcoming book is seeking its own title but is 58 pages in to what will be a 111 page book.

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4 Responses

  1. wow, did you record the talk, Pearl, or do you just have a fantastic memory? This is a faithful account of what happened, and, like you, I was absorbed in it and learned a lot.

  2. It was an exceptional presentation. I reconstructed what I could from point notes.

    PearlApril 4, 2011 @ 2:59 pm
  3. That’s an excellent article Pearl. Lotsa great details, giving a feel for the event and the work.

    Roland PrevostApril 4, 2011 @ 4:26 pm
  4. I am bookmarking this Pearl and when I have a little more time I will enlighten myself with it! Many thanks to you, Gustav and Max(I think that is who is right now organizing the AB Series)!!!

    judith copithorneJanuary 23, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

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