Bissett, Bill

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Nationality: Canadian. Born: William Frederick Bissett, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 23 November 1939. Education: Dalhousie University, Halifax, 1956–57; University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1963–65. Family: Has one daughter. Career: Has worked as a record store clerk, librarian, house painter, ditch digger, gas station attendant, bean picker, disc jockey, construction worker, sign painter, English tutor, fence builder, and hauler. Editor and printer, Blewointmentpress, Vancouver, 1963–83; co-founder, Very Stone Press, Vancouver, 1966–67. Writer-in-residence, University of Western Ontario, London, 1985–86; writer-in-library, Woodstock Library, Ontario. Artist: Individual Shows—Vancouver Art Gallery, 1972, 1984; Western Front Gallery, Vancouver, 1977, 1979; Embassy Cultural House, London, Ontario, 1986; Pizza Rico's, Vancouver, 1986; Neoartism Gallery, Vancouver, 1986; 382A Powell St. Studio, Vancouver, 1986; Selby Hotel, Toronto, 1989. Awards: Canada Council grant, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1979, bursary and travel grant, 1971, 1977. Address: Box 273, 1755 Robson Street, Vancouver, British Columbia V6G 1C9, Canada.



Th jinx ship nd othr trips: pomes-drawings-collage. Vancouver, Very Stone House, 1966.

we sleep inside each other all (with drawings). Toronto, Ganglia Press, 1966.

Fires in th Tempul (with drawings). Vancouver, Very Stone House, 1967.

where is miss florence riddle. Toronto, Luv Press, 1967.

what poetiks. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1967.

(th) Gossamer Bed Pan. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1967.

Lebanon Voices. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1967.

Of th Land/Divine Service Poems. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1968.

Awake in the Red Desert! Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1968.

Killer Whale. Vancouver, See Hear Productions, 1969.

Sunday Work? Vancouver, Blewointmentpress-Intermedia Press, 1969.

Liberating Skies. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1969.

The Lost Angel Mining Co. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1969.

A Marvellous Experience. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1969(?).

S th Story I to. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1970.

Th Outlaw. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1970.

blew trewz. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1970.

Nobody Owns th Earth. Toronto, Anansi, 1971.

air 6. Vancouver, Air, 1971.

Tuff Shit Love Pomes. Windsor, Ontario, Bandit/Black Moss Press, 1971.

dragonfly. Toronto, Weed/Flower Press, 1971.

what fukin thery. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1971.

drifting into war. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1971.

Four Parts Sand: Concrete Poems, with others. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1972.

th Ice bag. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1972.

pomes for yoshi. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1972.

air 10—11—12. Vancouver, Air, 1972.

Polar Bear Hunt. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1972.

Pass th Food, Release th Spirit Book. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1973.

th first sufi line. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1973.

Vancouver Mainland Ice & Cold Storage. London, Writers Forum, 1973.

what. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1974.

drawings. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1974.

Medicine my mouths on fire. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1974.

space travl. Vancouver, Air, 1974.

yu can eat it at th opening. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1974.

Living with the Vishyun. Vancouver, New Star, 1974.

IBM. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, n.d.

Th fifth sun. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1975.

Image being. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1975.

stardust. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1975.

Venus. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1975.

th wind up tongue. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1976.

Plutonium Missing. Vancouver, Intermedia, 1976.

An Allusyun to Macbeth. Coatsworth, Ontario, Black Moss Press, 1976.

sailor. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1978.

Five Ways, with Bob Cobbing. Toronto, Writers Forum, 1978.

th first snow. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1979.

soul arrow. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1979.

Sa n th monkey. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1980.

Selected Poems: Beyond Even Faithful Legends. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1980.

Northern Birds in Colour. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1981.

Sa n his crystal ball. Vancouver, Blewointmentpress, 1982.

Seagull on Yonge Street. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1982.

canada gees mate for life. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1985.

Animal Uproar. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1987.

what we have. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1988.

hard 2 beleev. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1990.

Inkorrect Thots. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1992.

Th last photo uv th Human Soul. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1993.

Th Influenza uv Logik. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1995.

Loving without Being Vulnrabul. Burnaby, British Columbia, Talonbooks, 1997.

Scars on the Seehors. Burnaby, British Columbia, Talonbooks, 1999.

B Leev Abul Char Ak Trs. Burnaby, British Columbia, Talonbooks, 2000.

Recordings: Awake in the Desert, See Hear, 1968; Medicine My Mouths on Fire, Oberon, 1976; Northern Birds in Color, Blewointmentpress, 1982; Sonic Horses 1, Underwich, 1984.


Television Documentaries: In search of innocence, 1963; Strange grey day this, 1964; Poets of the 60's, 1967; Portrait, 1984.


Rezoning: Collage and Assemblage, with others. Vancouver, British Columbia, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1989.

Editor, the Last Blewointment Anthology: 1963–1983. Toronto, Nightwood, 2 vols., 1985.


Critical Studies: "The Typography of bill bissett" by bp Nichol, in we sleep inside each other all, 1966; Fires in th Tempul (exhibition catalogue), Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1984; "Bill Bissett: Controversies and Definitions," in Canadian Poetry (London, Ontario), 27, fall-winter 1990, and "Self selected/selected self: bill bissett's Beyond Even Faithful Legends," in Canadian Poetry (London, Ontario), 34, spring-summer 1994, both by Don Precosky; "Bill Bissett and His Works" by Karl Jirgens, in Canadian Writers and Their Works, edited by Robert Lecker, Jack David, and Ellen Quigley, Toronto, ECW, 1992.

Bill Bissett comments:

Poet and painter: abt equal time nd involvment, been merging th fields for sum time now, since abt '62 nd previous with concrete poetry, which i early got into with lance farrell, allowing th words to act visually on th page, was aware of such effects before i cud accept th use of say grammatical thot in writing as such appeard too limiting to th singularly amazing development of th person.

spelling—mainly phonetic

syntax—mainly expressive or musical rather than grammatic

visual form—apprehension of th spirit shape of th pome rather than stanzaic nd rectangular

major theme—search for harmony within th communal self thru sharing (dig Robin Hood), end to war thereby—good luck

characteristic stylistic device—elipse

favorite poet—mick jagger

general source—there is only one, nd th variation that spawnd th fingrs of night woven grace issue (romanticism or elevation, i don't feel th I, i.e., ME writes but that i transcribe indications of flow mused spheres sound), from a hoop

*  *  *

Bill Bissett was a big part of West Coast Canadian counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. By the late 1980s he had moved to London, Ontario, given up drugs, and cut his hair, but otherwise the same wild spirit reigned.

Bissett claims that he cannot spell or write correctly: "the way is clear, the free hard path, no correct spelling, no grammar rules." Puns seem to replace meter: "hes closin in all the doors then iul open them yer all stond." Drugs, in the period just before crack and AIDS, offered silly, seemingly innocent visions. Stupidity is almost faked and, as in Chaucer, adds to the difficulty of the "dialectic" of speeding speech:

   did yu blow cock eat cunt make a good
   business deal and still relate were yu are
   yu happy were yu good just once did you today
   have an existential moment in no time were yu
   normal today did yu screw society but found
   sum innocent outlets like no one knew or evry
   one knew did yu buy sum orange pop sticks green
   ones did yu have a treat and were clean were yu
   a dirty outlet for a while managin at th same
   time to find pleasure in nature and read a thot
   conditionin book by a provocative author did …

Bissett asks a lot of questions. His monologues are unpunctuated but best when interrogatory. They are written by someone who is outside himself and make rapid connections. Perhaps calling Popsicles "pop sticks" is a trifle cutesy; on the other hand, why give free advertisements, even in poems? Bissett draws and paints, writes concrete and political poetry, charming narratives, and sound poetry. But there is sadness, still interrogatory:

   why just when my body nd souls startin to fit
   sum they rip it all up mother i was happy
   in sum of those open spaces why hard times
   again did yu catch me foolin with th images
   now how can i carry any once cross this
   swamp ium sinkin in th deep mud myself

Bissett wears a mask in his poetry; the art in a man's face, the lines, are not fictive. Still, Burroughs and Warhol are distant from Bissett; closer are Patchen or Oppenheimer or, among the ancient modernists, Cummings.

Bissett's 1971 volume Nobody Owns th Earth values the earth, love, and country. It may be precisely the down-homeness, the provinciality, of Canada that pushes Bissett beyond sadness into heavy hopelessness:

   there is
   to hope
   the candul
   yu lit it
   is going
   there is
   to hope
   shut out
   the wind
   there is
   to hope
   a sea of
   skulls in
   th harbor

These lines are from a chant in which Bissett turns from a benign "mother" to give some orders to "flame." His assertive mood is heavy. When he stops asking and hoping, he starts hinting at an apocalypse. Of course, that hinting is itself a hoping, the hope for an end.

—Michael Andre