Wanda Campbell’s article surveys Canadian poems concerning India by eight poets from Louise Bowman in 1927, through F.R. Scott in the 1950s and 60s, Earle Birney in 1960, Irving Layton in 1962, Eli Mandel in 1981, myself in 1986 in my long poem The Abbotsford Guide to India, Himani Bannerji in 1991, Danielle Ladagh in 2007. It’s a complex company for my book to be among – back in 1982 I had re-read the poems Campbell discusses by Birney, Layton and Mandel before travelling to India, along with Sara Jeannette Duncan’s The Pool in the Desert, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, and Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet. Campbell doesn’t come to any remarkable conclusion in her article but she is a very careful reader, in the case of my poem uncovering a surprising number of covert allusions. It was also good to see a book-length poem included a multi-poem article; most critics don’t attempt that. For all eight poets she seems alert for related writings, although I’m not sure she became aware of other poems concerning India in my later books or my 1988 article “Some Postcards from the Raj.” I also wonder about her exclusion of Sri Lanka (and thus Michael Ondaatje) from her “India” – it was a province of British India; also a part of India were the various British invasions of Afghanistan, usually launched from Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, which were part of my 2010 Afghanistan War: True, False – or Not.
Medrie Purdham’s article on the life-long poems Dudek and Nichol addresses the work of two of my favorite writers, both of whom I knew personally and whom I’ve written books about. She begins with a long discussion of the close, productive and uneasy relationship between them – one of mutual admiration but disagreement on some fundamental issues including orality and the possible range of signification. I don’t care for her treatment of Dudek’s various theoretical statements, made over five decades, as if they were synchronic – some of his views did evolve and should have had specific dates assigned to them. As Nichol once wrote, “we are words and our meanings change.” But her close readings of Nichol’s life-long The Martyrology and its recurrent grappling with endings, ending it all, suicide, death, and the openness to continuance which ‘martyrdom’ and life both require are among the best I have read, and should be required reading for anyone writing on Nichol. The use she was able to make of my aka bpNichol is also gratifying to see.
My pleasure in seeing Tostevin’s review of that book is somewhat different – it is good to see the sad politics which has greeted aka bpNichol on the literary gossip scene finally out in the open. As I noted in its preface, Nichol’s widow
Much of Tostevin’s review is about herself and her relationship with Nichol and with psychotherapy, Therafields – of which Nichol was Vice President – and Freud. She had written to me about those before – about the unwillingness she had found at Therafields to accept her feminist criticisms of Freud, and repeats some of that story here. She claims that much of Freud’s work has been “entirely discredited” (96) – which strikes me as more a political or ideological statement than a factual one. My readings in the field find Freud’s work more often viewed as having been supplemented and updated than discredited – especially updated by Lacan and Kristeva.
Freud and his Oedipus theory were particularly relevant and operative in bpNichol’s case because he both believed the theory for most of his adult life and had adopted it to explain to himself his relationship to his family. It seems to me that the evidence for this is indisputable, regardless of whether Freud was right or wrong or partly right or whatever about human sexual development. Nichol had seen and experienced himself as living example of Oedipal theory. And no wonder – Lea Hindley-Smith, his therapist and surrogate mother in the 1960s (whom he repeatedly thanked for having saved him from suicide), and Therafields itself had vigorously endorsed and disseminated it – as Tostevin’s story here of her own resistance to it in the 1970s indicates. Freud’s theories were also why Hindley-Smith and Therafields did not view homosexuality as ‘natural’ – not politically a popular view nowadays – although Nichol himself was certainly accepting of homosexuality, more so than a few Therafields therapists and theorists, as I recall. Some of the responses to Brenda Doyle’s Therafields blog have addressed that issue. Tostevin appears to want to repress mention of the controversial Lea Hindley-Smith and the crucial role she had in helping Barrie Nichol theorize his life, become bp, conceive The Martyrology and work as a psychotherapist. “Nor do readers interested in Nichol’s literary work need to know the details of his therapy,” she writes (97). Hmmm ... psychotherapy, not something we decent folk talk about.
Tostevin writes also that she “wondered at the use of ‘preliminary’ in the title. Was this meant as an incomplete biography, an introductory, preliminary sketch that would eventually lead to a fuller portrayal?” (89). Indeed, I called it “preliminary” in part because Tostevin herself and some other important friends of Nichol, including Rob Hindley-Smith, once the president of Therafields and for a long time Nichol’s roommate, and his ex-wife Sharon Fadel, both possibly the last friends to see him alive, declined to go on record when I asked to speak to them about him. I’m sure she is aware of that. It’s possible that some of their recollections of him will eventually emerge. I called the book “preliminary” also because I believed myself blocked from quoting directly from most of his correspondence and notebooks, and because it’s likely that additional archival resources that could be useful for a fuller account will eventually be accumulated. I strongly hope the book is preliminary; I think Nichol is more than worthy of a fuller account.
She also attempts to defend the Bowering/Ondaatje-edited Nichol collection An H in the Heart, or at least Ellie Nichol’s authorizing of it and of McClelland & Stewart as its publisher, asserting “it is appropriate that he should be recognized by both small and larger presses. Nichol trusted his wife implicitly – the reason he named her as his literary executor” (100). But Nichol didn’t name Ellie as his literary executor. His probated 1983 will appoints her only as “the Executrix and Trustee of this will” and makes no mention whatsoever of a “literary executor.” The one mention of his literary work in the will occurs in section 3(b) where he instructs his executrix “To transfer to Simon Fraser University any copyrights which I agreed in writing to assign to them by will.” My understanding is that Nichol in a contract with Simon Fraser had agreed to assign to the university on his death copyright in his unpublished writings, including his correspondence and notebooks. Whether or not Nichol “implicitly” trusted his wife would seem to be irrelevant to the question of whether she could authorize or forbid particular instances of publishing or citation, including much of the unpublished material that I had planned to include in aka bpNichol.