Invocations of the Cold War as a partly determinative context for literature have been increasingly frequent in U.S. literary studies, as in Edward Brunner’s Cold War Poetry: The Social Text in the Fifties Poem (2001) and Michael Davidson’s Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics (2004). Voyce finds the Cold War directly relevant to all but the Toronto Research Group section, where it seems to be present only implicitly in his discussions of Steve McCaffery’s Marxism and his translation of the Communist Manifesto into Yorkshirese, and in his views of intellectual property. “The TRG’s experiments in multi-authorship, I argue, constitute a poetic activism challenging proprietary definitions of authorship” (206); “TRG’s ‘Kommunism’ sought to advance the principles of an egalitarian economic model with open, model with open, local, and playful experiments in artistic collective life” (207). The Yorkshireise “Kommunism” (Wot we wukkers want), though, was not published as a TRG work but on audiocassette as a solo performance by McCaffery. Overall, however, this is a very good book for those who would like to consider further the issues of collaboration and literary ‘property.’ Voyce handles the various poets’ declarations about community,
While it shows shrewd perceptiveness that Voyce has identified the important contributions Nichol and McCaffery have made to collaborative poetics, and that he has attempted to fit the two as a Canadian “community” into his study, the Toronto Research Group itself is a very awkward fit. Both Nichol and McCaffery were clear that the “TRG” was a group or “mini-community” of just two, with McCaffery signing his introduction to the “Collected Research Reports of the Toronto Research Group, 1973-1982,” Rational Geomancy, “the two kids of the Book-Machine,” and including in it only texts collaboratively authored by himself and Nichol. The word “group” and phrase “research group” had been for them productive jests that gestured to the inevitable institutional aspects of literary creation that both writers were convinced of (and which Voyce is very good at explaining). But there was no “group” beyond the two. There were, however, the largely local writers of the TRG “Guest Reports,” which McCaffery notes as “an ancillary facet of the Group, Harold Adelman, Barbara Caruso, Christopher Dewdney, Haraldo Gonzales, Julia Keeler and Opal L. Nations” (Rational 16). Voyce doesn’t mention any of these, although most were certainly part of the Toronto “community” in which Nichol and McCaffery worked – along with their fellow Four Horsemen sound poets, Paul Dutton and Rafael Baretto-Rivera, whom Voyce does acknowledge. Instead he suggests that because Nichol coordinated a creative translation project (Six Fillious) that involved Robert Filliou, George Brecht, Dieter Roth, and Dick Higgins, these poets were also de facto members of TRG. He later writes that the Fluxus founders Filliou and Brecht were Nichol and McCaffery’s “Fluxus co-collaborators” (210) and still later that during a joint 1977 visit to Roberts Creek, BC, Filliou and U.S. painter Allan Kaprow persuaded McCaffery of the relevance of their concept of an “eternal network” of artists’ constructions (252). That may be.
But there are two problems here. One is that Voyce tends to totalize “Nichol and McCaffery” – who had very different writing lives. Nichol’s Six Fillious project was a tiny part of his overall literary interests which included writing novels, children’s books, musical comedies, television scripts, pataphysical texts and of course his long poem The Martyrology, whereas for McCaffery Filliou and Higgins were decisively important contacts. Nichol’s personal commitment to the creation of “community” was t as strongly expressed in his work as a psychotherapist at Therafields, and as its Vice President, as it was in his writing; McCaffery’s interest in Therafields was very brief. Nichol viewed both the sound poetry and written collaborative work of the Four Horsemen as failures – the group’s work disappointed him as being mostly interwoven solos; in 1975 he privately accused his so-called collaborators as refusing to risk genuine collaboration – a view of them he never brought to resolution. Even In England Now that Spring, described by Voyce as a book “co-authored” by Nichol and McCaffery, consists mostly of juxtaposed solo writing (more than 100 of its 134 pages). Voyce also makes much of a presumed TRG “deep suspicion of [Canadian] nationalism” (209), and cites Marshall McLuhan’s criticism of the Massey Report and, by implication, the Canada Council. But Nichol was on first-name basis with various Canada Council officers, and served on Canada Council standing advisory committees. There were too many ‘bpNichols’ to fit easily into a single Voyce-TRG persona.
The second problem is that the Fluxus “eternal network” concept was widely known in Canada before TRG was founded, at the very least through the work of the artist-run Image Bank and the artists’ group General Idea and their magazine FILE, the first issue of which in 1972 focused on the Eternal Network, publishing an enormous list of image-exchanging artists:
“While [George] Maciunas had regularly published Fluxus mailing lists and membership lists,
[Ken] Friedman and [Dick] Higgins began to publish extensive compilations of these lists annually,
beginning in 1966. By 1972, these lists had grown include over 1,400 names and addresses. That
same year, the list was published in cooperation with the Canadian artist-run organization Image
Bank; it later became the core of FILE magazine’s artist directory. It was released in hundreds of
copies, distributed free to artists, arts organizations, and publishers around the world. Friedman
describes the project as "an act of social responsibility." As John Held notes, "Image Bank and
General Idea…took mail art out of the hands of a limited few and brought it to the attention of a
broad community of artists." (http://www.spareroom.org/mailart/mis_2.html)
Victor Coleman, editor of Coach House Press 1966-75, a friend to Nichol and publisher of many of Nichol’s early books, was very close to General Idea and its productions – his mother had become “Miss General Idea” in the group’s 1970 satire of the beauty pageant. On leaving Coach House in 1975, Coleman began a press under the imprimatur “Eternal Network.” Moreover, Coleman frequently summered in Roberts Creek – quite possibly in 1977. My point is that Voyce didn’t have to pad TRG with Fluxus collaborators to invent a Toronto “eternal network” community. It was already there, larger than Voyce indicates, and already with acknowledged Fluxus connections. Nichol’s first published essay on Stein, in the Summer 1972 Open Letter, appeared on the pages immediately preceding a fumetti created by General Idea. A photo of Grenada Gazelle, a performance artist associated with General Idea, appeared on the cover. The “book as machine” TRG report, in the Summer 1974 Open Letter, accompanied major essay on General Idea by John Bentley Mays; Mays’s photo was on that cover. Often that is how the complexities of community hint at their presence.