Toronto poet Bill Bissett has spent his decades-long career testing the limits of his craft.
“I’m exploring ways that poetry can be used beyond the transitive verb construct, so it isn’t always about he or she did this to that through a verb, that being the object,” he explained. “I’m trying to release our language from that and exploring the materiality of language to see how elastic it can be.”
Bissett’s poetry takes liberties with grammar and sentence structure, omitting punctuation completely and spelling words as they sound rather than how they appear in a dictionary. Bissett will be demonstrating his work at a reading at the Buzz Coffee House on Sept. 14.
He said he’s inspired by the subconscious “automatic writing” of Gertrude Stein and William Burroughs’s fragmented “cut-up technique,” in which words are missing or out of order.
“[We have] all those narratives that spin around in our heads all the time and we select from that what we think might make an interesting poem or short story, novella – prose has its own challenges of course,” he said. “And there’s a way of doing them where you just select every, say, third or fourth word, because every second word would be too close the original verb construct might still be there. Every third word it gets less there and the language becomes like a meditation in itself.”
Bissett said it can sometimes be difficult to approach writing like that, as there is an instinct to return to storyline due to conditioning and learned behavior. On Sept. 15 he will be leading a workshop at St. Paul’s Anglican Church.
He said he hopes to see the participants discuss their views on writing and share their work. Bissett added that the attendees will also devise a “group chanting poem.”
“I work a lot with random selecting of nouns or verbs, whichever it is a person wants, and see what kind of cacophony we can cook up together and sometimes they get very intense and very wonderful and releasing,” he said.
WHAT’S ON … Bill Bissett performs at the Buzz Coffee House, 1861 Dufferin Cres., on Friday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. Tickets $10 at the door or in advance here. The next day, Bissett leads a workshop at St. Paul’s Anglican Church from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. $60 registration, includes reading admission, available here.