Two Words: A Wedding

bp Nichol

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There are things you have words for, things you do not have words for. There are words that encompass all your feelings & words that encompass none. There are feelings you have that are like things to you, picked up & placed in the pocket, worn like the cloth the pocket is attached to, like a skin you live inside of. There is a body of feeling, of language, of friends; the body politic, the body we are carried inside of till birth, the body we carry our self inside of till death, a body of knowledge that tells of an afterlife, a heaven, an unknown everything we have many words for but cannot encompass. There are relationships between words & concepts, between things, between life & death, between friends & family, between each other & some other other. We wed words to things, people to feelings, speak of a true wedding of the mind & heart, intuition & intellect, & out of this form our realities. Our realities are wedded one to another, concepts & people are joined, new people conceived within that mesh of flesh & realities, are carried forward in the body of the mother, the family, the bodily love we have for one another. They are creating their own reality each step of the way, daily, another kind of reality is born, each new word, person, expanding our vocabulary, our concepts, new realities are conceived, our old reality changes, the ‘real’ grows realer every day. We are marrying the flesh to the flesh, the word to the daily flux of lives we know & don’t know, our friends grow older and marry, raise children as you once were children with mothers & fathers of your own, grow older, so many things you still lack words for, struggle to wed the inner & outer worlds, the self to some other self or selves, confess your love & struggle with one another, together, conscious there is this word in you, your name, & that you are yet another thing or things you will never encompass, never exhaust the possibilities of, because you are wedded to the flux of life, because we are words and our meanings change.

bpNichol, “Two Words: A Wedding” from Selected Writing: As Elected, Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1980. Poem reprinted by permission of the Estate of bpNichol.

Dive in: 
  1. Look at the title of the poem. What do you associate with weddings? What kind of a wedding might the poet be talking about?
  2. The poet Barrie Phillip Nichol was obsessed with the physicality of words and the shape they took on the page. The author name he chose — bpNicho l— highlights his unconventional approach to language and the way language appears in written form. Choose one line from the poem. On a blank sheet of paper, spread the words out across the page however you choose. Do any specific words stand out to you? How does your understanding of that line shift when the form has changed?
  3. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus suggests that it is not possible to step into the same river twice. Life is flux, he wrote: the river is always changing, and so is the person stepping into it. What is your understanding of “the flux of life” in the poem?
  4. bpNichol uses the word “things” seven times in “Two Words: A Wedding.” As a noun, thing is both specific and vague. He says that certain feelings are “like things to you, picked up & placed in the pocket.” Write down a list of feelings that you have experienced over the last week. Consider each feeling and think of an object that somehow represents that feeling/emotion.
  5. If language is one way that we “form our realities,” as Nichol writes, what are some other, non-verbal ways we experience reality? If we were never able to speak or hear again, what would reality look like? Sit in a quiet, dark room for three minutes. What do you notice? What does silence sound like to you? Now recite the poem silently, moving your lips but not making a sound. Compare a verbal reading of the poem with a non-verbal reading. How does the meaning change?
  6. bpNichol writes: “we are words and our meanings change.” How have you changed over the past year? Five years? Ten years? If you were forced to pick ten words to describe yourself to a stranger, what would those words be? For each word, write one line of poetry, focussing on both the physical ways and non-physical ways you have changed.

 

Useful Links

 

Hear bpNichol read some of his poems. After hearing his voice, consider how bpNichol might read “Two Words: A Wedding” https://www.writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Nichol.php

 

Look at some examples of bpNichol’s concrete poems — that is, poems where the physical shape of words on the page provide additional context to the meaning of the words. Look at the variation of physical forms. Do you notice anything about the form in “Two Words: A Wedding?”Consider whether you are drawn more to the visual aspects of a poem, or the sound, or the meaning of the words themselves. https://www.bpnichol.ca/tags/concrete-poetry

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