Last week I finished aka bpNichol, a preliminary biography by Frank Davey. I can honestly say that it was probably one of the strangest texts I've ever read on the subject of another person's life, and so I am now only thinking of it as a "biography" - just like that, in quotes. This is not to say that it was not interesting to read, but it should probably not be read as a biography of Nichol. Throughout the book, Davey discusses a number of intriguing things - the invention of the author persona by an author, for example, or the concept of a "psychotherapy poetics." Even the minimal historical context Davey provides about the rise and fall of The Coach House Press phenomenon makes the book worth reading, and given the climate of our current poetry culture, there is some worthwhile discussion about the anxiety that may or may not be produced when an author tries to produce both "honest" and "original" work under the weight of the cultural milieu in which they live. But in order to discuss these things, I don't think it was necessary to use a biographical framework of bpNichol, especially given the fact that Davey speculates so much about so many things. That and why Davey has chosen to focus in particular on embarrassing material about Nichol's early childhood is what sends the whole narrative off into questionable territory. What makes it all untrustworthy is Davey's choice to use, for the most part, Nichol's notebooks written as an adult, a recent history of Therafields, & Nichol's own poetry as evidence (Davey quotes nearly 600 lines of the Martyrology throughout the text, not one of which was asked for permission to use, I understand) to support his speculations. In fact, Davey didn't appear to talk to anyone who knew the man, and only quoted written . So, a "biography" aka bpNichol will have to be, now and forevermore. I would go so far as to call aka bpNichol a "speculative biography," which is a term that perhaps Nichol would appreciate, but maybe only the version of Nichol that Davey has presented his reader.
The question that remains is how to deal with this weird book moving forward. A biography of bpNichol was way overdue, but now that aka bpNichol exists, will anyone be able to work past it and create a more accurate picture of Nnichol's life and contribution of Canadian poetry? Probably the correct response would be a biography of bpNichol composed by a community of those who know him.