Word Play


“I talk a new language. You will understand,” Brion Gysin said in a 1960 poem, originally spoken into a tape recorder and then replayed for a London audience at the Institute for Contemporary Arts. Meanwhile onstage, the Canadian multimedia poet silently plied a large canvas with paint. “I will make a bow to the picture between your ears,” he continued in the poem, composed from a collage of texts. Credited with pioneering the “cut-up” technique, Gysin proposed to liberate words. Among those who accepted his challenge: William S. Burroughs and Laurie Anderson.

Yet after existing on the bleeding edge of innovation for 50 years—prodigiously producing visual, written, and spoken poetry alongside the best in the surrealist, bohemian, and Beat movements—Gysin’s written lingo faced extinction. Now, 15 years after his death, the publication of an unprecedented anthology, Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader (Wesleyan University Press, $24.95, paper), revives his known body of literary work and showcases rare finds, like 1972’s unproduced screenplay of Naked Lunch.

Arranged chronologically and annotated with a light scholarly touch by Brooklyn-based editor Jason Weiss, the anthology amasses obscure pieces, historical scholarship, memoirs, songs set to music, and permutation poems, the widespread spoken recordings of which afforded Gysin a founder’s rep in sound poetry. Precise mathematical rearrangement of text rather than haphazard collage, permutation poems were patterns of words liberated from their meaning, creating new meanings. Musical and relentless, the poems’ influence can be heard in the repetitive compositions of Philip Glass.

To get Gysin’s newly collected writing off the page and back into ebullient performance, the Poetry Project will present a late-night reading curated by 31-year-old multimedia poet Christopher Stackhouse. Artists lined up to spout Gysin’s psychic adventures and aesthetic provocations include video maker Marshall Reese, printmaker Terry Winters, and poet Pierre Joris. Stackhouse’s own foundation in spoken-word poetry has spurred visual work paralleling Gysin’s later forays into “Calligraffiti” (language transformed into pure image, brush strokes approximating Arabic and Japanese calligraphy). If the mere look of Stackhouse’s poetry introduces a new vocabulary, Gysin, wherever he is, surely would savor his sound.

Friday, 10:30 p.m., the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, 131 10th Street, 212-674-0910

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