David UU (canadian) (iconic poet)
memorials & testimonials
ditch, the poetry that matters ditch, : where you are when you are off the main road. ditch, is an online poetry magazine celebrating the innovative, the avant-garde, the experimental.
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cover art: “a story for gail 2” by David UU
Trainwreck Press St John’s NL Canada www.ditchpoetry.com 2
ditch, David UU (canadian) (innovative poet)
memorials & testimonials contents: Introduction Darren Wershler David UU Biography Greg Evason gustave morin jwcurry Earl Birney
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Introduction I first encountered David UU’s work in the early 1970s. At the time I was into more quietist/nature poetry and put David UU’s writing dismissively aside. Years later, I returned to his work and was hit with the full impact of his poetry. I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid as to not perceive it the first time. The power and depth of his work spoke deep into my soul. What impressed me technically was his experimentation with syntax. Few poets disrupt syntax as effectively as David UU – most poets, even those writing in fragmented styles and open forms, still construct lines by the rules of conventional syntax. In a postmodern world of relentless intellectualism, David UU demonstrated that non-syntactical language was capable of intense emotional expression, that language verging on the nonsensical could still deliver a powerful emotional message. David UU was an artist who pushed the boundaries of language and meaning. David UU’s work raises many questions about the nature of language. His life and death also leave us with questions – perhaps unanswerable questions. But because a question has no answer does not mean that it is not worth asking or exploring – it’s sometimes the unanswerable questions that lead us to our deepest revelations. The memorials and testimonials presented here may help to provide some direction to our journey. –
John C. Goodman August, 2010
Cenotaph for David UU David UU (born David W. Harris) was a gifted and influential Canadian concrete poet and publisher. I met him shortly before he died, and wrote this piece for his memorial service. â€“ Darren Wershler
David UU (David W. Harris), 1948-1994 “And I should mention to you that my last name is...just UU, the original form of the English letter W, which is also how it’s pronounced.” – David UU in a letter to M.A.C. Farrant, October 19, 1989
David UU, or David W. Harris, is considered an accomplished concrete and experimental poet and an important small press publisher. Along with bill bissett and bpNichol, he was a pioneer of the concrete-poetry movement in Canada, and perhaps the ,irst Canadian poet to explore visual collage embodying literary, philosophical and language references. He also composed sound works (both musical & textual), made 8mm short ,ilms, was a master collagist/montagist and performed in numerous performance art presentations, primarily of his own work (a few notable exceptions being adaptations of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale and Samuel Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner). He was a proli,ic publisher and encouraged the talents of many Canadian writers early in their careers, such as Daniel f. Bradley, Lisa Robinson, Judith Copithorne, Greg Evason, B. Dedora, Gerry Gilbert, Stuart Ross, M.A.C Farrant. David UU co-founded grOnk (1967-1988) with bpNichol and others. He founded and operated Fleye Press (1966-70), Divine Order of the Lodge (1971-1975), Derwyddon Press (1976-81), Silver Birch Press (1987-94) as well as several magazines and numerous imprints for pamphlets, broadsides, postcards and other ephemera. Life & Career
David W. Harris was born on June 13, 1948, in Barrie, Ontario. The family moved to Collingwood in 1958, where he lived until setting out on his own and moving to Toronto in 1966, the beginning of a long period of unsettledness. He moved to Vancouver in 1967, returned to Toronto in 68, to Vancouver again in 70 and then to Read, Ontario in 73, Wolfe Island, Ontario in 74, Calgary in 78, Edmonton in 79 and ended up in Vancouver again in 1980. He lived in North Vancouver until ,inally moving to a farmhouse near Delhi, Ont. in 1992 where he died in May, 1994. 6
David W. Harris began writing seriously at age 14. His ,irst published work appeared in The Canard, a weekly magazine he launched at Collingwood District Collegiate Institute in 1963. Not an of,icial organ of the school, the magazine later became The Monthly (and for the ,inal issue, The Monthly Review), lasting some 30-odd issues until the end of the 1966 school year. While in high school he also launched VIRTU, a monthly poetry sheet; ICTUS, a poetry newsletter; as well as a short-lived teen magazine. With his move to Toronto in 1966, David W. Harris met and began to work closely with bpNichol. He explored visual poetry, collage, text and sound. His sound work included verbal and non-verbal elements, chant and tape manipulation techniques. He contributed to a cassette tape compilation entitled Past Eroticism featuring several early sound works by bpNichol, Harris, bill bissett, and the team of sean o huigin and electroacoustic composer Ann Southam. Harris began exhibiting his visual poetry and collage worldwide in 1966, achieving some recognition. While in Toronto, he founded and operated his own Fleye Press and the magazine Spanish Fleye, “a perpetual anthology for livving peepl”. The magazine lasted for only one issue which included work by bill bissett, Victor Coleman, Judith Copithorne, Patrick Lane and d.a.levy. Fleye Press ran until 1970, producing random oddments and 6 issues (all in 1967) of the magazine LUV (för poemz). Harris’s ,irst publication from a press other than his own was from Ganglia Press, founded by bpNichol and David Aylward in 1965. In October, 1966, poems numbered one thru six appeared as Singing Hands Series #2– although after it was printed, and after six of the 200 copies were released, Harris requested that the issue be withdrawn. Harris then went on to publish his own Little Purple Eye Wall Plague, an ephemeral broadside that served to preface Fleye’s Blue Light Series of ,inely printed poetry lea,lets. In 1967, David Aylward, bpNichol, Rah Smith & David Harris cofounded grOnk, one of the longest-running early little magazines in Canada. grOnk, with a speci,ic emphasis on "the language revolution”, ran for well over 100 issues, publishing in a wide variety of formats. Harris served as co-editor for the ,irst series (8 issues, 1967), and editor of most of the 7th series (5 of 8 issues, 1971).
In 1968, Harris left Toronto and moved to Vancouver, where he was received by the avant-garde artistic community as something of an international celebrity. At this time he began experimenting with pseudonyms, becoming ,irst David W, then David UU, although he continued to explore a series of alter-egos and other identities. In the summer of 1968, David UU showcased his work in an international concrete poetry show, Brasilia 73, at The Mandan Ghetto, a Vancouver co-op gallery. The exhibit was conceived and organized by David UU and Gerry Gilbert. Along with Gregg Simpson and Gerry Gilbert, David UU showed his 8mm short ,ilms at Intermedia in downtown Vancouver. Simpson organized the event and billed it as the Underwater Film Festival, instead of Underground Film Festival, although there was no, or very little, subaqueous imagery in the ,ilms. Simpson’s ,ilms were collage-based with some extreme romanticism thrown in. Gerry’s epic Radiofreerainforest with three projectors started the evening and David UU’s ,ive ,ilms ended it – on something of an erotic note with the ,ilm, The Strawberry Trigger. In the late summer of 1969, David UU returned brie,ly to Toronto, crowded into Gregg Simpson’s old 54 Chevy along with installation artist John Neon, Gregg Simpson and Simpson’s girlfriend and her son. The car suffered four ,lat tires and expired shortly after arrival in Toronto. David UU returned to the west coast in 1970, staying ,irst with a friend from Toronto in Crescent Beach, near White Rock, close to the U.S. border, and later in an old farmhouse in Delta where he began conceiving and writing some theatrical projects in collaboration with Gregg Simpson. In late 1970, he rented the upstairs of an old house of Simpson’s in North Vancouver. Throughout that year, Harris continued playing with a wide array of pseudonyms and in September issued his Gnostic Inventory, a book disguised as an issue of grOnk, in which there are as many pseudonyms as there are pages. In 1971, David UU, always interested in the occult, founded the performance art troupe, Isle of Avalon Society, which he directed until 1973. He began to publish again, his works appearing as Published by Divine Order of the Lodge, an imprint that continued until 1975 and gave rise to the ,irst three issues of LODGISTIKS magazine.
With Gregg Simpson he formed the Divine Order of the Lodge and started performing exhibitions such as Embalmanation at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Racetrack Gallery space and Aether Ore at the University of B.C. These were elaborately staged performance art pieces with an occult twist. David UU also participated in other collaborations, such as Tri-Solar -Pool, which performed at the Colonial Magic Theatre. In Embalmanation, David UU lay in a cof,in with a closed-circuit microphone. Swords, ,ire and other props were utilized. He was also unwrapped like an Egyptian mummy while he recited his new sound poetry. Aether Ore featured gnomes duelling with large feathers. Gregg Simpson, in a black robe and a bird mask, lit pots of methyl hydrate with two wooden lightning bolts while an anvil beat behind the scenes. The opening act was David UU, in the persona of Dr. Dog, in a lab coat, froth in his beard and fake fangs being dragged onto the stage sitting in a play pen, while he poured frothing liquids into test tubes and shrieked. The ,irst exhibition was at the Divine Order of the Lodge Salon at the Avelles Gallery in south Vancouver, operated by artist Leo Labelle. For this exhibition the ,loor was divided up with evenly spaced golden eggs. The show contained David UU’s collages and paintings by Simpson. David UU also performed readings with music, including an appearance with The Percussionauts (Gregg Simpson and drummer Jim McGillverey). The troupe toured to the AGO in Toronto during 1972, performing a multi-media program of music, dance and recitations. In 1973, David UU showed collages in Canadian West Coast Hermetics: The Metaphysical Landscape, an exhibition organized by Gregg Simpson with the University of British Columbia. The exhibit toured to Paris, London, Brittany, Belgium and eastern Canada in 1973 and 74. David UU returned to Ontario in 1973 and for the 1974-5 school year taught creative writing to grades 6-to-8 at Tyendinaga Public School in Shannonville, Ontario, and produced two anthologies of student writings, Skimmed from the Cream Jar (1974, co-edited with Ted McGregor & Olivia Preston) and Selected Poems (1975) which were published by the school in editions of 5oo copies each. David UU’s Diary of a Metempsychotic, appeared in 1976 as the 14th, and last, issue of LODGISTIKS. He started Derwyddon Press, a books-only imprint that continued until 1981, ending with the guest-self-published Earth and Sky Changes, a collection of drawings by Gregg Simpson. 9
In 1980, after short stays in Calgary and Edmonton, David UU returned to North Vancouver. Coach House Press, where bpNichol was poetry editor, published Chopped Liver in 1981. By 1981, dismayed by the continual lack of response to his efforts, David UU had ceased his publishing activities. He published his work mainly through jwcurry’s imprints Curvd H&z and Underwhich Editions. However, in 1987, he began his own publishing ventures again with Silver Birch Press and The Berkeley Horse series of pamphlets and small stapled booklets, adding the Horse-Fly lea,let series in 1990. High C – Collected Sound and Visual Poems 1965-1983 was issued by Underwhich Editions 1991, edited from a privately printed edition from 1983. Over the next few years, David UU concentrated mainly on collage and created a number of postcards and broadsides, printed on recycled sheets from previously published works, under various imprints, such as Utopic Furnace Press and HandJob Editions. Always interested in growing his own food, David UU moved to an old farmhouse near Delhi, Ontario in June, 1992, driving across the country in a dilapidated U-Haul truck – suffering three blown tires in a truck that lacked wiper blades, had a non-working gas gauge, a radio that didn’t work, a shot suspension that made the truck lurch to one side for the whole trip, a worn-out rear door seal, and gas fumes so overwhelming that the cab windows had to be kept closed. In Ontario, he began a new imprint, MindWear, and continued with The Berkeley Horse series. He died by his own hand in May, 1994 at the farmhouse near Delhi, Ontario.
David UU, Correspondence with M.A.C. Farrant, February 15, 1988 - May 17, 1994. jwcurry, December 23, 1992; Room 3o2 Books: list #7: David UU: No Sleight of Hand. Gregg Simpson, May, 2010; Meeting David UU, a memoir. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, List of Fonds and Collections, HARRIS, DAVID, 1948-1994 LMS-0217 William H. New. Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Toronto: U of T Press, 2002. 10
Greg Evason I never met David UU but I corresponded extensively with him. he published my diary, "Tick, tick." which I was very happy and pleased with and about. I remember he was always very serious. He loved and was an authority on classical music. I was not very familiar with his own work. He said my writing reminded him of Proust. when I told him the font he was using in his letters to me was too small he started to send all his letters in a larger font which I thought was very decent of him. I did not yet have a computer. he was very supportive. not only of me and my work but of other's work. I thought it was amazing how supportive he was of what we were doing when it seemed he was very familiar with the truly great such as Proust. made me wonder if maybe we were great too. he seemed very conservative to me. he was very much aware of the “rules” of writing and publishing and music etc. and we often discussed rather intensely our different approaches to artistic things. he was the conservative older gentleman and I was this young improviser and he seemed to find that interesting and challenging. I often felt his conservatism was kind of a prison. he did not seem happy. when I learned of his suicide I was rather devastated. the last letter I wrote to him contained only one word that I filled the page with and that word was “well.” a few days after his death I had a curious experience while meditating. it seemed he was speaking to me and […] he said I was right to just keep churning/writing and not to succumb to the temptation to end it all. I often think of him and wonder what happened to him. – Greg Evason
gustave morin regarding david uu – i'm a bit of a late-comer to the scene (born 1972); ergo, i only 'discovered' his work in 1990 (when i was 18), and in short order was quickly put in touch with him through a mutual friend, the bookseller nelson ball. (also in w(here the other
canadian poetry – a very important early text for me within my development.) we struck up a correspondence, and i would send him those things i was up to at the time. (index and verbicide are the 2 pieces of mine from that era (now 20 years ago) that he published in his lists. he was perhaps the first person out of grOnk, etc., who looked at my work early on (when i was just starting out) and he was definitely one of the earliest advocates of what i was doing at the time. (my interests and concerns as a writer have only deepened since then – i've really not wavered off the course i set out for myself then. so, obviously, his role was a very important one to me at the time seeing as he was one of the ones involved in the globally important writing coming out of canada in the 60's and 70's. i can't underscore this enough). his suicide cut short what would have been my own 2nd volume; a thing called 'coma' which was a concrete sequence built out of commas which he was to publish later that year (1994). my draft of that book was made on a typewriter. as a publisher, he was retypesetting it, versions of which i viewed but no longer have even in my deep records... sad, that. i dedicated my second book to him – a thing now long out of print called sun kissed oranges. (i left my last 3 copies in archives in sao paulo, brazil when i was just down there a few weeks back.
sao paulo, of course, the city of the noigandres group who published the first pilot plan for concrete poetry, etc etc.) i have 3 years of letters from him. i spoke on the phone with him twice. i did not get to know him as well as i would have liked. around the time that he threw it all over we were in discussions to organize some sort of visit. that however was not to be. david uu is important, i believe it, i always have. and i'm amazed at how far in eclipse he/his oeuvre already is, 16 years after his death. â€“ gustave morin
Earl Birney "You were doing your own thing & had the originality & guts to create new stuff & new boxcars to carry it." â€“ Earle Birney, in a letter to David UU in '82
left: introduction to Room 3o2 Books List #7 : David UU : No Sleight of Hand 15
ditch, David UU (canadian) (iconic poet)
Trainwreck Press St Johnâ€™s NL Canada www.ditchpoetry.com 16