Born in Montreal, where he studied contemporary poetics at the university of Calgary, his career took off thereafter as a major experimental poet and a keen publisher of innovative writing and the visual arts.
He founded various publishing institutions such as House Press (1997) and Press no Press (2005). He adopted an inherently unique publishing policy that we will discuss later in this interview. As one of the most significant recent experimental poets, Beaulieu’s work including his digital poems, critical articles and chapbooks is study-worthy. Some of his most significant works are Silence (2010), The Design of Purposes (2013), Text Without Text: Concrete Poetry and Conceptual Writing (2014), Flatland (2015) …etc. Currently, he lives in Bnaff, Alberta, where he works as the director of Bnaff Center for Arts and Creativity.
Poetic Experimentation, Concrete Poetry, Clean Concrete, Dirty Concrete, Poetic Ego, Digital Poetry, Visual Poetry.
Beaulieu Out of Context:
In what seems to be a new cogito, in his No More Poetry (2014), Beaulieu declares an utterly unique policy of publication; “if you don’t share, you don’t exist” (Beaulieu 2014). In terms of his unique philosophy, and almost in reverse to each single profit-based publishing policy throughout history, Beaulieu kept all of his works available through free download in pdf format directly from his personal blog. It is, therefore, never too hard to not only find his works, but also download, edit and share them freely. Such violation of the conventional cannon of literary publication, as well as the rights of intellectual ownership offers not only one most significant means of resisting capitalist hegemony upon the aesthetics of the age, but also reveals much of Beaulieu’s political views and aesthetic philosophy in life in general. For Beaulieu, “rules are guidelines for stupid people” (Beaulieu 2014). Beaulieu's work, for this very reason, could hardly be further from usual literary stereotypes and neatly labeled categories. He introduced various unusual poetic forms such as a poem about a poem/a novel, leaflets and chapbooks, generally identified as "kinetic", and "seething composition" (Rowe).
Through his most digitalized and online available work, Beaulieu does not only challenge conventional literary cannon, but also defeats printed page as the main, and the sole, media of poetic representation.
Throughout his digital work, Beaulieu offers a higher level of poetic experimentation that transforms poetry from reality to other virtual dimensions. This transition, Beaulieu claims, embeds author extra facilitations, he never had with conventional printed work. In his State of the (E ) Art: Or What's Wrong With Internet Poetry?, for example, Beaulieu argues:
Internet technology easily loans itself to those already interested in particular aspects of creation and publication: cheap, efficient distribution of book-like poetries; in some cases, publication without the nasty problem of having to go through an editor, and those who have exploited this situation to make money . . . (Beaulieu and Rickey 3)
In this sense, through e-poetics, various roles such as the role of the publisher and the editor, that have always been viewed as essential and indispensable became questionable. The publisher and the editor are, respectively, replaced by a blogger and a digital media specialist. Thus, other specializations, that have always been apart from the process of literary creation, are now involved. Furthermore, other practices that have always been intimated as illegal and unacceptable, such as online publication are now welcomely invited.
It is not only the primacy of the publisher, the editor, and even the printed page that have been challenged in e-poetics. Rather, the authoritative presence of the author as an owner, a creator and a genius has been utterly defeated. The process of e-poetic creation, in other words, is no more elevated, exclusive or privileged. Instead, it became an everyday activity that requires not too much beyond a screen and a user. More to the same point, in his No More Poetry, Beaulieu claims that “poets chose to be poets because they do not have the drive to become something better” (Beaulieu 2014). In this sense, writing poetry, as Beaulieu views it, is not the best thing man can do. Being a “poet”, by the same token, is not the best career man can get. By contrast, being a poet, in Beaulieu’s terms, implies a sense of failure; a poet becomes a poet because he does not have the potentiality to become something “better”. He is not any more talented or blessed. Instead, poet, as Beaulieu views him, is an average man who lacks talent.
Yet, such moral degradation seems to push the limitations of poet’s freedom of representation much further. In other words, being no more the genius, the prophet, nor the tongue of his people, poet re-attained his natural right of being human. It is only after that degradation, and just like other professions, that poets are, generally, and without judgement, allowed to develop, change and “be on the forefront of new advancement in their field” (Beaulieu 2014). Much to the same point, in his No More Poetry, Beaulieu sheds light upon such discrimination: “we expect plumbers, electricians, engineers and doctors to both have a specific and specialized vocabulary and be on the forefront of new advancements in their field, but scorn poets who do the same” (Beaulieu 2014).
Rectangle 4, by Derek Beaulieu, from drunkenboat.com.
Concrete Poetry: Dirty and Clean:
Interestingly, in his doctoral dissertation: Text Without Text: Concrete Poetry and Conceptual Writing (2014), Beaulieu divides Concrete Poetry into two main categories: the first is represented as “Dirty Concrete Poetry” (Beaulieu, 2014) (28). Dirty Concrete, as Beaulieu views it, rejects both the actual linguistic presence of the author and the normative expectations in readership. Dirty Concrete poetics, in its totality, is machine-based. Both author’s “biological” presence and free choice are minimized to the least through such technicality. In its typography, Dirty Concrete poetics is not much tolerant. Any typographic mistakes, in other words, are not correctable, that is particularly why they are accepted as a part of the work. Later, through Dirty Concrete, such mistakes became common and even intended. Beaulieu argues:
In Dirty Concrete poetry, the author-function is fulfilled both by the biological author of the text and the technology the poet used to create. Business machines and tools move beyond the role of mere device in Concrete Poetry through poetics of waste and refuse to a role closer to that of author/reader . . . the biological poet is subsumed here under the voice of the machine itself . . . decidedly pre-digital, Dirty Concrete allows for the accidental and unintended (Beaulieu 2014) (28-19).
The other category is termed by Beaulieu as “Clean Concrete” (Beaulieu, 2014) (49). Clean Concrete practice, as Beaulieu terms it, extends between early 1960 to early 1990 (Beaulieu, 2014) (49). It is primarily non-linear and “momentary” (Beaulieu, 2014) (52). It does not offer any linguistic significance. Rather, commercial logos and traffic signs-like poems which are inherently visual, digital and concise are represented. They are designed to “be easily understood in a moment” (Beaulieu 2014) (52). They are not designed to be read, but to be seen. In Clean Concrete, of which Beaulieu’s work, itself, is a model, “specialized tools with an expensive price tag such as Letraset” are utilized (Beaulieu 2014) (49). Unlike Dirty Concrete, Clean Concrete is editable. Mistakes can be easily corrected through such accurate devices. The whole design, therefore, is under control.
From Silence, by Derek Beaulieu. Redfoxpress, 2010. p,13.
Despite its digitalized and rhizome-like design, the poem still offers a structure, which is, at least partially, traceable. As a literary term, rhizome is first coined by French critics, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987). In their book, Deleuze and Guattari seem to explain what rhizome is through stating, in clear terms, what it is not; they state:
The rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature: it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible neither to the One, nor the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five, etc. it is not a multiple derived from the One, or to which One is added (n + 1). It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather, directions in motion. It has neither beginning, nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills (Deleuze and Guattari 21).
Yet, this poem still, one way
or another, offers possible start and end points. Its start point is,
particularly, when the actual poet, or rather, the actual designer decides to
initiate a digital poetic design. Its end point is when designer decides that
the design is adequately representative and formally complete. It is only
through the actual intention and practice of the poet/the designer that the
work is initiated and accomplished. Likewise, even in its randomness and
fragmentation, such designs are still the choice of the author. It is entirely
author’s choice to create such poetic collage of separate shapes, lines and
letters woven into a whole unity, generally identified, at least by him, as a
poem. It is through author’s recognition and acknowledgment, therefore, that
such works are identified as poetry. Author’s poetic ego, in this particular
sense, is the major guarantee of the poeticness of this type of poetry. The name on the cover of the book, in turn,
signals the significant presence of author’s poetic ego, even when claimed to
be absent through the work itself.
The Cover of Derek Beaulieu’s Silence. Redfoxpress, 2010.
What you resist, it increases; seeking absolute absence of author’s poetic ego, it gets, one way or another, asserted and amplified. In other words, in its anti-authorship, the poem creates other forms of authorship that does not assume any supremacy, authority or narrativeness. Instead, in its chaotic forms and non-confessional content, the poem breaks up with poetic norms and appealing compositions. It offers one form of extemporaneous step by step authorship, managed and directed, at first place, by the computer. It is one form of non-writing writing that investigates the contours of the digital design rather than the contours of literary writing. Such non-writing writing assumes, in turn, a non-reading reading. Such absolute digital abstraction, in other words, seems to deprive reader of his usual and most favorable interpretative practices, including guessing, connecting, exploring and discovering. In digital poetics, reader is not given the usual sequential plot of a beginning, a climax and an end with a moral. He is not even given a coded text with further connotations and implied meanings. Actually, he is not given any text at all; only an entangled digital design with various letters and shapes is delivered. Yet, such "assault on legibility", as Rowe terms it, created other styles of reading that "by telling us about who we are not as readers, it also tells us about who we are" (Rowe). Such textless and contextless writing resulted in what is termed by Lanham as "panic reading". Lanham argues: "the postmodern scene also seeks to evoke a certain literary mood- panic reading- was a way of participating directly in the ruins within and without of late twentieth century experience" (Lanham 10).
This online interview took place on the 28th of March, 2021 via e-mail. It reveals much of Beaulieu’s aesthetic ideals and philosophical views in art, poetry and life in general. It is published after contacting Beaulieu for permission and agreement:
Asmaa Magdy: 1) First, would you introduce yourself to a traditional reader of poetry? (what would a traditional reader of poetry look for in your kind of writing)?
Beaulieu: I think a traditional reader of poetry (if such a beast exists, the readership for poetry in north America is infinitesimally small) would look for familiar things in my poetry: beauty, symmetry, the use of enjambment and white space, balance – and, ideally, a thoughtful or emotional response to the language that surrounds us.
2) How would you describe your relationship with the history of poetic experimentation, both modern and past? By “modern” I mean movements like The Beat and The New York School of Poets, while by past, I mean the work of John Cage, Eugene Gomringer and Noiganders Group.
Beaulieu: Allen Ginsberg’s dictum of “first thought, best thought” still stays with me – that idea of honing the poetic eye to a position of trust whereby the first thought – that thought which bypasses reconsideration and doubt and drives as a purely instinctual use of language – produces elements of shocking insight. Cage, the Noigandres poets, the New York school, all of them looked for a way of engaging with language which tried to embody the immediate present; the place where poetry is using the language of contemporary existence in a surprising or unusual way.
3) How would you describe your poetics with regards to Avantgardism? Namely, how far does your poetic belong to/reject the aesthetic and philosophical views of the Avant-garde?
The experimental, the “avant garde” builds on the actions of groundbreakers of the past, building – brick upon brick – the knowledge of where the limitations of poetry are and how we can explore those perceived limits to create unexpected learning. Like scientific discovery where scientists add a sheaf of paper on to the stack of books and knowledge creates to date, the avant garde seeks to discover, by accretion, new ways of understanding the limitations of our own knowledge.
4) in your dissertation of doctoral, you divided Concrete Poetry into “clean” and “dirty” what do you mean by both? Of which party is your poetics much representative?
Beaulieu: My own work can be divided into both areas. “Clean” concrete uses the signifiers (letters, words, etc.) typographically whole without breaking those pieces and without revealing the hand of the printer – it tends to be more heroic and modernist on the surface. “Dirty” on the other hand – and neither of these distinctions are mine, but are applied from previous theorizers – shows the process of production – the ink, the paper, the photocopier or printer in a way which introduces the degrading and eroded nature of machinistic reproduction.
5) Concerning your policy of publishing, you seem to resist the idea of author ownership as one form of capitalism, is that true? If so, did that come at a cost? I mean how far did such break up with money nexus and production cannon affect your work?
Beaulieu: surprising it has done very little to limit my work – in fact I would say that giving my work away online has led to increased possibilities (such as meeting you) and readers feeling invited to interact with my poetry in unexpected ways – they become part of the writing process. I think that I have received more publication, performance, and conversational opportunities due to embracing generosity in my practice than I would have by limiting exposure to “paying customers” only. I would rather see the role of a writer as a conversational/dialogic one than one of isolated monologue or pronouncement.
6) “Giving your work away”, was it curiosity, fame or something else that pushed you?
Beaulieu: It had nothing to do with fame, or money – I am neither famous nor rich – it came from a desire to share, to be generous, and to be conversation with other poets. I think the best part of being a poet is the opportunity to talk to other poets, to learn, to make friends, to encourage and to build something bigger than any one of us.
7) In what seems to be a new Cogito, in your No More Poetry, you declare that “if you don’t share, you don’t exist”, is this concept much related to a specific personal philosophy in life, or to further understanding of the recent principles of digital marketing as one challenging area of competition?
Beaulieu: The internet allows the poet a whole distributive network. In today’s culture, for today’s readers, if you can’t find it online you can’t find it at all – we see that from contemporary artwork to contemporary radical political movements – we come together through the net. Share, be generous, and allow others to see your work without paying an admission fee.
8) The political role.. do you believe that literature, particularly poetry, has a political role? Does it have something to do with the capitalistic practices upon the aesthetics of the age?
Beaulieu: The political role of poetry is a hard one to fully explore – the vast majority of political poetry is ineffectual at making material political change BUT it can make space for a new conversation of cultural generosity and understanding, a chance to circulate work outside of economic systems of profit, build community and conversation and encourage others to be creative and honest – and THAT can make a difference too.
10) How would you define “poet”? is he born a poet? Is he a semi-god, an ordinary man or something else? In your No More Poetry, you argue that a poet becomes a poet because he “failed to do something better”, what are the aspects of this “failure”, would you please exemplify such “better things”, one can do instead of writing poetry?
Beaulieu: I think the role of the poet is to explore the limitation of her own thinking of what language can do, what language can attempt. Find the edges of your own thinking and push past that, discover the assumptions of what poetry is, and then expand that. Live in the edges of discovery. Canadian poet bpNichol said that he was an “apprentice to language”; not a master, an apprentice.
11) Finally, would you please tell audience why no more poetry?
Beaulieu: no more poetry that looks like poetry, that acts like poetry, that is instantly recognizable as poetry; I believe that poets should like to write in a way which doesn’t resemble what has gone before, they should be absolutely contemporary in form and content. Poets owe nothing to “poetry”, certainly not deference.
Derek Beaulieu is the author/editor of over twenty collections of poetry, prose, and criticism, including two volumes of his selected work, and ). His most recent volume of fiction, a, A Novel, was published by France’s Jean Boîte Editions, his most recent volume of poetry, Lens Flare, was published by UK’s Guillemot Press. Beaulieu has exhibited his visual work across Canada, the United States, and Europe and has won multiple local and national awards for his teaching and dedication to students. Derek Beaulieu holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Roehampton University and is the Director of Literary Arts at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
Asmaa Magdy; phD candidate, academic researcher in English literature and poetry, author of: “Poetic Objectivity or Anti-ego Poetics: A Study in 20th Century Experimental Poetic Movements” (2021), an MA thesis, Damanhour University, English Department, Egypt, and “Historical Heritage Between Eliot and Darwish”; academic paper published in Humanity magazine, Faculty of Arts, Damanhour University, Egypt.
· Beaulieu, Derek. Please No More Poetry. Edmonton: Red Nettle Press, April 2014. Leaflet. www.derekbeaulieu.files.wordpress.com. Accessed 11 Nov, 2020.
· Beaulieu, Derek. Silence. Canada. Redfoxpress, 2010.
· Beaulieu, Derek. Text Without Text: Concrete Poetry and Conceptual Writing. University of Roehampton. Doctoral Dissertation, 2014.
· Beaulieu, Derek., and Rickey, Russ. State of the (E) Art: Or What’s Wrong With Internet Poetry? in Object 10: Cyber Poetics, edited by Kenneth Goldsmith, (ed: ), Winter, 2002. ubu.com/papers/objects.html.
· Deleuze, Gilles., and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
· Drunkenboat.com https://www.pinterest.com , accessed 16 April, 2021.
· Lanham. A Richard. The Electronic Word: Literary Study and the Digital Revolution, in The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology and Arts. Chicago and London. University of Chicago Press, 1993.
· Rowe, Sam. The (RE) Birth of the Author: Derek Beaulieu's Experimental Poetics. Full-Stop. Net, 3 April,2011, Full-Stop.net/2011/04/03/features/essays/sam/the-rebirth-of-the-author-Derek-Beaulieu-Experimental-poetics/. Accessed 12 Nov. 2020.