bill bissett (born William Frederick Bissett, November 23, 1939) is a Canadian poet known for his unconventional style.
Bissett was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He attended Dalhousie University (1956) and the University of British Columbia (1963–1965). bissett dropped out of both universities because of an overriding desire to live as a free agent, writer and painter unencumbered by any academic constraints. He did complete course requirements for his two majors in English and Philosophy. He moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1958. In 1962, he started blewointment magazine. He later launched blewointmentpress, which has published volumes by Cathy Ford, Maxine Gadd, Michael Coutts, Hart Broudy, Rosemary Hollingshead, Beth Jankola, Carolyn Zonailo, bpNichol, Ken West, Lionel Kearns and D. A. Levy. In 1983, he sold blewointment press to focus on his own writing and visual art; financial hardship resulting from the bissett Affair has been cited as another reason that he sold the press.
Bissett is based in Vancouver and Toronto, Ontario, alternating between the two cities.
In the Paris Review, Jack Kerouac called bill bissett one of "the great poets."
The bissett Affair, 1977-1978
In 1977, Bob Wenman and a group of other Conservative Members of Parliament objected to the funding of some Canadian poets, bill bissett in particular, by the Canadian Council for the Arts. Wenman and others objected to bissett's poetry on moral grounds; Wenman, when speaking to Jean Chrétien (then a Minister of Finance), described bissett's work as "disgusting and pornographic."
While in Parliament, Wenman requested that bissett's literary work be read out and be put on record. Wenman's request was denied by the Speaker, however, on grounds of that it was not relevant.
After Wenman's accusations in 1977, and until Juney 1978, bissett received no funding from Canadian Council grants. However, there is no clear indication that Wenman's allegations were the cause of this lack of funding. Indeed, according to Frank Davey, a Canadian poet and scholar, by as early as 1974, bissett had been "ejected from cross-Canada trains, evicted by countless landlords, beaten, harassed by police, and arrested and sentenced to prison."
He is known for his use of a unique orthography and incorporating visual elements in his printed poetry, and his performance of "concrete sound" poetry, sound effects, chanting, barefoot dancing and playing a maraca during his poetry readings. He has been described as rejecting "the conventional or 'straight' world [...] not only in lifestyle but in ruthless alterations to conventional syntax and spelling." He is often associated with the Shamanistic in literature. He has also had large exhibits of his paintings and made audio recordings on vinyl, cassette tape and CD. He was the lyricist and vocalist in the Ontario band, Luddites, and before that he collaborated with experimental rock group The Mandan Massacre. His work typically ranges from the mystical to the mundane, incorporating humour, a sense of wonder and sentimentality, and political commentary. He often does not capitalise his name or use capital letters.
In 2006, Nightwood Editions published radiant danse uv being, a poetic tribute to bissett with contributions from more than 80 writers, including Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, Steve McCaffery, P. K. Page and Darren Wershler-Henry. In 2006 he was also featured in an episode of the television series Heart of a Poet produced by Canadian filmmaker Maureen Judge.
Bissett's sound poetry was sampled by The Chemical Brothers on their 2007 CD We Are The Night. The CD title was taken from bissett's "Pome for Ooljah". The CD went #1 in the UK and North American Electronic Music Charts. In 2015 "Th ground is a prspektiv" by bissett was sampled for their album Born in the Echoes in "I'll See You There"
In 2007, bissett was awarded the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to literature in British Columbia. The following year, he was given an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from Thompson Rivers University.