Arts and Entertainment

Non-conformist poet reads tonight in Greenbank

Poet and painter Bill Bissett shows his paintings this month at Rob Schouten Gallery. He performs tonight at the gallery in Greenbank. - Photo courtesy of Rob Schouten Gallery
Poet and painter Bill Bissett shows his paintings this month at Rob Schouten Gallery. He performs tonight at the gallery in Greenbank.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Rob Schouten Gallery

Canadian poet and painter Bill Bissett is not your everyday artist.

It is hard to know what to say about such an innovator whose work could be compared to the feeling one gets when looking through a kaleidoscope. Lots of messages hitting the brain, ever-changing in its color, and unpredictably satisfying.

Indeed, this prolific poet has published more than

60 books and a hefty collection of drawings and paintings, yet a large portion of the mainstream media can’t get their minds around him.

Whidbey Islanders can decide for themselves what they think of this controversial artist at a spoken-word performance entitled “inside th vishyun” at 7 p.m. tonight at Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm. Poets Stephen Roxborough and John Burgess will perform with Bissett.

The gallery opened Bissett’s “New Acrylic Paintings on Canvas” along with the handwoven silks of Cyndi Wolfe and the ceramic sculpture of Gayle Lutschg on Friday. That show runs through November.

Bissett’s paintings and poetry are startling in their freedom of style.

The paintings, many of them unrefined portraits, use large brushstrokes, lots of color and remind one of fingerpainting in this artist’s most primal and free-flowing use of paint.

The paintings make sense when paired with Bissett’s poetry, also raw and intentionally free of didactic additives.

Bissett is known for his use of a unique orthography (the study of spelling and how words are formed to create sounds). His poems are written with a phonetical language he seems to have created expressly for the purpose of his poetry.

In this poem, Bissett draws a self portrait, using the spelling style for which he has come to be known:

“bill bissett”

originalee from lunaria ovr 300 yeers ago in lunarian time

sent by shuttul thru halifax nova scotia originalee wantid 2

b dansr n figur skatr became a poet n paintr in my longings

after 12 operaysyuns reelee preventid me from following th

inishul direksyuns

An artist and poet since the 1960s, Bissett is also known for his incorporation of visual elements in his printed poetry, and for his performance of “concrete sound” poetry — sound effects, chanting and barefoot dancing during his poetry readings.

Bissett, too, has had large exhibits of his paintings and has made audio recordings of his poems.

His work typically ranges from the mystical to the mundane, incorporating humor, political commentary and a sincerity that is refreshingly presented without apology.

In 2006, Nightwood Editions published “radiant danse uv being, a poetic portrait of bill bissett,” edited by Jeff Pew and Roxborough. The book is a poetic tribute to Bissett, with contributions from more than 80 writers, including such fans of the poet as Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen.

The book is extraordinary in the sheer number of verses written for Bissett, and the amount of love and respect for Bissett that this anthology reveals is abundant among his fellow poets.

When the editors asked Bissett for his blessing in creating the book, the poet replied in his typical rare form: “yr idea is brillyant love it fine totalee dont know tho if thers enuff around abt my work or me 2 make a book wud b way fun tho thanks a lot 4 yr billyans raging happee trails mor as it cums in much love totalee n rockin love you bill.”

In the introduction to the book, the editors write that “bill understands the chaos of natural order ... He gives us a vast, liberating range of style, voice and concept to appreciate, ponder and integrate. He challenges all to become better revolutionaries, dares us to dance with open hearts and fearless radiance.”

Light refreshments will be served at the “inside th vishyun,” performance, where a donation of $12 is suggested; or $50 to become a patron. However, no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

The Rob Schouten Gallery winter hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends,11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and Tuesdays by appointment. For more information, call 222-3070 or e-mail

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