Category Archives: visual poetry

The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection


Hi all,

For the past 16 months, I’ve maintained an Instagram account dedicated (mostly) to showcasing pages from my artist’s book The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection (which was in fact completed and printed some time earlier). I used the account to highlight and quote from pages of Jacques Lacan’s original The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis that I felt were relevant to my project; in the process, I learned a lot about Lacan, my own creative work, and the world of Instagram (or at least the parts of it I connected with).

Since I’ve reached the end of my volume (though it is, of course, only half the size of Lacan’s), I’ve decided to bring the project to a close, at least for now, and to think about turning towards new ends. To mark the occasion, I’ve also decided to make available some additional documentation pertaining to A Selection: specifically, a short artist’s statement I wrote nearly two years ago to collect some of my motivations for and reflections on the project. That statement is copied below. If you’ve been following the project, I hope it’ll provide you with some intriguing background material. And if you’ve never seen A Selection before, I hope this will entice you to dig into the Instagram posts!


The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection

Artist’s Statement


The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection is a typographical artwork inspired by appropriation art, conceptual writing, and visual poetry. In its complete form as a 142-page printed book, the project operates as a “selection” of Jacques Lacan’s classic text (first published in English in 1977) in at least two senses: first, as an editorial selection of approximately half the lectures included in the original volume; second, as a graphical erasure of approximately half the ink used in the original publication of the selected sections, a result achieved by typesetting the volume in a font variation (designed by the artist) which renders visible only part of each printed letter. Thus the scope of the project spans, on one end, the editorial and visual reproduction of Hogarth’s original publication of Lacan’s text and, on the other, the development of the “Manque” font variation, which could be applied to any text.

The project’s methods draw inspiration from several sources. Its use of appropriation and material reproduction is inspired by the work of appropriation artists such as Richard Prince, especially his reproduction of Random House’s first edition of The Catcher in the Rye. Conceptual writing’s focus on the materiality of text, the labour of reproduction, and radical mimesis provides additional context for these techniques. Meanwhile, the design of the “Manque” font variation draws inspiration from the processes of erasure poetry as well as the visual styles of asemic writing and non-Latin scripts.

Lacan’s The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psych-analysis emerged as an ideal source text for the project for a variety of reasons; in many ways, in fact, the text seemed to suggest the parameters of the project of its own volition. Superficially, the project mimics the format of Bruce Fink’s first translation of Lacan’s Écrits (also the first work of Lacan’s to be published in English), which included only a selection of Lacan’s original essays and was subtitled as such. The publication history of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis also offers an excellent case study of the problems of reproduction and translation explored by A Selection. Originally presented by Lacan as an oral seminar, the lectures that constitute The Four Fundamental Concepts were first collected as a printed text (and given their popular title, which was not Lacan’s) under the editorship of Jacques-Alain Miller, who has since been accused of distorting Lacan’s voice and thought. As Alan Sheridan’s translation of the French text puts the 1977 Hogarth publication at yet another level of remove from its supposed origins, the book’s appearance in English carries with it a deep suspicion of the status and value of these origins even before its reproduction in A Selection. That Lacan is often considered fundamental to the line of postmodern thinking obsessed with this suspicion is perhaps no coincidence. Finally, the thematic structure of Lacan’s seminar provided a ripe target for editorial re-imagining: by “selecting” approximately the first half of the book for republication, A Selection redesigns Lacan’s seminar to culminate with his discussions of the image and the gaze, foregrounding his most direct commentaries on the visual effects of the “Manque” font variation. In a sense, the project attempts to prove the relevance of Lacan’s comments on mimicry (as presented on page 99 of the text, the only page rendered in regular type in A Selection) to the relationship between textuality and visuality: concerning the limit beyond which a script ceases to signify and becomes no more than a picture, “It is not a question of harmonizing with the background but, against a mottled background, of becoming mottled—exactly like the technique of camouflage practised in human warfare.”

The name of the font variation “Manque” references Lacan’s famous manque-à-être, a neologism derived from the French word for “to miss” or “to lack” but rendered in English as “want-to-be” by Lacan himself. Alongside its application of manque-à-être to the field of the letter (itself an important agent within the unconscious, according to Lacan’s well-known essay), “Manque” thus also incorporates the problems and history of translating Lacan’s thought into its very identity.

John Nyman
January 7, 2016





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Peripheral Review Instagram residency, June 26 – July 1

Hi all,

I’d like to take a moment to announce something I’m pretty excited about this week: Lauren Lavery (artist, art critic, editor, &, collective poet, exemplary human) has been kind enough to invite me to do an Instagram residency with Peripheral Review, which means I’ll be stocking the publication’s Instagram feed with whatever I desire for the next six days. I feel especially honoured to be invited, since Peripheral Review‘s network runs mostly through the visual arts, and most of the folks who have done the residency are legit artists. So, I’ve chosen to take the invitation as a kind of provocation, to see how and how well the work I’ve done with visual and experimental poetry fits in the art world. I’ll be bringing my best (including new works in progress, some old projects, and other relevant things I stumble across during the week), so you should definitely give the Peripheral Review Instagram a follow and stay tuned for more of my posts!



I should point out that Peripheral Review itself is a pretty awesome endeavour, existing mostly online but also in a (beautiful) print anthology that recently made its way to the Vancouver Photo Book Fair. The publication includes reviews of art exhibitions and other art events with a special focus on creative approaches to criticism; they even encourage ‘reviewers’ to respond to artwork with their own artwork, including poetry, sound, and visual forms. It’s a great place to check out if you’re looking for some innovative and in-depth engagements with the Canadian art scene.


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&, 2 and XAGGERA launches this week!

The very tail end of this week will be a pretty big one for me! First up, this Thursday I and the other amazing members of Guelph’s &, collective will be launching the collective’s second chap/book, this happened to one of us. The book’s been in the works for a while, and I think it’s pretty exciting: the project came from writing and workshopping we did together around the theme of confessional poetry, where one of us would come up with a confessional-style prompt and everyone else in the group would write a poem as if they’d actually had that experience themselves. The result is a bunch of poems about things like getting a flat tire, cheap motels, drunken teenage birthday parties, coffee dates, and (of course) sex. We’ll even be filling up this week’s launch with prizes for audience members who correctly guess which poet actually wrote the prompt for each set. Several of us in the collective have been working with Publication Studio Guelph to plan the launch and actually make our own books (see photo evidence below), and the book layout (wickedly designed by yours truly) also includes illustrations by the Guelph-based artist group SADSADDERDAZE, which will be hand-coloured for the launch editions–so, the whole thing definitely feels like a community effort. Which is why you should come celebrate with us: 7pm at Boarding House Arts (6 Dublin St. South) this Thursday, September 29! Check out the facebook event. Or look for the book (which, as per PS’s amazing distribution model, promises to be pretty damn cheap) over at the PS web store.




Second, and the very next day, I’ll be hanging out with David Knight and friends of Fenylalanine Publishing and Ed Video to celebrate Ed Video’s 40th anniversary and launch FP’s new art magazine, XAGGERA (which will be on sale for $10 a copy). I’m definitely not as in-the-know about this project, but a quick look at the event’s facebook page promises a series of probably insane visuals and music that’ll be nowhere close to ordinary. I can also let you in on the fact that my contribution to the magazine is a bizarre pseudo-advertisement for the special erasure/asemic font I created for The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection, which I’ve been uploading in parts over at my new instagram account. In short, the magazine is something to watch out for. And if you’re up for something on the weirder side of normal, come join us at the ANAF Club (32 Gordon St.), 9:15pm this Friday, September 30.


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euNoia and Fenylalanine Publishing

Happy New Year!

It looks like 2016’s starting off with a bang: just today, my poetic remix euNoia was released online with Fenylalanine Publishing, a Guelph-based press headed by David J. Knight. euNoia is, I’d like to think, a unique work, combining influences from conceptual poetry, remix culture, and typographical art. The chapbook’s procedure is nonetheless fairly straightforward: it features precise reproductions of the first page of each chapter of Christian Bök’s Eunoia, but with the capitalization adjusted to highlight each section’s vowels and consonants, alternatively. I’ve always been enamoured with the visual patterns formed by the typography of Eunoia‘s chapters (which, if you’re not familiar with the book, each employ only one of English’s five vowels), and I imagined that a minimal change in the text’s presentation could bring those pattern out in a new way. euNoia is Fenylalanine’s fifteenth publication; you can see the full document on Fenylalanine’s wordpress page here.

Fenylalanine Publishing itself is a pretty interesting project to dive into. I had the pleasure of meeting David, the press’s founder, this past December at its first in-person launch event (although many online editions had already been published in 2015). Speaking off the cuff about Fenylalanine’s mission, David stressed that literacy, as far as he understands it, means reading the spaces in between the reference points established by existing genres and categories; as such, Fenylalanine aims to publish works that resist classification. Its output to date has included artworks and ephemera from verse poetry to asemic writing to found photography, highlighting projects that straddle the boundaries between image and text, and between page and screen. I highly recommend browsing some of Fenylalanine’s publications, either on the wordpress page linked above or through the posts on their facebook page.

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O Our Ism erasures/artist’s book now available on the Publications page!

Hi everyone,

Presenting some of my work at the fabulous Facilitate event Seeing Poetry last week inspired me to make one of my major visual poetic projects more readily available online. Different forms of O Our Ism have accompanied me through much of my development as a writer: after completing the first few entries of the project for a class assignment in third year (specifically, in my poetry class with the wonderful David Goldstein), I went on to print further spreads as glossy, broadsheet-style posters, many of which are now in the hands or on the walls of poetically-minded friends and acquaintances. Finally, last summer, I compiled the pages into an artist’s book designed to mimic the source material in size and layout (although, admittedly, not thickness). Over the past few years I have brought versions of the project to countless readings and assembled parts of it into wall displays for exhibitions such as the T E X T ual A R T ivity show in Coburg, Ontario this spring.

For reference, I’ve included below a brief note that accompanied O Our Ism on the walls of The Academy of the Impossible during the latter’s brief stay at 231 Wallace Avenue in Toronto. You can access my complete pdf e-book of the project here, or by finding it near the top of the Publications page. Of course, you can also get in touch with me to look at (or potentially own) a physical copy of the book–it’s quite striking in person!

A note on the work:

O Our Ism is a series of erasures developed out of two-page spreads from the book Photojournalism, edited by Nick Yapp and Amanda Hopkinson and published by Könemann (2006) using photographs from Getty Images. The book’s original captions, which provide the textual source for the erasures, appear in English, French and German. O Our Ism is a realistically endless project, as its source material will only be exhausted once its nearly 400 spreads are rendered into poems.





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Visual poetry and performance at Facilitate Presents: Seeing Poetry

Hi everyone!

I’ve been traveling lately, and so I’ve been a bit lax with my promoting game, but I’m nonetheless overjoyed to announce my participation in an event just days away! This Monday night, the wonderful folks at Facilitate will host Seeing Poetry, the second in a promising lineup of performance nights that kicked off last month. I’ll be performing as one of the featured presenters alongside highly-recommended friends Miles Forrester, Jay Gobuty, and Eric Schmaltz, and probably-awesome people I haven’t met Kasia Smuga and Katarina Mücke. The event takes place Monday July 13 at 7:30pm at No One Writers to the Colonel, 460 College St, and you can check out the Facebook page here.

Facilitate’s events are vaguely poetry readings, but Monday’s event especially will feature a wide variety of artistic media including sound, video, discussion, and all kinds of label-bending happenings whose generic aftermaths I can’t even begin to predict. For my own part, I’ll be presenting visual pieces including chapbooks and a poetic card game between performances. I’ll let my plans for my own set remain a bit of a mystery…however, after randomly running into Facilitate facilitator Joe Ianni today and chatting about them at length, I’m looking forward to some unique and exciting results.

See you there!

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A few more photos from T E X T ual A R T ivity

Hi all,

This post is several weeks delayed, but since the T E X T ual A R T ivity exhibition in Coburg, Ontario had already been over for some time when I received the prompt to write it, I figured some final documentation of my role in the exhibition wouldn’t be urgent.

I’ve already spoken in detail about T E X T ual A R T ivity and the amazing people who run it in a previous post. Since my first visit to the show, however, I’ve gotten word of some significant changes to the presentation of some of my pieces that I think is worth sharing. Based on suggestions from attendees of the exhibition last month, James Pickersgill took the initiative to reframe two pieces I’d printed on translucent paper, “Space” and “Spring Mattress,” and hang them as a window display viewable from either inside or outside The Human Bean cafe, where the exhibition was held. Some photographs are included below. (You can also see/read “Space” at high resolution at Angel House Press’s National Poetry Month 2015 blog here.)

In short, I think James’s is a spectacular presentation that amplifies the themes and energy of the pieces, while also taking their execution much farther than I had imagined. On this latter point, I’ve found that my experience submitting these artworks to the show (and witnessing the creative efforts of Poetry in Coburg Spaces and especially James, who deserves at least co-authorship for the “poems” displayed here) has exemplified the strength of collaboration in poetic and artistic work. It’s worth noting, too, that such collaborative efforts are especially important in genres (or perhaps they’re more like dispersed social experiments) like concrete poetry that demand critical attention from a multiplicity of contexts including semantic language and poetics, visual aesthetics, and institutional presentation. At the same time, collaborations like these are by no means hampered by separations in space, time, and creative vision (at least not by necessity). In fact, what I’ve seen this past month suggests that such separations may in fact bolster the motivation for and results of artistic collaboration.


“Space” and “Spring Mattress” in the front window of The Human Bean:

John's 2 pieces installed in the front window of The Human Bean - from outside c


“Space” from inside and outside:

Space - John's piece installed in the front window - close-up from inside The Human Bean (2)

Space - John's piece installed in the front window of The Human Bean - from outside b


“Spring Mattress” from inside and outside:

Spring Mattress - John's piece installed in the front window - close-up from inside The Human Bean

Spring Mattress - John's piece installed in the front window of The Human Bean - from outside

(photos courtesy of James Pickersgill)

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“Space” on

Hi everyone,

I’ve had the opportunity to post lots of updates about my visual poetry lately–it seems like National Poetry Month has really brought it into the spotlight! This time, I’m happy to announce that my visual/conceptual poem/paper object “Space” has just appeared on Angel House Press’s as today’s installment of their month-long celebration of visual poetry. The website will feature a new vispo image by a different artist for every day in April, so you can keep checking back throughout the month for more (along with browsing the images that have already been posted). You can also access a permanent link (well, at least until National Poetry Month arrives again next year) to my piece here.

A brief note on the piece: “Space” includes text appropriated from the first few pages of the “Space” chapter of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Parts of the text are printed on three pages of translucent vellum paper; the rest of the piece is composed of cardstock and bookbinding thread.

Thanks for reading!

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Visual poetry on display at T E X T ual A R T ivity in Coburg, Ontario

Hi all,

I am well overdue for this update: after visiting The Human Bean coffee house in Coburg, Ontario this past Thursday, I knew I had to post about the T E X T ual A R T ivity exhibition that has occupied the walls there since the beginning of the month. The annual celebration of visual poetry, put on by Poetry in Coburg Spaces (piCs), features a variety of my own contributions, including the visual poems (perhaps something like “textual constructions” would be a better term) “my african violet, from above” and “my boat lily, from above” (both of which were published in Rampike), pages from my O Our Ism artist’s book/series of erasures, and text art made with translucent vellum paper. Along with many other excellent visual poets and artists, this year’s exhibition also includes work by bill bissett and Robert Zend, who are discussed at length in Wally Keeler’s article on the exhibition.

I don’t imagine many of my readers find themselves in Coburg too often, but if you are passing by, I would highly recommend stopping to see some great art in a great coffee house! The exhibition will be up until the end of April.

Leaving aside the exhibition itself, I also had a great time last Thursday at the opening / reception, which was also this month’s edition of the monthly reading series and open mic “lay your WORD down!” (information on the event and some notes on the exhibition are available on the facebook past event page here). It was wonderful hearing some of the work Coburg’s poets had to present, and I have to say they made up one of the most welcoming and receptive audiences I’ve ever met for my own open mic performance (let alone my visual poetry!). It was also great to meet James Pickersgill, Wally Keeler, and Coburg’s Poet Laureate Ted Amsden, all of whom deserve my extended thanks for their hard work at setting up the exhibition.

TEXTual ARTivity(photo by Amanda Boulos)

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“Two Plants from Above” in Rampike 23.2, “[repeat]er Manifesto” online in (parenthetical) 4

Howdy all,

This has been a long time coming and the issue has already been out for a while, but I figured I’d announce here that one of my visual/concrete pieces, “Two Plants from Above,” appears in the most recent issue of Rampike! Rampike is an incredible magazine, largely because it is one of the few publications that has consistently featured visual and conceptual text-based work. Though I have in fact yet to see the issue in person (a travesty, I know), I’ve been told that my letters look good gracing its pages, so you should check it out! Among other places, you can find Rampike at the Meet the Presses Indie Literary Market tomorrow (Saturday Nov. 22) from 11:30 to 5:00pm at the Tranzac Club near Brunswick and Bloor. Of course, there will also be a huge variety of other indie publishers at the fair with an equally huge variety of excellent books and other projects; it’s definitely a must-see! You can check out the fair’s facebook page here.

In addition, as I posted a few days ago, my piece titled “[repeat]er Manifesto” is now live in (parenthetical) issue four, which you can read online here. Will Kemp and Nicole Brewer, (parenthetical)’s most excellent publishers and editors, will also be at the Indie Literary Market with print copies of the magazine (they look amazing!) and other books from words(on)pages, so you should pay them a visit too.

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