The Martyrology, a long poem published in several volumes, was the supreme achievement and legacy of the poet bp Nichol.
The Martyrology, a long poem published in several volumes, was the supreme achievement and legacy of the poet bp Nichol. Books 1 and 2 appeared in 1972, and subsequent volumes were published in 1976, 1982 and 1987, with further, posthumous volumes in 1990 and 1993. After several attempts to "finish" it, Nichol came to see his poem as an open-ended, ongoing work; its very lack of closure challenges traditional ideas of what constitutes a single, unified poem.
Starting from plays on words beginning with the letters st ("stand" interpreted as "St. And"), The Martyrology has expanded into a wide-ranging exploration of world mythology and personal experience, and of the forms of language and of human community. The later volumes became increasingly experimental in technique and presentation, featuring re-presentations of earlier passages, and in Book 9, a full-length opera score. The Martyrology has rightly been described as "the most courageous body of work in Canada today" (Frank Davey). It is also, for all its apparent difficulty, among the most entertaining.