TISH | The Canadian Encyclopedia




TISH: a poetry newsletter, Vancouver was founded in August 1961 by five young writers, George BOWERING, Frank DAVEY, David Dawson, Jamie Reid, and Fred WAH, part of a larger group of UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA students who had been meeting over the past few years to discuss poetics with critic Warren Tallman and, that summer, with San Francisco Renaissance poet Robert Duncan. Among that larger group were future playwright Carol BOLT, critic Pauline Butling, short-fiction writer Gladys Hindmarch, film-maker Sam Perry, and poets Daphne MARLATT, Lionel Kearns, Maxine Gadd, Judith Copithorne, Robert Hogg, David Cull, and David Bromige. The "TISH" title came from pioneer ecologist Carl Sauer's discovery that fossilized human excrement could be a vivid index of a culture's diet and dietary practices, much like the group hoped their writings might be to CULTURE generally - and from a polite remixing of the common word's four letters. Following the example of The Floating Bear, founded in New York the year before by LeRoi Jones and Diane di Prima, the editors published their newsletter monthly, printed most of the issues themselves in crude mimeograph and distributed them free-of-charge to a predetermined mailing list of approximately 400 mostly North American writers, editors and reviewers. Davey was managing editor, Wah the printer, Bowering instrumental in creating the mailing list, and all five important in maintaining the newsletter's signature focus on poetics - on understanding the properties of speech and writing both in relation to each other and in relation to the other events and objects that "words" are normally assumed to refer to.

Critic George FETHERLING has called TISH "Canada's most influential literary magazine," both because its low-overhead production model became that of numerous other POETRY magazines in the 1960s and 70s, and because its view that written poetry was the performance score of an ORAL art form became also widely accepted in following decades. Contributing to its influence as well was its regularity and frequency of publication in its first two years, which enabled its editors to become, almost instantly, participants in national Canadian poetry dialogues, and its insistence that all poetries assume a poetics. This insistence implicitly called on all poets to reflect on what their own poetics might be. Most controversial among TISH poetics was the conviction that poets can co-author their poems with the local physical and cultural environments in which they write, as well as with the LANGUAGE itself, and must be alert to explore such interactions. In this they were working from both New England poet Charles Olson's influential essay, "Projective Verse," and its suggestion that place and history offer cultural fields of force which can energize one's writing with "secrets objects share," and Robert Duncan's belief that the images, rhythms and sounds of one's own lines can point the way to unanticipated subsequent lines and subject matter.

On the August 1963 departure from Vancouver of Davey, Bowering and Wah, David Dawson continued the newsletter as manager of a new board of Daphne Marlatt, Gladys Hindmarch, David Cull, Peter Auxier and future founder of The Georgia Straight Dan McLeod. With a slowly changing membership this board continued the newsletter until 1966 when it became a "Writing Supplement" to the Straight. Wah co-founded a similar magazine, SUM, in New Mexico in December 1963, the second of a succession of magazines which he would found or help found, with the final one being the also highly influential Writing (1980-92), the central magazine of the Kootenay School of Writing. Bowering in the spring of 1964 founded a magazine of the long poem, Imago (1964-74) and in 1967 the micropress Beaver-Kosmos. Davey founded Open Letter (1965- ), subtitled "a journal of writing and theory," the following year. All of these were continuations of the TISH assumptions that writing should transcend both personal expression and national cultures and be aware of its own poetics; they variously resisted both the NATIONALISM of the 1970s and the "identity politics" and "cultural turn" of more recent decades. With bp NICHOL, who was a silent member of the larger TISH group during 1962-64, Bowering, Wah and Davey all became associated with Toronto's Coach House Press as editors or authors in the 1970s, with Nichol and Davey editing the majority of the press's titles from 1975-85.

Among the major events in the evolution of the TISH group have been the publication of the first Tishbook, Davey's D-Day and After in 1962, Bowering's winning of the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD for poetry in 1970, Davey's publication of From There to Here: A Guide to English-Canadian Literature Since 1960 in 1974, Davey and Wah's founding in 1984 of SwiftCurrent (1984-90), the world's first online literary magazine, Wah's winning of the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry in 1986, and Bowering's appointment as Canada's first Parliamentary Poet Laureate in 2002. Overall, the TISH-group writers of 1961-66 have contributed more than 200 titles to Canadian writing.


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