Poetry in Motion: Players

March 22, 2017

John Nyman's Players is a poetic fusion of pop culture and high art that, as publisher Palimpsest Press puts it, "bends genre expectations, unravelling with a flow that's both unique and engaging." Watch Nyman puts his poetry in motion, below.


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There’s a fine origami to John Nyman’s debut collection, Players. As it progresses, poems unfold out of themselves and outward to a larger artifice at work, a bouquet (to steal one of Nyman’s metaphors) that gathers the boundaries of language into an urban dreamscape. Nyman’s voices are briskly varied—earnest and mischievous, contemplative and brash, greying and (neon) green—and eclectically centred, speaking of everything from modern art and postmodern literature to city buses and nude beaches to kung fu movies and hip-hop music. Some of them, the aliens and exiles of language’s hinterlands, speak their own quavering between found and sound poetry. But all of them crystallize a demand that’s sure to evoke the full extent of readers’ cunning and imagination: to listen.

If William S. Burroughs called his signature cut-up method “experimental in the sense of something to do,” Nyman’s experimentation brings out the abundance of ways language itself does something. Much like his doctoral research into the theory and practice of erasure poetry (he is currently completing his degree at Western University’s Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism), Nyman’s poetics betray his fascination with language both as we find it in the world and as it adapts to endlessly unfurling contexts and applications. In its more formally ambitious pieces, Players draws from techniques of ekphrasis (as in its sonically rich “translation” of an airplane safety card), détournement (as in “Myself as a Dictator,” which reassembles vocabulary from Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism into a strongman’s serpentine rhetoric), and conceptual writing (as in Nyman’s ten-page “Desk Index,” an alphabetized list of every word or numerical sequence printed or inscribed on the items on his writing desk).

While Players embraces the discordant otherness of its cacophony of subjects and source texts, Nyman is also unafraid to give voice to his engagements, crafting gestures that explore the full scope of human communication. Nyman’s poems include confessions and revelations, but they also sermonize, ventriloquize, and offer advice, always with the artistry of Nyman’s vowel-rich sonority and distinctively polyrhythmic flow. Surprise and astonishment are abundant at every level of Nyman’s process, all the way to his impassioned and engaging vocal performances. As Danny Jacobs notes, “The best Nyman lines bob and weave like his drunken master, swaying unpredictably but hitting the mark all the same.”


Love Song for Kazoo

Those uppermost goodnight




One or more shy

and I love you’s



Look at us: one,

the other one,

the contrast.


Bubblegum lover,

do you hear these

truth fruits?


Playlist awakenings


to me.


Your kiss-laden linen’s


with emulsion.


Four nostrils spot on

the palette



Almond, half almond,




Tell me, is your

coral bottom



Balances, lover,

like a

jelly bean.


I love you. Pause

and call me




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for MF DOOM from John Nyman on Vimeo.

John reads "for MF DOOM" from Players.

Lush from John Nyman on Vimeo.

John reads "Lush" from Players. The artwork featured in the videos is by Amanda Boulos.


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John Nyman's verse, visual, and conceptual poems and poetics have appeared in a variety of print and online publications including Rampike, (parenthetical), Cordite Poetry Review, and Hamilton Arts and Letters. He also designs innovative chapbooks, artist’s books, and digital editions featuring visual and conceptual poetry. Find out more at  https://johnnymanwriting.wordpress.com/.


Big thanks to Liz Ross at Palimpsest Press for sharing John's work with us. For more poetry videos and excerpts, click here.


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