Dr. Derek Beaulieu and his Prose of the Trans-Canada

Derek Beaulieu, Calgary’s Poet Laureate, discusses his visual poem Prose of the Trans-Canada (Bookthug, 2011) and how the poem was crafted with an eye towards cartography and contemporary graphic design. The poem was projected on the high-resolution screen in the Visualization Studio of the Taylor Family Digital Library. Photo by Dave Brown

At a public lecture last month in the Taylor Family Digital Library, Calgary Poet Laureate Derek Beaulieu presented his work Prose of the Trans-Canada, an eye-catching, contemporary visual response to La prose du transsibérien by high modernists Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay in 1913.

Beaulieu’s work combines traditional poetry with cartography and graphic design into a dynamic field which is designed to be looked at instead of read.

The massive 24.5-million pixel screen in the TFDL’s Visualization Studio allowed for the high-resolution projection of both poems, treating audience members to the discovery of detail and nuance that would be otherwise undetectable.

This representation manifests in multiple ways — abstractly, poetically, even symbolically. Published in 1913, La prose du transsibérien is 1/150 the height of the Eiffel Tower. Beaulieu’s concrete poem, published a century later, is 1/150 the height of the Calgary Tower.

“Not only did I have the rare pleasure of seeing Cendrars’ work side by side with my own, and in a new light, the Visualization Studio allowed me a unique approach to teaching. It was a real glimpse into the future of the classroom,” said Beaulieu.

“These poems are major achievements in the evolution of the artist book,” French professor Jean-Jacques Poucel said in his introductory remarks at the February event. “Each offers, in its own way, a lasting artistic representation of the rapidly shifting modernity of two cosmopolitan cities, Paris and Calgary.”

For Poucel — whose graduate seminar Modern and Contemporary Poetics inspired this public lecture — both digital and tangible formats are important.

“I’m pleased my students also have access to paper facsimiles of these poems in the university’s collections,” he says. “This dual experience broadens their perspectives about concrete poetry and the artists who create it.”

This event was sponsored by the Department of French, Italian and Spanish with support from Libraries and Cultural Resources. Facsimiles of the poems are held in Archives and Special Collections. They may be viewed by appointment by contacting specccoll@ucalgary.ca.