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Nicola Simpson

Right Mind-minding: the Transmission and Practice of Zen and Vajrayana Buddhist Method Practices in the Poem Objects of Dom Sylvester Houédard, 1960-1975

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a tiny cell at Prinknash Abbey rebounded continuously with the sound of an Olivetti Lettera 22, as the Benedictine monk and concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houédard,(1924-1992) wrote the letters, constructed Typestracts and initiated much of the critical thinking around the British Concrete Poetry Movement.

Prolific, prominent and pivotal in a web of correspondence and collaboration between the Beats, the Gloster Ode Construction Company, DIAS and Fluxus, Houédard has subsequently been largely neglected by both the poetic and artistic worlds. With little critical work on Houédard beyond the few small press articles written by his contemporaries and none that take Houédard’s own wider ecumenical and metaphysical interests as a starting point, my research aims to begin this process of artistic and theological reassessment.

Beginning with his beat-style lyrical verse, my research investigates the theological and theoretical impetus behind a spatial journey that took Houédard’s poems literally off the page into many different forms, including dance. The aim is to follow the trajectory of experimentation in the concrete poems, as Houédard explores word and image relationships; “the wordgame, ikongame and the poet as maker”.

The focus of my enquiry will be to show how initially in Zen and then more satisfactorily in the Madhyamika-Prasangika School of Tibetan Buddhism, Houédard found a paradigm for questioning the interplay between logos and icon, subject and object, the “the non and the non-non”.

The philosophy of Emptiness is central to both Houédard’s creation of the art-object and his analogous use of space, which forms a structural correlation with notions of the enlightened mind. I also hope to demonstrate how this conceptual idea had a wider influence over the avant-garde constellation in which he featured.

I am currently curating an exhibition of Houédard’s work, scheduled for the autumn here at the gallery at Norwich, which will begin to assemble some these ideas and approaches to his work.

More information about this exhibition ‘frogpondplop: the yoga of concrete’ is available online.

Nicola Simpson