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Literary Criticism Canadian

Finding Nothing

The VanGardes, 1959-1975

by (author) Gregory Betts

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2021
Canadian, General, 20th Century
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jul 2021
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2021
    List Price

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Experimental literature accelerated dramatically in Vancouver in the 1960s as the influence of New American poetics merged with the ideas of Marshall McLuhan. Vancouver poets and artists began thinking about their creative works with new clarity and set about testing and redefining the boundaries of literature. As new gardes in Vancouver explored the limits of text and language, some writers began incorporating collage and concrete poetics into their work while others delved deeper into unsettling, revolutionary, and Surrealist imagery. There was a presumption across the avant-garde communities that radical openness could provoke widespread socio-political change. In other words, the intermedia experimentation and the related destruction of the line between art and society pushed art to the frontlines of a broad socio-political battle of the collective imagination of Vancouver.


Finding Nothing traces the rise of the radical avant-garde in Vancouver, from the initial salvos of the Tish group, through Blewointment’s spatial experiments, to radical Surrealisms and new feminisms. Incorporating images, original texts, and interviews, Gregory Betts shows how the VanGardes signalled a remarkable consciousness of the globalized forces at play in the city, impacting communities, orientations, races, and nations.

About the author

GREGORY BETTS is a poet, editor, essayist and teacher, originally from Vancouver and Toronto. Since his first published poem, an anagrammatical translation of a short poem by bpNichol, Betts's work has consistently troubled individual authorship through such mechanisms as anagrams, collaboration, found-texts and response-text writing. If Language presents paragraph-length anagrams that explore the formation of meaning within a recombinant linguistic system. Haikube was part of a collaborative art project with sculptors Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel in which six of Betts's poems were carved into an ebony movable (a la Rubiks) cube. The text was carved in negative relief, which allowed the cube to function as a press block to print new poems as they were 'discovered' by moving the sides of the cube. Betts currently lives in St. Catharines, where he edits PRECIPICe magazine, curates the Grey Borders Reading Series and teaches Avant-Garde and Canadian Literature at Brock University.

Gregory Betts' profile page


  • Winner, 2021 Gabrielle Roy Prize awarded by The Association for Canadian and Québec Literatures
  • Winner, Basil Stuart-Stubbs Book Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Book on British Columbia

Editorial Reviews

“It is difficult to characterize Finding Nothing as anything less than a singularly important critical monograph that likely sets the terms of discussion in the field of Canadian avant-garde studies to come.”

<em>Canadian Literature</em>

"Finding Nothing is an excavation site for a special moment in Canadian poetic history."

<em>The Ormsby Review</em>

"Many scholars will find Finding Nothing especially valuable for its informational and bibliographical content. Detailed lists of ephemeral little magazines and literary publishers, tabulations of contributors to the major periodicals, a fulsome index, and an appended glossary of ‘Intermedia and Transdisciplinary Groups’ further enhance this landmark study of a transformational phase in Canada’s cultural history."

<em>The Canadian Historical Review</em>

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