Essential Canadian Writers — George Bowering

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Anik Jean: Canadian

“Tendre Sorciere“; ‘Le Trashy Saloon’ (2005)

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Essential Canadian Writers:

George Bowering

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Everybody should have a favourite poet, I have four* and George Bowering is at the top of my list. George, who spent two years as Canada’s official Poet Laureate, pronounces it “aboot” and he does so proudly. He doesn’t write aboot the mysteries of Canada — although sometimes he does, George doesn’t write aboot the majesty that is Canadian landscapes — although sometimes he did, he writes aboot what he believes Canada should be like, what this country should be pissed off aboot and what this country means and has meant to him.

I first discovered George‘s writing in 1991. I was living in Ottawa and still pretending to be a poet when I found a press copy / reviewers copy of 1989’s “Sticks & Stones” in a tiny bookstore on Osgoode Street — it was a reprint of his legendary Rattlesnake Press (sort of) published 1962 book. Everything in the book Just Made Sense. That is so rare. Most poetry seems to have been written specifically to get a woman to take her clothes off. You read the words and they seem important because they’re on a page, and that page is laid out from left to right from top to bottom, and those pages are bound and the cover has a pleasant image on it, so obviously those bound, properly laid out pages must be important… otherwise, why would so many people have bothered to put so much work into producing the book? Those books seem to have been written and published so as to elicit a reaction of: “yup, you’re right. That sure is a book of poetry alright.” I think this is what my book of poems would have been like.

But George’s book of poetry — the one I was holding in my hand and reading while sitting at “Fathers & Sons” restaurant across the street from the University of Ottawa, and just down the street from my Sandy Hill apartment, in the Spring of 1991 — wasn’t like that. Everything had meaning and that meaning was scattered across each page deliberately. Reading poetry is aboot using your mind, not just reading the words. Writing poetry is aboot forcing the reader to use their mind by using your words as their guide. “The best poetry,” George said, “is written in fear… When it has a good reader, the best poetry is read in fear.”

George studied at the University of British Columbia, where his masters thesis advisor was American poet Robert Creeley. As a young man he met and hung out and drank with and learned from Creeley and the other Black Mountain Poets, such as Robert Duncan and Charles Olson, all of whom influenced Bowering and his friends and fellow UofBC poets and writers either directly or through their work. George and the Black Mountain Poets were the writers who lived the way writers are supposed to live, if only because that’s the way we want writers to live… how we want to live. Every cliché, every tired representation of a poet in every piece of Hollywood-style trash, every image we receive from another garbage Top-40 song aboot how a writer and poet is supposed to look has, at its base, the life lived by George Bowering. When people tell you they are a “writer” what they are really saying to you is “I desperately want to be George Bowering, even if just for a stanza.”

In 1961 George co-founded and edited Tish (a renowned literary magazine) with Frank Davey establishing a post-modernist, avant-garde movement in British Columbia. George Bowering is an historian, a professor, he has written more than 60 books of poetry and both fiction and non-fiction novels and he was Canada’s Poet Laureate from 2002 until 2004. George won the Governor General’s Award twice in 1969 for two books of poetry — “Gangs Of Kosmos” and “Rocky Mountain Foot”, and again in 1980 for his novel “Burning Water“. George has also been an Officer of the Order of Canada since 2002. He was born in Penticton, B.C on December 1, 1935, to Ewart Bowering and Pearl Brinson Bowering and he has proudly said “aboothis entire life.

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Excerpt From An Interview: “I can’t think of anything that is like writing prose. But I do know that I feel the way that a fisherman feels, maybe, when there’s something on the line. It can be wonderful to feel something is aboot to come visible, and when it does, it moves so nicely. I like the move.”

Excerpt From An Interview: “[…] I got into trouble for my principles. For example I was expelled for the last month of grade twelve because of my campaign against the recognition of the English monarch in Canada. Now I am her poet, or something. Well, in the meantime I have learned that the real campaign should be against the US takeover of our country and the minds of our young, who now seem to say, for example, Mawm instead of Mum.”

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Metaphor 1 (from “Sticks & Stones”, 1962)

(My speech obsessed by language
the very riding thru me of the
meta-phor

……………….thru me & away on a trip
past the margins of the mind)
A tree
an oak tree
an oak with a tree house
nailed between its branches
……………………………………stands
……………………………………in the field
……………………………………of my mind,
……………………………………growing, or
……………………………………staying grown
until I invest it with birds
brocading its limbs of reach,
sending back skippidy hop
patterns

…………………………….
STOP
…………………………………..it off
……………………………it is enough
……………………………it is in the moment
……………………………it is for ever

……………………………:done
……………………………&
……………………………:there

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*In no particular order the other three would be: Gary Geddes, Colin Morton and William Blake.

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About Gabriel

I’ve lived in fifty-two places. I've been paid to pick stones out of fields, take backstage photos of Britney Spears, and report on Internet privacy issues. My photos have been published in several newspapers, and a couple of magazines.
This entry was posted in Canada, Canadian Authors, Canadian Books, CSN:AFU Greatest Hits, Ottawa, Poetry, Punk and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Essential Canadian Writers — George Bowering

  1. cheeks says:

    Now I’ve got a hankering for some crunchy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside Canadian literature.
    I don’t know why I wrote that; it’s just that the topic of Canadian writing reminds me of a Farside cartoon I saw, showing two polar bears eating an igloo that still has its occupants inside. “Mmm, not bad, crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside” the one polar bear says to his friend.
    I get the feeling there are certain books that find me.
    Thanks for the article; now I’m wondering who the rest of those top 4 poets are?

  2. cheeks says:

    Nevermind! (Geddes, morton, Blake)

  3. Gabriel says:

    Colin was always a little crunchy and Gary was gooey so they’d be a good place to start with the Canadian Lit… I’ve got most of Gary’s work, his best in my opinion was “Girl By The Water”, it’s a series of poems aboot a woman in love as she walks through her village written from the perspective of the people who she passes… then her own perspective is the last one. His political stuff is always good as well.
    Colin is a little harder to find (but “Dance, Misery” is worth the attempt), but there’s an American school that has a lot of his earlier work available online.

  4. Pingback: CSN:AFU Week 15 In Review « …cultural snafu.

  5. cynthia31 says:

    Very Interesting..thanks for sharing

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