Author Tags: Essentials 2010, Fiction, History, Literary Criticism, Literary Landmarks, Poetry, Sports
LITERARY LOCATION: Cecil Hotel, 1336 Granville Street, Vancouver
Here stood the Cecil Hotel where TISH poet and UBC student Dan McLeod devised the name for the newspaper he owns, Georgia Straight, over beers with Michael Morris and Glen Lewis in 1967. As the closest pub to UBC, the Cecil Hotel attracted a literary crowd in the Sixties, many of whom were associated with the TISH poetry movement. Most noteworthy was George Bowering, who became Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2002–2004).
“Well, there was the early Sixties crowd of college guys,” Bowering recalls. “Then there was the late Sixties to late Seventies crowd of writers and hangers-on, and it was known across the country that we started on pub night about 10 pm, when the kids left. One night even Susan Musgrave came, and she tipped over a glass of beer and we told her the convention was that she had to buy a round. And that night we had five tables lined up. But we told her we were only kidding. Roy Kiyooka would come. Gladys Hindmarch. Dwight Gardiner. Brian Fisher. George Stanley. Brian Fawcett. Peter Huse. Stan Persky. Gill Collins. Mike Barnholden. Gerry Gilbert always snuck his own food in. Maxine Gadd.”
The Cecil Hotel closed in 2010 after 101 years of operation, having turned into a strip club in the mid-1970s. The primary residence for George Bowering's non-conventional, unusually prolific and often loud presence during the majority of his writing career was the large house at 2499 West 37th Avenue in Kerrisdale. In the middle of the campus of Capilano University in North Vancouver, between the Seymour River and Lynn Creek, you can also visit the George Bowering Library with its vertical silo and cylindrical reading rooms to supposedly emulate the forest experience.
QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:
Born in Penticton in 1935, George Bowering was mostly raised in nearby Oliver as the son of a high school chemistry teacher. He was officially made a citizen of Oliver by a municipal decree passed early in this century. He began living in Oliver in 1943 and graduated from Oliver’s Southern Okanagan High School in 1953. Later he worked in three packinghouses and about twenty orchards in the area. He wrote for the Oliver Chronicle for many years and was once offered its editorship.
George Bowering was a Royal Canadian Air Force photographer (1954-57) after he had attended Victoria College (Victoria, B.C.). He would later attend University of British Columbia and University of Western Ontario.
Bowering taught at SFU for 29 years (1972–2001). As the most opinionated and outspoken writer to emerge from the UBC-based TISH collective, Bowering has received Governor General’s Awards for fiction and poetry, a rare feat. In some respects the writing game is competitive and Bowering has been a hard-working and bright force. He has published more than 70 books in various genres and was selected to serve as Canada's first, official Poet Laureate (2002–2004).
His approach to making books is invariably experimental. "I just want readers to notice the writing," he once wrote, as editor of the fiction anthology And Other Stories (Talonbooks, 2001). But one of Bowering's most enduring books might be one of his least flamboyant.
George Bowering’s Bowering’s B.C.: A Swashbuckling History (1996) proves he knows British Columbia as much and as well as anyone. Even if Bowering is addicted to his own cleverness, this is one of the best books ever written about his home province—the sort of history book they wouldn’t allow in schools because it says too much.
“...people in B.C. have to be taught to be Canadians,” he writes. “This is done by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Globe and Mail. But most British Columbians don’t listen to the CBC or read the G&M.”
More conventional histories by Jean Barman, Terry Reksten, George Woodcock and Geoffrey Molyneux have tended to overshadow Bowering’s B.C. That personalized title didn’t help either. But Bowering’s shrewd, sometimes cynical take on human nature and politics is unfailingly provocative as an educational force.
Bowering is fascinated by, and dedicated to, uncovering and discussing what might be original about British Columbia. There are precious few writers in Bowering’s league when it comes to a comprehensive understanding of the maverick characters and odd stories that are unique to B.C. Howard White of Harbour Publishing might be his only peer in this regard.
George Bowering was born Dec. 1. 1935, in Penticton, to Ewart Bowering and Pearl Brinson Bowering. He grew up in the Okanagan, mostly in Oliver. "There was a time when I was growing up when our toilet was a bucket that you sat on." His father was a high school chemistry teacher in the Okanagan. George Bowering was a Royal Canadian Air Force photographer, 1954-57, after he had attended Victoria College (Victoria, B.C.). He later attended University of British Columbia and University of Western Ontario.
At UBC he was a leading member of the informal literary movement, mentored by Warren Tallman, that generated the literary newsletter TISH in which he first published his most anthologized poem, 'Grandfather.' "Frank Davey was managing editor," says Bowering, "because it was his typewriter and he was willing to do more work than the rest of us were."
Fellow TISH writer Fred Wah recalls the rudimentary printing process for Bowering's first book, Sticks & Stones, illustrated with drawings by Gordon Payne, in May/June of 1962 to coincide with the imminent arrival of poet/guru Robert Creeley in June. Creeley had supplied a preface in advance. "We used metal stencils," Wah wrote, in a Capilano Review article, "since we were hoping to print an edition of several hundred. But the printer rollers screwed up and we ended up with a bit of a mess: text would suddenly float into the gutter, paper would get skewed, pages would offset off on one another, and so forth." Some of the approximately fifty copies were missing poems or drawings. Bowering has two copies of this original printing; Sticks & Stones was later re-published by Talonbooks in 1963.
Bowering received his M.A. from UBC in 1963. He curtailed his Ph.D studies at University of Western Ontario to become Writer in Residence at Sir George Williams University, Montreal, 1967-68.
Bowering won his first Governor General's Award (for poetry) in 1969 for two collections, Rocky Mountain Foot and The Gangs of Kosmos; and his second was received (for fiction) in 1980 for Burning Water, a witty and fanciful historical novel that recalls Captain George Vancouver, his surveying crew and the botanist Menzies on the West Coast in the late eighteenth century.
Bowering has published more than 70 books of various genres. His approach to making new books is invariably experimental. "Ideologically," he once told George Fetherling for a Vancouver Sun article in 2003, "I'm opposed to the lyric."
Bowering's novel of the B.C. Interior, Caprice, is an offbeat 'western' with an emancipated female heroine, set in the Okanagan, and his eccentric view of political and social life, A Short Sad Book, has been categorized as a novel only for lack of a better definition. His novel about the racist pursuit and capture of the McLean Gang in the B.C. Interior, Shoot!, has been described as a comic novel about murder and hanging.
Bowering's collection of ten short stories, mostly about the Sixties in British Columbia, The Box, is introduced by archival photographs and freely mix writing genres that include biography, autobiography, parable, letters and drama. He has also produced irreverent, 'mock naive' histories of British Columbia, Canadian Prime Ministers and Canada.
In 2002 George Bowering accepted the post of Canada's first Parliamentary Poet Laureate (the Canadian Authors Association had designated various Poet Laureates much earlier, including Bliss Carman), and moved to Ontario in 2003 to serve his term. During this period he unsuccessfully tried to stimulate an initiative for Canada Post to produce stamps that honour poets. He was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 2003 and inducted into the Order of British Columbia in 2004. He returned to live in Vancouver where, among his many enthusiasms, he continues to be an avid baseball and softball fan. Baseball Love (2006) recalls his days as a youthful sports reporter in Oliver and his playing days in the Kozmic League of the 1970s. It has been described as a "picaresque memoir of a road trip with his fiancée through the storied ballparks of a poet's youthful dreams."
Bowering's memoir Pinboy (Cormorant 2012) recalls his sexual awakenings at age fifteen in the south Okanagan where he finds himself enamoured of three choices: his first love, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and one of his high school teachers. It was nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize. Bowering has never won a B.C. Book Prize since the awards were introduced in 1985.
Having produced more books than some people read in a lifetime, George Bowering has consistently maintained his George Woodcockian pace of productivity, like a home run hitter trying to outdo Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth. Bowering has joked with Alan Twigg that he and "the other George" (George Fetherling) are in the same prolific league.
In 2012, Bowering released another engaging and varied collection of essays and memoirs, Words, Words, Words (New Star) including recollections of Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver Mounties’ pitcher George Bamberger and his own Kozmic League team, the Granville Grange Zephyrs.
With a new introduction by his long-time friend Lionel Kearns, George Bowering's second attempt at a novel, Mirror on the Floor, set in Vancouver in the mid-1960s, was re-released by Anvil Press in 2014. It follows the carousing adventures of a UBC grad student named Bob Small and his roommate, George Delsing, as they encounter
dockworkers, unemployed loggers and retired seamen on the Downtown Eastside, exploring the city in Small’s “poor old over-travelled yellow Morris Minor.” Outside the city lock-up, Small meets Andrea, a troubled young woman to whom he is attracted, and soon he is bumping into her everywhere he goes. Originally published in 1967 by McClelland and Stewart, Mirror on the Floor provides a vivid portrayal of Vancouver as it used to be--when it was little more than a provincial town with a rough waterfront.
According to publicity materials, George Bowering’s 36th book of poetry, The World, I Guess (New Star, 2015) “shows Canada’s original poet-laureate still in MVP form as he approaches his 80th birthday. The centrepiece of Bowering’s new book is a long poem, “The Flood,” a complex, discursive poem whose subject is poesis and whose interest is in the world around the writer. But the book ends with a suite of translations of the “modern” Canadian poetry canon, from Charles G.D. Roberts and Archibald Lampman to Irving Layton and Phyllis Webb.”
Bowering's thematic study of some British Columbia novels appeared in BC Studies, Summer, 1984 (#62). It later served as the keynote essay for a composite collection of writing from BC Studies entitled Home Truths.
Roy Miki of SFU has published an extensive bibliography of Bowering's work. His wife Angela Bowering (née Luoma), who died of cancer in 1999, collaborated with him on two literary projects. With his second wife, Jean Baird, a former professor, magazine publisher and director of Canada Book Week for the Writers' Trust of Canada, Bowering co-edited The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning (Knopf 2009), containing twenty original essays.
On April 21, 2015, in front of the Point Grey Library in Vancouver, Bowering, at 79, had a cardiac arrest. Had this happened almost anywhere else, he would likely have died. But one of the alert people at the bus stop started CPR immediately, school student Ivy Zhang called 911 immediately and there was a fire hall one block away. Rushed the hospital, Bowering was induced into a coma for twelve days. After three frightening weeks, he was back at home. By June, despite his broken ribs and broken sternum, the rehab department at VGH said Bowering was in better shape post-incident than most other 79-year-olds without an incident. “The team doing the assessment have all sorts of tests for strength, balance, etc.,” said his wife, Jean Baird. “On the second assessment day they asked George if he could jump. He jumped. They said they’d never had another before who was able to jump.” The walker was returned in early June. He began using a cane, improving his muscle tone. By the end of June he was back at Nat Bailey watching Vancouver Canadians baseball again with tickets to the jazz festival. And he was writing again.
A magic-powered ring from ancient Rome surfaces amid the Poets’ Club at thirteen-year-old Harry’s school in Bowering’s juvenile novel Attack of the Toga Gang (Dancing Cat 2015) giving rise to malevolence from a centuries-old, secret organization known as the Toga Club.
While lobbying the provincial government to assist the federal government in creating a major national park for the south Okanagan, Bowering drew from forty books he had published since 1960 for a anthology of his own writing about his beloved homelands, Writing the Okanagan (Talon 2015).
His correspondence with Charles Demers about fatherhood, The Dad Dialogues (Arsenal Pulp 2016) is reviewed below.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Bowering's BC: A Swashbuckling History
Words, Words, Words: Essays and Memoirs
Writing the Okanagan
Mirror on the Floor, Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1967 / Reprinted by Anvil Press, 2014.
A Short Sad Book, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1977.
Burning Water, Toronto, New York, General, 1980, 1983. Penguin, 1994.
En eaux troubles, Montreal, Quinze, 1982. Transl. L.-Philippe HÈbert.
Caprice, Toronto, New York, Viking/Penguin, 1987, 1988. 2nd Ed. 1994. [New Star reissued 2010. 978-1-55420-053-5 : $19.]
Harry's Fragments, Toronto, Coach House Press, 1990.
Shoot!, Vancouver, New Star, 2009. Toronto, Key Porter, 1994.
Parents From Space, Montreal, Roussan, 1994. 2nd ed. 1996. Toronto, Scholastic, 1996 (YA).
Piccolo Mondo, Toronto, Coach House Books, 1998 (collaboration).
Diamondback Dog, Montreal, Roussan, 1998. (YA)
Pinboy (Cormorant 2012)
Attack of the Toga Gang, Dancing Cat, 2015 (YA) 978-1-77086-442-9
Flycatcher & other stories, Ottawa, Oberon, 1974.
Concentric Circles, Windsor, Black Moss, 1977.
Protective Footwear, Toronto, M&S, 1978.
A Place to Die, Ottawa, Oberon, 1983.
The Rain Barrel, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1994.
Standing on Richards, Viking, 2004
The Box (New Star, 2009)
Ten Women (Anvil, 2015) $20 9781772140316
Sitting in Mexico, Calgary, Beaver Kosmos, 1965.
Baseball, Toronto, Coach House Press, 1967.
George, Vancouver, Kitchener, Weed/Flower, 1970.
Geneve, Toronto, Coach House, 1971.
Autobiology, Vancouver, New Star, 1972.
Curious, Toronto, Coach House, 1973.
At War With the U.S., Vancouver, Talon, 1974.
Allophanes, Toronto, Coach House, 1976.
Ear Reach, Vancouver, Alcuin, 1982,
Kerrisdale Elegies, Toronto, Coach House, 1984; Talonbooks, 2008.
Elegie di Kerrisdale, Rome, Edizioni Empiria. Transl. Annalisa Goldoni. 1996.
His Life: a poem, Toronto, ECW Press, 2000.
My Darling Nellie Grey (Talonbooks, 2010) 0889226342, $39.95
Collections of Poems (including gathered long poems):
Sticks & Stones, Vancouver, Self-published, 1962; Tishbooks, 1963; Talonbooks, 1989
Points on the Grid, Toronto, Contact Press, 1964.
The Man in Yellow Boots/ El hombre de las botas amarillas, Mexico,
Ediciones El Corno, 1965.
The Silver Wire, Kingston, Quarry Press, 1966.
Rocky Mountain Foot, Toronto, M&S, 1969.
The Gangs of Kosmos, Toronto, House of Anansi, 1969.
Touch: selected poems 1960-1969, Toronto, M&S, 1971.
In the Flesh, Toronto, M&S, 1974.
The Catch, Toronto, M&S, 1976.
Pem & Other Baseballs, Windsor, Black Moss, 1976.
The Concrete Island, Montreal, Vehicule Press, 1977.
Another Mouth, Toronto, M&S, 1979.
Particular Accidents: selected poems, Vancouver, Talon, 1981.
West Window: selected poetry, Toronto, General, 1982.
Smoking Mirror, Edmonton, Longspoon, 1982.
Seventy-One Poems for People, Red Deer, RDC Press, 1985.
Delayed Mercy & other poems, Toronto, Coach House, 1986.
Sticks & Stones, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1989.
Urban Snow, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1992.
George Bowering Selected: Poems 1961-1992, Toronto, McClelland & Stewart,1993.
Blonds on Bikes, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1997.
Poémes et autres baseballs, Montreal. Tryptique, 1999 (collaboration).
Changing on the Fly: The Best Lyric Poems of George Bowering (Polestar, 2004).
Vermeer's Light: Poems 1996-2006, Talonbooks, 2006.
Teeth (Mansfield 2013)
The World, I Guess (New Star Books, 2015) $21.00 978-1-55420-096-2
Al Purdy, Toronto, Copp Clark, 1970.
Robert Duncan: An Interview (Coach House / Beaver Kosmos 1971)
Three Vancouver Writers, Toronto, Open Letter/Coach House, 1979.
A Way With Words, Ottawa, Oberon, 1982.
The Mask in Place, Winnipeg, Turnstone Press, 1983.
Craft Slices, Ottawa, Oberon, 1985.
Errata, Red Deer, RDC Press, 1988.
Imaginary Hand, Edmonton, NeWest Press, 1988.
Left Hook: A Sideways Look at Canadian Writing (Raincoast, 2005)
Horizontal Surfaces (BookThug, 2010)
Words, Words, Words (New Star 2012) $19 978-1-55420-066-5
Writing the Okanagan (Talon 2015) $24.95 978-0-88922-941-9
How I Hear Howl, Montreal, Beaver Kosmos, 1967.
Two Police Poems, Vancouver, Talon, 1969.
The Sensible, Toronto, Mississauga, 1972.
Layers 1-13, Kitchener, Weed/Flower, 1973.
In Answer, Vancouver, William Hoffer, 1977.
Uncle Louis, Toronto, Coach House, 1980.
Spencer & Groulx, Vancouver, William Hoffer, 1985.
Quarters, Prince George, Gorse Press, 1991. (Winner, bp Nichol chapbook award 1991)
Do Sink, Vancouver, Pomflit, 1992. (Winner, bp Nichol chapbook award, 1992).
Sweetly, Vancouver, Wuz, 1992.
Blondes on Bikes, Ottawa, Above Ground, 1997.
A, You're Adorable, Ottawa, Above Ground, 1998, 2004.
6 Little Poems in Alphabetical Order, Calgary, House Press, 2000.
Some Writers, Calgary, House Press, 2001.
Joining the Lost Generation, Calgary, House Press, 2002.
Lost in the Library, Ellsworth, ME, Backwoods Broadsides, 2004.
Rewriting my Grandfather, Vancouver, Nomados, 2005.
Crows in the Wind, Toronto, BookThug, 2006.
A Knot of Light, Calgary, No Press. 2006.
Montenegro 1966, Calgary, No Press, 2007.
U.S. Sonnets, Vancouver, Pooka, 2007.
Eggs in There, Edmonton, Rubicon, 2007.
Some Answers, Mt. Pleasant, ON, LaurelReed Books, 2007.
Horizontal Surfaces, Edmonton, Olive Collective, 2007.
Tocking Heads, Edmonton, above/ground, 2007.
There Then, Prince George, Gorse Press, 2008.
Animals, Beasts, Critters, Vancouver, JB Objects, 2008.
Valley, Calgary, No Press, 2008
Fulgencio, Vancouver, Nomados, 2008.
According to Brueghel, North Vancouver, Capilano, 2008.
Shall I Compare, Penticton, Beaver Kosmos, 2008.
A Little Black Strap, St. Paul, Unarmed, 2009.
Los Pájaros de Tenacatita: Poems of la Manzanilla Del Mar, Castlegar: Nose-in-Book Publishing, 2013
The Moustache: Memories of Greg Curnoe, Toronto, Coach House, 1993.
A Magpie Life, Toronto, Key Porter, 2001.
Cars, Toronto, Coach House Books, 2002.
Baseball Love, Talonbooks, 2006
How I Wrote Certain of my Books (Mansfield Press 2011) $19.95
The Diamond Alphabet: Baseball in Shorts (BookThug 2011)
The Hockey Scribbler (ECW 2016) $19.95 978-1-77041-289-7
History & Non-Fiction
Bowering's B.C. A Swashbuckling History, Toronto, Viking, 1996. Penguin, 1997.
Egotists and Autocrats, Toronto, Viking, 1999. Toronto, Penguin, 2000.
Stone Country, Toronto, Viking, 2003.
The Dad Dialogues: A Correspondence on Fatherhood (and the Universe) co-written with Charles Demers (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016). $17.95 / 9781551526621
The Home for Heroes, Vancouver, Prism, 1962.
What Does Eddie Williams Want?, Montreal, CBC-TV, 1966.
George Vancouver, Vancouver, CBC radio network, 1972.
Sitting in Mexico, Vancouver, CBC radio network, 1973.
Music in the Park, Vancouver, CBC radio network, 1986.
The Great Grandchildren of Bill Bissett's Mice, Vancouver, CBC radio network,1989.
Editor Of (Books):
The 1962 Poems of R.S. Lane, Toronto, Ganglia Press, 1965.
Vibrations: poems of youth, Toronto, Gage, 1970.
The Story so Far, Toronto, Coach House, 1972.
Imago Twenty, Vancouver, Talon, 1974.
Cityflowers, by Artie Gold, Montreal, Delta Canada, 1974.
Letters from Geeksville: letters from Red Lane 1960-64, PrinceGeorge, Caledonia Writing Series, 1976.
Great Canadian Sports Stories, Ottawa, Oberon, 1979.
Fiction of Contemporary Canada, Toronto, Coach House, 1980.
Loki is Buried at Smoky Creek: selected poems of Fred Wah, Vancouver, Talon,1981.
My Body was Eaten by Dogs: selected poems of David McFadden, Toronto, M&S, New York,CrossCountry, 1981.
"1945-1980," in Introduction to Poetry: British, American, Canadian, David and Lecker, Toronto, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1981.
The Contemporary Canadian Poem Anthology , Toronto, Coach House, 1983.
Sheila Watson and The Double Hook: the artist and her critics, Ottawa, Golden Dog Press, 1984.
Taking the Field:the best of baseball fiction, Red Deer, RDC Press, 1990.
Likely Stories: a postmodern sampler, Toronto, Coach House Press, 1992. With Linda Hutcheon.
An H in the Heart: Selected works of bpNichol, Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1994. With Michael Ondaatje.
And Other Stories, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 2001.
The 2008 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology (Anansi, 2008) 978-0-88784-789-9
The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning (Random, 2009). With Jean Baird.
Editor or Co-Editor Of (periodicals):
Tish, Vancouver, 1961-63.
Imago, Calgary, London, Montreal, Vancouver, 1964-1974.
Beaver Kosmos Folios, Calgary, London, Montreal, Vancouver, 1966-75.
[For other authors pertaining to the TISH movement, see abcbookworld entries for Dawson, David; Davey, Frank; Hindmarch, Gladys; Kearns, Lionel; Marlatt, Daphne; McLeod, Dan; Reid, Jamie; Tallman, Warren; Wah, Fred. Outside, on the periphery of the TISH vortex, were Belford, Ken; bissett, bill; Brown, Jim; Copithorne, Judith; Coupey, Pierre; Gadd, Maxine; Gilbert, Gerry; Kiyooka, Roy; Lane, Pat; Lane, Red; Lawrence, Scott; McKinnon, Barry; Mayne, Seymour; Newlove, John; Persky, Stan; Robinson, Brad. The alleged American focus of TISH no longer generates debate. TISH graduates have become mainstream in universities.] @2010.
About George Bowering:
A Record of Writing: an annotated and Illustrated Bibliography of George Bowering, by Roy Miki, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1989, 401 pp.
Essays on Canadian Writing, George Bowering issue, ed. Ken Norris, 1989, 127 pp.
George Bowering: Bright Circles of Colour, by Eva-Marie Kroller,Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1992, 128 pp.
George Bowering and His Works, by John Harris, Toronto, ECW Press, 1992, 62 pp.
Bowering's Books, a special issue of TCR, The Capilano Review 3.24 Fall 2014. Co-edited by Jenny Penberthy and Aurelea Mahood
University of Calgary, 1963-66; Sir George Williams University (now Concordia Univ.), 1968-71; Simon Fraser University, 1972-2001. Short terms at various colleges and universities in Canada and the U.S., as well as Rome, Berlin and Aarhus.
Governor-General's Award for Poetry, 1969. (Shortlist, 2000)
Governor-General's Award for Fiction, 1980.
bp Nichol Chapbook award for poetry, 1991.
bp Nichol Chapbook award for poetry, 1992.
Canadian Authors' Association Award for Poetry, 1993.
Honorary Degree (D. Litt.), University of British Columbia, 1994.
Parliamentary Poet Laureate, 2002-2004.
Officer, Order of Canada, 2003.
Honorary Degree (D.Litt.), University of Western Ontario, 2003.
Order of British Columbia, 2004
Griffin Poetry Prize, shortlisted, 2005.
Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, 2011.
Shortlisted, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize, 2013, and British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, 2013, both for Pinbboy
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2017]
Stone Country (2003)
Who elected George Bowering as our Poet Laureate of Canada? Nobody asks. With 50 books and counting, George Bowering is always onto his next enthusiasm—and nobody can keep pace. The first person to question the appointment might well be hawkish American ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci. Given the current chill in Canada/U.S. relations, Cellucci and the Bush regime won’t be amused to learn Canada’s official literary representative has just published a history of Canada that has, according to its publishing hype, an ‘openly anti-American stance.’
Bowering’s Stone Country (Penguin $16.99) comes replete with baseball box scores, woolly mammoths, an imaginary meeting between George Vancouver and Alexander Mackenzie, cut ‘n’ paste cover art and headings like Get Riel. Recently retired from SFU, the post-modernite Okanaganite took some time out from the national spotlight in February to celebrate Roy Miki’s Governor General’s Award for Poetry. Both men are prominently featured in the SFU Special Collections library where longtime director Ralph Stanton has been replaced by Eric Swanick from New Brunswick. Stanton went across town to UBC.
[SUMMER 2003 BCBW]
Diamondback Dog (Roussan $12.95)
George Bowering’s Diamondback Dog (Roussan $12.95), as the sequel to Parents from Space, continues a quest to return the diamondback dog to the future. The press release notes it’s dedicated to a group in Port Colborne who celebrate an annual “George Bowering Day.” 1-896184-48-0
[BCBW WINTER 1998]
Egotists and Autocrats
Breezy but astute, George Bowering the born-again historian has produced an entertaining study of Canada’s Prime Ministers, Egotists and Autocrats, complete with his own cover blurb: the true north strong and strange.
[BCBW WINTER 1999]
GEORGE BOWERING (1987)
GEORGE BOWERING was born in BC's Okanagan region in 1935. With the encouragement of UBC's Warren Tallman and visiting American writers, Bowering and his friends founded a mimeographed magazine called Tish in 1961. Since then he has become one of the most prolific and respected "post-modernist" writers in Canada, receiving Governor General's Awards for poetry in 1969 and for fiction in 1980 with Burning Water. His most recent novel, Caprice (1987) is a comic historical tale set in the Okanagan. He was interviewed in 1987.
T: You've equated being born in BC with being pure. As if growing up in an undefined region can be an advantage.
BOWERING: Yes. It has always meant a lot to me that even when I lived in a town as a kid, the town didn't have any street names. Or there was a rumour that there were street names but nobody knew what they were, you know. In some plan down at the village office the streets actually had street names but there were no signs on street corners. I think that's important.
T: I've read you were born in Keremeos, in Penticton and in Oliver. Where were you actually born? I've read three conflicting things on this!
BOWERING: It's more than three!
T: So I want to know.
T: Because I want to be accurate.
BOWERING: How do you know what I tell you is going to be accurate?
T: Fine. I'll write that George Bowering said that he was born in such-in-such.
BOWERING: I was born in Penticton. The building is still there. It's an old folks home now. My parents were living in Peachland at the time. Then we moved to Greenwood, where my Dad was teaching school. We were in Greenwood when they started moving the Japanese-Canadians there. Joy Kogawa is about six months older than me, so we were probably at the same school track meet in Midway.
T: So was Greenwood the place that didn't have any street names?
BOWERING: No. Oliver, B.C. We lived in two orchards south of Oliver and then we moved into Oliver. My father was supposed to be teaching math but he was teaching chemistry. He was a science teacher. He knew how to do everything. He knew how everything worked. But he didn't like organic chemistry. He didn't like those inelegant formulas.
T: Your father was obviously a key influence.
BOWERING: My father was a real quiet guy. He had a hardly-ever-smile wit. And he was a super athlete. When I was a kid I was really slow, but I got to know a lot about athletics. He was really smart and he settled for less than he should have got. That was partly because of the Depression. He should have been able to go farther than he did. But on the other hand he never complained about that.
T: This thing about athletics is obviously pretty key. ..
BOWERING: That's why I'm playing ball now at the age of sixty-five, right?
T: Your father used to be the scorekeeper and he was really hard on all the hitters.
BOWERING: Me, too. When I became a scorekeeper I was hard on hitters. Or they used to say I was. There's a lot of things like that I have inherited from him. Like my intolerance for bad grammar and bad spelling. It's an extension of his. One of the things I like about my wife is that she can spell. I keep seeing my father in me all the time.
T: Where's your father now?
BOWERING: He died about ten years ago. Something like that.
T: What did your parents think of their son, the writer?
BOWERING: My father never talked about it. My mother always thought of it as something like a hobby. One morning at three a.m. I told her I would steal her mad money to get a book published. I told myself it was true at the time. But it was my mother who taught me how not to spend money and how not to show your feelings. She was theminstructress. She was the one who taught me to be a puritan as a kid. And I really am a puritan.
T: Audrey Thomas says if I do an article on you I should talk to all the women who knew you.
BOWERING: Was she using a euphemism in that verb?
T: No. It wasn't meant as a loaded statement.
BOWERING: The funny thing is I've always found it a hundred times easier to talk to women.
T: It's because you're so compulsively competitive with other men!
BOWERING: One doesn't have to compete with anyone.
T: "Reunion," your short story about your high school reunion, made me wonder if you ever think of moving back to the Okanagan.
BOWERING: Occasionally. Once in awhile. That story "Reunion" is one of my most directly transcribed stories. Usually I won't do that at all. But there's a certain power in doing that, like you've stuck your finger in something.
T: The truth has been known to have some power.
BOWERING: Yeah. But don't screw around with it, right? You know the best scene in Hubert Evans' Mist on the River? It's where they're fishing and Miriam is catching that fish.
T: They're symbolically wed.
BOWERING: Yes. She's got this fish between her legs and she's grabbing it and he feels a strange sensation! The fish tail is slapping the water! It's a really good scene.
T: I know you don't like mundane narrative lines but this is not a postmodernist interview. Why are you fracturing the narrative here?
BOWERING: That was what you call anecdotal.
T: Well, I'm fond of organized thoughts. I think your father would approve.
T: Progression from A to Z. You're back at your high school reunion. Then suddenly a fish is slapping between somebody's legs.
BOWERING: Well, in every chapter of that novel you can see what Hubert Evans is trying to tell you. And he knows what he's doing. He's trying to tell white people down here in Vancouver about Indians. But then there's this one chapter in that book when it gets loose, when it gets a little bit away from him. Like when you're skiing too fast. That scene has got that quality to it. As a writer you give up a little bit. You say I'm going to let them hear this.
T: And you think your reunion story is the same way?
BOWERING: It's something like that.
T: Another story like that is "Protective Footwear," where you're just speaking the truth about being out with your daughter walking in the woods.
BOWERING: Yes. It's directly out of life. I wrote three more stories this summer, the first stories I've written in eighteen years or so, and one of them is like that. You'll like it. You'll hate the other ones.
T: I don't hate any of your stories. It's just that sometimes it's irritating to feel this clever guy is so confident about whatever is coming into his head that he won't go back and make it any easier for someone to get a hold of.
BOWERING: Yes, but a story shouldn't be easier to read than life is easier to live.
T: Why did you stop writing stories, and why did you start writing them again?
BOWERING: You get older and you haven't got time to write them. The older you get, the less time you have for writing.
T: That's if you're teaching at a university. But you can make a choice.
BOWERING: I used to be able to handle everything. Now I can't handle anything. I hate to think what it's going to be like in another ten years. Maybe I'll never write anything. It used to be I would justify myself to myself by writing every day. For years, every day, something. Now I don't.
T: But this way at least you're not manufacturing writing. "I am a writer. I will write."
BOWERING: What about people who do other things, like make leather belts? They do it all the time.
T: So how many books have you done now? How much have you justified yourself?
BOWERING: I don't know. Do you call a thing that's "really" short a book?
T: Most writers do.
BOWERING: Fewer than bill bissett.
T: I think it must be over forty titles by now.
BOWERING: Fewer than bill bissett and more than Fred Wah.
T: It's over forty, right? So now you can relax, stop, slow down...and write something really good!
BOWERING: You think I publish everything?
T: Oh, no.
BOWERING: Jesus, you should see my unpublished novels. No, you should not see them! One, two, three. ..six unpublished novels. Some of which are unpublished because I don't want to publish them. Two because I couldn't finish them. And one because I was only twenty-two when I wrote it. That was a long one.
T: Do you look back over the books that you've done and see major steps?
BOWERING: Yes. I usually think about that in terms of poetry. Probably the turnaround book in terms of prose is that one called Autobiology. That was a real changeroo. I decided not to write in terms of any prose fiction I had already ingested. And that was the first book I wrote by hand. I wrote the first section of it in a backyard in an Irish section of London, England. Then I didn't write any more till I came home to wherever it was, Montreal, I guess. I wrote the rest of it by hand. I'd never done that with prose before. That's probably the most important book in that regard.
T: The book of yours I really like is A Short Sad Book.
BOWERING: Nobody ever writes on that. Everybody's writing articles now on Burning Water.
T: I actually go back and re-read A Short Sad Book from time to time.
BOWERING: It's an emetic for Canadian literature! It's important. Then I stepped back and did the narrative for Burning Water. Then I stepped back even farther and did Bernice!
T: Caprice is acceptable experimental fiction. When I read it I thought, "Is Bowering having us all on here? Is he saying, 'I'll write something that they like and I'll show them how easy it is to do it? And the laugh will be mine.' "
BOWERING: Yes. Now people will write about Burning Water and Caprice together. I even let Penguin talk me into putting in quotation marks for people talking. And all the reviews love it. They say this is wonderful. He's smartened up and decided to quit that bullshit and write a book. I immediately went out and wrote a weird one just to satisfy myself.
[STRONG VOICES by Alan Twigg (Harbour 1988)] "Interview"
Bowering leads tour of Greece (2004)
SFU Press Release
Poet laureate leads literary tour of Greece
From May 15 to May 28, George Bowering, an SFU professor emeritus in
English and Canada's newly appointed parliamentary poet laureate,
will host "CanLit in Attica", a non-credit literary tour of Greece
offered through SFU International.
The informal tour, limited to 25 participants, will begin in Athens
and route through various ancient sites of literary significance such
as Nafplion, Olympia, Delfi, Kalambaka, and Thessaloniki.
Bowering fell in love with Greece as a young man making his first
trip to Europe in 1966. On that occasion, he travelled with one
friend in a VW Beetle. This spring, he hopes to return with a busload
"This program should appeal to people who like to travel with their
minds and not just their bodies," says the spirited two-time
Governor-General's award winner and author of more than 60 books of
poetry and fiction.
"If you've ever had the experience of reading a poem or a story about
a place, and then actually going there, and then rereading the poem
or story, you know how it totally reconstructs your notions of that
Bowering, a B.C. native now living in rural Ontario, says generations
of Canadian writers have sought "learning and inspiration" in the
Aegean. "Greece is a common landscape for Canadian writers," he says,
and his literary walkabout will cover ground described in the poetry
and fiction of important Canadian writers such as Leonard Cohen, Al
Purdy, Irving Layton, Audrey Thomas, and Robert Kroetsch.
[The cost is $5,450 per person and includes return airfare from
Vancouver, shared accommodation, breakfasts and in-country
transportation. Registration deadline is March 1, with payment due by
Left Hook (2005)
George Bowering’s advertisements for his own enthusiasms in Left Hook: A Sideways Look at Canadian Writing (Raincoast $22.95) are as illuminating and exasperating as ever. It’s surprising and good to learn his “main male Canadian poetry hero” was Raymond Souster, but he doesn't elaborate. “The most poetic person I’ve ever known is Phyllis Webb,” he states, but we don’t learn anything about his relationship to her. He shrewdly praises novelist Ethel Wilson’s feigned simplicity as “the most complicated trick of all” but he limits his celebration of Al Purdy to a lengthy dissertation on the poet’s penchant for using the word purple. As much as we’re happy to learn that Bowering’s poetry buddy Fred Wah is a former high school trumpet player who took the title for his 1981 collection Breathin’ my name with a sigh from a line in the song Deep Purple, Bowering naturally assumes the reader knows who the heck Fred Wah is. There’s a fair-minded appreciation of Mourning Dove, who also hails from the B.C. Interior, but several chapters aren’t indexed and Bowering is overly prejudiced in favour of his acquaintances. Bowering drops his breadcrumbs of cleverness and wit as if writing is a meandering game at which only he can win. It’s a willy-nilly compendium. You gotta be in the know, folks. 1-55192-845-0
Baseball Love (Talonbooks $17.95)
Growing up around the pocket deserts near Oliver, B.C. George Bowering figures the warm weather in spring helps to explain his very Canadian passion for baseball. “I never thought that baseball was a U.S. game,” he writes in Baseball Love (Talonbooks $17.95). “It was a birthright. In the Okanagan sun you got your baseball stuff out as soon as the ground got softer in, say, March, and you played the summer game till apple season was over in October.” In Oliver, Bowering worked as a baseball scorekeeper and covered baseball for the local newspaper—he didn’t play much baseball though. “I was afraid to try out,” writes Bowering. “I had an inferiority complex, and I had developed a superiority complex to protect it.”
It wasn’t until he reached his thirties that Bowering began to play baseball in Montreal where he was a teacher “of sorts” at George Williams University and attended Parc Jarry to watch Le Grand Orange and les Expos. Bowering’s baseball teammates included novelists Clark Blaise and Hugh Hood whom he enjoyed swapping sports trivia with. Fortunately drug testing was not around in those days. “As an avant-garde poet, I felt it my duty to experiment with the available resources… One Saturday I played shortstop for the York Street Tigers shortly after consuming something called “speed.” …You never saw such a hyper shortstop. I was all over the field diving for balls I had no hope of reaching, backing up the play at every position you can think of.” In the early ‘70s Bowering moved to Vancouver and became involved in his grand passion, the Kosmic Baseball League. The league was loaded with artists and writers and true to form they managed to get a grant during the swinging era of Trudeau’s Liberals for softball equipment and playing time on baseball diamonds. “That, I thought, was wonderful—some civil servants in Ottawa thought a bunch of softball players were contributing as much to the local and national culture as any childcare builders or folk-music-facilitators.”
The league included teams with names such as the Afghani Oil Kings, Flying Dildos, and the Napoleons, an activist group who represented the Mental Patients Association and dressed in uniforms complete with an image of a hand tucked inside at waist level. Bowering played for the Granville Grange Zephyrs, a collection of poets and painters from the west side of Vancouver. Eventually the Kosmic League would evolve into the Twilight League where Bowering “grew old.” At “Needle Park” in Woodland chasing balls between dog kaka, discarded condoms, high heel pumps and undies, outfielders had to keep their eye on the ball and the grass. At the age of sixty Bowering stopped playing in shorts after his daughter, playing at second base asked: “Are those your legs, or are you riding a chicken?” In July of 2003, riding in a Volvo, Bowering went on a baseball road trip with his new love Jean Baird to plunk himself down on planks in the hot sun, to cheer on the efforts of Latino-American infielders a half century younger than he. As “a retiree in shorts and ball cap,” Bowering recalls his passion for a game he has rarely written about but “thought about every day of my life.” The new book Baseball Love alternates between chapters recalling that 2003 road trip and Bowering’s life in baseball and its related ephemera.
Bowering and Baird travel through Canada and the United States with a distinct preference for the minor leagues. As Bowering notes: “In the twenty-first century the minor leagues are becoming more interesting to everyone. The main reason for that is marketing: the major league teams are marketing themselves out of business, and the minor league teams are marketing themselves in.”
The baseball road trip also provides the reader with Bowering’s own Air-Conditioned Nightmare. “We did not know that Riggins, Idaho, would be our first and last site of any idiosyncratic colour, our last old cabin in the wild, or last non-chain accommodation. From now on it would be Comfort Inn or Red Roof or Holiday Inn Express at some highway exit cluster, where the eateries, too, would be signaled by tall poles with billboards on the top: Aries, Red Robin, McDonalds. Not an apostrophe in sight.” Baseball, and writers have had a long relationship, William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, Philip Roth, Ring Lardner and Bernard Malamud, have all taken swings at the bat and Bowering’s chapter on the subject is a neat job of baseball crit lit. Bowering provides one theory as to why baseball occupies the mind of the writer: “When I was a kid growing up in the Interior of British Columbia there was no television, so Mel Parnell and the guys at Fenway Park were fiction to me.”
This is a charming book about one man’s love of baseball, and exhibits the same even and humorous tone that Bowering employed in his memoir Magpie Life. Bowering displays all the hallmarks of a baseball fanatic’s love of ball caps, statistics, names of players, minor league parks and where to find the perfect hot dog (which he claims he had at a ball game in Switzerland of all places).
What makes this book humm, baby—to remember a phrase from Roger Craig, the manager of the San Francisco Giants, pronouncing on the forkball—is its rootedness in place as real as apple picking season and as sweet as the imagination. 0-88922-529-X
–article by Grant Shilling who many years ago published the zine Baseball Complete with Spelling Errors and covered the Vancouver Canadians for the Georgia Straight and Vancouver Magazine.
[BCBW 2006] "Sports"
My Darling Nellie Grey
In December 2005, stalled on a novel he was writing, George Bowering thought he needed a challenge. By the end of the year he had made a New Year’s resolution: write a poem a day for the 365 days of 2006. While working on Crows in the Wind, in January, he decided each monthly sequence should have a rule: something for the writing to attend to. So for February, each day’s piece had to have one sentence and two stanzas, then off he went; inventing ten further formal monthly compositional frames. As it happened, 2006 became fraught with personal challenges for Bowering—including a second marriage and a death in his new family—but he kept going, never cheating. The result of this uncompromising personal and formal discipline is one of the most fascinating books of poetry ever written.
Initially lacking a “subject,” the book’s metanarrative almost inevitably took the shape of an exquisite poetic autobiography that is at once both intensely personal and profoundly public. In it, among many other astonishments, we discover the deeply ambiguous roots of his father’s favourite folk-song; we catch a fleeting childhood glimpse of Bowering’s young mother, graceful as a gazelle, frozen in mid-stride like a Keatsian art-deco statue by the poet’s innocently Oedipal gaze; a complete history of Cuba in the context of US foreign policy in Latin America that gives an entirely new, but older, meaning to the date September 11; and the roots of tragedy that led to the “Balkanization” of Yugoslavia.
Throughout, the poet’s narrative personae assume the guises of a lifetime, reeling in and out of an ever-shifting “present”: a fluid “here and now” that swirls over the gravel of a stream alive with recognitions, as all of the events of that imagined life become simultaneously present in their voices.
Available in April 2010.
Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence
Press Release (2011)
Vancouver, BC – The West Coast Book Prize Society is proud to recognize George Bowering as the recipient of the 8th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.
British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Steven Point, will present the award at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala to be held at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver on April 21, 2011. The event will be hosted by Double Exposure, Bob Cullen and Linda Robertson.
“It is my honour to present this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence to George Bowering. As Canada’s first ever Parliamentary Poet Laureate, an Officer of the Order of Canada and Member of the Order of British Columbia, two-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award and recipient of many other accolades, he is one of our province’s most celebrated authors. A long-time professor at Simon Fraser University, Mr. Bowering shared his talent and inspired new generations of young writers. While his subjects are often deeply connected to his roots here in British Columbia, his poetry and prose has nevertheless touched the lives of people around the world. Congratulations to George Bowering on this well-deserved honour.
—The Honourable Steven L. Point, OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
George Bowering, Canada’s first Poet Laureate, was born in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.
After serving as an aerial photographer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Bowering earned a BA in English and an MA in History at the University of British Columbia, where he became one of the co-founders of the avant-garde poetry magazine TISH. He also studied, and later served as writer–in-resident, at the University of Western Ontario. He has taught literature at the University of Calgary, Simon Fraser University, Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University), and at universities in Berlin, Rome, and Aarhus. He continues to act as a Canadian literary ambassador at international conferences and readings.
A distinguished novelist, poet, editor, professor, historian, and tireless supporter of fellow writers, Bowering has authored more than eighty books, including works of poetry, fiction, autobiography, biography, and youth fiction. His writing has also been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, and Romanian.
Mr. Bowering is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award and has been short-listed for the Griffin Prize for Poetry. In November 2002, he was appointed the first Canadian Poet Laureate.That same month, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2004, he was awarded the Order of British Columbia.
The jury for this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award was: Audrey Thomas, novelist and short story writer; Rob Sanders, publisher, Greystone Books; and Jane Davidson, producer, Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts.
This prize was established in 2003 by former Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Iona Campagnolo, to recognize British Columbia writers who have contributed to the development of literary excellence in the province. The recipient receives a cash award of $5,000.00 and a commemorative certificate.
Press Release (2012)
from BC National Award for Non-Fiction
Out of a single sunlit season in B.C.’s Okanagan in the mid-1950s, George Bowering has crafted a unique memoir of adolescence, of his adolescence, that is by turns charming and self-deprecating, funny and perceptive, raunchy and sensitive. Bowering reaches back almost 60 years to capture brilliantly the experience of a particular boy in a particular place and time, picking peaches and apples, setting pins at a bowling alley, immersed in western novels as a form of literary apprenticeship, constrained by the remnant Christian morals of the time.
But Pinboy is also a universal portrait of the pains and yearnings of the teenage years: family, future prospects, friends, an obsession with baseball and, especially, girls. And it is in the treatment of boy George’s awakening interest in, and desire for, girls, that Bowering is at his best, and the memoir acquires a fine novelistic sheen. Three females dominate George’s thoughts, all of them both specific and archetypal: the older schoolteacher, aptly named Miss Verge, who gradually inculcates him into the not guiltless pleasures of sex; the virginal girlfriend, Wendy, object of romantic desires and future plans; and the mysterious and wounded Jeanette, a sharp girl who stirs the St. George in Bowering—he imagines rescuing her but, clumsily and hilariously, ends up stalking her. And that is ultimately Pinboy’s triumph, an old man looking back at what actually happened to him, what he fantasized could happen and how all that bursting sexual desire began to transform itself into something like empathy. --
Ten Women (Anvil Press $20)
from John Moore
After a near-fatal cardiac arrest in April, George Bowering was rushed to Vancouver General Hospital and induced into a coma for twelve days.
By June, despite his broken ribs and broken sternum, the rehab department said Bowering was in better shape post-incident than most other 79-year-olds without an incident.
“On the second assessment day they asked George if he could jump,” said his wife, Jean Baird. “He jumped. They said they’d never had another before who was able to jump.”
The walker was returned in early June and he began using a cane, improving his muscle tone. By the end of June he was back at Nat Bailey watching Vancouver Canadians baseball and with tickets to the jazz festival. And he was working on a new novel.
Indefatigable, Bowering has four new books due this fall and he’s sent a long, personal letter to Premier Christy Clark asking her to support a federal plan for a new grasslands national park in the mountains of the South Okanagan where he grew up.
“I love the valley,” he wrote to her, “and I hate to see its desecration.”
Our fiction reviewer John Moore assesses Ten Women, Bowering’s new collection of short stories on page 19. Bowering has more than a hundred books to his name.
At the millennium, the Canadian government decided to create the post of Parliamentary Poet Laureate. In 2002 George Bowering became the first poet to be honoured with the title. For me, Bowering remains a poet, first, last and always.His newest collection of poetry is The World, I Guess (New Star $18).
Currently active in lobbying the provincial government to assist the federal government in creating a major national park for the south Okanagan, Bowering has drawn from forty books he has published since 1960 for a new anthology of his varied writing about his beloved homelands, Writing the Okanagan (Talon $24.95).
A magic-powered ring from ancient Rome surfaces amid the Poets’ Club at thirteen-year-old Harry’s school in Bowering’s juvenile novel Attack of the Toga Gang (Dancing Cat $12.95) giving rise to malevolence from a centuries-old, secret organization known as the Toga Club.
I expect all three of those new books this fall will be worth a gander, when they appear. For now, I’ve been reading his latest fiction.
The narrator of one of the stories in Bowering’s new collection, Ten Women, (Anvil Press $20) says, “I have been reading Dickens again. He seems totally different when you come back after all these years.”
Bowering, who will be turning 80 in December, has published about one hundred books in just about every genre, so you could probably say the same about him.
He said as much in a 2012 Globe & Mail interview when he admitted to having on occasion read a story and thought, “I wish I’d written that” only to discover he did.
If he makes it to 90 or a century, he’ll probably say the same about his tenth collection of short stories, Ten Women, and with good reason. This is a rarity in such collections; an elegantly structured book with a central theme general enough to let the author run totally amok while maintaining a satisfying sense of unity overall.
Most short fiction collections consist of stories linked only by their having been pre-published in literary magazines, duly listed on the inside front page like film credits; mini-CVs to impress other writers and perhaps more prestigious potential publishers. The randomness of the contents usually helps to explain why these volumes sell poorly.
Ten Women consists of ten stories, each bearing a woman’s name as a title. Each story explores some aspect of the infinitely variable fascination one gender of our species exerts on the other.
Bowering is old-fashioned enough to be shamelessly straight and sensibly leaves The Love Whose Current Acronym We Can’t Decode in younger, more flexible hands.
The point of view in these stories is consistently male, but leavened by an objective authorial passivity that listens, records and thinks about what women say and do: e.g. the ostensible narrator may be handcuffed to a chair, blindfolded and sexually teased to obsession by a female poet he met at a reading, but the author is trying to figure out what makes both of these characters rev to the red-line.
[I’ve attended lots of poetry readings and never once been taken home, blindfolded, chained to a chair by a gorgeous female poet and required to identify her body parts by their scent. What am I doing wrong, George?]
Within this loose structure, Bowering goes on a tear like a cowboy in a cathouse. “Professor Minaccia,” the only story not titled by a woman’s familiar first name, owes something to Elmore Leonard’s novel, Gold Coast, about a woman forced into respectably chaste widowhood by her deceased husband’s mob cronies. Bowering’s version is more literate, less lurid, but equally unflinching about the power that hard men in dark cars, men who don’t read Proust, can exert on our lives.
The Canadian literary community comes in for some fine ass-kicking in “Dodie”, about a female SPCA worker who stalks poets who have made careers out of using images of innocent animal agony to give their work shock power. Possibly Patrick Lane will cringe reading this one.
Grammarians will love the wildly funny “Ichiko,” in which a performance artist achieves fame by inserting neglected apostrophes in iconic corporate logos, only to discover in a biker bar that punctuation can be the real thief of time.
Writing has the distinction of being one of the few occupations at which you can be 80 years old and be at the top of your game.
Play on, George.
John Moore regularly writes for B.C. BookWorld from Garibaldi Highlands.
The Dad Dialogues
from James Paley
The Dad Dialogues: A Correspondence on Fatherhood (And The Universe) by George Bowering & Charlie Demers (Arsenal Pulp $17.95)
The Dad Dialogues: a correspondence on Fatherhood (And The Universe) is an exchange of seemingly off-the-cuff, long messages—we used to call them letters—written between prolific, elderly and venerable George Bowering and thirty-something comedian Charlie Demers who divides his promising career between standup, stage plays, books, radio gigs and teaching.
Whereas Demers writes with the raw anxiety and wonder typical of a new father, Bowering’s comments on paternalism are more reflective and composed, though sometimes laced with the old fears.
The letters begin with Demers anticipating the birth of his daughter, due in a matter of days. Bowering responds with tales of his own daughter’s birth, over forty years ago. Each author relates the saga of his daughter’s first year in vivid detail.
Thea Bowering was born in October of 1971. Josephine, Demer’s daughter, was born in January of 2014. Their histories, although separated by more than forty years, share similarities. Both fathers share fears about the world their daughter is growing up in. For Bowering, this meant raising a child during the cold war. For Demers, who suffers from anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, he worries about oceans turning to acid, tiny lungs being punctured by smaller ribs and red blotches on the skin.
Demers is a dedicated father who can’t stand spending time apart from his kid soon after her birth. Every other task he’s presented with becomes a chore, pure drudgery that separates him and Josephine. Instead of feeling relief at finally having time to himself when he’s away for work, spending the night in a hotel room is the loneliest he’s ever felt.
Bowering casts back to his diary entries to relive his first trip away from the family. It was a series of train trips he made from Vancouver to Prince George to Edmonton and back. Without the added convenience of cell phones and discount flights, the time out of contact felt eternal. Add some northern weather and the whole trip was pretty bleak.
So this is a seemingly unplanned book that is less about events than it is about emotions.
The stories told are mostly about ordinary events, milestones that every parent can identify with. Women have been sharing such stories with one another for aeons; men not so much. Because Demers and Bowering, as males, are sharing anecdotes about their reactions to their infant daughters, how they feel, ostensibly this makes The Dad Dialogues into unusual literature.
Cloying or fascinating, there’s an undeniable buoyancy to their friendship that keeps the dual narratives afloat. Typically, when Demers recounts ‘Joji’s’ first visit to the emergency room, over a small red mark on her face, the beginnings of a light bruise, Bowering counters with a story about his own daughter drinking lemon-scented furniture polish when she was a year old. The hour-long drive to the ER was peppered with curses and pleas.
As Demers chronicles the first year of Josephine’s life, Bowering reciprocates, like a good shepherd, reminding Demers that he is not alone in his feelings. The Dad Dialogues affords an intimate look at the diapers, despair and overwhelming joy of fatherhood. Not war stories from the trenches; instead a rare advertisement for male nurturing.
James Paley is a Vancouver freelance writer.
The Dad Dialogues
REVIEW: The Dad Dialogues: A Correspondence on Fatherhood (and the Universe)
by George Bowering and Charles Demers
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016. $17.95 / 9781551526621
Reviewed by Christian Fink-Jensen
Vancouver writers George Bowering, born in 1935, and Charles Demers, born in 1980, had daughters – Thea and Josephine – more than forty years apart.
The Dad Dialogues contains Bowering and Demers’ monthly correspondence over 18 months, including their impressions as expectant and greenhorn fathers, their supportive relationship with their partners Angela and Cara, and the fears, expectations, and commonalities of fatherhood in 1971 and 2015 -- two very different eras when their daughters were born.
Reviewer Chris Fink-Jensen, himself the father of two young children, finds much of value. “As individuals,” he reflects, “we have a terrifying capacity for narrow self-interest but, as The Dad Dialogues shows, parenthood can widen the scope of our compassion. – Ed.
I must confess that when I was asked to review a book featuring a poet and a comedian talking about fatherhood, I was a little reluctant. Here we go, I thought, yet another title featuring emotionally inept new fathers bumbling through pre-natal classes, passing out during birth, and then attempting to solve every parenting challenge with bungee cord, duct tape, and jumper cables.
Thankfully, The Dad Dialogues by George Bowering and Charles Demers goes beyond these stereotypes. Conceived as an epistolary exchange between men of different generations, the aim was to compare notes on fatherhood. What was different, what was the same? Did fathers of the early 1970s have the same excitement and/or dread as the new dads of today?
The book begins with George, an octogenarian writer (and Canada’s first poet laureate), recalling his version of how the project was conceived -- viz., during a “lull” in a baseball game. He and Charles were discussing Charles’s forthcoming fatherhood. George related several stories about his own experience of becoming a father back in 1971.
It was then that Charles (or George’s wife, Jean, depending on whose version of events you believe) suggested that the two of them write a book about parenthood. Charles, a thirty-something author and comedian, was smitten with the idea, imagining it as a gift for his soon-to-be-born daughter.
The book would be, he writes, “A record of the first parts of her life, a book co-written in her honour by one of Canada’s most celebrated, beloved, and talented men of letters. And George Bowering!”
With their purpose defined, the duo begin a monthly exchange of letters. From the beginning it’s clear that their experiences of impending-fatherhood do not align with popular notions of how things should be. “People want to see a big fat pregnant lady and a terrified father-to-be,” Charles writes. “It’s part of the spectacle of anticipating the baby. But as a couple, we’ve let them down....”
For his part, George recalled that he was also fairly calm regarding the birth itself and credits that to the Lamaze classes he and his partner had taken. “You have to remember that 1971 occurred in the late sixties, when you were supposed to be hip about everything.”
But while neither George nor Charles found the physiological aspects of birth overly nerve-wracking, both admit to finding other parts stressful, including meeting the expectations of others. Deriding what he calls “yuppie performances,” Charles laments how several of his friends seem to be in a race to have the most “idiosyncratic birth possible (you haven’t really had a baby till you’ve delivered into a hand-crafted, artisanal kiddie pool in a purpose-built cottage in the forest with a roof thatched by a team of Cuban doulas).”
As it turns out, neither man has much patience for anyone who questions corporate medicine, especially those interested in non-mainstream birth experiences. Their dismissive attitudes, however, are (almost) always offered with a generous leavening of humour.
As the book progresses, George and Charles move on from the social aspects of fatherhood and into its personal and psychological impacts. Despite initially claiming to be “calm,” both men gradually reveal themselves to be consummate worriers, partly by nature but also thanks to their roles as fathers. It’s an endearing revelation because it’s so very human.
As individuals, we have a terrifying capacity for narrow self-interest but, as The Dad Dialogues shows, parenthood can widen the scope of our compassion. The world’s tragedies, often dismissed as happening elsewhere and to slightly unreal people, become vividly affecting -- either because we see how events might impact our children or because we can empathize with the love other parents feel for their kids.
In one particularly moving passage, Charles describes his reaction to reading about a Palestinian child, roughly his daughter’s age, who had been killed. He feels for the child’s parents who “should have been thrilling to roughly the same milestones as Cara and me for the next few decades.” Instead, their baby is already gone. “I don’t usually cry when I read the news,” Charles continues, “but I bawled when I read that.”
It’s in these passages, where George and Charles reflect on their hopes and fears, that the book offers the most. For any new parent-to-be there are plenty of hopes but, as the authors often humorously illustrate, even more fears. This doesn’t make the book depressing. Rather, it gives other parents permission to worry about the future of their children and provides reasons for all of us -- parents or not -- to work for a better world. Even forty plus years into fatherhood, George still frets about the world he has brought his daughter into, lamenting that most people are “more concerned with their utility bills than world events.”
Where The Dad Dialogues comes up a little short is in highlighting the differences between fatherhood in the 1970s and the 2010s. Other than bragging about the wonders of ultrasound, George and Charles don’t spend much time considering how fathers’ roles have changed. This seems like a missed opportunity. Now that the “average” father is no longer merely a patriarch and disciplinarian, what does this new, more nurturing role mean for men, their families, and the world at large? In other words, what value does an involved father provide? It’s an important question.
Several studies (including a decades long British study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour) have found that children whose fathers were closely involved in their lives had dramatically better social, behavioural and psychological outcomes. Specifically, kids with involved dads became adults with higher IQs and were more socially mobile than those whose fathers were less involved.
It would have been interesting to hear Charles and George’s reflections on their own purpose as fathers, especially with regard to changing social roles and expectations. If nothing else, I’m sure it would provide rich comedic material involving pipes, slippers, and newspapers.
The book is also a touch heavy on biographical detail. This reader would have preferred less about who visited when or which festival so-and-so was speaking at, and more freeform musing.
That said, the less interesting bits are compensated by several moving observations and some hilarious anecdotes (as when Charles brings his infant daughter on stage during a performance: “This is Josephine. She’s named after Stalin.”)
Minor criticisms aside, The Dad Dialogues is an engagingly written look at fatherhood. Despite an almost fifty year age difference, Charles and George align on most aspects of what it’s like to be a father, how marriage gets affected, and what babies are really like.
According to George, the popular encouragement that “babies are tough” is false.
“Bulldogs are tough. Cuban infantrymen are tough. My mother’s roast beef was tough.
“Babies are more like fathers’ hearts – sweet and tender and loud.”
Christian Fink-Jensen is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His work has appeared in more than fifty newspapers, magazines, and journals around the world. He is the author and co-researcher of Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World’s Youngest Explorer (Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2016). Christian lives in Victoria, B.C.
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