“As the years have gone by I have become less aware of the difference between fiction and non-fiction. The word “fiction” comes from a source that suggested shaping something from clay. That’s what happens in the Book of Genesis, which a lot of people take for a true story, eh?”
The Moustache: Remembering Greg Curnoe, Toronto, Coach House, 1993. George Bowering and Greg Curnoe became friends in London, Ontario in 1966. Bowering was a 30-year-old poet and university student and Curnoe was a 29-year-old painter who had dropped out of art school in Toronto to return to his place of birth. Their art was in its youth, their eyes and ears were wide open and their stomachs could withstand pots and pots of strong, black coffee. For 26 years they grew up parallel, inside each other’s work. Greg Curnoe was killed on his bicycle late in 1992, struck down in the middle of his bright career. “The Moustache beautifully designed by artist Robert Fones, is a fitting open-ended tribute to Curnoe, a cord of a time, of a place, and of a writer and an artist who lived miles apart and yet made an art scene. “Bowering ends it with a remembrance of the day he learned of Curnoe’s death, and had to tell his wife, Angela: ‘She howled No about twenty times. We loved him so much. I didn’t realize till just now at the end of this book, that what she was howling was the Nihilist Party of Canada motto. I could be completely wrong, but I think that No was always the right thing to say. Yes, Greg.’”—Nancy Baele, Ottawa Citizen “In The Moustache, Bowering accomplishes what he set out to do—and then some. By keeping it simple, Bowering paints a no-nonsense portrait of one of the most vital, multi-faceted artists in Canadian art. “… Most of all, we get a feel for a man who was an artist not only with pencil and brush, but in the way he affirmed life through the manner in which he lived.”—Robert Reid, The Kitchener-Waterloo Record
A Magpie Life, Toronto, Key Porter, 2001. A Magpie Life is a memoir of a literary life. It is vintage Bowering—funny, self-deprecating and perceptive—and as wide-ranging as his interests. And in true Bowering style, it delights in surprising the reader with profound understanding carefully cloaked by wry humour. Dispensing with the details of his life in the opening “Alphabiography,” a witty and moving account in which the important aspects of his life are detailed alphabetically, Bowering settles down to write the story of the literary influences on his life and writing. The reader is treated to a wonderful portrait of the renegade young hipsters who founded the landmark literary magazine Tish in Vancouver in the early 60s, with insights into the structure and style of the poets who influenced his own writing, and to what it was like to carve a writing life from the western edge of the Canadian literary renaissance. A Magpie Life will forever ruin Bowering’s carefully-crafted image as the western rube. It’s funny and smart and one of the best literary memoirs you’ll read. “A book that defines his life more in terms of literary influences than anything else. The overall result is as eclectic as Bowering’s career, and as entrancing as his best fiction.”—Maclean’s “Probably the best part of this book, hands down, is the initial section, a forty-page mini-memoir called ‘Alphabiography.’ It begins with a short tribute—‘A’—to his late wife, Angela Luoma Bowering. The two were married from 1962 until her death in 1999. ‘B’ is birth—GB’s own. ‘C’ is childhood. ‘D’ is death. ‘E’ is Ewart Bowering, George’s father, a HS Chemistry teacher in Oliver, BC, where GB grew up. And so on. ‘K’ is for Kerouac, but could just as easily been another Canadian writer, Robert Kroetsch, frequently mentioned in the book. ‘L’ is of course for Literature. Because Bowering has been an addicted reader his whole life. Enamored as a boy by pulp western writers like Max Brand and Luke Short, he progressed to Heinlein and Bradbury. More recently he has been reading Nathalie Sarraute and Adolfo Bioy Casares. ‘First I read books, and as I got older I read literature.’”—Timothy J. Bazzett, amazon.com 5 starred review “George Bowering’s collection of essays is a much more self-conscious assertion of the personal in the critical. Subtitled “Growing a Writer,” A Magpie Life is part autobiography, but mainly, as Bowering has defined the form elsewhere, “biotext”: writing as an extension of the creative writer as critic. A Magpie Life is a book about what Bowering calls the “double play” of writing. Quoting his former teacher Warren Tallman, Bowering notes that “The second baseman doesn’t think of himself when he participates in a double play.” This is Bowering’s version of the lyric/anti-lyric paradox: the writer, when the writing is going well, becomes both subject and participant, someone who can articulate a critical position that refers to the personal without becoming overly invested in personal reference. For Bowering, personal anecdotes, stories and diary notes are points of departure for considering the network of connections that link writing and living: “I learned essay writing from Warren Tallman,” he tells us. “He taught me that an essay was what Montaigne knew it to be— writing a life, living a life. He did not have much use for the usual academic essay because he could not find delight in it. He wanted to see that the writer delighted in his work, ’sensibility not in its literary but its literal, living sense, life conscious of surrounding life, direct communication.’” Lyric delight, “punch,” is ubiquitous in A Magpie Life, but the anti-lyric self-consciousness keeps the writer’s mask in place as he covers a range of themes, including childhood, reading and writing, Tish, family, friends (especially fellow writers), the sixties, researching his novels, teaching, history, personal correspondence (including letters), music, and, inevitably, baseball.”—W. F. Garrett-Petts, Canadian Literature “A Magpie Life: Growing a Writer is a collection of articles, most of them printed before, at least in part, under seven headings: Alphabiography, Growing a Writer, Writing Baseball, The Sixties, Impersonating a Writer, Others, and What? Since the early sixties, Bowering’s output has been both prolific and eclectic, some fifty publications in all, moving from poetry to fiction to criticism and history. “Reading is what I do with my life,” he says, but writing is its product. His great gift is humour, the self-deprecating humour we associate with Leacock, the Leacock of My Financial Career, not the borderline satirist of Sunshine Sketches. Bowering is kind, and if pressed for one brief three-word description of the tone of all his work, “Kind and Funny” might do as well as well as any. Besides writing and reading, his lifelong obsession is baseball, both playing and watching, but always celebrating. In fact this whole collection could be called “Celebrating,” for Bowering does, emphatically, celebrate all the richness of life and living.”—Clara Thomson, Books in Canada
How I Wrote Certain of my Books, Toronto, Mansfield Press, 2011. How I Wrote Certain of My Books takes its name from a volume of the same title by French Surrealist Raymond Roussel. George Bowering borrows Roussel’s conceit and expands it into a non-chronological memoir—a colourful, illuminating, occasionally scandalous journey through the writing of nearly 30 of his books. This lively, conversational work, taking us into both the methods and the circumstances behind some of Bowering’s most famous and most notorious works of poetry and fiction, is as exciting as a novel. How I Wrote Certain of My Books will appeal to Bowering fans, CanLit scholars, and those learning how to be poets and novelists themselves. “How I Wrote Certain of my Books provides a topography of the alternative writing scene of which Bowering has long been part, a cultural history against the grain and, implicitly, a reminder of the rich opportunities offered by a now-terminated federal cultural policy truly supportive of the arts. That this work, as well as that of many of Bowering’s close poet-friends, is no longer ‘marginal’ and, in fact, represents an inalienable contribution to Canadian writing is beside the point. As Pierre Bourdieu reminds us, this shirt may define the avant-garde.”—Alessandra Capperdoni, Canadian Literature “In How I Wrote . . . we get a glimpse into one “writing life,” its routines and disciplines, the prompts, the challenges, the experiments that keep a literary artist fresh and engaged. The influences, derivations, allusions. The confessions. In other words, the creative process. Reading it, the image of the poet as painter intrudes, of Picasso’s famous quote about the art of abstracting, how you always start with “something” and then afterward remove all traces of reality. Bowering’s How I Wrote . . . is the opposite, the reverse. It is the artist going backwards and painting in the bits that were once removed or painted over, to reveal the underpaint, the underlying structure, the “reality” that was the original prompt, and the “baffle,” the “constraint” applied originally to obscure, to trick. But Bowering claims that his goal had been to trick himself, the artist, “setting up constraints to force me away from representation and description of what I think I see in front of me” (7). As if the letters and the words are the canvas and the images, the paint, must be removed in order to showcase “the attraction of the language itself” (8). I do not mean to imply that he’s got it backwards. There is that ancient connection between the backwards and the trickster. And tricksters have been known to trick themselves. However, the very existence of this volume seems to belie the poetics. It seems to be evidence that writing for an audience of other professors and their students is ultimately unsatisfying; it is not enough. Now, the poet could just pick up his glove and go home. Alternately, he can choose to say: Come here. I’ll show you. This is how it’s done. Practise. Now you try it. Read it again.”—J. M. Bridgeman, Prairie Fire
Hockey forms the backdrop of our lives. For many Canadians, the big moments — births, deaths, marriages, moves — are all mixed up with the wins and losses of our teams. The voices of Hockey Night in Canada sportscasters are our soundtrack, and visions of skates scraping across the ice lull us to sleep.
George Bowering, Canada’s former poet laureate, is no different. Growing up in Oliver, BC, Bowering was entranced by the kids from Saskatchewan who skated and handled pucks as easy as breathing. His fascination with hockey followed him into adult life, from BC to Quebec and back again. Bowering followed his teams with a critical eye and a fan’s passion, and his stories bring us on a cross-country hockey-themed road trip, with occasional forays into boxing, poetry, and sports fashion.
Bowering has an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. He has been an avid and attentive hockey fan since boyhood, and has an extensive catalogue of thoughts and opinions on the personalities and events that populate Canadian hockey history. In The Hockey Scribbler, Bowering brings us along on his richly detailed look back at the hockey in Canada since the 1950s.
“It’s the game depicted as it was, not as it is now. When he was a kid the author could name every player in the NHL. Kids these days find it hard to believe the league once had just six teams.
“The author no longer follows hockey much. ‘Now 6-foot-5 guys who score three goals a season and can’t spell “you’re” are making a million dollars a season. Don’t get me started.’
“Never a fan of fighting, goon violence was ultimately the ruination of the game for him. The infamous Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Morre incident where Bertuzzi attacked Moore from behind, ending Moore’s career, was also the end for Bowering. That along with what he calls the “growing menace” of advertising and saturation marketing.
“These days there’s too many teams and too many whistles. He gets it right as far as this reviewer is concerned. Hockey, certainly as far as the regular season goes, can be a bit of a bore. He allows that the level of violence in hockey has tapered off latterly, in spite of “rock’em sock’em” Don Cherry whom he eviscerates.”—Vancouver Sun
“a must read for every Canadian who grew up loving the game.”—Andrew Armitage, Owen Sound Sun Times
“part autobiography, part history book and part cultural treatise.”—The Hockey News
Charles Demers is a thirtysomething comedian and the author of three books; George Bowering is eighty, Canada’s first poet laureate, and the author of more than eighty books. Charlie and George are also the best of friends. And the fathers of daughters.
In this unique book of correspondence, these two men from different generations write to each other about the burdens, anxieties, and singular joys of parenthood. The letters begin as Charlie and his wife discover they will become parents; he expresses his hopes and fears of impending fatherhood, compounded by his OCD and his own father’s illness, while George recalls his experiences raising a daughter in the 1970s and his anxieties about bringing a child into a troubled world.
Together, their thoughtful, funny, candid missives reveal what fathers know (or don’t know) about raising daughters, as well as themselves and each other. Their combined observations make for a passionate, funny, and moving portrait of fatherhood in all its imperfect, beautiful glory.
“For decades, I have been asking myself the question, what is it about Al Purdy and me? I was the first person to write a book about Al Purdy. I have published several long articles about him, a number of memoirs, lots of poems, and reviews of at least half of his books. I made him a character in a novel, for heaven’s sake. I arranged for appearances by Purdy at four universities. I carried on a correspondence with him for almost forty years. We did tandem readings at universities, libraries, and art galleries. We got our pictures taken together more often than Wayne and Shuster.”—from Walrus Magazine
GB’s book was number 6 in the Studies in Canadian Literature series.
“Bowering is laconic and gregariously engaging.”—W. H. New, Canadian Literature
with Robert Hogg
Number 4 in the Beaver Kosmos Folio series.
“The interview took place in Duncan’s room at the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Montreal, the morning after his reading at Sir George Williams University on April 19, 1969. In the transcription we have tried to find some realizable ground between the language the poet might write and the cellular way he makes phrases when he talks.”
“I think of these three inter-views as essays spoken by the co-respondents—Audrey Thomas, Daphne Marlatt and Frank Davey. In preparation for them, I re-read & notated all the authors’ works, filling notebooks as I would for three critical articles of unusual length. Then, in the spring and summer of 1975 I sat down for hours, days, and weeks with the three writers, and we discussed their writings, methodically and chronologically, from first publications to most recent. We recorded tape after tape, and provided an immense task for Sharon Thesen, who made the first transcriptions. Then I edited, cut, and typed transcriptions two more times. I managed to reduce 850 pages of typescript to 350 pages. I was glad when that part of the job was over…
“I do not maintain that this book will give a full sense of the thought and practice pertaining to Vancouver literature of our time. But I do believe that Canadian letters have been poorly served by the facile comments made about certain West Coast writers by people in eastern parts who have cookt up such unexamined notions as a Black Mountain ‘school’ and a BC-California invasion of the ‘Canadian Tradition.’ I wish here to give these three or four writers some space to make their actual feelings and ideas known.”
How long can a national literature survive without a body of criticism to sustain it? The extraordinary flowering of fiction and poetry that burst upon Canada in the sixties still stands essentially naked to its enemies. In the belief that there was more to be said than that the Canadian imagination is dominated by the imperatives of survival, we have published two collections of critical essays in which Canadian writing is seen in light of the larger issues of human experience … In A Way With Words George Bowering seeks to define the dimensions of a specifically personal poetic.
“To mix linguistic registers without descending into journalese demands sophistication, of course, and perhaps the chief thing to be said about Bowering as critic is that he has this sophistication and keeps it at the center of his prose. Bowering uses the colloquial register with great tact (he is never garrulous or folksy), and because he understands the worth of this register’s confiding somewhat ingenuous tones, he has managed to produce an essay on a highly colloquial writer which is a little miracle of clarity and warmth. I am referring to ‘The Memory of Red Lane.’—Bruce Serafin
“Too often Bowering seems to be an apologist for the Tish poets in both the positive and negative senses of that term. His criticism is often far more elaborate than the poems seem to warrant, and at times one senses that he is reshaping the poetry to suit his own predilections. Having said all of that (mostly out of duty), it should be emphasized that Bowering’s impressionistic approach to these poets is very helpful, because he has a special talent for picking up nuances, cadences and subtleties of form that are often difficult to articulate. His essays on Avison, Jones, Kearns, and Davey are the kind that teach us how to read these poets and nothing could be better than that.”—John Orange, Canadian Literature
“Northrop Frye pointed out three levels of critical response to literature: the scholar, the academic critic, and the public critic. Knight’s article deals primarily with Bowering’s essay entitled, “Metaphysic in Time: The Poetry of Lionel Kearns” from Bowering’s collection, A Way With Words. Bowering’s literary criticism is part of the Black Mountain poetic movement, in which it is believed that the poem is not an autonomous and unified artifact, but is rather part of the flux of the phenomenal world. Because the public critic has no larger system in which to criticise (the Black Mountain movement not being large enough), Bowering is forced to misread poems that do not agree with his system of poetics.”—Alan R Knight, Canadian Literature
“refreshingly free of academic pretension.”—Prairie Fire
“One of the ironies of Bowering’s anti-academic stance, is that he’s more graceful and more gracious than any other Canadian critic I know in delineating the critical debate about a work.”—Russell Brown, Brick Magazine
“Based on solid research, yet unfettered by tedious rehearsals of other critical opinions and theories, The Mask in Place offers a lively alternative to the thematic pigeonholing offered by such works as Margaret Atwood’s Survival.”—Meredith Yearsley, Vancouver Sun
Find out what you can learn by writing, I would say. A writer’s reach should exceed her grasp, or what’s a pencil for? Try to forget your own voice, I would say, and listen hard for what the language is saying.
“Bowering doesn’t beat around the bush. Many readers will want to throw Craft Slices against the nearest wall. Of course, the book is solid, its reasoning sound. It can take that kind of abuse.”—Judith Fitzgerald, Windsor Star
“There is much in Craft Slices to reward the general reader interested in Canadian literature; there is yet more that will be valuable to new and beginning writers, especially those intimidated by the literary establishment (like the advice to ignore the pantheon and ‘look into your ear and write’). More than one novice is likely to find, in Bowering’s wit and wisdom and concern, the proof of Pound’s observation that ‘artists are the antennae of the race.’”—William Blackburn, Canadian Book Review
“Bowering is apparently incapable of writing academic prose, even when he’s being serious.”—Reginald Berry, University of Canterbury
“Witty, opinionated, totally self-confident, ranging freely over contemporary Canadian poetry and poetics, this collection of short essays and reviews by George Bowering will delight, instruct, and infuriate its readers. Most of the time, I think Bowering is absolutely right.”—Stephen Scobie, The Malahat Review
“Isn’t Can Lit criticism usually dull? Hell yes…Craft Slices does none of that. Bowering tells us in straight-ahead speech what he’s learned, and generously gives us what he knows, out of a true love for poetry and the written word. A necessary book for students, teachers, writers, and anyone interested in Canadian Literature and the craft of writing.”—Barry McKinnon
“The best poetry is written in fear . . . When it has a good reader, the best poetry is read in fear.”
“They are a joy to read, even when he’s is pulling his will over our eyes.”—Canadian Literature
“You will, should you do so, be glad you took this book from the shelf beside the metre-long Pierre Berton section and reread it on your holidays, because if on the first reading you found it a tad mannered, you will learn now to your surprise that the daily practice of good literary manners is a skill that is left to us in a postmodern time of forgetting.”—Norbert Ruebsaat, Geist
“Bowering’s strongest attribute as a critic is his unflagging love for the text, which is evident throughout.”—Vancouver Sun
“Both Imaginary Hand and The Lovely Treachery (Robert Kroetsch) seriously resist gravity and give the lie to the notions that critics are parasitic beasties (like wood ticks) and that criticism is dull. They also give much evidence for the necessity of collaboration in the acts of reading, writing and publishing.” Birk Sproxton, Border Crossings
“Bowering is a wild card in Canadian literary criticism, who (according to the series editor, Smaro Kamboureli) ‘fictionalizes and historicizes his critical endeavours.’ He is a man of many masks and voices, equally adept at producing personal and anecdotal manifestos, political pieces, parodies, and meandering diversions that show not only an awareness of social structure but also a sensitivity to the rhythms and intonations of speech and writing. Although not averse to deconstructionism, he cannot be pegged in a single category: his curiosity and dynamic intelligence are far-ranging. If others can invoke Derrida, Lacan, Bakhtin, Cixous, et al., he demands the liberty to call up William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, Denise Levertov, and William Eastlake. He is eclectic, casting his focus over a substantial range of subjects and using a variety of critical modes. He moves from a thematic study of some B.C. novels to a rumination on baseball. He listens carefully to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and approves of Nicole Brossard’s interest in referents that float away. Like Denise Levertov, he enters darkness and mystery, but his moments of illumination are not rendered as systems of abstract inquiry. I don’t always agree with him, but I usually find him interesting, particularly when he sheds light on the linguistic and formal experiments of Cohen, Ondaatje, Kroetsch, Audrey Thomas, and bp Nichol, though at times he does wander into the trivial or merely eccentric. He dares to be loony.”—Keith Garebian, Books in Canada
In Left Hook Bowering throws assumptions about national identity into the ring with modernism and postmodernism, regionalism and anti-centrism. Along the way he makes delightful digressions about his personal experiences–growing up in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley playing baseball and reading dime novels; his attraction/repulsion to American culture; discovering poetry as a young man; his first encounter with Al Purdy’s teeth-staining homemade wine. Above all, he tells us–with infections enthusiasm–about the books and writers he loves.
“Bowering has a vested interest in that live contact, that high-voltage connection between the writer’s mind and the reader’s. His in-depth pieces on Margaret Atwood and Robin Blaser are a fascinating glimpse into the kind of rigorous analysis the poet’s mind can accomplish, peeling back layer after layer of meaning and possibility.”—Vancouver Sun
“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.”—BC Bookworld
“Left Hook has the light grace and off-hand erudition that only comes after years of sweating behind the pencil. A magpie mix of digressive anecdote, textural analysis and cultural history, Bowering’s book invites us into a grand conversation about Canada and what constitutes our literature…
“One of this book’s real gems is Bowering’s 16-page reading of a four-line Margaret Atwood poem. An analytical tour-de-force, it not only shows off the author’s academic chops, but also why a few well-chosen words should demand so much damn attention…
“Bowering brings a fresh voice to the endless debate about the character of Canada, adding his own tales to all those stories that define us so much better than the dull truisms of the lecture theatre or the trite clichés of beer commercials.”—Jim Oaten, Vancouver Review
“Bowering’s poetic meditations weave together literature and criticism without indulging in abstract language or academic jargon. But the abundance of intertextual references, citations, self-citations, as well as information about Canadian and transnational communities of writing that infuse his work is a tour de force into a poetic world that defies the very notion of ‘readable’ or ‘consumable’ literature.”—Alessandra Capperdoni, Canadian Literature
“I liked the book. I liked Bowering in the book. I read it . . . too quickly. Here, a lifetime of reading is deciphered and the personal Cannon of our former federal Poet-Laureate is presented. Alongside the many names and titles, Bowering reminds us that the work is not done by turning pages but by the hard thought that comes afterwards. Makes the years I’ve spent devouring bookshelves seem like running up the beach with a metal detector. O well, this book also moves at a good clip: 48 packed, punchy contemplations of life and word.”—Dave Eso, Filling Station
Neither precious nor shy, their subjects range from the sublime to the ridiculous — from the inarticulate nature of grief to a modest proposal for the uses of the dead. Together, they constitute a history of the education of Canada’s first Poet Laureate: from his adolescent dreams of becoming a writer; his early recognition of the discipline required to forge a life in language; the ongoing feud between the TISH authors and the self–appointed nationalist police; Bowering shares with us what he has learned in a lifetime of exercising his craft — even including what constitutes bad writing.
“Not surprisingly, the writer’s style and voice reveal a search for meaning and clarity while sometimes intentionally confusing meaning and forsaking clarity. Indeed, his wordplay is such that readers unused to his style and voice may find themselves wondering what to take seriously and what to recognize as playful, even paradoxical. Perhaps that is part of what draws many readers to his writing. Despite its lighthearted tone, Words, Words, Words is not always a “light” read in the conventional sense. Bowering chooses words, not to clarify a particular message, or even to point out that there is a “real” message or meaning behind his words, but rather to show that choice of words and lines can greatly impact how readers are able to take in the effect of writing practices that strive to stay clear of forms of regimentation.”—Natasha Dagenais, Canadian Literature
“Another engaging and varied collection of essays and memoirs including recollections of Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver Mounties’ pitcher George Bamberger and his own Kozmic League team, the Granville Grange Zephyrs.”—BC Bookworld