Poetry

When you are a teenager, I suppose, you write short poems exclaiming about beauty or lamenting your lot in life. At the age of thirty or so, you feel kind of symphonic and want to make a poem of considered lengthy observation, having read something of the Cantos and The Triumph of Life. When you get old you try to write longer poems that fall into little pieces, like the late Pound or like Williams in his late life.

george, vancouverGeorge,Vancouver, Kitchener, Weed/Flower, 1970.

“It makes an attractive cover because it shows how Vancouver worked, how they moved around and dropped the fathom lines up Cook’s Inlet, which is in Alaska.”

“As “a discovery poem,” as its subtitle calls it, George, Vancouver is Bowering’s first extended play with the terms “exploration” and “discovery,” and it is Bowering’s first long, or at least book-length, poem: 590 lines of poetry over thirty-five pages. In these lines, it spans two centuries from the Madness of King George the III to the idiosyncrasies of George Bowering. Often critics, including Bowering himself, seem to see George, Vancouver as a blueprint for the better-known Burning Water and not much more. To me, however, it cements the differences between Bowering’s B.C. And Reaney’s region. History and geography here do not provide the comfort of a shared understanding but the space for a mobile subjectivity Bowering continually creates through his poetry that goes by the singular pronoun ‘I,’ which refers to multiple individuals.”—Michelle Hartley, Canadian Literature


GeneveGeneve, Toronto, Coach House, 1971.

A prophetic book for me was George Bowering’s Geneve, published at Coach House, summer of ’71. Based on the Tarot, the cover unfolded into a poster displaying the photographed cards fanned out in order.

In his seminal work on photography, Camera Lucida (1981), Roland Barthes described the photograph as a madness, a stopping of time – a domestication of it, into images. A few artists might remake those images into the madness of which they come, while poet Bowering remade them by a form of collaboration. He turned the cards themselves into real-time photos in which the author is also there, his hand at the margin outside the picture, at one point handling a hockey stick.

GeneveBowering revealed the dominance of marginal cultures within the mainstream by merging Tarot with hockey, and turning it – and by extension, all popular culture – into our universal myth of life and death. ‘I ask for no more/than two minutes/for one chance to score/a power play goal…then fall forever to the ice.’ This performance of Bowering’s was so prima-donnaish that it made the madness of stopping time – the photo-like cards – poignant.

Poignancy was the closest thing to innocence we had left. While the influence of Geneve in Canada extended to Frank Davey’s Arcana (1973) and others, I had gone in search of poignancy to New York, where some poets were already deep into performance. In fact, a week after I arrived, I attended a John Coltrane concert on Second Avenue that included a reading by the equally-speeding Ted Berrigan in striped pants and purple glasses.

Can this be true? Is memory to be trusted? Probably it was two separate events at the Fillmore, but they might as well have been the same because I found Ted in collaboration with any other art in which performance could be elaborately critiqued. Both Coltrane and Berrigan critiqued the limitations of performance – of the socially-constructed self – by blurring past that self, lightning-fast. But first – and suggesting a collaboration between life and art – Frank O’Hara had raised poetry to a new level of reaching out. And this poignant longing for camaraderie (no matter if living or dead) could only be represented by the trope of collaboration. The observing artist behind the performing one rendered the scene of writing itself poignant for being so desperately lost.”—David Rosenberg, CH Archives


AutobiologyAutobiology, Vancouver, New Star, 1972. Vancouver, Pooka, 2006.

Autobiology is a complete change around in my writing methodology, an important one that is still producing a direction I find most important to me as I had experienced, from 1966 till 1972 a kind of rootlessness, a knowledge that I had made myself proficient in the lyrics I’d written till then, but that there was no impelling need to go on there, no invention.”


curiousCurious, Toronto, Coach House, 1973.

Bowering, aside from being a talented poet, is also a deeply curious man, as much interested in the human comedy as he is in what makes a good line or even a good poem. His poems in Curious are intensely interesting little structures built on the personalities and the work of his contemporaries.”—Robert Fulford, Toronto Star

Compared to the thoughtful developmental poems of In the Flesh, Curious is a limited personal indulgence.”—Quill & Quire


at war with the usAt War With the U.S., Vancouver, Talon, 1974.

I’ve always been an admirer of Bowering’s best work, and have been amazed to find how, in the last few years, I seem to be in a minority of one on that issue. Indeed, it seems to me that precious few poets and readers are able to open to his poems at all nowadays, or to read them with any kind of objectivity. There are reasons for this, I am told, all of them personal and subjective, none of them valid in so far as the poetry is concerned, and all pointing to a high degree of literary back-stabbing, so prevelant in Canada today, so present and vicious, incestuous and insular…

This is one man’s justified exorcising of his ‘petty hate’, a psychotherapeutic poetry of the North American present. It’s a good piece, with ‘Letter to Richard Nixon’ up to Bowering’s best, and the future lies ahead.”—Doug Beardsley

At War With The U.S. is a poem of moral rage at the violent calculus of the Vietnam war and the authoritarian nature of the Nixon government. It describes itself as a gathering in of the “Cinders of a poem” (WW, p. 75) but it is ultimately a coherent gathering. And despite the fact that the speaker states that “I am no maker / what is left is ashes / of whatever fire, what ever / was consumed” (WW, p. 75), this is not a familiar, plaintive request that the reader consent to authorial aridity again, but it is rather the poet’s recognition that the power of American imperialism — copresent with its habitual paranoia about all other nations — engendered a war, the horror of which ultimately silences the humanist voice, renders the poet aware of the weakness of his authority and the authority of art. In this context, the admission of artistic defeat is paradoxically effective: it effectively captures the dramatic sense of helplessness felt by protestors and poets alike during the Vietnam era. The poem’s confusion is part of its coherence as a deeply felt public/private statement: it is a poem which has something to say.”—Terry Whalen, Canadian Poetry


allophanesAllophanes, Toronto, Coach House, 1976.

George Bowering’s Allophanes is a poem in which “books speak of books.” They speak “among themselves” as Bowering piles allusions upon puns upon parody upon numerous other tricks with words. The poem has no “theme” or narrative line. Like an illustration, its composition is its message. It does not contain a message: it is one….(“Have a seat on my language, / & here we go.” [p. 209]) lay bare the purpose of Bowering’s poem and his view of what poetry is. It also sounds pretty scant — which explains the game playing — the spot the allusion hidden in the pun and the gratuitous Hermetic references. Stated baldly, the idea of poetry which Bowering espouses is not very gripping. But, recast as an illustration, done to us (as it were), it is another matter. The flow of the words, the rush of the images, the sensation that the great books are speaking to, and through, us makes us realize that “we are engaged. / Language rings us” (p. 242). The moment of discovery is an exciting one.”—Don Precosky, Canadian Poetry


ear reach

Ear Reach, Vancouver, Alcuin, 1982.

Printed by Peter Quartermain at Slug Press for The Alcuin Society. The poem is the shortened version of Irritable Reaching.


kerrisdale elegies Kerrisdale Elegies, Toronto, Coach House, 1984. Vancouver, Pooka Press, 2008. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 2008.

Elegie di Kerrisdale, Rome, Edizioni Empiria. Transl. Annalisa Goldoni. 1996.

buy-nowKerrisdale Elegies is a series of meditations on the strangeness of coming into the world, the loveliness of the world, and the sadness of leaving it. Set among the tree-lined streets of one of Vancouver’s most gracious residential areas, it is Bowering’s song of resolute middle age.

kerrisdale elegies“The autobiographical and the cosmic meet in these elegies. Bowering, the poet as world-maker, here becomes the poet as world-retriever. He reaches out from solitude to memory. He speaks to the presence of Rilke. We read in pain and awe and gratitude.”—Robert Kroetsch

The scope of Kerrisdale Elegies, essentially one long poem broken into 10 parts is breathtaking, and its accomplishment matches its ambition.”—George Galt, Books in Canada

One of the major works of our literature.”—Shirley Neuman, Journal of Canadian Poetry


his life: a poemHis Life: a poem, Toronto, ECW Press, 2000.

buy-nowPersonal, confidential, compelling … Powerful, exquisite, and intricately crafted, His Life: A Poem, George Bowering’s stunning new poetic memoir spans and reconfigures thirty years of this award-winning writer’s life. A thoroughly unique project, vintage Bowering, His Life began to take shape in the early eighties. Bowering explains that at that time a young Sicilian in Toronto presented him with a fine Italian writing book with lines and rounded corners. He put the gift away, saving it until it was needed for a poem. The time came a few years later. In the late eighties Bowering began rifling his diaries for what he had recorded on the equinoxes and solstices between the years 1958 and 1988. Whatever he’d recorded on those days became the building blocks for the poems in this collection. Ultimately, His Life took shape organically, not chronologically. From the gathered raw material Bowering may have written, for example, Fall 1979 before Spring 1962. This means the project stands naked, honest, and unprotected; in his words, “the vapidity of a date’s entry,” as much as its fascinating detail, could alter a poem’s course. Tough luck. Ten years after beginning the project, more than forty years after first recording information about the people, places, and events upon which the poems are based, His Life has taken on a “life” of its own, bent and reshaped by experience, time, and revision. Now, Bowering admits, there were times when he wondered whether there really was method to his madness, whether this was any way to write a poem. Imagine, he says, a page a month. Three years a year. Would he do it again? Never.

His Life is a memoir that questions the genre itself, demonstrating the facile, trivial quality of mere biographical data when compared with the rich, complex, and contradictory qualities of a life. The reliance on decades-old journal entries as his primary source material allows Bowering to avoid the temptation to reconstruct or interpret his own life, or to present events with the benefit of hindsight (as is the norm in most biographical writing). Rather than pat narrative resolutions, the reader is presented with thematic and biographical motifs, among them hockey and baseball, Bowering’s relationship with his daughter and his childhood hometown, his writing, and the writing of his peers. These issues recur and mutate over time, yet, as in life, remain tantalizingly unresolved. Bowering is to be credited for this achievement, for his bravery and his skill.”—Robert Wiersema, Quill & Quire

Easily Bowering’s strongest book of poetry since Delayed Mercy and Other Poems . . . this is sincere and classic Bowering, illuminating new corners of phrase and personal / writing history, and expanding others, of home and life and love and ordinary events, beyond all the familiar and the unfamiliar tricks.” —The Globe and Mail

It is perhaps too cheeky to beg someone to stop writing poems, particularly when they’re one of our most celebrated writers, but I’d like to extend such a plea to Vancouver’s George Bowering. His Life, a verse autobiography of Bowering’s days from 1958 to 1988, is an example of what can happen when a poet with superannuated poetic gifts tries to live beyond his imagination…Bowering’s poems are notebookish, intellectually inert and ashen-phrased.”—Carmine Starnino, Montreal Gazette

An interesting dismantling of the autobiographical mode.”—Gary Geddes, BC Bookworld

These lyrics are tough, intricate things, full of bright surprises. They have something of the diamond-toughness and diamond-surprise of John Thompson’s ghazal poems.”—George Elliott Clarke, The Chronicle-Herald


my darling nellie grayMy Darling Nellie Grey, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 2010.

buy-nowMy Darling Nellie Grey is a tiny sliver of George Bowering’s entire body of work. If I were to stack his oeuvre in one spot, it’d probably be as tall as I am. Even the idea of a complete works of George Bowering makes my brain hurt. I have spent today writing a thousand words about eight lines of his and I know I haven’t really even begun to unpack them. But if you want to know how to live a life through writing, if you want to learn how to really play, to discover what is most interesting to you, take my advice and read him! Read him! Read him!”—Elizabeth Bachinsky

Rather than trying to fit Bowering’s talents and contradictions into an Oulipian mold, I would argue that the interplay of voice and constraint in My Darling Nellie Grey highlights a fundamental tension in Bowering’s poetics. Bowering theorizes this tension as early as a 1962 essay he submitted for R.J. Baker’s English 439 class at UBC. This essay, “The Skeleton of Classical Prosody,” can be found in the national archives in Ottawa (1st Accession, Box 32, Folio 1). In this paper, Bowering argues that prosody up to the nineteenth century sought to apply universal laws of prosody to individual speech patterns. This critical project struggled with poems and passages that were celebrated as poetry even though they broke the rules of prosody. For Bowering, following Ezra Pound, this contradiction is a clue to the underlying fault of classical prosody: namely, the belief that poetry should arise from abstract principles, not from the particularities of individual speech patterns. Hence the modern poets viewed the irregularities of classical prosody as keys to the underlying force of poetry (in contrast to rote versification). From 1962 onward, the test of poetry for Bowering would be whether the poem sounded as if its music arose from the cadences of his speaking voice. Yet, having found his voice in his lyrics of the 1960s, Bowering immediately began devising abstract constraints to replace the old, canonical strictures. My Darling Nellie Grey is the longest and one of the best examples of this career-long project.”—Ian Rae, Canadian Literature

Collections of Poems (including gathered long poems):

When I was a schoolboy I dreamed of a future in which I was a writer of fiction and a journalist who covered baseball. But like a lot of other would-be fiction writers I found myself writing poems, short ones at first, booklength ones later. I think that’s a good idea. Poetry teaches you to listen to what it has to say before you write it down.


Sticks & StonesSticks & Stones, Vancouver, Tishbooks, 1963, 1989.

buy-nowThe poems were written in 1961 and 1962. The collection was conceived as part of a series of Tishbooks but the book was never officially published because the printer quality was so poor—margins were out of places and pages were unreadable. In 1989, Talonbooks published the collection. Here is the 1989 publisher’s blurb:”

The publication of Sticks & Stones, George Bowering’s first book of poems, has been one of Canada’s great literary mysteries for almost three decades. Rumoured to have been published by the Rattlesnake Press in 1962, yet only ever found in the darkened vaults of secretive bibliophiles in the form of imperfectly collated, incomplete press proofs, sans cover, several poems, and original drawings by Gordon Payne, this book has remained hidden from public view while Bowering’s literary career blossomed. Here, for the first time, is the complete unabridged publication of Sticks & Stones, including all the poems, with the original drawings by Gordon Payne and the preface by Robert Creeley in place. Roy Miki, author of the definitive critical bibliography of George Bowering, A Record of Writing, has provided an endnote which takes the reader through the literary detective work that resulted in the strange circumstance of the publication of this first edition. This first official publication of Sticks & Stones, twenty-seven years after the fact, is a celebration of a writer at the height of his career, and a tribute to the enduring quality of his work.

If there is one thing that is ubiquitously present in the poet Bowering was then and the poet he is now it is his relentless desire to disclose the otherness of language.”—Smaro Kamboureli, Canadian Literature


Points on the GridPoints on the Grid, Toronto, Contact Press, 1964.

Read online: http://ccca.concordia.ca/history/ozz/english/timeline/1964.html

GB’s MA thesis at UBC: https://circle.ubc.ca/bitstream/id/143997/UBC_1963_A8

Here is no stumbling beginner but a gifted poet with the gift of energy. What strikes one immediately about these poems is their dynamism.”—Phyllis Webb

It is remarkable how hard Puritanism dies in Canadian poetry. Crushed and bull-dozed to death by the flamboyant contempt of Irving Layton it nevertheless emerges again as inverse prudery in the work of some of Mr. Layton’s staunchest admirers. George Bowering’s Points on the Grid is a case in point. Mr. Bowering writes a number of poems on the experience of orgasm. It is as valid a subject for poetry as any, but the worth of the experience as poetry depends on what you do with it. Mr. Bowering does exactly what he objects to in D. H. Lawrence, only with a different premise. Both turn sex into metaphysics and both fall into the same fault, tedium.”—Marya Fiamengo, Canadian Literature

Sensitive and original talent.”—Canadian Author and Bookman

Sometimes I think that Bowering is too preoccupied with method and technique of poems, making this preoccupation into poems themselves. For one tires of the ancient ‘do it yrself’ fad after a while. Then I change my mind about Bowering. I say with him: there are things that must be thought out! And Bowering is doing just that.”—Al Purdy, review in The W. W. Purdy Digital ???Archive


the man in the yellow bootsThe Man in Yellow Boots/ El hombre de las botas amarillas, Mexico, Ediciones El Corno, 1965.

This was the biggest publication run of any book of poetry I’ve ever had, 3,000 copies.”

The Man in Yellow Boots is the talk of the town. Everyone is crazy about it. People quote the poems.”—Margaret Randall, GB papers correspondence

The Man in Yellow Boots, however, is neither an important book of poetry or a significant collaboration between a painter and a poet. The fact that it was printed and published in Mexico for Mexicans is, for me, its most exciting aspect.”—Eldon Grier, Canadian Literature

I think it is Mr. Bowering’s best book of poetry yet, and I have never been a fan of the Tish school in general or of Mr. Bowering in particular. I’ve found the poetry, like that of Frank Davey and many others of the school, thin, unindividual, unexciting, and, despite all the linguistic jargon which the group dressed itself in, metrically and decoratively uninteresting. I’m sure I have been biased but I also think Mr. Bowering has improved. The Editors’ Notes remark “the poems in Bowering’s first book…were written out of the time when the poet’s concern was largely involved with the technique of poetry, handling the language, finding his own place in it…. The poems in this new book deal with more meaningful concerns, not the problem of how to write poetry.” Indeed so.”—Fraser Sutherland, Canadian Poetry


the silver wireThe Silver Wire, Kingston, Quarry Press, 1966.

This book iz best forgotten foer the sake ov georgebowering and ov poetry in this cuntry. I dont kno whoom to blame foer this book, bowering or the editorz. But i would suspect the editorz, suspect that they dont kno how to handl a poet like bowering.”—david w harris, Alphabet

Apart from spastic speech, and too much explicit physical sex, Bowering repeats William Carlos Williams to excess. The nonchalant personality, and the mere descriptive imagism applied to trivia, become a bit of a bore; and derivativeness detracts. One must get beyond the trivial object to some kind of significance; in fact, in a few of these poems one gathers that Bowering is not incapable of doing so. I think he is a very promising poet.”—Louis Dudek, Canadian Literature


Rocky Mountain FootRocky Mountain Foot, Toronto, M&S, 1969.




Oh god, I’d forgotten how exciting it was to be building that book; I thought I was only going to have two years on it but I had three—I had that extra time.”

GB received the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1969 for this book and Gangs of Kosmos

Completely lacking here is any sort of eye, any sense of landscape beyond the usual cliché, a harmless little moral at the end which pretends profundity…I take issue with Bowering’s verse in particular, not only because his book is under review, but also because he is one of the more widely published Canadian poets who appear to support if not foster, that extremely easy, slack and usually contentless verse which is fast becoming the rather undesirable trademark of much Canadian poetry, and of which Rocky Mountain Foot is another prime example.”—Andreas Schroeder, Vancouver Province.

George is Canada’s most prolific everything. He turns out novels, poems, stories, critiques, criticism, journalism, baptism, auto parts, jams and jellies, everything, at a disquieting rate. And much of it is very fine stuff. Too much of it, in fact, for the rest of us to be comfortable in our ‘oh yeah …Bowering’ position. …This is the best collection of poetry published in Canada so far this year, and I don’t think too much will come along to spoil the record.”—Doug Fetherling


the gangs of kosmosThe Gangs of Kosmos, Toronto, House of Anansi, 1969.

Of the 33 poems in Mr. Bowering’s volume, only a handful are satisfactory or unspoiled. One cannot really be angry that he publishes here with the assistance of the Canada Council, who have to be on the side of even the fallen angels, but I think that if anyone wrote prose or music as bad as some of these poems, he’d be in a terrible pickle to get a grant.”—Chester Duncan, Winnipeg Free Press

Bowering received the Governor General Award for this book, along with Rocky Mountain Foot. And here I digress to mention the hullabaloo in Toronto over Bowering’s award. Other poets, Layton and Eli Mandel among them, believed Milton Acorn should have received the poetry award. They collected money for him and presented him with a medal inscribed “The People’s Poet” which dangled from a purple velvet ribbon. This during a turbulent evening at Grossman’s Tavern, Toronto…I contributed to the fund for Acorn myself and, in fact, had edited the book of Acorn’s poems that caused all the uproar. Not unnaturally, I think it’s a fine book.

However, some of the remarks made by those who organized the presentation to Acorn at Grossman’s Tavern were decidedly unfair to Bowering: such as “There is more poetry in Milton Acorn’s dirty little fingernail than in all George Bowering’s collected works.” That sort of thing strikes me as ridiculous. Whether Bowering deserved a poetry award or not (and his books are exceedingly good), writers are not in competition with each other, and you don’t praise one man to make another look bad. At least you don’t if you have any sense of fairness…

Within his own techniques of prosody, Bowering has achieved a rather astonishing variety. Things deepen and open out for him, incidents melt into further incidents and complications: the past informs the present and, presumably, the future…Perhaps above all, Bowering is a living human being, and is able to convey this with a minimum of histrionics and posturing, with an apparent artlessness that seems to me the highest art.”—Al Purdy, Wascana Review


Sitting in Mexico, Calgary, Beaver Kosmos, 1970.

I guess eventually I thought all these Mexican poems were going to go together. I don’t think I ever made them up as a book to offer a professional publisher. I think that by the time the time went by, I thought all these poems are so old and so ephemeral, I’ll just do them myself. I wasn’t proud of them as poems; at that time I was thinking of them as poems about my time there, so they were a kind of record but I didn’t think they were really good poems.”


touch: selected poems 1960-1970Touch: selected poems 1960-1969, Toronto, M&S, 1971.




I think Bowering is an ‘important’ poet who should be read—even listened to as he demands. (Even the disagreements I have with him do not seem dead ends for me, but reasons to re-examine my own reasons for writing as I do.) He has written some half-dozen quite marvellous poems in this book—which seems to me a very high lifetime batting average.”—Al Purdy, Canadian Literature


in the fleshIn the Flesh, Toronto, M&S, 1974.george bowering

Reading George Bowering’s In the Flesh is like watching a superb amateur hockey player in his final game before turning pro.

For, throughout the book, you get flashes of a rapidly maturing poet growing impatient, lazy, bored with writing what Bowering refers to as magazine verse, or occasional verse.”—David McFadden, Hamilton Spectator

Too often, the Bowering we have in this volume is a labouring technician; the verse does not sing.”—Eric Thompson, Canadian Literature


The CatchThe Catch, Toronto, M&S, 1976.




There is a kind of bad poetry of which only a serious poet is capable. The Catch represents this species eminently and—though it is dedicated to Margaret Avison, grande dame of Canadian poetry—contains a range of bad taste guaranteed to offend any reader within its area.” Keith Garebian, Montreal Star.

The Catch presents Bowering the poet composing and Bowering the man composed. It is by far his best book to date, and it is a landmark in Canadian poetry.”—The Fiddlehead

His work remains moment-by-moment poetry, intense and nervously receptive.”—Don McKay, The Windsor Review


the concrete island: montreal poems 1967-71The Concrete Island, Montreal, Vehicule Press, 1977.

Vehicule Press was carrying on, in the early 70s, the tradition of small presses of the kind that we all love and admire. When they asked me for a book, I said, well what can I gather together to give them a book of? What I did was take the poems set and written in Montreal that had never been published in my other books…I love Montreal but it is so slight, so young, so much younger than the bearded West Coast. So it’s fitting, perhaps, that these desperate poems, seeking the lost assurances of a young poet’s method, should take Montreal as their neighborhood.”


another mouthAnother Mouth, Toronto, M&S, 1979.

“…equally forced are the poems in George Bowering’s Another Mouth. Self-consciously clever and indulgently obscure, here is a charmingly irreverent intellect confused as to how seriously it should take life. The arrogantly arid humour is redeeming; the poet’s inability to get a third erection is not.”—Alan Twigg

[Poundmaker] ends with the assertion that ‘us white folks’ are stealing even the Indian’s dead heroes through words that adopt them as our own. This is not a cry for justice but a tail-swallowing insincerity that accuses itself of insinceritty (sic). The mea culpa of a worn-out liberalism takes the place of love, repentance, solidarity. It has nothing to do with poetry.” A. F. Moritz, Books in Canada


particular accidentsParticular Accidents: selected poems, Vancouver, Talon, 1981.

The best introduction to Bowering’s work is Robin Blaser’s essay in Particular Accidents, a volume which, because it casts so widely over his previous work, grants readers a privileged overview of his development.”—Douglas Barbour, Canadian Encyclopedia

Perhaps more than any other Canadian writer, he has attempted to theorise away the boundaries between critical and creative discourse.”—W. F. Garrett-Petts, “Research Notes on George Bowering as Radical Pedagogue and Reading Teacher.” Inkshed 9


west windowWest Window: selected poetry, Toronto, General, 1982.

In West Window I wanted to gather together long poems that were published by small presses and were generally unavailable at the time.”


smoking mirrorSmoking Mirror, Edmonton, Longspoon, 1982.





A group of minimalist poems written over a long period of time that I’d been saying up for a book.”


seventy-one poems for peopleSeventy-One Poems for People, Red Deer, RDC Press, 1985.





In 1947 Dorothy Livesay published a collection of her verse about public struggle in a volume called Poems for People. In 1972 Milton Acorn, in response to Livesay’s book, published More Poems for People. For some years I have been writing and filing poems with the intent to offer my predecessors and others a book called Still More Poems for People, but now I don’t like the tone of that, and I hope that the poems will not be still.”

In the sharpness of his imagery and in his capacity to ring the poetic out of the prosaic and the colloquial Bowering once again demands to be taken seriously.”—WQ Reviews Poetry


delayed mercy and other poemsDelayed Mercy & other poems, Toronto, Coach House, 1986.

I wrote a long poem a couple of years ago called Delayed Mercy, and the rules were that I could only write at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, and I had to read an entire book of poems during the day.”

Delayed Mercy is a strong collection of poems from a writer working at his prime abilities and sensibilities, yet I wish Coach House had taken more care in producing the volume. I counted at least seven flagrant typographical errors in my non-editing capacity.”—A. Vasius, Canadian Book Review Annual

Delayed Mercy lacks depth, wit, mercy, lucidity, and interest. Although Bowering mentions the big issues, he fails to take them on, to engage them, and he leaves the reader unengaged as well…. He writes to his own spleen. Time to snap out of it.”—Don Precosky, British Columbia Library Association Reporter

So much confuses me and many a confused reviewer has failed to recognize a masterpiece….Even if I am right and this is an example of the second or third rung on the Bowering ladder, I would not do without it. I would far rather have any of Bowering’s innovative failures than the tame successes produced by most other established figures. If, as the poet’s many puns would suggest, Bowering is in fact a verb, it means to stimulate, to try a myriad of activities, or in the polysemic collective intransitive, to write, whether Georgic, Georgian, or just George.”—Terry Goldie caprice


urban snowUrban Snow, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1992.

In a graceful little blurb on the back cover of George Bowering’s Urban Snow, Sharon Thesen, with a poet’s sure sense of the appropriate, has neatly described George Bowering’s outlook.

“ ‘Bowering’s green thoughts restore the city,’ she writes, ‘to its paradises, parks, playing fields, its outlook both ludic and poignant.’

“Ludic and poignant is correct. In Urban Snow George Bowering writes not only playfully, but also of play. Many of these new poems are about parks and playgrounds and games, particularly baseball…

“Bowering, as a poet and man, is homo ludens. He never took his poetic battles solemnly…He remains the irrespressibly playful man who can turn the reading of poems into an amusing task with his wiles as an outrageous punster.”—George Woodcock, BC Bookworld

When Bowering’s in Berlin can Manhattan be far behind? The poet plays with language all over Shakespeare’s globe, but unlike the incomprehensible, surreal ‘others’, Bowering always makes sense…

“We bounce about the world in this book, but Bowering’s hears is always home. He dares to ask the fundamental Canadian question from deep inside Nat Bailey Stadium: ‘…it’s the sixth inning a little dew in the night air—where would you rather be? Some cathedral in Seville?’, and he ask it without shame. Or fear.

“Bowering’s wit is everywhere, but his heart is here…We invented the game. May he never strike out, may we never know what he’s hitting.”—Doug Beardsley, Victoria Colonist

The sheer quality of his imagination, the lazy inversion of the expected, is sumptuous.”—Zoe Landale, UBC Alumni Chronicle


George Bowering Selected: Poems 1961-1992George Bowering Selected: Poems 1961-1992, Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1993.

George Bowering’s poetic output has slowed since the early 1980s, when he began to devote his prolific and versatile imagination almost exclusively to prose fiction. Nevertheless, the 31 years encompassed by George Bowering Selected saw the publication of 28 volumes of verse–a substantial output by anyone’s standards. Gleaning a single coherent selection from this immense oeuvre would seem to be an impossible task, but George Bowering Selected comes very close to providing an ideal survey.

Bowering’s poetics is one of speed and constant postmodern play–with words, with ideas, and with perceptions. His poetry’s emphasis on the rapidity of thought and of the process of reading means that his books are not easily trimmed into anthology pieces. Instead of spending months with a few choice lyrics, the reader who wishes to come to terms with Bowering must methodically work through the poems at length, and George Bowering Selected is structured to facilitate this style of reading. There are plenty of short, Creeley-like lyrics here, representing the early and late periods of Bowering’s career, but the core of the book is the three long serial poems that are presented in full: At War with the U.S., Allophanes, and his masterpiece, Kerrisdale Elegies. The last may be his most “poetic” poem, but its motion and concerns are quintessential Bowering. George Bowering Selected is quite simply the best available introduction to the work of this difficult and inventive poet. Don’t dabble; read it from cover to cover.” –Jack Illingworth

Since he is still in mid-stride, Bowering’s flaws excite when viewed beside his strengths: they point to the poems not yet written, the ones to be written by the elder Bowering, the deathless ones.”—Michael Redhill, Books in Canada


blonds on bikesBlonds on Bikes, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1997.

buy-nowSometimes you have to sit inside the apparent straightforwardness of his lines before they go off before you realize what he’s doing or done and then go, ‘wow.’”—Rob McLennan, Ottawa X Press

Like a conversation with Bowering himself, the volume is a wild and engaging read, witty, eloquent, with a flurry of styles and poetic forms.”—Gilbert A. Bouchard, Edmonton Journal

George Bowering’s at his folksy and ironic best.”—SFU Alumni Journal


changing on the flyChanging on the Fly, Vancouver, Polestar, 2004.

We can see Bowering, beginning in the 1970s, letting go and moving on, as the poems become prosier and more language-centred, without ever entirely abandoning his original claim to lyric excellence. His foreward, one of the most cogent of its type, is a brief, eloquent, and playful introduction.”—George Fetherling, Georgia Straight

Bowering is at once the most gifted and accomplished poet of his generation, and for that alone he’s worth our attention. He’s also among a very small band of poets who have understood that language must be worked on relentlessly and ruthlessly, not merely massaged into increasingly perfumed artifacts of self-aggrandizement. He wants you to see the world through his words, not him, and that is why he is sometimes accused of being personally elusive.”—Brian Fawcett, The Vancouver Review


vermeer's_lightVermeer’s Light: Poems 1996-2006, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 2006, 2007.

buy-nowDespite the far-ranging subject matter and approaches, the volume is characterized by the terse honesty, purity of voice, and wry humour that are Bowering’s trademark.”—Robert J. Wiersema, Quill & Quire, starred review

The undisputed highlight of Vermeer’s Light is the last section, where Bowering spills the secrets of how he came to write what he suspects is his most famous (and most profitable) poem, “Grandfather.” The non sequitur lead-up to its creation and the formulaic strides he undertakes in his search to destroy it amuse for both their missteps and the unexpected successes. Somehow, in showing us the poem’s origins in the most unflattering light, Bowering increases its resonance instead of diluting it.”—E. G. Anderson, Monday Magazine

With its wide range of poetic possibilities, and its insistence on composition as process, Vermeer’s Light is a delight.”—Douglas Barbour, Canadian Literature


Teeth: Poems 2006-2011Teeth: Poems 2006-2011, Toronto, Mansfield Press, 2013.

buy-nowGeorge Bowering’s six hundred and twenty third book could just as easily have been titled Poems From a Brilliant Grumpy Old Guy…Bowering, who fears nothing, is playful and powerful, this is a non-filtered, non-restrained voice of experience.”—Michael Dennis


the world, i guessThe World, I Guess, Vancouver, New Star, 2015

buy-nowGeorge Bowering’s candour is beguiling. He gives you a good time with his writing, you feel comfortable, even chummy, in his presence; he’s playful, but then he nails you with some hard truths. In a poem about leaving the world, for example, Bowering, who turns 80 this December, begins, “It’s not so much how can I leave it/but rather how it can go on without me./The world, I mean. I used to think it was/all around me, but now I know it goes/through me, I’m like you, lover, a mesh in water.” (I’ll Be There”).”—M.A.C. Farrant, Vancouver Sun

Bowering punctuates the collection with six prose narratives from his early years, “Inside the Tent,” “The Swimming Hole,” “Auntie Pam,” “Somebody’s Horse,” “The Giant Snowball,” and “Air Camera,” about moments “that took me past the boundary line of comfort into a psyche-region that required not so much words as a realization that something like organized alarm was called for” – i.e. poetry. He suggests that within each of these moments were intimations that he would become one of poetry’s writers. These are curious texts both as theories of poetry and self-explanations. Several of the uncomfortable moments have been part of Bowering’s writings already – their elaboration here will likely trigger some day critical comparisons. It also works to make the book a sort of career summary, a suitable book on which to end things by creating end things. Dudek did that several times, creating several continuations of Continuations. I expect Bowering may do similarly. Some poets, fortunately, find it hard to stop for death, as well as hard to stop thinking of it.”—Frank Davey blog

George Bowering