To Bronwyn Dixon
The silence that sometimes
comes between us
is something we never heard
when you were here,
but a gift you have
bequeathed us for our future.
None of us ever heard anyone
talk so fast, or make so much
funny sense. Thank you
for being here, thank you
for all our lives’ worth
of wisdom. Now we will
listen carefully, and we know
it’s you we will hear
speaking faster than light,
and you will be that light.
From the author of dozens of collections of poems, comes George Bowering’s Teeth: Poems 2006-2011 (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2013), compiling a range of poems less the structured baffle of his more usual poetry books than a temporal grouping. The occasional poem, the poem of the “occasion,” is something Bowering has been composing for decades, from the recent Vermeer's Light: Poems 1996-2006 (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2006) to Seventy-One Poems For People (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1985) and In The Flesh (Toronto ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1974), and this new collection collects poems that might otherwise fall between other projects, or simply be smaller pieces from longer threads. The poems that make up Teeth: Poems 2006-2011 include poems on reading, friends and travel, from mentioning poems and books by DavidW. McFadden to his friend, David W. McFadden.
Give it time, the Atlantic Ocean will be here,
sunshine on its wet top, no hat afloat,
no great reward for its childhood race, no
empty spoons lying about. Mountains do not
stop air but cast fear into eastern brains,
a poet I knew longed for the safety of old fire escapes.
Yes, yes, bladder, you are more important
than poetry. Let’s put on our jewelry and
go to the opera.
Life in the north is largely
water of some kind, air colourless in your lungs,
a cheap book right side up by your elbow, do you
think you’re going to get a call? This Pacific
inlet smoother than a baby’s brain, it calls you
sister, mistaken and throbbing for release
and the ability to float, to endure.
There is a rich mix in this collection, composing puns and wordplays, short missives, haiku, sketches and travel observances, and the skewed humour we’d come to expect, such as in the poem “Epitaphs,” that opens: “Here lies George Bowering. / He could have done better.” The collection ends with a provocative interview with the poet and critic Judith Fitzgerald that reads as though it was conducted somewhere within the range of the composition of the collection, and includes a list of nine answers to the question, “What makes a poet a poet?” The list includes such familiar points as “Insatiable curiosity about the facts,” “A desire to continue the work,” and my favourite, “The inability to leave the house without a book in hand.” During an interesting side-discussion on the New Criticism and Shelley, Bowering says:
Well, I swallowed the New Criticism guff for a while. But you know, I think that if you know something about life in Europe around 1818—the politics, the religion, the science—you will have a better chance of understanding Shelley’s poetry. Shelley’s life is interesting as can be—and one of the great puzzles for me has been why there is no movie of Shelley’s life—and a few decades ago I read several Shelley biographies. You have to learn about the Hapsburgs and the then current theory about volcanoes, and Hume’s philosophy to get a leg up on “Ode to the West Wind” and “Prometheus Unbound.” Shelley’s reading of those things is a major part of his biography. I say if it’s there, take it. I don’t think a work of art, tempting as it is to think so, is complete in itself. Shelley thought his poetry was his work in the service of rebellion against manacles, mind-forged or not. There are some people who think that poetry, in order for it to be political, has to be dumbed down. Those people are underestimating the world they are writing for.