Saturday, September 08, 2007

12 or 20 questions: with George BoweringGeorge Bowering, Canada’s first Poet Laureate, was born in the Okanagan Valley and schooled on the West Coast and in Montreal. His work is inescapably rooted in British Columbia, with stories of growing up in the Okanagan, haunting poems of urban Vancouver, and his innovative treatment of historical B.C. events.

A distinguished novelist, poet, editor, professor, historian and tireless supporter of fellow writers, the highly esteemed Bowering has authored more than eighty books, which include works of poetry, fiction, autobiography, biography and youth fiction. His writing has also been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese and Romanian.

After serving as an aerial photographer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Bowering attended the University of British Columbia where he earned a B.A. in History and an M.A. in English. He is one of the founders—along with Frank Davey, Fred Wah, Daphne Marlatt and Jamie Reid—of the avant-garde poetry and poetics magazine TISH. Bowering has taught at the University of Calgary, the University of Western Ontario and Simon Fraser University. He continues to act as a Canadian literary ambassador at international conferences and readings.

In 2002, Bowering was recognized by the Vancouver Sun as one of the most influential people in British Columbia.

1 - How did your first book change your life?

Before I had a book published, I said that I wanted to have a book of poetry published by Contact Press, and a novel published by McClelland & Stewart. Well, my first book of poetry was published by Contact, and my first novel was published by M&S. So then I felt that what I had known for so long could now be generally known.

2 - How long have you lived in Vancouver, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I moved to Vancouver to be a UBC student in 1957. I went to Calgary to be an assistant professor in 1963, so there's 6 years. I came back to Vancouver in 1971 and have been here ever since, except for temporary gigs elsewhere and a year in Port Colborne. So there's another 35 years. Let's say I have been in Vancouver for 41 years. As for the impact of geography on my work, see all that stuff about the subject in the early issues of Tish, where we went on and on about locus, having taken the term from Olson. Race and gender have no impact on my work.
3 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Most of my life I have been working on books. Some of them can be short, such as the 30-page chapbooks (12 of them) that I wrote in 2006. Back when I wrote a lot of short lyric poems, I would usually start with a "tune" in my head, the lines of the poem without any words yet.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Public readings sometimes give me a first outside reading of something I have written. I do not go to the extent that Lionel Kearns used to go to--he would taker a pencil to the podium and make changes to the manuscript depending on the sounds he was producing. Come to think of it, I have done that a few times. But generally public readings are done for money or friendship.

5 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I am not hip here to what an outside editor is as compared with an inside editor. Maybe we are talking about publishing houses and freelancers. I have worked with editors a lot, and have sometimes benefitted from the experience. Some-times I'll hop, as when I once left M&S when they didn't like the ending of Burning Water. Once, with an editor from Key Porter, in an Eaton's cafeteria that was trying to close for the day, I cut 100 pages from Shoot despite David McFadden's heckling from the side.

6 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

It varies. But in general I find most things to be harder to do as one gets more along in life. These things have included teaching and reading and writing essays. I have often, you may find it hard to believe, stopped writing a book because it was not yielding itself enough.

7 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

About 5 weeks ago. It was imported and therefore found wanting.

8 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

"After the age of fifty, don't pass up an opportunity to have a leak."

9 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

Well, those are not genres. A genre is something like a detective novel or dramatic poetry. Moving from poetry, say, to fiction, say, is neither easy nor difficult. Most of what I attempt comes after this beginning of a question to myself: "I wonder if you could write a . . . ?" For example, you might want to write a story in which a person breaks all the ten commandments, in order. Or you might want to write a poem about all the letters of the alphabet, in order.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I have almost always written in the afternoon, probably the least favourite time for writers. I get up around 9:30 or 10:00, have coffee, read the paper, do my e-mail, have a shower, and get to whatever I am writing at about 12:30.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

If my writing gets stalled, I go and do something else. There are always letters to answer, proofreading to do, and blurbs to write. There is always something to do. If it is not your dear little novel ms, tough tittie. Go cry somewhere else.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

My most recent book (as of this week) (not counting chapbooks) is Vermeer's Light. It is different in that it collects poems written over a decade. My previous such book covered maybe five years. Long ago, a book of poetry would cover two years. Well, this one is a lot like previous collections: most of it is made up of series and shorter books.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Of course books come from books. Northrop Frye famously said that too. My writing can respond to all those things in your list, but books are made of writing. Young Ornette Coleman had an ear for Charlie Parker. Picasso looked hard at Cezanne.

14 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Read Finnegans Wake. I bought it when I was 23. I open it once a year or so. You'd think, given my predilections, that I would have read it at least once by now. There is hope. I bought Conrad's Chance when I was 22, and I read it this summer. I read the first paragraph and rewrote it as a short story a couple of years ago. I haven't done that with Finnegans Wake, though I have stood outside some doors to rooms in which it was written.

15 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I would like to have been a baseball player. I would not have been skilled enough to make the majors, but if I could have, I would have wanted to be a reader and writer of poetry and fiction, as is Miguel Batista, pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. I would have liked to have become a far-out saxophone player. When my cousin Russ died his mother offered me his horns, and I was too sad to say yes. I would like to have been a post-Coltrane sax guy, who also writes poetry and fiction.

16 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I don't know. When I was a kid I was interested in everything. Willy and I had a darkroom in his basement. I drew portraits to hang on the wall at the firemen's ball. I acted in lots of plays in high school. I was in the choir and the band. I composed songs with and without Willy. I was an air cadet. I kept score at the baseball and basketball games. I got to be a disc jockey on the radio once and started a lifelong love of being on radio. But except for the sportswriting I did on two papers when I was a highschool kid, writing was solitary, and I was always very good at solitary.

17 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I assume that by "great" is meant something more than the fact that I enjoyed it. I guess the last great book I read was the Holy Qur'an. I read it this past winter, and I have to say that it is not my favourite holy book. Last week I saw "Mr. Hulot's Holiday." And it is great, of course, but nowhere near the pleasant shock it was in the fifties.

18 - What are you currently working on?

An interview with rob somebody. Other than that I am writing a book about a year or so in my teenagedom in Oliver, BC. It is the honest truth.

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