Friday, February 11, 2011

What I might have written about George Bowering

During the summer of 2010 and heading into fall, distractions increased, exponentially. I was sitting weeks with essays from Ian Rae’s then-forthcoming Open Letter issue on George Bowering, one he’d asked me to write an afterward for, an “afterward looking forward.” I was in Toronto while attempting to finish a novel and a creative non-fiction work on my Toronto time, and had just begun a housesit just west of Bathurst by College, when I received the call about the impending quick death of my mother. I sped immediately home, and she died after four hospital days, and forty-three years of ongoing illness, with the subsequent struggle-end of a relationship somehow existing concurrently. Before I left Toronto I had worked small notes, rereading bits of Bowering’s writing in hopes of triggering something worth adding to the already-ouvre of pieces on old uncle George. I managed but a single rough paragraph:
One of my earliest models for writing was George Bowering who, in my eyes, has always been a writer seeking to perpetually challenge and reenergize, constantly changing, in part through engagement with and critical encouragements toward the community of writers and writing around him, whether as a reader, through his editorial work or introductions to books, such as the years he spent publishing twenty issues of long poems through IMAGO (1964-1974) to his collaboration with Ryan Knighton (Cars, 2001) and the Friday night Shenanigan’s social group/magazine TADS. While compiling my own editorial project on Bowering, the perpetually-forthcoming George Bowering: Essays on his Works (Guernica Editions), poet Di Brandt mentioned Bowering’s years of essays and reviews, pointing out that Bowering has possibly done more critical work on those writers around him than any of his contemporaries. We spend so much time talking about Bowering’s range as a writer, editor, critic and the like, but so little time talking about what exactly that means, always back to the same centre, circling his involvement around the Vancouver newsletter TISH. Is that all there is? Is this focus something that Bowering himself has actively had a hand in? Possibly. Or the fact that, every time we turn around, another issue of some journal or other is acknowledging the work only through that old newsletter’s lens, refusing all other light?
Reading, inevitably, leads to other reading. I began writing poems and small fictions during high school, discovering Bowering’s writing through a circa-1987 gift of Poets of Contemporary Canada 1960-1970 (1972) from the eventual mother of my lovely daughter. My sense of history was geographic, the immediate world of Glengarry so rich it nearly choked, and my inevitable sense of “place,” when crafting my own, was one I quickly picked up through his poems as well. I might have read Irving Layton’s For My Brother Jesus (1976) during the same period, borrowed from the library as seemingly its only poetry title, but it was Bowering’s work that struck, the quick movement of line and line breaks, poems in clusters, whether written on geography, friends, other writers and various other baffles.  His books, in my mind, were structurally anti-Layton, conceived as whole books, and not as random assemblages of “just enough” single poems. I began, through his writing, to see poems through the lens of larger structures, something that had to live side by side, in groups, sub-groups, to an eventual and possible whole. I began to understand, through his literary work, his editorial/publishing work, and critical work, that writing was something that connected to other writing in an essential way. Possibly being the son of a dairy farmer, who lived and worked in a community in similar ways, coloured my original perceptions, and prepared me for the epiphany. From Bowering, I discovered the works of Davey, Webb, Nichol, Marlatt, Blaser, Thesen, Spicer, McKinnon, Fitzgerald, Creeley. Artie Gold. One step leading immediately and directly to the next. Through Bowering, punctuating the idea that, as a writer, one required a community to exist, and to progress. From Bowering’s example, encouraged to constantly head further out, encouraged to keep and continue changing.

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