canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

His Life
by George Bowering
ECW, 2000

Reviewed by T. Anders Carson

This book is an autobiographical account of the musings and wanderings of Mr. Bowering. From the beginning you delve into the inner-workings of the Canadian poetry scene of late 50ís and early 60ís. I donít think they themselves realized that it was a scene. It was more a gathering, a meeting, and a sharing of new work. His life flows with the seasons.

Every title has a season, year and place where it was written. An accounting of where he was and what he was writing. There are some that are striking images. One is Winter 1958 that ends: "And yesterday went with the ice."

All of us know that feeling in Canada. He has captured the essence of the solitary. There are some stark images of home life later on. Where the silence grows in the kitchen. In the Fall of 1976 in Vancouver these words were written;

Whatís wrong Mom says
four-year-old at the table with crayons;
Mom says to Dad very loud, " If your fucking
friend tries to give us another of these,
he can shove it up his ass." Four-year-old
looks downward.

It is a silence that I thought only could be bred in old Bergman films. With a few lines you know in the bottom of your stomach that those words, that scenario wasnít just an isolated incident. It was a progression that culminated in a divorce. He envelops the emotions with forceful simplicity, letting the childís head speak volumes. Only truly masterful writers can accomplish this in a brief scene.

Not all is dark. There is a definitive affinity for sports that is present. It is almost a balance to just watch a ball-game or hear another hockey score. Spring 1983 Vancouver:

Looking forward to sitting down
in front of the Expos

There is also a strong element of travel in many of his poems. I think that it gives him pleasure to travel. Some writers despise the act but he seems to thrive on accepting the beauty and radiance that sundry travel can give you. There was a poem that definitely keeps with this understanding of the foreign. He is in Venice Winter 1981 with his daughter and describes the setting. Again in only a few words we can fully revel in Venice through his eyes. It ends with:

This, he told his daughter,
is what happens when you marry the sea.

At the end of the collection there is a poem that mixes both the release of sports and the beauty of poetry. Who said that poets canít adore the sports? That it isnít literary. Mr. Bowering is himself in right field. His thoughts are his own. His vision bordering on the universal. Spring 1987 Vancouver:

In shirtsleeves at last and
standing in right field late
in practice he said it is
this day that makes you glad
you didnít kill yourself in December.

There is eternal hope that weaves its way throughout this collection. Hope for a better existence, hope for humanity, and hope for next yearís fielded team. Though the entire book is set in the 3rd person you feel as if it could have been you. Brilliant writing coupled with lucid and revealing insight. Poetry that packs a 12th round knockout punch.

T. Anders Carson is an Ottawa-area poet. His poetry was featured in The Danforth Review #2.







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