When I first met George Bowering I was still singing Italian arias and he would only answer in Spanish. I never listened when he called Rimbaud (or someone) a little puke but I picked up the lingo anyway. In spite of all the leaves of poetry I gave him, his response was almost Buddhist in nature; but, man, when you listened to him read a sonnet by Archibald Lampman or talk enthusiastically about those Montreal cats like Artie Gold and three-headed dogs like Irving Layton and Louis Dudek . . . and the other guy . . . man, then you were a believer in CanLit, zeow! Then he would pitch you curve balls like Lola Lemire Tostevin or George Stanley. At one point, I threatened to leap out of a window, but that didn't stop George. He was always willing (allegedly) to head to Helen's Grill to talk about The Double Hook and other Canadian stumpers.
Poets - certified sentinels of the sensorium - stand at the ready in service of translating the universe by releasing words into the void in a steady enterprise that subverts definition and defies the laws of embuggerance.
Perhaps the finest utility infielder our literature boasts, major-league versifier, prose stylist, historian, editor, professor, mentor, critic, radio personality, Canada's first Parliamentary Poet Laureate and long-time second-baseman George Bowering (b. 1935), still going sly and strong, graciously agreed to engage in an e-discussion with "In Other Words."
The 6' 2" guy grew up in small-town BC, in a place called Oliver, before he pulled a stint as an aerial photographer in the RCAF (1954-7) and wound up chumming around with Fred Wah, Frank Davey and so forth during the days he fell head over heartbeats for the ground-breaking new movement loosely clustering around Black-Mountaineers Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and Robert Duncan to ID but a vanguard few. Then came Tish, Imago, Beaver Kosmos Folios and Open Letter, all cutting-edge journals Bowering either helped found or, at the least, aesthetically shape.
The author of an astonishing 90 works - give or take - across a swath of genres, explorations and "schools," now, including those currently making their way into bookstores from there to here - Pinboy (Cormorant), My Darling Nellie Grey (Talonbooks) and Horizontal Surfaces with Jay MillAr (BookThug) - Bowering, OC, OBC wears both his hurt and his heart on his sleeve as much as one currently enjoying SFU Professor Emeritus and Beloved Poetry Ambassador (BPA) status can. Right from the beginning, he willingly laid it on the line in order to redefine it. Now, with a pocketful of medals, orders, pins and related honours, with almost a hundred books to his credit (and, none of them a failure), with the wisdom and wonderment of the world afforded the terminally curious explorer, one of our greatest creators sets the record straight.
What makes a poet a poet?
How should I know? I mean, that's for me to know and you to find out. I mean, if I told you, we'd both know. I mean, do I look like the Answer Man? I mean, you tell me, and we'll both know. I mean, it depends on a lot of variables. I mean, we're working on it . . . Okay, it's time for me to quit futzing about, if that is what I have been doing. What makes a poet a poet?
1. Insatiable curiosity about the facts. 2. An ear that likes what words do other than designate. 3. A desire to continue the work. 4. A lot of skepticism. 5. A love for oneself as a stranger to oneself. 6. A highly competitive ego-loss. 7. Compassion on the part of one of the nine muses. 8. The inability to leave the house without a book in hand. 9. A record of failing one class in high school.
(Don't you mean "fitzing about?") Are you comfortable, now, saying, "I am a poet?"
When I was reading through the PS section of the library, I came to the W authors near the end, and especially William Carlos Williams, and particularly his recently published book, The Desert Music, at the end of which Williams learns and declares, "I am a poet." I dropped the book on the concrete floor with a hell of a smack. I hoped that I was going to be, too, when I was his age.