Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


Entry archive:

George Bowering, "Bullshit Artist": A poetics of attention Add to ...

What I have seen is a constant marginalization of serious poetry. It is related, I know, to the globalization of "products" that have governments and manufacturers and oil suckers treating us as customers, whereas Ezra Pound, Charles Olson and Louis Dudek treated us as citizens. If you look in the pages where book reviews used to be, you will see a lot fewer pages and a lot more articles about some writer (not writing) winning a prize. Now, the conglomerates that have replaced bookstores push the poetry presses off the shelves and into the church sales while the "professional" publishers - who rarely publish serious poetry now - tell the novelists that have worked with them for a decade or three that they cannot publish their novels because they don't look as if they will win a prize, and the McBookstore will not display them prominently (if at all).


Ironically, Bowering's acumen for reading underlies the wide spectrum of his writing. His acute sense of language style and possibility, his ear for words and rhythms, shows a process for literary imagination that is open and generative, and so frequently provocative. I've always trusted how he reads writing and counted on his skills in both as evidence of a real poetics of attention.

- Fred Wah


The so-called writers' festivals - with a few honourable exceptions such as the Winnipeg one - have more and more become big best-seller barns, where the people who like to keep up on things can go and hear the latest "discovery" and bring home her book to display on the coffee table. In the 1960s, as with a lot of perfervid "movements," the serious poets (and others) got a sense that the citizens were paying attention. Now, we have the World Trade Organization. Poetry has become more and more marginalized.

In a world in which Lindsay Lohan has replaced Samuel Beckett, in which Don whatzisname, the hockey-violence guy with the loud jackets, is on television and George Walker's plays are not, the writers' festivals and the newspapers have decided that poetry is entertainment and competition, that costumed people who say with pride that they don't read what's in the library stand up and recite clichés about their personal rebellion.

What do we do about all this? The main thing is not to join. You cannot bring the masters of commodities down from within. Do what Mr. MillAr does, sell the books that people don't want to buy, and publish the elegant books that professors don't want to read.

Whose poetry receives a must-read asterisk with you, from the beginning till this instant?

Dante*, Shakespeare*, Shelley*, Mallarmé*, Herbert*, Li Po*, H.D.*, Ezra Pound*, William Carlos Williams*, Margaret Avison*, Jack Spicer*, Erin Mouré*, Ron Padgett*, Kevin Davies* . . .

What of bp Nichol's influence, his lit-legacy, his aesthetic contribution to our cultural health?

bp's books and other poetry objects are in a shelf beside my bed. He influenced everyone older than he. There are lots of young folks, mainly in Ontario, who want to fit him out for academic nomenclature and who brush off anyone who knew him when he was alive. He is a wonderful figure around which to gather the real workers in Canadian poetry, who are unknown to the professors who don't like mimeograph.

And, Anne Carson?

I went to hear her read at UBC some years ago; and I was knocked out. Terrific intelligence and wit and openness. I just wish that she did not ignore the Canadian scene in favour of the big U.S. scene.

Did poetry take a wrong turn, either Canadian or World, in your opinion, some time after the efflorescence of Joyce, Eliot, et.al.? The Black Mountaineers, e.g. Did Charles Olson *get it right* with "Projective Verse" or do we fare better with Tate, Empson, Richards, Jones, Eliot, et.al.?

I think that poetry (and painting too) goes in clumps. There was a clump in the early 19th century in England, what with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, etc. (and don't forget the etcetera!); there was a clump at U. of Pennsylvania, with H.D., Pound, Williams and Moore. There was a delightful clump in SF with Duncan, Spicer and Blaser, e.g. So, in Canada there was a little clump made by the folks that started the Contact Press after WWII. I don't think that poetry took a wrong turn after the Modernists.

There is also the question of intelligent attention. The Zukofsky-Reznikoff-Oppen-Rakosi clump happened largely out of the eyesight of the renowned US critics, and so most of those people pretty well went into hiatus until they were rediscovered after the excitement of the Allen anthology in 1960. I always thought that it was interesting to look at names of the poets. Those "Objectivist" poets all have eastern European names. The realm of the square poets in the US had names like Frost, Stevens, Ransome, Tate, Lowell - good solid English names, as English as Eliot. Zuk and Rez were "underground," eh? Now, look at the scene after WWII in the US.

Report Typo/Error
Single page

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular