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George Bowering Canadian novelist, poet, historian, and biographer who has served as Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate seen here in Vancouver March 12, 2012. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
George Bowering Canadian novelist, poet, historian, and biographer who has served as Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate seen here in Vancouver March 12, 2012. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Tom Hawthorn

I saw Bowering post on Tweet Street Add to ...

George Bowering has written more books than some people have read.

The 76-year-old scribbler has about 100 titles to his credit, with two more to be published in the coming months.

Mr. Bowering, who was Canada’s first parliamentary poet laureate, puts the pro in prolific. He’s written so many books and chapbooks he does not have an exact count.

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These days, he’s reading page proofs of Pinboy, which his publisher, Cormorant Books, describes as a memoir, but which he insists is fiction. A collection of essays, Words, Words, Words, is scheduled to be released this summer. “But it’s coming out from a publisher that just got firebombed. So who knows?” (An incendiary device was tossed into the ground floor of New Star Books in Vancouver last week. Rolf Maurer insists the publishing schedule will not be disrupted.)

Mr. Bowering is currently at work on what he describes as a “peculiar and difficult” novel, as well as a challenging short story.

“It’s very difficult to write,” he complained. “And almost impossible to read!”

When he gets bogged down on those, he turns to Twitter, where even the most productive typists are restricted to 140 characters at a time.

Without publicity, Mr. Bowering began issuing posts based on the names of streets found in Vancouver and environs.

On Dec. 11, Mr. Bowering posted a 46-character tweet: “I saw a guy reading The Iliad on Homer Street.”

This was soon followed by, “I saw a guy playing electric guitar on Richards Street.”

He’d gone from a Greek classic to classic rock (Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards) in successive postings.

Then came, “I saw a guy put on his glasses on Seymour Street.” A terrible pun. He redeemed himself by posting, “I saw a guy dressed up to rob a bank on Balaclava Street.”

The Street Tweets excited his small online following.

The Vancouver writer and humorist Charlie Demers wrote, “I hope @Bowering publishes a book of his Twitter street poems. Poems? I don’t know if they’re poems exactly. But they’re good, so follow him.”

The tweets riff on politics (“I saw a guy trying to get out of the country on Quebec Street”) and literature (“I had a whale of a time on Melville Street”) and popular culture (“The traffic on Elm Street was a nightmare”).

Some inferred a knowledge of monocular British admirals (“I saw a one-eyed guy on Nelson Street”), or English poets (“I saw a tyger on Blake Street”), or Irish novelists (“I listened to a guy who told an incomprehensible story on Joyce Street”), or lead-footed British Columbia politicians (“I saw an idiot driving too fast on Gaglardi Way”), or hockey’s cubitus-wielding Gordie Howe (“I saw a guy elbowing his way along Howe Street”).

“There’s something about the numbers on Euclid Avenue,” he wrote.

“I was feeling kind of edgy on Boundary Road.”

Being of somewhat juvenile demeanour, Mr. Bowering predictably posted a scatological reference to Richmond’s No. 2 Road. He also could not restrain from commenting about what he might have seen occurring on the avenue between 68th and 70th.

But every groaner (“I saw a guy pulling up his socks on Argyle Drive”) is more than matched by a charmer (“Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia Street on my mind”).

He also has used the series as an opportunity to express his annoyance with Irving Layton (“I heard a poet bragging about his virility on Layton Avenue”) and radio’s Stuart McLean (“I heard a really annoying radio program while driving along McLean Drive”).

The series is infectious. You can’t help but start writing your own.

“This whole Twitter thing is just a holiday,” Mr. Bowering said. “You just fire things off into the void. You know somebody’s going to read ’em. You just want to give people an edge of a smile.”

Last year, the writer won the B.C. Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. He’s also been awarded two prestigious Governor-General’s Literary Awards (for poetry in 1969 and fiction in 1980). He’s been invested into the Order of B.C. and the Order of Canada.

Tweets feel like ephemera, but thanks to the Internet will linger forever. Isn’t it risky to his reputation to post doggerel, or nonsense, or whimsy, or found poetry on so public a forum as Twitter?

“I tell myself, ‘You’re supposed to be a big-deal writer. You’re lowering yourself to be part of the hoi polloi, or the wannabes, or the up-and-comers.’ I’m conflicted about it. Should I be doing this? Isn’t this really not sophisticated enough for me?”

Among his circle, sophisticated is not the first word that comes to mind in describing Mr. Bowering.



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