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


I have known George for something like 35 years and he is sort of like a much older older brother. He is definitely the Godfather of the Vehicule Poets. He taught Artie Gold, Tom Konyves, John McAuley. He is the one person in that "generation of the '60s" that I have talked with the most, with the possible exception of bp Nichol. I see him as one of the important poets from that generation, along with John Newlove, Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, Nichol, Fred Wah, Daphne Marlatt, et.al. The two books by poets from that generation that have probably made me THINK the most about poetry are The Martyrology (Nichol) and Kerrisdale Elegies (Bowering) . . . It made sense to me that George was our first Poet Laureate. I like the way he has always argued against Toronto, the Central Canada view of CanLit. For some reason, Montreal in the '70s wound up being as peripheral as Vancouver in the '60s in the eyes of Toronto; so, I think we Vehicules related very well to the Tish experience. George got the word from Duncan and Spicer, and we got the word from George.

- Ken Norris


Do you see a certain tendency to consider the creation of poetry a "career," a "profession," a "gig?" I mean, a fellow named Zach Wells, for example, writes a blog he calls "Career-Limiting Moves" . . .

. . . I can't forget that the word "career" still hangs onto its root meaning that has to do with a road, a racetrack, a highway, etc. Carretera - get out there and drive, and arrive somewhere. I don't think I write to get somewhere, unless it is to the end of the line or sentence; and, then, you do want to put that off, don't you? Zach Wells? I have seen his name as a poetry reviewer in the magazine, Quill & Quire, wherein he never reviews a poetry book by anyone that I normally read. I have heard the word "career" used over my lifetime, and it seems to me that it is almost always used in a pejorative sense, as when one butters up someone to "advance" one's career.

My agent introduced me, when Jean [Baird]and I were making an anthology [ The Heart Does Break] to the term "A-List Writers." I immediately assumed that it is an Ontario, or maybe Toronto, usage. You know that I deplore the shift of attention (by newspapers, etc.) from books to book prizes. I can see that fiction writers might be tempted (or if they are UBC Creative-Writhing students, trained) to make a career of writing; but, for the life of me, I cannot understand a poet's wanting to do that. I am speaking as a person who deliberately stopped sending my poetry manuscripts to McClelland & Stewart. I think M&S is a good publisher; but, in general, the "professional" presses will encourage poetry packages that resemble what is already there.

Since the seminal Vancouver events of 1961 and 1963, do you think Canadian poetry's gone up or downhell? Why? What do you recommend or how could this be fixed if it's broken (or broken if it ain't)?

Not sure whether you mean the beginning of Tish in Fall 1961 or the great poetry conference (Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Avison, Ginsberg, et.al.) of Summer 1963. Incidentally, there was a reunion for the purpose of making a film of the still living people from 1963, on site, last summer. Some of the people who were the young students then (Daphne Marlatt, Clark Coolidge, Fred Wah, Michael Palmer) showed up with white hair! They are big-deal elder poets now, and still alive and writing, so not everything has been downhill.

There have also been a lot of poets who have emerged since that "storied time" to show us very good poetry with the intent not of shining a glam light on the self but rather finding a way to live in the world and try to remake it. I think of Colin Browne, Erin Mouré, Robert Kroetsch, Artie Gold. The serious poets will not stop coming. They will find publishers and get their books on a few shelves. Just remember that Shelley published in editions of 250, and so did Steve McCaffery, while bad verse gets huge circulation in print, on the Internet and even on television in certain circumstances.

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