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

There are the Iowa-type poets, what Ron Silliman niftily calls the poetry of Quietude. These folks were collected in the other 1960 anthology, the New Poets of England and America, I think it was called: Justice, Simpson, Hall, Booth, Wilbur, Jennings, Merwin. Now, have a look at the names from the Allen anthology: Ginsberg, Oppenheimer, Corso, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Levertov, Sorrentino. I am talking general tendency here, you understand. I think that that is no "wrong turn." Those names: you know that they signify a much-needed turnover of the soil, by people who came from families that could not trace their roots to pre-revolutionary America, who did not have normal anglo-American expectations.

I think that we can see something like that in Canada at the same time, though maybe not something as dramatic. In any case, look at Montreal, which used to consider itself the centre of Canadian poetry. It's Layton where it was Scott and Dudek where it was Smith. You see? I thought of changing my name to Borowski.

As to your question regarding Olson. Well, I have grown up in a poetry world in which he is the main dad following the grand dads, WCW and EP. I always find it odd when the poets enisled around Victoria make references to oddities such as - Oh, I can't remember their names, have to look them up - Ted Hughes or Theodore Roethke. Olson was a strange contradiction. He was like Buddha, who said, Don't start a religion in my name, or real scientists, who say, Take what I have found out and make it obsolete. But, he also seemed to enjoy being the grand vizier. There have been idiots in this country who tried to suggest that Olson wanted us to replace Canadian traditions with US ones. These were the idiots who did not set a high enough value to reading.

Do you think the reading population will disappear, that mass stoopifaction will occur? Will graphic novels dominate our reading lists? Can poetry not exist?

When I wait for a bus at the bus loop on the University of British Columbia campus, I am usually the only person there who is reading a book, and when I get onto the bus and reluctantly close the book because reading on a bus makes me nauseated, I look around and see that none of these young "students" is reading. Once there was one other person reading, but she was about 60 years old. If there are 25 young "students" there at the beginning of the bus ride, at least 20 of them will have white wires hanging out of their ears, and at least 20 of them will be looking at cell phones or holding them to their ears.

If I go into the branch library in my university-area neighbourhood, the din is alarming. There I find a bank of computer screens, and on nearly all the computer screens, video games are entertaining the expressionless kids sitting in front of them. I believe that we are seeing the worst effects of democracy and capitalism, that trivia is pushing out scholarship, that fun is pushing out curiosity. If you mention Homer, the majority of people will think that you are referring to a TV cartoon character. Vocabularies have, apparently, become much smaller. One can say that young people are voluntarily settling for a smaller world. But, I think that there are forces in the world today that are making money from induced ignorance.


George's prodigious energy, vision and provocative wit on so many levels & in so many genres, a BIG contribution that makes his work difficult to sum up in one sentence, even two. Not only that, he's been unfailingly generous in his response (yes, responsiveness, that's what characterizes GB as both writer & reader), instigating movements and editions of others' work with as much energy as his own. I think of him as a poetic Puck, the fictive home-run hitter of CanLit. for many of us GB's work heralded formal innovation in CanLit, especially in prose & fiction beginning in the '60s & '70s. he's continued to innovate, yet never just for innovation's sake - he's always had something interesting to say & often he's said it with feeling. that's something i respect.

And that's not even mentioning what a significant instigator he's been for my own work with the novel.

- Daphne Marlatt


There is a TV guy called "Dr. Phil." I don't know what kind of doctor he is. I looked at his programme once. There was a couple sitting with him. The wife was complaining that her husband keeps on buying books when they already have lots of books in the house. This Dr. Phil laughed at the husband and commiserated with the wife. I know for a fact that there are young people who can get by without reading any of the words that show up in front of their eyes all day.

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