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

About graphic novels, or what my generation called comic books? I don't know. My favourite US novelist, Jerome Charyn, produced a few; but, they do not show up in the graphic-novel section of the big-box bookstores where only the series appear. Everything has to be a series.

About poetry? In 1972, if I published a book of poems, it would be reviewed in 20 newspapers (including The Star-Phoenix and The Leader-Post). Now, a lot of the newspapers have folded; the ones that remain do not commit poetry reviews. They run stories about book prizes instead. Still, the little presses pump out the poetry books. But, if you want to see how valuable poetry is, try to sell a poetry book to a second-hand bookstore.

Biography may enhance a given artistic work's extrinsic value, understanding of a work's genesis or creation; but, by definition, a work of art completes itself, no?

Well, I think that sometimes knowing the biographical details helps me follow the writing into smaller cracks. I have just been proofreading my novel, Caprice, for the New Star edition and noticing all the obscure shards of autobiographical reference I have sprinkled in here and there, knowing that it is unlikely that anyone ever will pick them up. Heh heh. Sometimes I stick in something that only one person will ever understand. That's just the fun that an author gets to have.

I remember that when I was a teenager, that New Criticism was in charge of literary criticism, and it said (and was echoed by the English profs standing at the front of rooms where I sat) that the poem, for example, was a self-contained mechanism or object or puzzle or something, that it was found on a beach, maybe, on a desert island, that no one put it there. I thought it was pretty telling that that was a lot like the Catholic teachers' proof of God, that if you found a perfect pocket watch on a desert-island beach, you would logically assume that it had been made by a watchmaker; so if you find the universe, which is a lot more complicated than a pocket watch, you have to assume that someone made it.



You keep aging through your nap, maybe as slowly as Paul Desmond plays a saxophone, but aging nevertheless, growing old under your chin, while the people you let in let on they know exactly how you feel and they don't. If only poetry could get you back to, say, your mid-fifties, then poetry would be worth more than any nap, more even than, say, Utah, which used to have a lot of desirable minerals in its mountains, which those Mormons and others were quick to remove, fast as Tom Raworth reading a poem.


Well, I swallowed the New Criticism guff for a while. But you know, I think that if you know something about life in Europe around 1818 - the politics, the religion, the science - you will have a better chance of understanding Shelley's poetry. Shelley's life is just interesting as can be - one of the great puzzles for me has been why there is no movie of Shelley's life - and a few decades ago I read several Shelley biographies. You have to learn about the Hapsburgs, the then-current theory about volcanoes and [David] Hume's philosophy to get a leg up on Ode to the West Wind and Prometheus Unbound. Shelley's reading of those things is a major part of his biography. I say, If it's there, take it. I don't think that a work of art, tempting as it is to think so, is complete in itself. Shelley thought that his poetry was work in the service of rebellion against manacles, mind-forged or not.

There are some people who think that poetry, in order for it to be political, has to be dumbed down. Those people are underestimating the world for which they're writing . . . Well, maybe I am straying away from the subject here. Maybe I am contradicting myself when I invent my birthdate and birthplace for interviewers. But have you noticed how neat it is when you catch a glimpse of your town in a movie?

McLuhan described what we are now enduring as the breakdown of print culture (which, during his time before he died in 1980), had already been somewhat cannibalized by technological advancements. Certainly, five years after his death, we were all computer-literate - Remember WordStar? - and, of course, composing, revising or editing our work in a different way. What was your experience during the 1980s in these terms? (Actually, McLuhan said breakdown leads to breakup leads to breakthrough, just for periphrastic accuracy's sake.)

I did get onto using a computer pretty soon, joining Frank Davey, Lionel Kearns and Fred Wah in the Apple II crowd. But, unlike Lionel, who started using far-out multi-layering programmes, I just thought of my computers - I have had about 15 Apples, I guess - as typewriters with handy features, such as memory.

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