I first met George Bowering at the Victoria School of Writing Summer School in 2005. It was the tenth anniversary of that summer school and since then has ceased operations. I had taken a weeklong workshop with him there and developed an enduring friendship with him and many other members of the class. He had recently been the first Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada and listening to it again 13 years after the fact, it still had potency, typical Bowering humor and a generosity (along with gentle ribbing) that I’ve felt from Bowering that continues to this day.
In the interview’s first segment, he discussed his early writing experience on sports for the high school annual, for the town paper, the Oliver (BC) Chronicle and the Penticton Herald. He related that because his father was a science teacher at the same high school that he made sure not to get good marks in school, lest he set himself up for resentment with other students. His favorite poets while in high school were Hart Crane, T.S. Elliot and H.D. (He did not know H.D. was a woman.) He discussed his experience in the Canadian Air Force, being a photographer, visiting the base library and being exposed to books published by New Directions while being stationed in the “middle of Manitoba.” He read William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Patchen and Kenneth Rexroth and that was, in his words, his “introduction to poetry.” He told his story about reading Willian Carlos Williams as a student in the UBC library and reading “The Desert Music” and being so moved, he was shaking and dropped the book on the concrete floor. He said he can still hear the sound of the book hitting the floor. Click here to listen to Part 1 – 13:27.
In part two Bowering continued his discussion of Williams and Ezra Pound as literary influences, discussed the appeal of Open Form and Edgar Allen Poe. He also talked about the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, how it came to be because of (Tumwater, WA native) UBC Professor Warren Tallman and his wife Ellen (King) Tallman. Their friendships with San Francisco Bay area poets helped develop strong connections between Bay Area poets like Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, with the poets that included Bowering and would be known as the TISH poets. He talked about the poets that were in Vancouver for that event, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Margaret Avison, Philip Whalen and how he was very impressed with Ginsberg and “followed him around.” He talked about Olson’s marathon readings, fueled by Cutty Sark, including “Maximus at Dogtown”, “Letter 27” and others from The Maximus Poems. Click here to listen to Part 2 – 13:17.
Part three features a discussion of Charles Olson, goes into “notation” or how an Open Form poem is laid out on a page. Click here to listen to Part 3 – 6:35.
Part four featured a discussion of the TISH group in Vancouver. Bowering discussed origins, the consistency of publication, how they sent the newsletter to subscribers to The Floating Bear, a seminal publication created by Leroy Jones, and how they gave their ailing list to a group of poets in Detroit centered around John Sinclair. He discussed how TISH was fond of publishing articles about poetry theory and that the group was like many other groups around which there was a “lot of energy.” He gave Lawrence, Kansas, and Buffalo, New York, as examples and mentioned that Frank Davie, Fred Wah, Lionel Kearns, Jamie Reid and David Dawson were other TISH poets. Bowering read his “Charles Olson“ poem from the book Curious, which he says related an actual moment from the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference. He also talked about the encouragement he got from Robert Duncan to start the TISH magazine, how the magazine got its name by being a “phonetic inversion” of the word “shit”, how North Americans dump feces into the water unlike most other civilizations which have used it for compost (as part of the natural cycle) and other things about poetics he picked up from Duncan. He also talked about the resentment TISH has engendered in some Canadian literary circles. Click here to listen to Part 4 – 11:52.
In part five he talked about his long poems “Kerrisdale Elegies” and “Allophanes” that most of his poems are “book-length” poems but NOT part of one long poem ashe said some other poets have done. He talked about the process of writing “Allophanes” while auditing a 13 week class that Robin Blaser taught at Simon Fraser University. He read from the poem, mentioned the reference to Jack Spicer and about hearing Jack Spicer’s voice “in his head.” Click here to listen to Part 5 – 9:10.
In the final interview segment he discussed his experience as the first Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, the media attention that accompanied the first few months in that position and a funny story about a border crossing into the U.S. as Poet Laureate. He also discussed B.P. Nichol’s masterpiece “The Martyrology” and how that is a more successful long poem than Charles Olson’s “The Maximus Poems” and Ezra Pound’s “The Cantos” because of the self-knowledge in Nichol’s book and the lack of same in the the Olson and Pound books. Bowering also discussed his essay: “The Power is There” about the poet as a “technician of the potent.” Click here to listen to part 6 – 17:00.
More interviews at American Prophets.org