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What is he? Composition, canine ambiguity, and hugging killer whales with George Bowering

A grin quirked at the corner of George Bowering’s mouth as he flipped through the pages of Teeth, pausing every so often to read a poem that stood out to him. Each selection seemed to have its own story of origin, which he shared with the ease of a natural storyteller, filling the spaces between the lines.

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Image: Kinikkin Reims/Flickr

By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 4, 2014

Image: Kinikkin Reims/Flickr

Bowering mixed anecdotes with poetry at the Reach.

A grin quirked at the corner of George Bowering’s mouth as he flipped through the pages of Teeth, pausing every so often to read a poem that stood out to him. Each selection seemed to have its own story of origin, which he shared with the ease of a natural storyteller, filling the spaces between the lines.

“So now you get to see how I have progressed over the past 30 years,” he smiled as he shifted from his older material to the relatively new collection, published in 2006. There was indeed a progression, but all the poems he chose to read on May 29 at the Reach felt distinct in style, perhaps because we had the insider’s scoop — the stories behind them — or maybe it was just Bowering’s way of reading each poem as a unique entity.

Bowering began the reading with a few poems requested by UFV’s Carl Peters, who guest- curated the event for the Reach, paired with the exhibit currently featuring bill bisset’s work. One of the poems he read featured bisset. He also read “Raspberries,” two different poems entitled “The Breaks,” and a piece called “Composition.” Bowering clarified that the word “compose” indicates putting two things together side by side, not to fabricate them. Before reading “The Body,” he noted a literary magazine of the same name emerged in Vancouver shortly after his poem was published.

“I never got a cent,” he said. “Don’t go into poetry — go into real estate.”

Other highlights included “What is he,” a poem probing a universal mystery: what exactly is Goofy?

“He couldn’t be a dog,” Bowering mused, “because Pluto’s a dog.”

His frequent jokes and asides coaxed more than a few chuckles from the intimate audience of about 30 people. Though Bowering came to Abbotsford to read his work, one of the most interesting parts of his appearance was listening to him speak about his experience as Canada’s first-ever poet laureate back in 2002.

“Nobody knew what to expect,” he reflected. “I didn’t know what was going to happen; Parliament didn’t know what was going to happen.” 

He did have one run-in with a killer whale in his time as Canada’s poet: Bowering was encouraged to “see if [he] can score one on Fin!” So he dropped the hockey stick he was holding, ran forward, and seized the unsuspecting Vancouver Canucks mascot. It might be said, then, that Bowering used his role to challenge the ambiguity of language.

Overall, the reading had a warm, organic feel, though it ended about an hour earlier than forecasted at 7:30 p.m. Bowering also opened up the floor to a few questions from the audience.

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