Romantic Words, by Artie Gold and George Bowering

Romantic Words is a book, but published as a series of chapbooks. These are comprised of George’s ongoing project of “poetic exchange” with Artie Gold’s long-lost manuscript, Romantic Words.

Installments have already appeared in Vehicule Press's Mouse Eggs series, from above/ground press, and from Proper Tales. Further installments are pending from Nose in Book Publishing, Laurel Reed Books, Turret House, and Apt. 9 Press.

Below you'll find all the information about this project, including a full product description, George's introduction to the series, as well as where to find the chapbooks.

Description

During 2021-2023 I worked on a notoriously unpublished book of poetry (well, a few pieces of it have been published here and there) by Artie Gold, Romantic Words. It is a sequential (and numbered) poem he worked on from 1969 till 1993. As Gold was a noticeable presence a couple decades ago, you may know that he was in a sense taken over by this sequence, even naming his previous work Before Romantic Words. Artie was (the most prominent) member of a Montreal group called the Vehicule Poets, and was much loved by his cohort, including Endre Farkas, who published one of Artie's major works The Beautiful Chemical Waltz, through his press, The Muses' Company. That book was introduced by another friend, Ken Norris, who is writing the intro to Romantic Words. Endre wrote the afterword for the marvelous The Collected Books of Artie Gold, the title of which is a nod to Jack Spicer, one of Artie's two favourite contemporary poets.

I should say a few words about the history of all this. When I was the writer in residence at Sir George Williams University in Montreal while the sixties were becoming the seventies, I met a lot of young (going to be) poets. I have mentioned elsewhere being encouraged about the futures of two of them, Artie Gold and Dwight Gardiner. The latter became a Talonbooks poet and an employee of that press, and the house editor of Artie's first Talon book, Even yr photograph looks afraid of me. These two youngsters were the only people at the university (including faculty) who had heard of Frank O'Hara and Jack Spicer. You know, the kind of students who make you think it might be all right to be a professor.

So I kept track of the Vehicule poets, and came to town to read in their series at Vehicule Gallery. I read their books and magazines. I corresponded with them. When Artie Gold died I bought an air ticket to Montreal to attend his life celebration at his beloved book store, The Word. I ate half of the chicken livers. Endre was the person who found Artie's body and then faced the spectacular task of making some order in his literary remains. The lads knew about Romantic Words. They had heard Artie read from the book and sometimes talk about it. It was obvious that something had to be done with the manuscript. But where had it gone? Parts of it were to be found in his books and elsewhere, but as for the whole pile of paper? It was apparently lost, the newest member of that club.

For various reasons, one might think of Artie's life and output being a mess. But like Jack Kerouac, he kept his papers in order, treating them as he treated his famous collections of glass, stones, poetry books, illustrators, etc., and sure enough, eventually his typescripts of unpublished work showed up in the McGill University library. (That in itself is a miracle I might tell you about some time.) The question arose: could Endre Farkas turn these pieces of a book into a book? Could Ken Norris? Could GB? By the way, Artie was the first person to address me that way. Let me look at the typescript as held by McGill, I said. No promises. And so these poems sat in my hard drive for a few years.

Well, certain events in which I took part or vice versa suggested that while I was working on other books I might have a look at Artie's sequence. I wrapped up three other books and stopped half way through a fourth (my memoir of La Manzanilla), and poked at a computer file called RW. Well, you know, a couple critics of Canadian Lit have noticed that a lot of my books are collaborations. They are right, I noticed; I have cowritten books with living writers, dead writers, older writers, younger writers, single writers, groups, even imaginary writers. I won't mention them all, but they include George Stanley, David Bromige, Michael Matthews, Thea Bowering, Charles Demers, Ryan Knighton, David McFadden, Fred Wah (unpublished), Jean Baird; enough of those. I also do a lot of writing in which I make use of other people's work without their knowledge. So with Romantic Words. Ken mentions some of the approaches I take to my co-author's poems. I think that perhaps the best point Ken makes is that there hasn't been a book (in Canada at least) constructed the way this one has. I sort of knew that when I dived in, but I never felt confused about what I was doing.

A word about the structure. Artie was never sure about whether a poem he had written was part of Romantic Words. The typescripts show us this. Some of his friends think that all his later poems might be included in the sequence. Before I had been doing the work for long I felt that there were two books here: RW and what are usually called "Unpublished Poems." A look at the back end of The Collected Books will show you what I mean. Well, I listened to Ken and I listened to Endre and I listened elsewhere, and I understood their views. Then with their help, I came upon this idea: Artie's late period was spent on one big life's work, and I can produce one big poem with Book 1 and Book 2. Thinking of what I said about my life's work being part of an ongoing task that the poets attend to as a shared activity, I can say that in a smaller world, all of Gold's poems are parts of his life's work. I am pretty sure that Artie felt that way, and that most good readers will have picked up on that feeling.

Of late some poets have taken the lead of Robert Creeley and Fred Wah and Robert Hogg, etc., and have later in their lives done more publishing in chapbooks than in bigger items. In my case, at least, serious chapbooks from serious publishers seem to go with a wish to return to the serious desire we had back in the day, to make a family life rather than a career of poetry.

So the Artie Gold project. I came to the conclusion that we were dealing with one task, but that it was begun by two books. First I assembled the poems whose typescripts did not bear the mark RW on them, and said this is the second book, Ruby Woundsa phrase from Frank O'Hara, Artie's other favourite poet. The publication is now done, and I am surprised and happy to be around to see the volumes. They are: from Ruby Wounds (above/ground), Romantic Wounds (Apt. 9 Press), Mortal Taste (Turret House) and Lalique, (above/ground).

The second half of the project is under weigh. Five chapbooks making up Romantic Words have been assigned and work has begun. They are Mozart & Villon, published by Stuart Ross at Proper Tales, Cope With It, by Linda Crosfield at Nose In Book Publishing, The Cell Window, from Laurel Reed Books, Twelve Cent Stars by James Hawes at Turret House, and Abdication Speech, by Cameron Estee at Apt. 9 Press.

Yours truly. I hope I have not left many typos. My eyes are not working well.

GB

Introduction to Romantic Words

Ken Norris

When he was pushing thirty, Artie Gold began writing Romantic Words. He thought so highly of the manuscript that he called the book that came before it before Romantic Words.

For a number of odd reasons, Romantic Words never made it into print during Artie’s lifetime. Publishing became difficult and drugs became easy. That’s one way to tell it. There are a multitude of other ways. Long story short, when Artie died at the age of sixty in 2008, Romantic Words remained unpublished.

Endre Farkas and I discussed cobbling together a version of it and including it in The Collected Books of Artie Gold (2010). But we really didn’t have very much to go on. The manuscript was “lost.” In 2012 or 2013, Patrick Hutchinson, who was going through Artie’s papers to organize them for McGill University, found two version of Romantic Words in the literary papers. By2015 or 2016, Endre, as Artie’s literary executor, had decided to ask George Bowering to editRomantic Words. And so begins our tale.

By 2018, George had declined the job. He still had too much of his own writing left to do. I toyed with the idea of editing the book for six months myself, and then declined the job too.It was going to be a tough edit, and I still had too much of my own writing left to do.

The pandemic arrives in 2020 and all of life changes. Late in the year, Endre and I hear from George—he’s working on Romantic Words. But he is not editing it—he is collaborating with it. In the life confusion he has put on his writer’s hat, not his editor’s hat.

In this version of Romantic Words, Artie gets the left hand page and George gets the right hand page. And what George has going on the right hand page is many things. Sometimes it is commentary. Sometimes it is revision. Sometimes it is translation. Sometimes it is a wholesale rewrite. Sometimes it is a moment in awe.

George’s openness as a reader/writer/editor/friend/fanboy allows many things to transpire. It’s a curious book, and there is a genuine dialogue happening between the Artie poems on the left hand page and the George writing happening on the right hand page. What the reader sees happening is certainly some version of admiration, affection and love.

I think the big question isn’t: why does this book exist? I think the big question is: why don’t we have more books like this? As it stands, it is unique in our literature, in our realm of writing.

Fencing, tennis—the metaphors are there for the back and forth the book produces. Left page, right page, left page, right page—it’s an atmosphere of engagement and, occasionally, friendly competition. Sometimes George seeks to explain Artie. Other times he simply says, This is the way I’d do it, and here it is—done.

To be interested in poetry means, I think, to be willingly engaged in a certain kind of verbal difficulty. I say this as a poet who started out trying to be extremely accessible. But there is something in the abstruseness of a Margaret Avison or an Artie Gold that calls one to a different kind of mission. George loves engaging with that, when poetry threatens to start speaking in tongues. And when, at the age of twenty-four, I met Artie and started reading his poetry, it was something I had to get used to.

Artie Gold is, by no means, an easy-to-read poet. He deploys vast elements of Surrealism—often. And his syntax is often programmed to confound the most astute grammarian. There are verbal tangles throughout his work. And there are numerous places to get lost in the hopes of being found, in the hope of poetry giving the reader that state of grace that only poetry can deliver.

At times, in this collaborative Romantic Words, Bowering seems quite content and happy to play second fiddle, or, more accurately, second violin. He isn’t contesting the poetic space with Artie as much as he is commenting upon Gold’s negotiation of it. At times there is an opportunity to redirect the energy flow, or offer an older and wiser perspective on things (Bowering is eighty-five years old as he is working on the manuscript). George reconfigures some poems on his page as an act of generosity. Occasionally he illustrates a flaw. But he also bows to the flawless when it occurs, which is often. Sometimes only for a sequence of lines, sometimes for an entire startling poem (see R.W. 6)

In the middle of Romantic Words George almost starts translating Artie. Often Gold proves difficult. His syntax is a challenge to us all, and sometimes he appears to just be slinging words. But when the spook is present, the words alchemize, turn from lead to gold.

There are times when I do, in fact, prefer “George’s version”—he has a lifetime of craft and crafting behind him. Sometimes Artie’s poems sputter—like Elmer Fudd trying to talk when he’s excited about something. At these times, George, as an astute reader, a gifted writer, can show a bewildered reader where the poem was trying to go.

There’s something almost arcane about poetry if you are doing it right. It’s shot through with mystery, and its moments of bright clarity are totally mysterious. This is a great book for me as a reader. It takes me right down into the commas. It is a writer’s delight. I’m not entirely sure what an “average reader” will make of it. A “general reader” might not be entranced by its specificities. In short, I suspect that, like After Lorca, it will become a textbook for poets.

I’ve asked George to discuss the process of doing Romantic Words in a Postscript. Why it exists in the form that it does—that’s above my pay grade.

In the late 1970s, I knew Romantic Words as a working manuscript. I knew it as something that was up for revision. And then, years later, I knew it as a mythic manuscript that had been lost and then was found in Artie’s papers. What it’s now become both mystifies and pleases me. Under George’s hand, it has quite possibly entered the realm of works such as After Lorca and Heads of the Town Up to the Aether. That is certainly an interesting thing to see happen. It used to be a friend of mine’s poetry manuscript. Now, thanks to George, it is a singular work of art.

Toronto

The chapbook project has two parts. (Follow the links to order copies from the publishers):

Part I:

from Ruby Wounds (above/ground press, Ottawa, December 22, 2022, $5)

Romantic Wounds (Apt. 9 Press, 978-1-926889-37-5, 5.5×8.5, 28pp, /100, $10.00)

Mortal Taste (pending from Turret House)

Lalique (pending from above/ground)

Part II:

Mozart & Villon (pending from Stuart Ross at Proper Tales)

Cope With It (pending from Linda Crosfield at Nose In Book Publishing)

The Cell Window (pending from Laurel Reed Books)

Twelve Cent Stars (published by James Hawes at Turret House)

Abdication Speech (published by Cameron Estee at Apt. 9 Press)