Non-fiction

Memoir &c

As the years have gone by I have become less aware of the difference between fiction and non-fiction. The word “fiction” comes from a source that suggested shaping something from clay. That’s what happens in the Book of Genesis, which a lot of people take for a true story, eh?”

George Bowering

Here I am in my University office in Montreal, reading a book I reviewed twice, and ignoring the bad spelling on a poster.

 


The Dad Dialogues, by George Bowering and Charles DemersThe Dad Dialogues, by George Bowering and Charles Demers, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016

buy-now

Charles Demers is a thirtysomething comedian and the author of three books; George Bowering is eighty, Canada's first poet laureate, and the author of more than eighty books. Charlie and George are also the best of friends. And the fathers of daughters.

In this unique book of correspondence, these two men from different generations write to each other about the burdens, anxieties, and singular joys of parenthood. The letters begin as Charlie and his wife discover they will become parents; he expresses his hopes and fears of impending fatherhood, compounded by his OCD and his own father's illness, while George recalls his experiences raising a daughter in the 1970s and his anxieties about bringing a child into a troubled world.

Together, their thoughtful, funny, candid missives reveal what fathers know (or don't know) about raising daughters, as well as themselves and each other. Their combined observations make for a passionate, funny, and moving portrait of fatherhood in all its imperfect, beautiful glory.

“The Dad Dialogues affords an intimate look at the diapers, despair and overwhelming joy of fatherhood. Not war stories from the trenches; instead a rare advertisement for male nurturing.” —BC Bookworld
 
“There is lots of funny stuff, and lots of tender expressions of fatherly love, which manage to skirt the flanking dangers of Hallmark card/Father Knows Best sentiment on the one hand and ostentatious tough guy posturing on the other. In the middle of this difficult balancing act, they provide the reader with a lot of serious material to think about, ranging from the ethical complexity of bringing a child into a daunting world, the ways that the rigours of child rearing can change and deepen a relationship, or scuttle it, and the always contentious question of whether men can describe themselves as feminists.” —Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun
 
Billed as "A correspondence on fatherhood (and the universe)" this book is an intimate exchange between two fathers at different stages of parenthood and adulthood. Funny, heart-breaking, and revelatory this book made me laugh and cry, often at the same time (which is familiar territory for a parent). Yes, I do want to pre-order Cara's side of the story now! —Wendy on GoodReads
 

the hockey scribblerThe Hockey Scribbler, ECW Press, 2016

Hockey forms the backdrop of our lives. For many Canadians, the big moments — births, deaths, marriages, moves — are all mixed up with the wins and losses of our teams. The voices of Hockey Night in Canada sportscasters are our soundtrack, and visions of skates scraping across the ice lull us to sleep.

George Bowering, Canada’s former poet laureate, is no different. Growing up in Oliver, BC, Bowering was entranced by the kids from Saskatchewan who skated and handled pucks as easy as breathing. His fascination with hockey followed him into adult life, from BC to Quebec and back again. Bowering followed his teams with a critical eye and a fan’s passion, and his stories bring us on a cross-country hockey-themed road trip, with occasional forays into boxing, poetry, and sports fashion.

Bowering has an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. He has been an avid and attentive hockey fan since boyhood, and has an extensive catalogue of thoughts and opinions on the personalities and events that populate Canadian hockey history. In The Hockey Scribbler, Bowering brings us along on his richly detailed look back at the hockey in Canada since the 1950s.

It’s the game depicted as it was, not as it is now. When he was a kid the author could name every player in the NHL. Kids these days find it hard to believe the league once had just six teams.

The author no longer follows hockey much. ‘Now 6-foot-5 guys who score three goals a season and can’t spell “you’re” are making a million dollars a season. Don’t get me started.’

Never a fan of fighting, goon violence was ultimately the ruination of the game for him. The infamous Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Morre incident where Bertuzzi attacked Moore from behind, ending Moore’s career, was also the end for Bowering. That along with what he calls the “growing menace” of advertising and saturation marketing.

These days there’s too many teams and too many whistles. He gets it right as far as this reviewer is concerned. Hockey, certainly as far as the regular season goes, can be a bit of a bore. He allows that the level of violence in hockey has tapered off latterly, in spite of “rock’em sock’em” Don Cherry whom he eviscerates.”—Vancouver Sun

a must read for every Canadian who grew up loving the game.”—Andrew Armitage, Owen Sound Sun Times

part autobiography, part history book and part cultural treatise.”—The Hockey News

 


How I Wrote Certain of my BooksHow I Wrote Certain of my Books, Toronto, Mansfield Press, 2011. How I Wrote Certain of My Books takes its name from a volume of the same title by French Surrealist Raymond Roussel. George Bowering borrows Roussel’s conceit and expands it into a non-chronological memoir—a colourful, illuminating, occasionally scandalous journey through the writing of nearly 30 of his books. This lively, conversational work, taking us into both the methods and the circumstances behind some of Bowering’s most famous and most notorious works of poetry and fiction, is as exciting as a novel. How I Wrote Certain of My Books will appeal to Bowering fans, CanLit scholars, and those learning how to be poets and novelists themselves.How I Wrote Certain of my Books provides a topography of the alternative writing scene of which Bowering has long been part, a cultural history against the grain and, implicitly, a reminder of the rich opportunities offered by a now-terminated federal cultural policy truly supportive of the arts. That this work, as well as that of many of Bowering’s close poet-friends, is no longer ‘marginal’ and, in fact, represents an inalienable contribution to Canadian writing is beside the point. As Pierre Bourdieu reminds us, this shirt may define the avant-garde.”—Alessandra Capperdoni, Canadian LiteratureIn How I Wrote . . . we get a glimpse into one “writing life,” its routines and disciplines, the prompts, the challenges, the experiments that keep a literary artist fresh and engaged. The influences, derivations, allusions. The confessions. In other words, the creative process. Reading it, the image of the poet as painter intrudes, of Picasso’s famous quote about the art of abstracting, how you always start with “something” and then afterward remove all traces of reality. Bowering’s How I Wrote . . . is the opposite, the reverse. It is the artist going backwards and painting in the bits that were once removed or painted over, to reveal the underpaint, the underlying structure, the “reality” that was the original prompt, and the “baffle,” the “constraint” applied originally to obscure, to trick. But Bowering claims that his goal had been to trick himself, the artist, “setting up constraints to force me away from representation and description of what I think I see in front of me” (7). As if the letters and the words are the canvas and the images, the paint, must be removed in order to showcase “the attraction of the language itself” (8). I do not mean to imply that he’s got it backwards. There is that ancient connection between the backwards and the trickster. And tricksters have been known to trick themselves. However, the very existence of this volume seems to belie the poetics. It seems to be evidence that writing for an audience of other professors and their students is ultimately unsatisfying; it is not enough. Now, the poet could just pick up his glove and go home. Alternately, he can choose to say: Come here. I’ll show you. This is how it’s done. Practise. Now you try it. Read it again.”—J. M. Bridgeman, Prairie Fire

George Bowering

In my office at Simon Fraser University, it only looks as if I am turning my back to Canadian Literature.

 


a magpie life: growiing a writerA Magpie Life, Toronto, Key Porter, 2001. A Magpie Life is a memoir of a literary life. It is vintage Bowering—funny, self-deprecating and perceptive—and as wide-ranging as his interests. And in true Bowering style, it delights in surprising the reader with profound understanding carefully cloaked by wry humour. Dispensing with the details of his life in the opening "Alphabiography," a witty and moving account in which the important aspects of his life are detailed alphabetically, Bowering settles down to write the story of the literary influences on his life and writing. The reader is treated to a wonderful portrait of the renegade young hipsters who founded the landmark literary magazine Tish in Vancouver in the early 60s, with insights into the structure and style of the poets who influenced his own writing, and to what it was like to carve a writing life from the western edge of the Canadian literary renaissance. A Magpie Life will forever ruin Bowering's carefully-crafted image as the western rube. It's funny and smart and one of the best literary memoirs you'll read.A book that defines his life more in terms of literary influences than anything else. The overall result is as eclectic as Bowering’s career, and as entrancing as his best fiction.”—Maclean’sProbably the best part of this book, hands down, is the initial section, a forty-page mini-memoir called ‘Alphabiography.’ It begins with a short tribute—‘A’—to his late wife, Angela Luoma Bowering. The two were married from 1962 until her death in 1999. ‘B’ is birth—GB's own. ‘C’ is childhood. ‘D’ is death. ‘E’ is Ewart Bowering, George's father, a HS Chemistry teacher in Oliver, BC, where GB grew up. And so on. ‘K’ is for Kerouac, but could just as easily been another Canadian writer, Robert Kroetsch, frequently mentioned in the book. ‘L’ is of course for Literature. Because Bowering has been an addicted reader his whole life. Enamored as a boy by pulp western writers like Max Brand and Luke Short, he progressed to Heinlein and Bradbury. More recently he has been reading Nathalie Sarraute and Adolfo Bioy Casares. ‘First I read books, and as I got older I read literature.’"—Timothy J. Bazzett, amazon.com 5 starred reviewGeorge Bowering’s collection of essays is a much more self-conscious assertion of the personal in the critical. Subtitled "Growing a Writer," A Magpie Life is part autobiography, but mainly, as Bowering has defined the form elsewhere, "biotext": writing as an extension of the creative writer as critic. A Magpie Life is a book about what Bowering calls the "double play" of writing. Quoting his former teacher Warren Tallman, Bowering notes that "The second baseman doesn’t think of himself when he participates in a double play." This is Bowering’s version of the lyric/anti-lyric paradox: the writer, when the writing is going well, becomes both subject and participant, someone who can articulate a critical position that refers to the personal without becoming overly invested in personal reference. For Bowering, personal anecdotes, stories and diary notes are points of departure for considering the network of connections that link writing and living: "I learned essay writing from Warren Tallman," he tells us. "He taught me that an essay was what Montaigne knew it to be— writing a life, living a life. He did not have much use for the usual academic essay because he could not find delight in it. He wanted to see that the writer delighted in his work, ’sensibility not in its literary but its literal, living sense, life conscious of surrounding life, direct communication.’" Lyric delight, "punch," is ubiquitous in A Magpie Life, but the anti-lyric self-consciousness keeps the writer’s mask in place as he covers a range of themes, including childhood, reading and writing, Tish, family, friends (especially fellow writers), the sixties, researching his novels, teaching, history, personal correspondence (including letters), music, and, inevitably, baseball.”—W. F. Garrett-Petts, Canadian LiteratureA Magpie Life: Growing a Writer is a collection of articles, most of them printed before, at least in part, under seven headings: Alphabiography, Growing a Writer, Writing Baseball, The Sixties, Impersonating a Writer, Others, and What? Since the early sixties, Bowering's output has been both prolific and eclectic, some fifty publications in all, moving from poetry to fiction to criticism and history. "Reading is what I do with my life," he says, but writing is its product. His great gift is humour, the self-deprecating humour we associate with Leacock, the Leacock of My Financial Career, not the borderline satirist of Sunshine Sketches. Bowering is kind, and if pressed for one brief three-word description of the tone of all his work, "Kind and Funny" might do as well as well as any. Besides writing and reading, his lifelong obsession is baseball, both playing and watching, but always celebrating. In fact this whole collection could be called "Celebrating," for Bowering does, emphatically, celebrate all the richness of life and living.”—Clara Thomson, Books in Canada

George Bowering, Frank Davey, and David McFadden

One example from a series of youngish writer photos taken at Frank Davey’s first home in Toronto. Here Bowering, Davey and David McFadden fool around with the magazine Davey was publishing.

 


  the moustache: remembering greg curnoeThe Moustache: Remembering Greg Curnoe, Toronto, Coach House, 1993. George Bowering and Greg Curnoe became friends in London, Ontario in 1966. Bowering was a 30-year-old poet and university student and Curnoe was a 29-year-old painter who had dropped out of art school in Toronto to return to his place of birth. Their art was in its youth, their eyes and ears were wide open and their stomachs could withstand pots and pots of strong, black coffee. For 26 years they grew up parallel, inside each other’s work. Greg Curnoe was killed on his bicycle late in 1992, struck down in the middle of his bright career.The Moustache beautifully designed by artist Robert Fones, is a fitting open-ended tribute to Curnoe, a cord of a time, of a place, and of a writer and an artist who lived miles apart and yet made an art scene. “Bowering ends it with a remembrance of the day he learned of Curnoe’s death, and had to tell his wife, Angela: ‘She howled No about twenty times. We loved him so much. I didn’t realize till just now at the end of this book, that what she was howling was the Nihilist Party of Canada motto. I could be completely wrong, but I think that No was always the right thing to say. Yes, Greg.’”—Nancy Baele, Ottawa CitizenIn The Moustache, Bowering accomplishes what he set out to do—and then some. By keeping it simple, Bowering paints a no-nonsense portrait of one of the most vital, multi-faceted artists in Canadian art. “… Most of all, we get a feel for a man who was an artist not only with pencil and brush, but in the way he affirmed life through the manner in which he lived.”—Robert Reid, The Kitchener-Waterloo Record

Michael Ondaatje and George Bowering

Michael Ondaatje and I on my living room couch in Montreal, proving that poets do a lot of serious reading.

 

Criticism
The Objects of My Affection