INA GRACEFUL LITTLE BLURB ON the back cover of George Bowering's Urban Snow (Talonbooks $1295), Sharon Thesen, with a poet's sure sense of the appropriate, has neatly described George Bowering's outlook. "Bowering's green thoughts restore the city," she writes, "to its paradises, parks, playing fields, its outlook both ludic and poignant." Ludic and poignant is correct. In Urban Snow George Bowering writes not only playfully, but also of play. Many of these new poems are about parks and playgrounds and games, particularly baseball. (When I think of baseball, it is usually with a bit of patronizing disdain, for I have always been a cricket man. But there is something so engaging about George's writing about baseball that I am temporarily entranced just as I am glad to see him arrive at my door in some weird black cap.) Bowering, as poet and man, is homo ludens. He never took his poetic battles solemnly as his fellow Tishite Frank Davey has tended to do. He remains the irrepressibly playful man who can turn the reading of poems into an amusing task with his wiles as an outrageous punster. The poignancy that Thesen mentions is also present. In Urban Snow the Vancouver so infested with poets in the 1960s is particularly recalled in the last and longest poem, 'The Great Grandchildren of Bill Bissett's Mice'.
'Young Claude Breeze has a storefront studio just a block up Yew Street. A sweet squirrel of a new woman named Judith Copithorne has another storefront further up. Gerry Gilbert just went by on his black bicycle...' (Reading these poems I remember George Bowering as a student at UBC, sitting in on my European literature course, taking notes for his girlfriend who worked on Saturdays...) 'Yew Street was full of poets and artists. When I close my eyes and see that hill and those people on the slant sidewalk, I fall in love with them all,' Bowering writes. 'Right now. I am the ghost they might have felt whispering by them a morning glory day in 1963.'
Place and time. Youth in Kitsilano.. Youth in Montparnasse; youth in Fitzrovia. It's identical in feeling, only what we wrote differed. On the back cover of Urban Snow there is a snap of Bowering with an uncustomary solemn expression standing beside the tomb of Guillaume Apollinaire, the great French modernist poet and preacher of the necessary visuality of modem poetry. It makes me think that Bowering has never laid any great claims to romantic originality, and in fact the kind of postmodernism he loosely follows is essentially derivative, depending largely on parody and palimpsest, on inversions of intent and extensions into absurdity, that relate him to Dada and before that to Apollinaire. Strangely there is not a single mention of Apollinaire in Eva-Marie Kroller's Bright Circle of Colour (Talon $13.95), the first book-length study of Bowering. Kroller traces anew a concern with the relations between the visual and the verbal, and the analogies between poetry and painting, that aware creators and critics have been finding since Baudelaire. She has tended to concentrate on links and resonances between Bowering and experimental artists who were his contemporaries from the 1960s to the present. It is a conscientious, shrewd and unpretentious book that can 'be read with relief by those who are physically nauseated by the academic jargon in which such studies are most written nowadays.
Bright Circle of Colour is as good a guide as any to Vancouver's little renaissance of the 1960swhich was strikingly like other renaissances, taking place in a rundown part of a city, where rooms were cheap and booze or pot or acid were easily accessible, usually with an overhanging political threat in the air. I contend that Urban Snow' reveals Bowering, for all his ironic play, as a nostalgist of the first power. (He has dedicated this book to Red Lane, bp nichol and Gwen MacEwan, among others.) A carefully and slightly subterranean reading of Bright Circles of Colour will show where that nostalgia comes from and reveal how, for Bowering as for us all the cynic and the sentimentalist shape each other's Janus masks.
Snow 0-88922-305-X; Circles 0-88922-306-8
George Woodcock's newest books are Anarchism and Anarchists (Quarry) and The Monk anti his Message (D&M). His forthcoming book on Canada's constitutional dilemmas is Power To Us All (Harbour). His contributions to the world of letters will be honoured in the next issue of Canadian Literature, No. 133.
[BCBW, Autumn, 1992]