Born in Penticton, British Columbia in 1935, George Bowering is a highly regarded Canadian writer. Author of more than 100 books, he served as Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate and received the Order of Canada as well as the Order of British Columbia among many other honours.
I love the title of the compilation. It is compelling and suggestive. It offers terrific promise of artistic and intellectual places to go. The title gave me hope of wonderful exploration. Much of poetry itself, though, doesn’t seem to extend from the title or the promise.
That being said, reading this collection from a leading Canadian poet offers me some excellent lessons in poetics and my own expectations of poetry. For this, I am deeply grateful.
In Vermeer’s Light, I often find myself irritated by poor finishes to nice starts; I find myself disappointed by nice concepts that aren’t adequately extended or explored. There are very few shared discoveries. I ask myself why Bowering would re-discover himself in a far-from-home mirror and yet not expand-upon and share the discovery?
I am also struck by the sense that Bowering is often satisfied with clever interpersonal quips and jokes. Those quips amount to amusement among insiders rather than a poetry that embraces a wide audience. Despite having spent over thirty years listening to CBC radio, I’m irritated by Bowering snuggling-up rather than sharing in a sense of community. I am irritated by the extraordinary failure of Bowering to ignore the fact that he is centre-stage and get down to connecting with the reader. I don’t really care how much buddying goes on among the sibling-like literati of Canadian culture…I want see how much buddying goes on between the literati and Canadians.
I find really terrific lines, such as “Braided bread is a tapestry” or “There are pockets of French cigarette smoke in the air over sidewalks and tables“. Lines like that are rich and memorable. They offer me something to ponder. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of them. They strike me as hints of a powerful poet that has stopped sharing.
It is when I come to the several iterations of the poem “My Grandfather” that I learn most about what I want from a poet; Bowering shares that he had become bored with his own poem and explored several ways to contort the original poem to provide novel (to him) linguistic/poetic results. His exertions included replacement of words from the poem with randomized selections from a dictionary. As a reader, I am left with the disappointing feeling that this poet is attempting to stimulate himself rather than the reader. Does Bowering really have nothing left to say to such an extent that flipping through a dictionary to randomly replace words is to serve as “poetry”?
Other notable poetry titles by George Bowering:
- Rocky Mountain Food (1969)
- Sticks and Stones (1989)
- The World, I Guess (2015)
George Bowering on Goodreads
In keeping with the theme of coordinating open- with subjective single-author sources. Goodreads reader ratings and reviews are cited as an indication of reader impressions. As of July 27, 2018 Vermeer’s Light had earned an average 3.67 of five stars on 9 ratings.
Thoughts on Poetics, Having Read George Bowering
- I expect a poet to write because they have something to say….not because they wish they had something to say. I also learn that any poet may readily catch the ear of a select audience. Bowering has not caught my ear….but he has impressed others. His poetry is not for me, but his writing earned him the inaugural slot as Poet Laureate. I hope to find the poetry that earned him the honour.
- As a Canadian and as a (novice) poet, I chastise myself for not being more familiar with the Canadian poets Laureate. There have been seven of them since the position was created in 2002. I have taken steps over the summer to correct my earlier failure to “pay attention”.
- Wide-spread critical and main-stream success is desireable to a poet. It is bread and butter. Does such success undermine the quality of the work produced?
This article is presented as a poetics case-study in an ongoing series of inquiries into the forms, values and meanings of poetry and poetics.
- Eric Adriaans’ Poetry Showcase
- Martin Heidegger’s The Thinker As Poet
- Al Purdy
- Ken Babstock
- Karen Solie
References and Citations
All content on www.ericadriaans.com, the Erickipedia, is updated and revised based on new information, further consideration, reader feedback and whim. To recommend updates, provide feedback or comment please use the contact and feedback form.
- Original draft August 23, 2017
- Updated July 27, 2018