George Bowering Selected:

244 pages,
ISBN: 0771015941

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Brief Reviews - Poetry
by Michael Redhill

The fear of death/longing for immortality is a unifying feature in George Bowering Selected (McClelland & Stewart, 244 pages, $14.99 paper), edited by Roy Miki, and it is the occasion for both Bowering's best and least satisfying poetry. In the former case, he is in full blossom in the "Kerrisdale Elegies," a long work from 1984. In these poems, which were written long after Bowering had centred himself as subject in his work ("all death writing is selfreferential"), he moves deftly between the inner and outer worlds. These are long, breathy poems, structured in defiance of their subject: the briefness of experience. Bowering writes, "love is a yearning / by the night stars for a body full of blood," a line that so effortlessly captures the smallness of the body up against eternity. Yet within this same elegy, Bowering indulges in kitsch as eagerly as he seeks transcendence, writing, "I've stood before the oven door my heart / is baking in, wondering, / how will it come out?"

These lesser impulses turn up more frequently in earlier work, including the often lauded "Curious," a series of poems about his friendships with other poets. Here Bowering's preferred subject - the poet in the world - is reduced to a pinpoint. The poems in "Curious" are so turned in on themselves that they become black holes, gobbling up the world without emitting any light.

Despite the unevenness of Bowering's work, this Selected offers the reader an opportunity to track the development of one of Canada's most varied poets. Since he is still in midstride, Bowering's flaws excite when viewed beside his strengths: they point to the poems not yet written, the ones to be written by the elder Bowering, the deathless ones.


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