(This is first of Galiano Island Books features on authors attending the 2018 Galiano Literary Festival February 23-25 on Galiano Island. Tix still available (250) 539-3340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
#LitFest welcomes back Friend of the Festival George Bowering, Canada’s first Poet Laureate.
After serving as an aerial photographer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Bowering earned a BA in English and an MA in history at the University of British Columbia, where he became one of the co-founders of the avant-garde poetry magazine TISH. He has taught literature at the University of Calgary, the University of Western Ontario, and Simon Fraser University, and he continues to act as a Canadian literary ambassador at international conferences and readings.
Pls enjoy Kris‘ interview w/ George…
KK – What have you been getting up to since last years Festival George?
GB – We have moved three times since last year. I broke my femur and spent lots of time in hospitals and discomfort, as the medical folks call it. My endurance in the writing chair has suffered this year, but I did manage the details for two books coming up, poetry early in the spring, and a novel later in the spring. I am now writing something resembling short stories.
KK – Why do you keep coming back?!?
GB – I like the way the Galiano Fest is run. There doesn’t seem to be a star system. There aren’t many people who drop in for their show and then speed elsewhere. The Galiano community gets involved, putting writers in guest rooms, moving chairs when they need moving, making fudge or soap. The book store is a hub of this warm winter place, and Galianofolk know it. I don’t traipse all over the map these days, but I save February for this great long weekend on a Pacific Island.
KK – How many writing projects do you have on the go currently?
I seem to be writing a book of stories, which means I am not as smart as Mike Ondaatje and Robert Kroetsch, because people don’t buy books of stories. I have jotted down ideas for novels, but those things always take me 7 years, and I am over 80 and can count.
KK – I’m excited to check out your forthcoming ‘George’s’ book. I heard it called “a flipflop book. One direction, George Bowering. Other direction, George Stanley.”
There’s too much about it to tell all about it. I have 4 other editors etc, crawling down my neck today. I keep looking for ways to do books that cannot be considered by book prize people See the book, Cars by Ryan Knighton and me, or the book Piccolo Mondo by me and 3 others, a novel. In this one, with a cover by Jack Shadbolt, you read one of the books of poetry and when you come to the end, you turn the book over and read your way back. A few poems are about the other guy’s poems.
KK – What do you think of audio books? Have you made many? Do you listen to them?
I read books on line, or listen to books, only when I have no other option. This occurs about once every 5 years. There is a box of CDs version of my hockey book, made in the USA. I like having a copy as an object for my shelves, but I don’t listen to it.
KK – How about ‘Literary Readings’? What’s up with those?
Over the last lotsa years, literary readings have been my main source or place of social life, I go to them a lot more than I go to things like music shows or movies; though I go to baseball games a lot, and I go to any play by Samuel Beckett.
I go to readings by the writers whose books I have collected for the GB room at the UBC library. So I include readings by Michael McClure, Sharon Thesen and Erin Moure, for examples. Before they died, I went to readings by Robert Duncan, bpNichol and Robert Kroetsch. Sometimes when I am reading a book by, say, Georges Perec, I imagine being at a reading by him, which is impossible, because he is dead, and I never heard him read.
KK – You mentioned moving 3 times this year. What’s up with that?
For financial reasons we sold our house (at the apex of the undeserved price curve, and then I went into hospital, and one day while she was visiting, I said to Jean, “Buy us a home.” For several months we lived rent-free in the house we had sold, then we rented at huge price, a three-story town house in the neighbourhood. Then I broke my leg, and soon we rented a one-storey townhouse in the neighbourhood, and then we moved into the home Jean bought, on the fourth floor, a condo, which Jean got renovated, and here we are, getting ready to go to Mexico again.
KK – Alex Waterhouse Hayward is friend and photographic hero of mine and I was wondering what it was like to work with him ‘back in the day’ and if you could talk a little bit more about his work and the role it played in documenting the Vancouver art and culture scene?
Over the decades Alex has taken a lot of pictures of me, which I enjoy, not because I look great in pictures, but because Alex is educated, knowledgeable, and witty. We share many interests, including places in the world, and authors, out especially Jerome Charyn, my favourite living novelist and his. Just as the hip writers of the past 5 decades here have to include painters (Kiyooka, Fisher, Coupey, Payne) in their crowd, so they have to include Alex. I also enjoy getting him to fine-tune my Spanish.
KK – What was TISH and is there anything like it today? Is internetland capable of something similar today? How is tech affecting literature and poetry? Can Twitter be art?
Oh, one could write a book about TISH. Wait—some people have. The early 60s was the time of small press poetry books and magazines, especially in the US and Canada. The 5 UBC students (Davey, Wah, Bowering, Reid, Dawson) who became the editors of Tish, the monthly poetry newsletter, had been exposed to the writings of some very good poets who were unknown to most professors at UBC, so while UBC was working on some new litmus, we 5 sent away to NYC for the mailing list of a poetry newsletter called The Floating Bear, edited by LeRoi Jones and Diane DiPrima, and soon we were sending 14 pages gratis to a lot of people for 3 cents a month on the 14th of every month. This we did for 19 months without fail.
No. There is nothing like it today.
I am not all that interested in the internet as a place for poetry. A lot of what I read on the internet is illiterate. Maybe Twitter can be art. People have tried to get my collected fanciful tweets.
KK – Finding the online archives of The Floating Bear feels like unearthing a treasure trove of beatnik gold. What issue did you start publishing in?
Ah, that was so long ago. I can’t even remember publishing there, though I published in most of the hip US little mags.
Funny, I looked at one issue of the FB here and saw a poem by Mike Strong. He used to live upstairs from me. I heard him a lot. Big drug user. Don’t know what became of him.
KK – I’m having trouble finding much of any info about him online. David Dawson (poet) wikipedia is blank…
KK – What sorts of trends in Canadian Literature do you see? And what are your thoughts on these?
In terms of fiction and poetry Right about now, writers or rather editors and publishers are trying to make successes by writing and publishing about the topics that are trending in non-fiction life. So here we go: novels about the residential schools, sexual assaults, oil spills, missing aboriginal women and girls, etc. I am interested in those topics, but they are topical. I don’t get interested in novels and poetry unless the writing is showing me something I haven’t seen. The writing, not the written about.
BONUS: I love this old video of George Bowering – [Reading by George Bowering] (1974) (part 1 of 3) from Western Front Archive on Vimeo.