George Bowering (b.1935)
According to Roy Mikis chronology, A Record of Writing: An Annotated and Illustrated
Bibliography of George Bowering (1989), Bowering was born in 1935 in Penticton, BC (xv).
Bowering sent out a range of misinformation to early biographers in a mischievous act of
writerly self-construction that anticipates his larger fictional attempts to write himself he goes
so far as to refer to the general consensus of my birth[date] (Miki 131) in his biographical
notes. He always acknowledges his early connection to the Interior of B.C., however. During
his childhood in the Interior, he and his parents lived in a number of small towns, and he grew up
in Oliver. Bowering left the Interior to attend College in Victoria in 1953, never returning to
stay, despite maintaining his family connections there.
Vancouver became the primary site of his adult life. He came to Vancouver for an
education and has never really left it, returning after travelling and spending the occasional year
or so as writer-in-residence or lecturer at various Canadian institutions. In 1957, he began his
undergraduate career at UBC, acquiring a BA in History and eventually attaining a Masters
degree in English and Creative Writing in 1963. He returned to Vancouver and the University of
British Columbia post-graduation for Warren Tallmans poetry festival at the end of summer
1963, after travelling in Europe, and then moved to the University of Calgary that fall. He spent
two years in Calgary, with visits to the West Coast, and then moved to the University of Western
Ontario in 1966 to begin doctoral work, which he never completed, but which gave him the
opportunity to live in London, ON (1966-67) and witness the regionalist work being done by
visual artist Greg Curnoe and writer James Reaney. After leaving the University of Western
Ontario, Bowering spent three years Autumn 1968 -Summer 1971 in Montreal at Sir George
Brown University (now Concordia) with Margaret Atwood serving that institution in various
capacities, and left Montreal permanently for Vancouver once he found a tenure-track position at
Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, in 1972.
He retired from SFU in 2001 and was voted Canadas first Parliamentary Poet Laureate
the following year.
Breathing, breath, is crucial to Bowerings early poetics, centralizing the importance of the poet
as body, object, within the moment of writing, and supporting the production of Tish as
emphatically unfinished: Tish was obviously a newsletter a record of work-in-progress
rather than a magazine (Davey Intro 1-19, 175). Davey goes on to comment on the hastiness
of some publications accordingly, but this concentration on process, of publishing the work-in-
progress has characterized Bowerings entire career. Words leave Bowerings pen, typewriter,
composition page on his email and enter the public arena to record moments from Bowerings
writing life, moments that comment on previous incarnations/creations, or create new ones, but
reverberate with his massive body of work. For Bowering, the physical imperative of breath is also the creative imperative to write, and to write a self into existence that comes into line with
both these directives.
As the last page of the poem indicates:
Let us say
this is as far as I, George,
obscured still, the coast
I mean, touched, sighted,
mapped to some extent,
There always remains a further distance to travel, another I to write. The poetic line offers a
rough sketch only, obscured still as it is gestural, not all encompassing. Here the speaker can
sound off, measuring life with breath, as Bowering explains: the poetic line is the measure of
life, because if you dont have breath you die (Bowering quoted in Miki 25). Thus Bowerings
project invokes, evokes the sounding of lines, measuring not cadence and rhythm but living
process and breath.
George, Vancouver a discovery poem a description
One of Bowerings first long poems, 1st book-length poem
Initiated by finding Archibald Menzies' journal in the UWO library. Menzies was the
ships doctor and botanist on Captain George Vancouvers voyage to the West Coast
Slim volume, 39 pages, completed Aug 2, 1967, at which point Bowering had left
London for Montreal
In these lines, it spans two centuries from the Madness of King George the III to the
idiosyncrasies of George Bowering. Unlike his more acclaimed works of this time
period, Rocky Mountain Foot and The Gangs of Kosmos, compilings of short, more
independent lyrics that won the Governor Generals Award in 1967, G, V is comprised of
one long poem, with untitled sections.
It is written in free verse, largely unrhymed, and with some found poetry: it includes a list
of vessels sailing in the Juan de Fuca Strait in 1792 (20-21) and other excerpts from
Archibald Menzies journal (27, 22).
The poem followed the Centennial celebrations and Expo 67. It offers resistance to a
central Canadian vision of Canadian history focused on the Plains of Abraham, Samuel
de Champlain, etc.
Bowering and History and GenreAs Bowering himself suggests at many points in his critical writing, the history he was taught in
grade school had little to do with the place in which he lived or from whence he came.
When I was a student at UBC, I knew hardly anything about B.C. I was a history major
who took a bus that crossed Discovery Street, and didnt have a clue. I didnt know
that Discovery Street was named for Captain Vancouvers ship, though there was a
model of that ship at the downtown library. Vancouver streets are filled with names
from B.C. history, but the people who ride the streets dont know who they are named
for. We never heard them in our history classes. According to our classes the
languages of history in Canada were French and English.
Bowerings B.C. 5, 41
Voyage literature is one of the first of the European literary genres of the region, the one that
because of its maritime nature and Pacific orientation separates BC from the remainder of the
Canadian west (Pritchard 67). And Bowerings George, Vancouver is a re-invention of
voyage literature in which he recognizes that the project of discovery of self or nation -- is
perpetually incomplete, a deliberatively subjective act that requires return and rewriting as
temporal distance (historical