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George Bowering Biography

George Bowering comments:

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Keremeos, British Columbia, 1935. Education: University of British Columbia, B.A. 1960, M.A. 1963; also studied at University of Western Ontario. Military Service: Aerial photographer, Royal Canadian Air Force, 1954-57. Career: Instructor and later assistant professor, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, 1963-66; instructor and writer-in-residence, Sir George Williams University, Montreal, Quebec, 1967-68, assistant professor of English, 1968-72; professor of English, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, 1972—. Awards: Governor-General's Award, 1969, 1980.



Mirror on the Floor. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1967.

A Short Sad Book. Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1977.

Concentric Circles. Coatsworth, Canada, Black Moss Press, 1977.

Burning Water. New York, Beaufort Books, 1980.

Eneaux troubles. Editions Quinze, 1982.

Craft Slices. Ottawa, Canada, Oberon Press, 1985.

Caprice. New York, Viking, 1987.

Errata. Red Deer, Canada, Red Deer College Press, 1988.

Harry's Fragments: A Novel of International Puzzlement. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1990.

Shoot! Toronto, Key Porter Books, 1994.

Parents From Space. Montreal, Roussan Publishers, 1994.

Diamondback Dog. Montreal, Roussan, 1998.

Short Stories

A Place to Die. Ottawa, Canada, Oberon Press, 1973.

Flycatcher and Other Stories. Ottawa, Canada, Oberon Press, 1974.

Protective Footwear: Stories and Fables by George Bowering. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1978.

The Rain Barrel and Other Stories. Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1994.


Sticks and Stones. Vancouver, Canada, Tishbooks, 1963.

Points on the Grid. Contact Press, 1964.

The Man in Yellow Boots. Mexico City, El Corno Emplumado, 1965.

The Silver Wire. Quarry Press, 1966.

Baseball: A Poem in the Magic Number 9. Toronto, Coach HousePress, 1967.

Rocky Mountain Foot: A Lyric, a Memoir. Toronto, McClelland &Stewart, 1968.

Two Police Poems. Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1968.

The Gangs of Kosmos. House of Anansi, 1969.

Touch: Selected Poems 1961-1970. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1969.

Sitting in Mexico. Beaven Kosmos, 1970.

George, Vancouver: A Discovery Poem. Toronto, Weed FlowerPress, 1970.

Geneve. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1971.

Autobiology. New Star Books, 1972.

The Sensible. Toronto, Massasauga Editions, 1972.

Layers 1-13. Toronto, Weed Flower Press, 1973.

Curious. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1973.

In the Flesh. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1974.

At War with the U.S. Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1974.

Allophanes. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1976.

The Catch. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1976.

Poem and Other Baseballs. Coatsworth, Canada, Black Moss Press, 1976.

The Concrete Island: Montreal Poems, 1967-1971. Montreal, VehiculePress, 1977.

Another Mouth. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1979.

Particular Accidents: Selected Poems. Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1980.

West Window: The Selected Poetry of George Bowering. Toronto, General Publishing, 1982.

Ear Reach. Alcuin Society, 1982.

Smoking Mirror. Edmonton, Canada, Longspoon, 1982.

Kerrisdale Elegies. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1984.

Seventy-One Poems for People. Red Deer, Canada, Red Deer CollegePress, 1985.

Delayed Mercy. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1986.

Urban Snow. Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1991.

George Bowering Selected: Poems 1961-1992. Toronto, McClelland& Stewart, 1993.

Blonds on Bikes. Burnaby, Canada, Talonbooks, 1997.


How I Hear "Howl" (essay). Montreal, Sir George Williams University, 1968.

Al Purdy (monograph). Toronto, Copp Clark Publishing, 1970.

Three Vancouver Writers (criticism). Toronto, Coach House Press, 1979.

A Way with Words (criticism). Ottawa, Canada, Oberon Press, 1982.

The Mask in Place: Essays on Fiction in North America. Winnipeg, Canada, Turnstone Press, 1982.

Imaginary Hand: Essays. Edmonton, Canada, NeWest Press, 1988.

Contributor, Solitary Walk: A Book of Longer Poems. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1968.

Contributor, The Human Elements: Second Series, edited by DavidHelwig. Ottawa, Canada, Oberon Press, 1981.

Contributor, Approaches to the Work of James Reaney, edited by StanDragland. Downsview, Canada, ECW Press, 1983.

Contributor, The Oberon Reader. Toronto, HarperCollins, 1991.

Editor, Vibrations: Poems of Youth. Toronto, Gage Educational Publishers, 1970.

Editor, The Story So Far. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1971.

Editor, Great Canadian Sports Stories. Ottawa, Canada, OberonPress, 1979.

Editor, Fiction of Contemporary Canada. Toronto, Coach HousePress, 1980.

Editor, Selected Poems: Loki Is Buried at Smoky Creek by Fred Wah. Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1980.

Editor, My Body Was Eaten by Dogs: Selected Poems of David McFadden by David McFadden. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1981.

Editor, The Contemporary Canadian Poetry Anthology. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1982.

Editor, Sheila Watson and The Double Hook. Ottawa, Canada, Golden Dog Press, 1985.

Editor, with Linda Hutcheon, Likely Stories: A Postmodern Sampler. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1992.

Editor, with Michael Ondaatje, An H in the Heart: A Reader. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1994.


Critical Studies:

Out-posts: Earle Birney, Bill Bissett, George Bowering, Nicole Brossard, Paul Chamberland, Raoul Duguay, B. P. Nichol, Claude P. Lokin (Peloquin): Interviews, Poetry, Bibliographies and a Critical Introduction to 8 Major Modern Poets by Caroline Bayard and Jack David, Erin, Canada, Press Porcepic, 1978; A Record of Writing: An Annotated and Illustrated Biography of George Bowering by Roy Miki, Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1989; George Bowering: Bright Circles of Color by Eva-Marie Kroller, Vancouver, Canada, Talonbooks, 1992.

(2000) There is a distinction between "the reader" and the person who is holding the silent book and reading it.

Sometimes I go so far as to say that the "author" and the "reader" are characters in my story. (The implications are interesting if you extend this structure to speeding tickets and marriage certificates.)

How often you or I have read something in criticism or theory about "the reader," and realized that this construct is as distinct from us as is Patrick Henry or Spider Robinson.

Anyone knows that literature is an idea but reading is what you do. Literature can't hurt you but reading can.

(I am of course in my own ant-trap here, because no matter what I do, the "you" I am talking about is not the person reading these words, are you?)

So that construct that certain critics like to write about, "the reader," can't do anything about what is written. But if you are reading a book you can intervene. You can invent a reading.

You can always skip page 35. You can read from the last page to the first. You can stick pages from a pornographic novel between Northrop Frye's sheets. You can call the narrator of Atwood's second novel Agnes. Or you can intervene simply by reading the way you read.

The person who wrote the book can't stop you. The "author" can't, either. And the "reader" doesn't know you exist.

A lot of what they call "reflexive" writing is simply the result of the writer trying to be you. You are the ground of the so-called postmodern. You know, our high school English teachers really knew all this, but they didn't think that it was the kind of thing they were supposed to be teaching us. We knew it, too, but we didn't think we were supposed to think about such things during the high school English game.

* * *

A prolific and award-winning poet, provocative (though not always discerning) critic, and longtime gadfly on the Canadian literary scene, George Bowering is a prose writer whose oeuvre includes short fiction (notably Protective Footwear: Stories and Fables), a novella (Concentric Circles), and several novels, beginning with the forgettable A Mirror on the Floor, which was followed a decade later by what he has called a "historical-geographical" novel, A Short Sad Book. Recognized as much for its theorizing of, and challenges to, the traditional novel form, this later book established Bowering as a fiction-maker determinedly wary of realism and of traditional relationships between the increasingly static and institutional conditions of narrative and the telling of stories and spinning of yarns. With sections dedicated to a postmodern imploding of many of the clichés that continue to dominate the Canadian cultural imagination (including "Canadian Geography" and the drive to canonize "The Pretty Good Canadian Novel"), A Short Sad Book set the stage in many ways for Bowering's next novel, Burning Water, for which he was awarded the prestigious Governor General's Award for Fiction despite generally weak and even negative reviews.

A metafictional exploration of the process and product of a novelist (named George Bowering) who travels to Italy in order to write a historical novel about Captain George Vancouver's cartographic colonization of the land mass that would become Canada's west coast, Burning Water demands its readers to confront often challenging questions about the ideological implications of art and artifice, about the assumptions informing Western traditions of language and narrative, and about the employment of history (as story, as "fact," as political tool). Foregrounding Bowering's playful wit and propensity for wordplay (puns, for instance, abound in the book), the novel is also very much concerned with illuminating the mechanisms by which language is appropriated and deployed as an instrument of domination, especially as it comes to be wielded by hyper-masculine imperial powers. Developing a framed story that focuses, in part, on the intense, and ultimately fatal shipboard rivalry that builds between Vancouver and the ship's surgeon Menzies, Bowering shows how language (the textual, the oral, the cartographic) is the single most precious commodity sought after by the various constituencies from both the new and the old world.

Densely intertextual, openly parodic, and self-consciously reflexive, Burning Water prepared readers for Bowering's next two novels, Caprice and the less successful Shoot!. Once again taking their cues from stories and events from Canada's past, both books mark an affiliation, too, with the convention-laden genre of the classic American dime-store western. Subverting or reconfiguring the traditional strategies of stereotyping women and indigenous peoples, as well as the still popular romanticization of the outlaw gunslinger, Bowering's Canadian "west" is clearly a horizon marked by difference, a not-so-wild place where the reductive and the formulaic are laid bare for critical scrutiny.

Populated mainly by baseball-and peace-loving artists and writers (and by the occasional character from the earlier novels), it is a geocultural space, too, where language is the center of much attention as the traditional reticence of the wild west of Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey is inverted. It is a place where a love of language is not positioned as a weakness or flaw, but as a strategy for survival and source of intellectual and spiritual guidance. When Bowering's titular female hero, Caprice, finds herself trapped in a classic "western" quest to track down the killer of her brother, for example, she finds solace in the volumes of romantic poetry that fill her saddle bags and in the lines from Faust that she recites as she rides the hills of Western Canada. Similarly, the infamous (and hauntingly youthful) McLean gang, the protagonists of Shoot!, are read and sung to by the compassionate young wife of the warden, in whose jail they are eventually incarcerated en route to the gallows.

Although they can never sustain the complexities that distinguish such notable antecedents as Thomas Berger's Little Big Man, E.L. Doctorow's Welcome to Hard Times, or fellow Canadian Robert Kroetsch's The Studhorse Man, Bowering's novels do succeed in raising intriguing and seductive questions about now familiar poststructuralist constellations of language, power, sex, and discipline; questions that entertain and disabuse as readers weave their way through the polyphony of voices sounding in these fictions—from the musicality of first nation's storytellers to self-mythologizing spinners of tall tales to the minimalist dialogue of ranchmen and gunslingers. Bristling with subtle (and not so subtle) ironies, these are intelligent and generally well-crafted novels that do warrant reading and attention.

—Klay Dyer

Additional topics

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