Today's book of poetry: Selected Poems. Tim Bowling. Nightwood Editions. Gibsons, British Columbia. 2013.
Starting with Low Water Slack (1995), Tim Bowling has built a body of poetry as solid as an oak tree. His ear is tuned to the sounds of the world around him and he celebrates it all with lyric charm and intense emotion.
The Last Sockeye
for my brother
Always I think of the last sockeye,
the one in late October: blind,
blood-red, half-rotted, so far
from the creeks of spawning
it just lay beside our net
in the silt-grey water - confused
or resting, we couldn't say -
then with one weak push
so we had to roll it in.
The last of its kind for the season;
most had died, or spawned and died,
at least a month before:
though barely caught, I could not gaff it;
we stood in the chill north wind, bemused,
as though we'd been given an early Christmas gift,
red-wrapped and taken
from below the mountains' undecorated evergreens;
we stared at the rotted eyes
and scales like bloodied coin,
a glove of chain mail
after a Crusades slaughter
the living hand still inside.
Three separate instincts
and a whole long winter to forget
your drinking and failed marriage
my loneliness and too often
days of great despair
over things I cannot change
and always the gap between us
as wide as the gap
between the sockeye and its goal;
three separate instincts
with nothing to win
three separate species:
I don't remember what we said
or even if we spoke at all
but the salmon, at least,
knew what it wanted,
so I gave it back to the river,
blind, rotted and doomed,
I gave it back
while we stood in the stern like the last men
and watched the bloody hand of the year wave goodbye.
Bowling has not escaped notice of the critics. He won the 1998 Stephan G. Stephansson Award, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry, has been nominated for the Governor General's Award twice. He is the recipient of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Award and the Orillia International Poetry Prize. In 2008, Bowling received a Guggenheim Fellowship in recognition of his entire body of work. His most recent book, Tenderman, won both the Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the Acorn-Plantos Award in 2012.
These are deserved.
Although it is almost too soon for a Selected Poems from a poet not yet 50, Bowling arrived fully formed, his mature voice has never wavered.
Bowling is as authentic as it gets, a poet whose work has always excited me. This Selected Poems will be an excellent introduction to anyone unfamiliar with Bowling. For the rest of us, a reminder of the power Bowling controls with such grace. This very human poetry retains the lyric beauty of poetry, carries the emotional weight of history.