Teeth, George Bowering's six hundred and twenty third book, could just as easily have been titled Poems From a Brilliant Grumpy Old Guy. Bowering is unhesitatingly gruff as he dispatches comrades, cohorts and any other complaint worthy cadre with glee. It would seem to be something that comes to him with an natural alacrity, perhaps explained here:
was my groundwater.
I'll tell you how mean she was.
She learned sign language
so she could tell deaf people
to piss off.
She was radiophonic
She told me
Haitians sing happy
not because they're happy about their lives,
but because they're happy about their music.
I used to watch her juggling
knives and puppies.
She used to haul me off to church.
I wonder whether she woke up in Hell,
surprised to be there?
she grounded me.
there is more about you
that you don't know
than there is about you
that you do know.
When my grandmother comes back
I'll be her son
or I'll be her.
There are times, she said
when a pronoun is
She likely went down to Hell
to deny Descartes
to his face.
One April she told me shhhh,
pointing at a skinny-feet bird
picking his way over twigstrewn
That was not Jesus,
she said, krinkly–eyes.
You want to know something?
she asked me when she got back.
The solar system
is a mail drop.
I have been to Northern Ontario, she said.
It is a huge expanse
of little things.
I was reading Olson
and drinking Molson.
Every time he got started, the line
I admire the leaves, my grandmother said,
ever when they do.
had the ground sense
You will end your life in exile,
she said, from your childhood.
On the way there, she said,
be wary of a left-handed man
You see that mysterious man
stepping out of the crack in the ground?
That's the fissure king.
You know the ground, Grandma,
I said. You are the Witch of And/Or.
she said the day I told her that.
Look at the colourful Okanagan Valley,
she instructed me. Do a cartwheel
and you will see
Oh, Gran, I sang,
you are groundbreaking. You
Whew! was all she could reply,
but at midnight suggested,
Don't take pills or advice in the dark.
That Olson, his poems
peppered with end-
Told me one thing:
the Sacred Wood
is carried in a gold bag.
How would you like,
my granny said,
to be Charles Olson's typewriter?
All my adult life
I have been afraid to sit
in a lighted window at night.
Get back into that baseball orchard, she said,
and pick those baseballs. Don't think,
she said. Get up that baseball tree.
What would you rather be?
Happily perfect or
perfectly happy? You'll die
if you choose wrong.
When my grandmother was pitching
I generally grounded out.
If you know what you are doing, she said,
you'll always leave with
a better umbrella.
You are so wise, I told her often,
you remind me of Sappho.
Is that, she enquired,
one of the Marx Brothers?
I told Descartes down there
he was a bisected bisexual.
He called his therapist
Lost in the labi-
Need to iron that out
(ouch), need to re-
Need to learn some
Need to get under each other's
surface, need co-
Ah, she was one mother,
Bowering has earned his accolades. He's been Canada's Poet Laureate, was instrumental in the founding of TISH, he belongs to the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. His list of published work is longer than your arm and my arm as well.
Teeth, George Bowering's most recent collection of poetry is both funny and fraught with mindbombs. These poems can be heartwarming and then when you suspect or expect it the least, they kick out and hit you where the sun shines the least. Bowering, who fears nothing, is playful and powerful, this is a non-filtered, non-restrained, non-repressed voice of experience.
The Company of Poets
He shared a cigarette with Pindar, nervous in the cold of a
familiar back alley on the wrong side of Olympus.
He often said etonnez-moi, and I thought he meant throw stones at
him, till Eric Partridge explained he meant make a loud noise.
He grew up in Idaho, where Ezra Pound was born, where Ernesto
Hemingway's in the dirt, where Ed Dorn lived in a chicken coop.
We all kissed him, why not, he was so cute or as in the early
photos so French-Greek movie actor beautiful.
Well, why not, of course, this was poetry walking around in
slippers, and who cares about recently, poetry is for beauty, ask Jamie
He always said Blaser is a French name, but it is a German word,
look it up, and also slang, no don't.
I am wearing a lush blue housecoat as I write, in homage, in
imitation, not to copy, but between commas, to apprach some
Oh, cloud of dragonflies, what a corolla, to imagine, as he would
say, almost devouring that word, a suitable touch with one hand.
I have his bust of Maimonides on my desk, his face looking at us
every morning from a photograph of Piapot, mad prairie hero trainrobber.
Pindar said can you spare another smoke, and he said sure, what
are companions for, and I said is tobacco bread?
Many of these sharp, almost tactile poems might leave you with the impression that George Bowering is angry about something, maybe about everything, and is not all that optimistic about the future. I happen to think he is riffing, reminiscing, and ripping a new one when the whim strikes. This is the poem I think reveals Bowering at his most honest. And this is a guy who is honest all the time.
When someone says to us:
the higher life, it doesn't exist,
that the corpses of women
are scattered to the winds, the trees
are cut to become biers
in the ghats of Varansai,
that a person finally rides outward
in a casket of flowers,
will take all their minutes to fall into marriage.
it will go on being difficult
to live simply.
I was engaged from the first poem of this collection and found the crisp precision and bawdy "I don't really give a damn" of Bowering's elder personae liberating. The thing about older writers is that they do collect wisdom as they go, it comes hand in hand with hard won experience. Willy Blake and Jimi H will tell you all about innocence and experience, Bowering does too.