Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief - Tim Bowling (Gaspereau Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief.  Tim Bowling.  Gaspereau Press.  Kentville, Nova Scotia.  2014.

The picture I have of the cover does not do justice to the lovely Wesley Bates woodcuts that grace this beautiful book.  Gaspereau Press books are not like the others.

Today's book of poems looked at Tim Bowling's Selected Poems (Nightwood Editions, 2013) back on May 13, 2013.  We loved it.

You can see that blog here:

Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief is Bowling's twelfth book of poetry and perhaps his best to date - which is saying a hell of a lot.  Bowling has been a big favourite here at Today's book of poetry.  His book Low Water Slack (Harbour Publishing, 1995), is required reading for our interns.


I want it back. It is unseemly
to admit so. The many who confuse
a love for the present of the past
with a love for something dead
roll their eyes. Forget them.
This is for men and women
of certain years who,
having left prints on the sand,
remember the feeling
of castles in their fingers
and turn for the fanfare
blowing silent out of the mouth
of the sun, for those who,
when the utilities are paid
another month and the children
in their intensities occupied
and the laundry transferred
once more to the light,
sit on the grass in the yard
and place one hand
on the sun-warmed gold
of the sleeping retriever's fur
to take the pulse
of that small self
they say goodbye to
a little more each day,
for those voters, tax-payers,
bearers of the ordinary burden
without end or praise who
for a few seconds
bury their faces in the old trinity
and breathe that lost present alive
tending the last coals of a fire
in the woodcutter's woods
before the blank page of the story
turns back again
with the sound of a whale
sliding its Victorian nursery
for the last time
into the sea.


"Childhood" starts off this sterling collection like the whistle of a train announcing its definitive arrival with authority.  This lament to aging is Bowling at the height of his considerable powers.  It breathes the same air as The Old Man And The Sea.

Time is a lonely hunter bearing down on us all as invariably as Orion looking down on every night. Bowling knows time and the stars burns equally bright.  These poems read as though they were chiseled into stone, carved as runes of wisdom for those to come.  As though the very earth loosed them in a fit of chthonic wonder.

Two Young Men In A Duck Punt

It's still dark, they wait for something.
Light? Time? Though their lives
and ours consist of light and time
it is not for these they wait.
But see the tension in their necks
shoulder -- what else could be
the cause? Even if you say
they wait to kill, what
have you ever done to the light
and time besides?

The river around the rushes
flows black, the salmon smolts
cluster thick in separate gleams --
the knives of the knife-
throwing before the show.
Frost thaws on the gunwales
water drips off the oars
the breath of the young men
comes down-slow
and visible, there are no rings
on their raw hands. They wait
without knowing, for everything

as you have done, are doing,
there in your row at the seminar
at the breakfast table, on the knife-
scored seat of the city bus,
with the frost burning off
and the day's last windfall
rotted in your lap, waiting
for the horizon's stir
the thousand clock hands
at the centre of the present.

How fleetingly lovely
the ordinary annulment
of our skies
as the tide changes
and smoke leaves the barrel
and those young hands
like ours
gather all morning
each soft inch
of the bloody rope
whose pulling sounds only the silence
in which is heard

light and time
light and time
light and time


Today's book of poetry has always enjoyed the poetry of Tim Bowling and Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief cements what we always thought.  Bowling is one of our best.

Bowling is more formal than he first appears, and fiercer.  These poems work like the inside of a fine watch, all delicately intertwined and necessary for the silent mechanism to keep track of time.  All those gears grinding away and we don't hear a sound.

The Last Days of Summer
Before the First Frost

Here at the wolf's throat at the egress of the howl
all along the avenue of deer-blink and salmon-kick
where the spider lets its microphone down
into the cave of the blackberry bush -- earth echo
absence of the human voice -- wait here
with a bee on your wrist and a fly on your cheek
the tiny sun and tiny eclipse.
It is time to be grateful for the breath
of what you could crush without thought
a moth, a child's love, your own life.
There might never be another chance.
How did you find me, the astonished mother says
to her four-year-old boy who'd disappeared
in the crowds at the music festival.
I followed my heart, he shrugs,
so matter-of-fact you might not see
behind his words
(o hover and feed, but not too long)

the bee trails turning to ice as they're flown.


These poems long to understand our world, put it into perspective despite the complex layers of narrative that demands.  Bowling has found the language that both connects us to and explains mysteries we have yet to unravel about ourselves.  We want to listen to everything Bowling has to say and he never disappoints.

Bowling must be an excellent listener because it appears he doesn't miss a thing.

Gary Dunfield and Andrew Steeves should be sainted by the small press world.  They are the Huckleberry Saints of Canadian publishing as far as Today's book of poetry is concerned.  No one does it better.  They can be counted on to produce books of unsurpassed physical beauty.  Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief is but one of a long line of visually stunning and consistently gorgeous books lovingly produced by Gaspereau Press.

Tim Bowling

Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief is Tim Bowling’s twelfth collection of poetry, others of which include TheAnnotated Bee & Me, Fathom, The Memory Orchard, and Selected Poems. He has also published a memoir, four novels (including The Bone Sharps and The Tinsmith) and a creative work on book collecting and poetry entitled In The Suicide’s Library. Bowling lives in Edmonton, Alberta.


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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