In recognition of his extraordinary accomplishments, George Bowering was named Canada’s First Poet Laureate in 2000. The much lauded Officer of the Order of Canada has won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1969, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 1980, the Nichol Chapbook Award for Poetry in both 1991 and 1992, the Canadian Author’s Association Award for Poetry in 1993, and was awarded an Honourary Degree (D. Litt.) from the University of British Columbia in 1994.
Questions and Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
Not that I remember. I grew up in a small town, and availed myself of whatever opportunities there were to do what I later learned were called “the arts.” I was in the school band and choir, had a darkroom in a friend’s basement, drew caricatures for the firemen’s ball, acted in plays, wrote for the local newspapers, etc.
So I wrote stories and poems. It was just that if you bought books of poems at Frank’s pool hall, as I did, the natural thing was to try writing poems yourself.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
The main muse, I guess, is the language and its hoard of words. The most important source, as I see it, is other poetry. I read a lot of other poetry.
I just read another book by Tom Raworth. I couldn’t understand it much, but I could follow it, especially when I read it out loud.
What is your writing process?
Very rarely I will jot down a single lyric poem that arrives. More commonly I am in the process of writing a longer piece, usually something with a plan or a dare.
2006 was an extreme year. On January 1st I wrote the first page of a 31 page poem, and on December 31, I wrote the last page of another 31 page poem. Over that year I wrote 12 such poems, each one with a different form or challenge. So far 6 of these have been published as chapbooks. Never before had I written 365 pages of poetry in a year.
What is your revision/editing process?
There are several. Sometimes the editing consists of an oath, followed by a crumpling sound and the expenditure of breath, as in an athletic event. Sometimes I cross off “I” and replace it with “he.” When I started my best-known poem, “Kerrisdale Elegies”, in Dallas, I decided that next day on the plane I would cross out anything that didn’t seem good enough. By the time we reached Albuquerque, I had crossed out the whole page.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
Didn’t everybody write poetry in high school? Well, I read Hart Crane and Damon Runyan and tried to write like Hart Crane and Damon Runyan.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
All the poems, for example, of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Torquato Tasso, and Louis Zukofsky.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
Read everything—poetry, physics, history, fiction, mythology, religion, philosophy and music.