George Bowering’s books
July 07th, 2023
by George Bowering
There was a time when I lived in a huge house in Kerrisdale, with seven of the rooms containing floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of books. When it came time to move out of the house I asked book dealers and friends and my daughter to come over and haul the majority of them away. Then when I had served my sentence in the English department at Simon Fraser University, I unloaded the eighty banker’s boxes of books that had been on my office shelves onto the university library. Do with them what you will, I grumbled.
With my new wife Jean Baird, I moved to West Point Grey, where I had been a UBC student for ages in the fifties and sixties. We bought a house with a mere ten rooms, and I hired a carpenter friend to fit three of them out with bookshelves. In the bigger house there had been room for Zola and Plutarch and Toni Morrison. Not now. Luckily, I had VPL and UBC library cards in my wallet.
The thousands of books I had shed defined my reading life, which included––I will admit it––Elmore Leonard. The ones I kept became the Bowering collection of writers that defined my writing life (not counting journalistic and baseball pursuits). Like most writers I know, I got interested in writing when I was a kid. At UBC I learned to define myself as a writer, writing for the Ubyssey student newspaper and other campus publications. In 1961 I joined four other youngsters in creating Tish, a monthly poetry magazine that formed bonds with other poet publications in New York, Detroit, Toronto, San Francisco, etc. Tish was conspicuous enough to become the subject of numerous conferences, books and special numbers of academic journals. Two of its editors have been Parliamentary poet laureates of Canada. Our final issue (No. 19) came out while UBC was playing host to a famed summer school extravaganza of North American poetry in 1963. It too has been the subject of a lot of writing right up till now.
The books in the GB collection are by and about the writers with which Tish was concerned and the 1963 conference celebrated. The list of Canadian writers is more eclectic than the list of other writers, but in both cases the literary esthetic that I and my associates favour makes a particular modern and contemporary tradition. Thus Robert Frost does not appear, while Ezra Pound does. Patrick Lane, though my friend, is not in the room, but Nicole Brossard is.
It is very important to me that these books are all together rather than being scattered among libraries. I was really upset when the University of Texas said it could not acquire Ezra Pound’s library, and it had to be scattered. I felt much better when Dr. Ralph Maud managed to buy copies of all the books mentioned and held by Charles Olson in case his shelves were scattered. I am so lucky in this regard.
I sincerely wish that I could sit in the room with these shelves and books and art, working to further my argument, but being comparatively mortal, I must only offer a lifetime of thanks to the librarians who have taken on such a task as to arrange a living space for my books. Special gratitude goes to my wife Jean Baird, who encouraged me when I slowed down, and worked harder than I did on sewing things up.