FD: New Star Books has published what must be your umpty-seventh, at least, book, Writing and Reading. (We should mention that Mark Mushet took the cover photo.) What are you up in this one?
George Bowering: I guess I tried to widen the definition of what constitutes a book of literary essays. There is a tiny piece about a writer whose name is almost as long as the essay about her. There is an accounting of the 100 books I read during 1967. One hundred for the centenary — get it? There is an explanation of Apollinaire’s role in Vancouver poetry. Send in your ideas.
FD: Most readers would think of you, first and second, as a poet and a writer of fiction; or as a popular historian. One of your early books, Al Purdy (Copp Clark, 1970), is actually a critical appraisal of a writer who was quite unlike you, on the page at least, but who became a life-long friend; Al and his wife Eurithe remained pretty good companions to you and Jean Baird for many, many years. Much more recently there was Words, Words, Words (2010), also published by New Star Books; and you’ve done a few in between those.
GB: Eleven books of critical essays. I couldn’t help myself. bpNichol said my stories are like essays ans my essays are like stories. A few are both.
FD: Do you feel there are parts you can reach with one form, be it poetry, fiction, or critical non-fiction, that the other forms just don’t get to?
GB: I have often wondered about that myself. It is arbitrary in some cases. Take a look at my essay on Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing. It’s about that thing that Roland Barthes called the desire for the author. An audience of English profs in Australia loved it––and me.
FD: What can readers expect from your new book?
GB: The wisdom of old age.
FD: At your age most writers have hung up the cleats a long time ago. But you’re still going strong. You’re pretty much the Satchel Paige of Canadian literature. To what do you attribute your long career? Any imminent plans to retire, á là Philip Roth?
GB: I keep finding note books in which I have jotted notes about possible books.
FD: I’ve just finished reading Rebecca Wigod’s excellent biography of you, He Speaks Volumes. I learned a lot about you from her book. Among other things, that you’re a slippery dog. But also, that you tend to have a few projects on the go at any one time. What’s in the pipeline, or, to use a less offensive expression, chute, right now?
GB: There’s that series of responses to 100 poems. I have done just over half. There’s my rewriting of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. I have almost finished a collection of short stories, some of which take place in [surprise!] my home town during childhood and youth. I have a sequence of poems about a girl named Trish, who keeps hearing people rime her name.
FD: Anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
GB: What do you think? Should I try to rewrite all the books I havent published?