Friday, June 3, 2022

Ken Norris and George Bowering : Baseball and Beyond: A Conversation about the Serial Poem

 conversations on the long poem






In 2019, Talonbooks published Taking Measures: Selected Serial Poems by George Bowering, edited by Stephen Collis.

The following conversation between Bowering and Canadian poet Ken Norris begins with a discussion of the early Bowering poem Baseball, then ranges over the contents of Taking Measures, the history of the serial poem and beyond.

Ken Norris: So George, it’s soon to be a new baseball season. Jack Spicer was an avid San Francisco Giants fan, and you and I have spent a lot of time with the Boston Red Sox. Does the serial poem, and your understanding of it, start with Jack Spicer?

George Bowering: I had the pleasure of attending a AAA Vancouver Mounties game with Jack. He more or less taught me how to behave in a ball park. Since then I have been loudly shrewd in baseball stadia from Victoria to Cienfuegos. I don't know whether baseball has anything to do with serial poetry, though it does show up in Jack’s poems. I first met him in his favourite bar in San Francisco, but I don’t know whether that counts. I first heard the term and some features of the genre from Robert Duncan. In later years there was an obvious rivalry between those two guys, but they were both practitioners of serial poetry. It was not a term you could get a good grip on. For years then and still today I had/have trouble understanding the concept of serial music. From the beginning I knew that serial poetry, as composed by Spicer and Duncan and Blaser meant a long poem in which the writer did not reread his first section in order to maximize any effects in later sections, but let his latent memory or the subconscious or Martians take care of the path. So I now think first of Spicer when I think about the serial poem, but Duncan introduced me to it. Here’s an interesting story regarding the concept: after Jack’s death (1965) and shortly before his own, Russell Fitzgerald showed me the manuscript of one of Jack’s poems. It might have been The Red Wheelbarrow. It was writ by hand, of course, in a schoolboy scribbler. One of the later sections was a repetition of an early section, as if Jack had forgotten that he had already written those lines! Anyway, the best description I have heard of Jack’s poetry was in the series of talks he gave a group of us in Warren and Ellen Tallman’s house a short time before he died. You can now read the transcription of those “lectures.” Most of the things I believe or profess about poetry composition come from what Jack and Robin said. On a bed of Williams and H.D., of course.

KN: For me, as a reader, and as a poetry practitioner, it’s amazing to have on my bedside table the recently released be brave to things: The Uncollected Poetry and Plays of Jack Spicer AS WELL AS your Taking Measures: Selected Serial Poems. My life as a reader just gets better every day. I never thought we would have SO MUCH of Spicer, and so well-organized!

The first serial poem in Taking Measures is Baseball: A Poem In The Magic Number 9, and it is dedicated to Jack Spicer. I have friends who are poets who say they just don’t “get” my interest in baseball. Some say they are fans of Spicer’s poetry, but not of baseball. That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Why baseball, and why a serial poem ABOUT baseball?

GB: Most of Baseball was written in Mexico City, at, believe it or not, my rented ($90 a month) house on Baseball Street. Ask Lionel [Kearns], he stayed with us for a while and had intimacies with a woman from Colorado during a big earthquake; she felt the earth move for sure). This in the summer of 1965. I was half way thru the poem (which isn't really serial, because I knew it wd go 9 innings, but wait: it could have gone extra innings, though no, there are 9 muses,eh? Anyway, I was in like the break between the fifth and the sixth, when a couple of guys from Coyote’s Journal came down, and told us that Jack had died. Willy Mays was half way thru maybe his best season, and the Giants were in first, though that didn't last. A baseball game is something like a serial poem, in which the innings are related in that they are part of the same game, but the relationship is not so much causal or developmental. Or a season—the score of your game against Cincinnati is not created to extend a metaphor you started in last week’s game against Chicago. (Guess what? while I was typing that sentence, Jean told me from the next room that the Baseball Hall of Fame has this poem as well as all but one of my other baseball books). I started being into baseball before I was really into poetry, but they have always been tied together for me. By the way, I recently contributed an essay to a book of essays about composing poetry, but I wrote the essay in verse, and Dom DiMaggio is the hero. That essay was followed by this “prompt”:

When my dad was playing catch with me and teaching me how to catch the ball, the first and most important thing he told me was “receive the ball; don’t fight it.” Don’t stab at it, take it as the matador says, “recibiendo.” When he was teaching me basketball and it came to dribbling, he said let it come to you; don’t smack it. Maybe such a principle occurs in other sports, but I’ve never spent much time watching or playing other sports.
But I sure recognize it in composing poetry. Letting the ground ball come to you and then applying your skill to it is a lot like what happens when you are in the middle of composing a poem. In the better parts of “How I Learned,” stuff came to me, words and the equally important punctuation, including line-ends. I call this principle respect for the language, which (who) is older than I am, more experienced than I am, and more precise than I am. When they talk about a poet’s “gift,” this is unbeatable.
In baseball, as in poetry, you learn by reading and figuring out what previous players have done. Then you practice and practice. I would see how Bobby Doerr or Jack Robinson started a double play and try doing it a hundred times. (My models were gone, but I was still working at it in my early sixties.) Then I would ask myself why it seemed in my reading out loud of H.D. she seemed so receiving of the words and Robert Frost seemed like some old guy giving advice.

In his most famous poems, Frost begins by making a statement, and ends by making sure you get the moral of his story. One of his most quoted poems is “Mending Wall,” which opens this way: “Something there is that does not love a wall.” While we are thinking, yeah, yeah, it’s frost. We are also thinking what does he get by putting the first three words backward, except to sound sort of biblical. Then along comes the anecdote, in which the grand old Poet contrasts himself favourably to his neighbour who spouts clichés while helping to instill order in nature. A reader has to supply her own irony in remarking that the poet, with his regular blank verse, is doing likewise. The poet, as much as the neighbour, is using his mastery to keep his line straight. When Alexander Pope, a very witty poet,  once wrote that “true wit is nature to advantage dressed”, he knew who was taking advantage.
Have a listen to “Oread,” a short poem by H.D. She composed it in language you might expect of a supplication, perhaps the opposite of mastery.

Try a contrast between W.H. Auden and W.C. Williams. They both wrote famous poems about Pieter Brueghel’s famous painting Landscape With the Fall of Icarus. Both poems are in their ways about the unconcern surrounding the boy’s enormous fall. Auden uses it as one of his examples of a point he is making at the beginning of the poem. As Frost would begin a poem with his topic sentence, and then launch an anecdote about not liking artificially measured human organizing of nature while he does just that to language, Auden also begins with the statement, “About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters,” and then gives us examples of paintings in which suffering is ignored by nearby people.
         Auden is good at hitting home with his argument and its conclusions. He wants us, I’ll bet, to say that he was not wrong, that he is a later master, though he was 38 when he composed the poem. As you know by now, that is not what I would call a good relationship between artist and the world or the work.

Now look at Williams’s poem. It first appeared in his last book, published when the poet was 79 years old. Like Auden’s, his poem was in part the result of a visit to an art gallery. Williams wrote a series of poems in response to a collection of Brueghel paintings. He does not try to use the painting to make a point. The poem proceeds to say what was happening to the language in Williams’s head while he was looking at the picture. Whereas Auden in his poem was teaching, Williams in his poem is learning. Thus it begins, “According to Brueghel/ when Icarus fell/ it was spring” and ends “unsignificantly/ off the coast/ there was// a splash quite unnoticed/ this was/ Icarus drowning.”
I notice a lot of things there. Here are three: one’s eye and voice travel down the poem as someone’s eye travelled down the painting; there is some lovely natural rime there; Williams says in fourteen lines what Master Auden took a whole page to say.

You know how? Dr. Williams situated himself before the art: recibiendo.

and here’s the essay:

How I Learned, am Learning. An essay. 

          Greater than his brother Joe,
Dominic DiMaggio
         had signature

octagonal center field wire framed
eye glasses.

                              I didn't have my specs
yet, but I agreed with the Fenway
song, knowing objectivity might

get you somewhere in baseball
business, but look, we Red Sox

swim in caramel-thick sentimentality.

old and young, think they know
something, discount us for

writing poems about baseball.

they call it a USAmerican
game, proving they have been too quick

in their reading of Jane Austen.

                                         I don't
like her much, but I give them
Jane Austen, though I don't

give Barney and his Google brothers
a second step before I pick them off.

I mean I Googled when I might have
Gogoled, asked for
"his brother Joe"

    and learned
how and why his brothers

didn't care for him.

                            Not because of some
overcoat, I'll admit, though
April nights can get cold

above the Red Sox bullpen.




                     Thinking with my old bones
in bed of an early afternoon,

how seldom I am permitted
to return to a meadow,

nor even touch its image
with the fingers of my mind,

a four-seam fastball
on the outside corner
of Robert Duncan's house.

It would have been nothing to him
had he learned that a baseball
fell into Robin Blaser's glove

in my dream this morning.

                         They were not greater
than one another; they were brother

            and our purpose is to read them
(and write them) and not to engage in





Baseball is too easy
    an allegory, poetry
is not,

Mexico is not,
travel is not poetry,


is the command to be still
and see whether She
sends it to you,

like a fly ball that

          catches you.


Bless you 

standing alone on the perfect grass

all the ears of poetry
          turned away
while you experience

what has not
yet happened.


                               Deep in their untroubled hearts
a few know what you are seeing,
a few

turn away serenely
           from disdainful faces,

           the saddest of possible words
an absolute necessity
for the listener

      who would catch
what he knows is catchable,

and never glimpse it full,
       never that close,

       out there alone.




                     When we were published tyros,
those professors and old anthologized poets

said we had to work long
to become masters.

                                                   The first
intelligent thing we said back
was that poetry

didn't want masters,

those ginks who knew what was
waiting at the end
of the next line.

                     They are rewarded,
        such is their aim,
upon mastering the art of something,

                     oh magister, oh dare we say it?

                               Oh magistrate

proposing masterpieces

oh magnify your accomplishment.


                               Ah, no.

Right now I'm waiting for this piece
to tell me where I went wrong.

                     I have a fair portion of my heart
        let it not impose

        nor expose

but turn to the words and ask those
what are we doing?




                               Robert Duncan and Dom DiMaggio,
San Francisco heroes . . . .

                                         It. didn't do any good to
pretend you'd fallen asleep;

would continue talking. It was the world
he spoke to,

         the strike zone he pitched around.

He didn't even have a brother Joe,

                     The Little Perfessor never read his poems,
never sat on someone's kitchen chair
to watch an old fashioned

stage, as they say, production
with Attic overtones

                     while Robert never went to
Seals Stadium to watch
with one eye

a great play in the ninth
that had the spectators

trembling in the cold
till just then.





I played ball in glasses,
sometimes breaking them,
sometimes reading our catcher's poems

as if they were signs
between innings.


                                    Now I wear a baseball cap
frontward on my size 8 head.
I wear the Red Sox cap.

I wear the San Francisco cap.
I never wear

that most beautiful one, the cap worn by his
brother Joe.

          The one worn by Japanese tourists
and would-be model girls.


If I'm in New York I wear the cap
once worn by the Visalia Oaks.





                     And over the green fields wilted down under your blaze . . . 

                     of all hidden things I sing,    waiting for evening's grace.


Casually, a woman invented by Jane Austen
told us Catherine was off
playing baseball, aged fourteen.

                                         I smile when I
think of Jane sitting in a drawing room
with Jack Spicer.

      She wouldn't have
liked his clothes, but she would have

shown us how they were interesting.

People, here and there,
think they know better,
suffer us for quoting Jane Austen

about adolescent sport,

                     but I'll bet I would have been half
in love with Catherine Morland.





I have powerful friends in Ottawa,
friends of Poetry, language of the gods.

You can look forward to poetry in your life,
leave obedient prose behind,
leave social anxiety behind.

After Washington sends warplanes
to bomb small countries,
Ottawa must drop bilingual poems

onto the ruins.





Oh, that's not my subject.
My subject –––

here's how it began, apparently.
The female friend of a male friend
told him that speaking of me,

however hoarsely, she demanded that she must have me.

I'm speaking of Jane Austen. Apparently
she spoke of me as her centre fielder.

Can you imagine? Henry, she called me
and sometimes Little Dom.

I was not greater than my brother.
My brother could do a hundred
things I could not do.

KN: Lovely George, another poem in the number 9!!

My answer would be something like: poetry is magical, and baseball is magical too. Every kid knows that baseball is magical and, introduced to it the right way, she knows that poetry is magical too. I am sure you watched a lot of baseball with Thea, and I watched a lot of baseball with Zoe. She told me that everything that I thought and felt about baseball was absolutely correct.

The first thing I ever encountered as a child that was perfect was baseball. And then the second best thing was my library card. And getting my Adult library card before I was double digits.

Do you remember when you did “today’s lineup”? Was there specific reasoning in the assigning of position? Why, for instance, is Calliope the pitcher?

Also, reading Baseball this time, I discover anew that a lot of it is about Minor league baseball. Yes, there’s Willie Mays and Ted Williams, but there’s more of the Kamloops Elks, the Wenatchee Chiefs and the Vancouver Mounties.

Also, you and your dad really were official scorers, right? I, too, see “the perfect double play.”

And yes, letting the ball come to you. A lot of baseball “mastery” (I don’t like it either—maybe make that “skill”) is reactive.

GB: Re the lineup. Remember that I was doing this in 1965, 57 years ago. But I was trying to see a relationship between where you fit in a batting order and what you're the muse of. Terpsichore is the muse of dance music, so when she gets a double, say, you expect her to dance off the bag, or her poet to write equally nimble and fast verse. You asked about Calliope. She’s the oldest and most powerful of the sisters, muse of epic poetry. Heroic verse. You'll notice we have no relief pitchers. Thalia is shortstop because she was the muse of comedy, and I was a shortstop when I wrote this. Urania plays third and hits 5th. Muse of astronomy, man. She hits like and to the stars. Their dad was Zeus, eh? Mine was Ewart. He was a singles hitter, played first base. In fastball he was a catcher. So was my mum.

Yes. the minor leagues. Our season starts in a few days. High A this year. When Jean and I did our epic tours of baseball parks, we sat in a lot of major league parks, but way more minor league parks. The latter are more fun. You get to yuck it up with the locals more. There are a lot I really dig for various reasons, some of them poetical. My favourite is Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona, Florida, it is right on the water, made of wood. It is over 100 years old. What a wonderful place to sit and watch baseball. Salt Lake City is in most ways a dreadful city, but it has a terrific AAA ball park. Every minor league park you go to gives you a memory, like the food or the view over the centre field fence, or the mascot in Dayton, Ohio, who bounces down the first base line on his head. Is he a poet? Is Rod McKuen? Do you remember the Latino pitcher (Seattle, Toronto) who published books of poetry and fiction? Yesterday I heard the Chicago Cubs’ TV announcer say that up till a few years ago the Denver fans didn't have baseball. He never heard of the Denver Bears or the Denver Zephyrs. Screw him!

Yep my dad was official scorer in Oliver before I was, sat atop the rickety grandstand and pissed off some hitters who thought that error should have been a hit. Me, too. Then he, and later I, wrote the game up for the Oliver Chronicle and the Penticton Herald. Then we cut the stories out and delivered them to the papers, where we got 15 cents an inch from one and 25 cents an inch from the other. I wish I still had those stories.

But I could go to my shelves and get the clippings from an earlier era, when my dad had the leading batting average in the Peachland lineup.

KN: What Tarot pack were you using when you wrote Geneve? And what exactly was the methodology for writing the poem?

GB: In Montreal (lower Westmount) we had one of those long narrow apartments, 7.5 rooms. The backest room was a step or 2 down off the kitchen, and that was my writing room. Had a big old desk, and in the top right drawer a piled deck of Tarot cards, face down. I called it the Geneva pack because it was printed in Geneva, and because in the love triangle that makes itself known in the poem, one of the female figures is a Swiss miss. Here is where it becomes complicated. If you remove the dust jacket from the clothbound edition of the book (1971) you will see a photo of the pack laid out in a spiral on the patterned carpet upstairs at Coach House Press. Sometime around 1977 or so I was visiting that place and found my deck on a shelf and took it. For years I didn't check, but later did, and the Waite Rider pack I now have does not fit with the photographed pack. (This week my daughter told me that she has it.) By the way, the spiral proceeds in the order of the sections of the poem. I would, each time I sat down to be with the poem (July 5, 1969 – Feb 8, 1970) turn over the top card and innocently say what is happening on that card. Of course it had other, occulted, ideas, and told the story of our romance, us three. I also suspect that the mixup about the deck was not my fault but its. In later years I looked at the sequence that comes at the end of the story: and it seems either prescient or not an accident of the shuffle. I kind of fantasized at least that that ending was arranged by my wife when I wasn’t looking. It sure spooked me over the last 5 days of writing. 

I have had my tarot read by two poets, Margaret Atwood and Robin Blaser. I don't remember what they said.

KN: I was surprised that Curious isn’t in Taking Measures. I don’t know if we would/should call it a serial poem or not. But it was pretty much the first thing I read when I came into Can Lit. I saw a copy of it at Artie’s house, and then went off and bought a copy for myself at The Double Hook.

I still remember bpNichol playing ping pong in the poem about him. How much were those poems portraits, and how much were they improvisations?

GB: If the editor had put in all my longer poems, we would have had a book twice as long, eh? For example: Blonds on Bikes, which was written as an attempt to use Kerouac’s form in his Blues poems. So, it is a question that won’t get properly answered. It says “Serial poems" on the cover, and I am not sure I agree with that, and it says “selected,” which is a clue that there are poems that weren’t for this purpose selected, such as Curious. I love serial poetry because it is an extended form that does not allow for author’s control. Yet if you decide to write a sequence of poems about writers you know, isn’t that an attempt at control? I have consciously written the kind of poems an Oulipoet might compose, but while doing so I have spread my legs and let the poem write itself. Such a thing takes a lot of work. It’s like shooting basketball foul shots in the dark, eh? The long poem that feels like a serial poem is Delayed Merci, I mean Mercy, because I really felt that I had given the poem its head, but it has all kinds of baffles, as I called them, or “constraints,” as I learned that academics call them. Each page (section) of the poem was written at about 2:00 in the morning, after my having read a whole book of poetry during the day before, and each page has a line from that book of poems. The poet is named on top of the poem section. The “fr” means both for and from. There are also larger sections of the poem, in which that form is different from others. It was like a pinball machine; the ball would go where it was nudged. Important that I was writing at 2 or 3 in the morning, so I could not put up much resistance.

The farthest thing from a serial poem is something by Robt Frost or maybe Irving Layton. The serial poem finds its own way to structure. When some reviewer says I am not in control of my material, I take it as a compliment. So, yes, once I got started on the Curious poems, I started taking them recibiendo. I wanted to do poems there from say Roy Kiyooka and some others that didn’t make it, and wasn't so sure I wanted to include some I did; that’s when I got a clue as to what was going to happen in my poetry.

KN: Is there a key to unlocking Allophanes?

GB: Allophanes. One of the many ways of collaborating because I really do believe that poetry is not a one-person job. Some day we should discuss the many ways I searched out co-writing. Lotsa keys to finding out this poem. It might be my favourite. You will see that it is 26 sections long. I guess classes in SFU were one-semester long, and 13 weeks per semester. I decided to sit in, way back of room, on Robin Blaser’s course supposedly on Yeats and Joyce, which, if you knew Blaser, would be 7 weeks of background to Yeats and 6 weeks of Yeats. Every class, Blaser would walk into the room, his arms barely managing to hold onto about 15 books. For quoting from. Some of them written 2,500 years ago. I would quietly sit there, my scribbler in front of me, taking an hour or two to write a page, the parts of which came from what Robin was saying, or what I had been reading, or what the authors of those 15 books said or opened up. I wrote what lines or images were in my head. But the first 2 lines of the poem arrived in my head when I was in my mother-in-law’s living room on 42nd Ave in Vancouver, as I looked out her front window. And it was spoken in Jack Spicer’s voice. I think you can surmise that that poet’s name passed Blaser’s lips during those 13 weeks. You will notice more baseball, too. You might think bpnichol is helping, etc. Actually, we should sit together, reading this poem aloud and making remarks.

KN: Okay, I’m looking into tickets to Vancouver this summer.

That would be lovely.

“At war with the U.S

I surrender

I embrace you

get off my back

in the light

where I can see you”

We both have a complicated relationship with the U.S. I was born there, and I’m a dual citizen, Canada and the U.S. I became a Canadian when I was thirty-four.

Now that I’m retired, and living in Canada (Toronto) I refuse to any longer participate in American elections.

What got this poem going?

GB: When I was a boy I planned to become a USAmerican. My mother’s family were, though, U.S. refugees. One of her uncles went back, to the South, got religion. My father’s father came to Canada as a Brit, and was planning to be a preacher in Idaho, but at the last minute his church sent him to Alberta. I think he might have been married in Buffalo. Anyway, as you can see from the poem you quote, I changed my mind about becoming a Yank. I composed the poem in the first house I bought, in, I think, 1972. In those days I sometimes composed my lengthy poems in nice notebooks people gave me. I think I did this one in a little booklet Audrey Thomas gave me. She’s another USAmerican who became a Canadian writer. Speaking of this subject, you remember Robin Mathews and his insane quest. He wrote that this poem proved that I was an American-lover.

KN: Yeah, Robin Mathews accused me and Ray Souster of betraying the Canadian Tradition with CrossCountry and Combustion.

I don’t know if I ever told you this, George. I liked Kerrisdale Elegies so much that I wrote Songs For Isabella on top of Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Another one of my books, The Concertos, owes a big debt of gratitude to Kerrisdale Elegies as well.

I think it’s absolutely brilliant—the best thing you’ve ever done in poetry. I like it a lot more than Duino Elegies.

GB: I published a little satirical piece in MacLean’s, about “Brown Mountain.” Mathews didn’t notice it was satirical.

We seem to be drifting off the long poems story. But I do appreciate your words about Kerrisdale Elegies.

I have trouble with Neruda. I visited his strange house in Valparaiso, but wouldn't go into his house in Santiago—they were charging too much. I like his Parisian love poems. But not these:

A Famous Pablo Neruda poem:

To be men! That is the Stalinist law! . . . 
We must learn from Stalin

his sincere intensity 

his concrete clarity. . . . 

Stalin is the noon, 

the maturity of man and the peoples. 

Stalinists, Let us bear this title with pride. . . . 

Stalinist workers, clerks, women take care of this day! 

The light has not vanished. 

The fire has not disappeared, 

There is only the growth of 

Light, bread, fire and hope 

In Stalin's invincible time! . . . 

In recent years the dove,

Peace, the wandering persecuted rose, 

Found herself on his shoulders 

And Stalin, the giant, 

Carried her at the heights of his forehead. . . . 

A wave beats against the stones of the shore. 

But Malenkov will continue his work.

KN: Poets and politics—Oy. We’ve seen a lot of bad choices made. Dudek had to do a reversal on Pound when all of the anti-Semitism finally came to light.

Yeah, I wouldn’t trust Neruda when it comes to politics. When it comes to love though. . .he instructed me in how to write those songs for Isabella.

I don't know if I have used baffles in the same way that you have used them, but I have used them.

Report On The Second Half of the Twentieth Century has 22 books because there are 22 cards in the Major Arcana of the Tarot pack. The visual image is supposed to appear somewhere in the book.

As mentioned, I wrote Songs For Isabella over the top of Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. In The Wheel, I followed what Nichol had done in “The Book of Hours”: each section of that poem was written in a different hour of the day. The Concertos were composed while listening to various violin and piano concertos. When the movement was over the stanza was over, and when the concerto was over the poem was done.

Is the baffle something Keatsian in “Do Sink”?

GB: I think you’ll notice that “Do Sink” which is one of my favourites, is emotional.

I found my mother’s mother’s grave, when she did not know where it was. She got the only photo of her mother when she (my Mum) was old. She lost her mum when she was a tot, and her step mother was mean to her, and her father later sexually abusive to her.

I think you’ll notice, I started to say, that while there are images (car, etc) that hold the poem together, a main thing is that it is 14 stanzas long, and yes, each stanza contains a line from Keats’s poem.

I first read it aloud during the reading one has to do for winning that annual book award from the CAA, for my M&S best of, I think, and Margaret Atwood was in the front row, and whooped and clapped her hands when I finished.

Later I did something opposite to a Shelley poem, shortening it.

It is interesting to hear of the restraints you practiced.

KN: I don’t know if I would have written South China Sea: A Poet’s Autobiography had I not read His Life: A Poem back in the early 2000s. I started working on SCS around 2007, maybe three or four years after reading His Life.

Is “Summer Fall Winter Spring” the baffle? And then you move forward in time, covering thirty years, or is it thirty-one?

GB: Quite a few of the questions you’ve asked are sort of at least answered in my book How I Wrote Certain of my Books, Toronto, Mansfield Press, 2011. The title and purpose of said book being copied or based upon Raymond Roussel’s book. I’d send a copy but I don’t have an extra one. Therein is described the complications and coincidences of His Life, a Poem.

The sections of the poem come from my diary entries on the equinoxes and solstices. Not writ in order, but yes, playing with numbers/

Fun writing that book, but it took years, in 2 senses at least.

KN: Your most recent “co-write” is with Artie Gold. There’s his serial poem, Romantic Words, that you are collaborating with, and also the collection of lyric poems traveling under the title Ruby Wounds. Artie has the left hand page and you have the right hand page in both instances. Could you talk a little bit about what motivated the project? And also, what strategies or approaches you employed?

GB: A couple years ago some reviewer or critic, I don’t remember who, pointed out that a lot of my work is in collaboration with other writings, with or without the other writer’s knowledge. Makes sense to me; I am of that group who say that culture is joint work, or more specifically, poetry is written by the poet and the body of written poetry. That is awkwardly put, so don’t blame the body of written poetry. I have done quite a lot of agreed-upon collaborative stuff, as with the dads book that Charles Demers and I wrote about the births and babyhoods of our daughters, whose births were decades apart. Or the book about cars that Ryan Knighton and I did. When we toured the book we even joined in the recitations. I was one of the four co-authors of a novel set in the 1950s Vancouver and published by Coach House. Even back in the tyro days of Tish, Frank Davey and I did cooperative poems and published them in the magazine. My first wife Angela shared a series of poems in one of my books. Once in a while my daughter does a page in my books, as in the recent Soft Zipper. But I have also written collaborations with Rilke, Shelley, Keats, etc. I seem to keep looking for different ways to co-author a piece or book. Lately, I have been working with the late Artie Gold, having found a new way to make a book. When he left the planet a couple decades ago, he left the manuscripts of two long poems among his papers, which showed up in the McGill library. After the poems were found they found their way into my hard drive, and years later I decided to finish them. One is the (in)famous Romantic Words which all his friends knew about, and the other was a sequence that maybe should have become part of the former, and maybe not. I call this sequence Ruby Wounds, which may be explained. Some of the Artie versions I rewrite, making what would be improvements if they were originated in my head, and sometimes I refute Artie’s version, or comment on it. I work as editor, scorekeeper and former teacher. I haven't seen a book like the one that was writing me.







Ken Norris was born in New York City in 1951. He came to Canada in the early 1970s, to escape Nixon-era America and to pursue his graduate education. He completed an M.A. at Concordia University and a Ph.D. in Canadian Literature at McGill University. He became a Canadian citizen in 1985. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Maine, where he taught Canadian Literature and Creative Writing for thirty-three years. He currently resides in Toronto.

13 of George Bowering’s long poems are collected in Taking Measures, Talonbooks, 2019. Others appear elsewhere. He has just finished a long poem titled Romantic Words, co-authored with Artie Gold. He learned poetry by reading the long poems of H.D., William Carlos Williams, Robert Duncan and William Blake.

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