George Bowering: Bridges to Elsewhere

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Ian Rae, McGill University
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In 2008, George Bowering summarized his long literary career in Canada by stressing his activities as an intermediary: "I think that if I have any place in the history of Canadian poetry, it is as a kind of bridge figure. I have always wanted to make you sure that I belong to a peculiar West Coast poetry group or movement that is way out there, but I have always thought myself to be considered part of the newer establishment in Toronto, where Canadian literature is gathered and sent to market. All my adult life I have explained or defended one side to the other." Critics such as Roy Miki, Frank Davey, and Fred Wah have been very effective in establishing the importance of the TISH movement to Canadian poetry, but the impact of Bowering's work outside of – or extending from – this critical nexus is a neglected field of study.

This special issue of Open Letter invites critics to broaden the horizons of Bowering criticism and investigate new paradigms for assessing his work. Key questions include, but are not limited to, the following:
* How can critics make sense of Bowering's claim: "I'm in the old guard and the avant-garde"?
* How has Bowering influenced or been influenced by American Language poets?
* How can critics read Bowering's work outside the locus of Vancouver? Can we see Bowering as a Calgary, Toronto, London, or Montreal artist?
* How has Bowering's work as a critic and anthologist helped shape Canadian literature?
* What are Bowering's strengths and weaknesses as a national and provincial historian?
* How does the work of Bowering, as the first official Poet Laureate of Canada, compare to that of poets who held the title of unofficial Poet Laureate, such as Bliss Carman, E.J. Pratt, and Al Purdy? Note that Bowering published the first monograph on Purdy.
* How has Bowering built bridges from poetry into other media?
* How does Bowering's writing respond to Asian, Australian, African, or Central / South American literature?
* What is Bowering's pedagogical legacy?
* Is Bowering an Ecopoet?
* Do any of Bowering's later works disguise his TISH and Black Mountain poetics in order to reach a new audience, while at the same time elaborating his early principles?
* Many of Bowering's critical statements contrast a Toronto "establishment" with an experimental West Coast "movement." How valid are his binaries of East/West, old/new, stasis/flux? Are there better ways of understanding the dynamics of writing and publishing in Canada?

Please send your submissions to or to Ian Rae, Acting Program Director, McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, 3463 Peel, Montréal, QC, Canada, H3A 1W7.

The style of the final publication will follow the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Submissions in this format (if you are familiar with it) are appreciated.