The Mechanics of George Bowering's My Darling Nellie Grey

by Fred Wah

I’ve always been impressed with George’s commitment to writing as both work and play. I remember visiting him at his house on 37th in Vancouver during the 80’s, when many of us had just started to use the computer as a serious writing machine, and seeing George’s setup. He had his Apple, dot-matrix printer, and poetry books in one room, and across the hall in another room were his IBM Selectric, a manual typewriter, and his fax and photocopy machines. He’s always kept up with the toys.

But this setup provided him with his working strategies as well. His poetry room, with his computer, was used for the increasing digital demands of a writing life (email, scheduling, edits, magazines, and so forth) and for his poetry. He said that each day he’d go across the hall and write 3-4 pages of his novel on the IBM plus one hour of typing on his old manual typewriter. The main point was that this work plan was a daily plan. His commitment to working with such order and discipline belied the fundamentally playful aspects of his writing. He has always worked hard at playing with writing.

George’s new book of poetry, My Darling Nellie Grey, is a great illustration of
his unique matrix of work and play. The paradigm he has imposed on this collection is demanding and, because of its length, unrelenting: a poem a day, 28, 30, or 31 poems a month, each month utilizing a particular topic and/or formality of composition, from January 1 to December 31, 2006. Each month was published separately as a chapbook. And, particularly useful for students of writing, he has provided a detailed introduction to the collection outlining rationales and methods, much of it grounded biographically in his extensive writing life.

We’re alerted to how writing can pay attention to the mind and world; how this is one way the poetic imagination can work; how time, politics, people, travel, art, and reading can be focused by torquing attention makes things stand out, be counted; how the quotidian is so much a part of creative work; how writing can be a performance, and how necessary it is to notate the rhythms of the voice for such presence.

Of course, in this honest and open process, some of the sections will be more impressive, successful, poetic, etc., than others. But that is the point, I hear Bowering insist. That it is all, there, and poetry is not so precious that it can’t own up to that fact. Such measure of the possible is what makes poetry so attractive, and Bowering remains faithful, as Robert Creeley would say, to that fact. Otherwise why bother, eh?