George Bowering, Canada’s first Poet Laureate, was born in Penticton and has never been far from the Okanagan Valley in his heart and imagination. Writing the Okanagan culls forty books Bowering has published since 1960 – poetry, fiction, history, and some forms he may have invented. This new collection samples early works such as Delsing, the first novel that Bowering wrote as an undergrad, and Sticks & Stones, his first collection of poetry published with an introduction by Robert Creeley, as well as award-winning books Gangs of Kosmos and Bowering’s B.C. Here on Meta-Talon, read an excerpt from Autobiology (now published on pages 43–44 and 54 of Writing the Okanagan), which was first published in 1972 in The Georgia Straight Writing Supplement, when Bowering was thirty-six.
— 1972 —
But no, the Okanagan would always reach out and urge me back, at least in thought. In Autobiology, which has been reprinted pretty often, we see why. I have often said that when I moved east to Ontario and then to Quebec I could no longer base my approach on the place around me because I could not see and understand the details that made a place. Instead of forest there were woodlots, for example. Instead of mountains there were lots of paved roads.
So I went inside, I guess you’d say. I did a long poem based on an eighteenth-century medico’s diary of his voyage with Captain Vancouver. I did a poem based on the tarot deck. Autobiology, as its title suggest, is a number of Steinian improvisations on moments in my life when stuff that occurred to my body caused shifts in whatever you call the combination of memory and observation. The first piece was composed in the kitchen of a place in an Irish section of North London, England, but is about something that happened with raspberries in Peachland, British Columbia, long before. So I guess it makes sense that thirteen of its forty-eight sections were provoked by the Okanagan Valley.
The rest of the book was written back “home” in Montreal, and published in Vancouver at a press founded by the commune we moved into when we got there. Talk about home. That commune was just around the corner from the apartment we had lived in on Yew Street just before going to Calgary eight years earlier.
I have always thought of Autobiology as an important departure for me. It was to that date the most extremely language-centred (as opposed to place-centred) long poem I had written, and would prepare my way for the next few, Curious and A Short Sad Book and Allophanes, none of which have Okanagan stuff in them.
“The First Two Towns”
What is a town, what is a town exactly that we have lived in or a city, what is the city that we have lived in even less or a good deal more depending on how we look at it. How do we look at it and how did we look at it. Well in the first place it was mainly towns and in the second place it was nearly all cities and you should say time as well as place for town or city.
The first was Penticton. It was Penticton and I was born on the hill but I did not look at Penticton from the hill and now when I am in Penticton though now I am not in Penticton I look up at the hill but I did not look down from the hill because I was just born there where my father climbed to see me and now I am realizing that he is old and if he hears this I love him.
The second was Peachland though it was really the first for I because that was where I began to look at a town though really I began to look at the lake or across the lake to the east side be-cause I was fated to be in the west looking east in these imaginings because I would always move eastward looking backward to the west not really looking east but being there.
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