Shortlisted for the 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize
A two-time winner of the Governor-General’s Award, and one of the few people to win in both the fiction and poetry categories, George Bowering was appointed Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate in 2002. One of Western Canada’s most recognized and praised poets since the early 60s, Bowering has produced an impressive library of books in a variety of genres. Changing on the Fly is a 2004 collection of his best lyric poems; there are selections taken from all of his volumes from 1964 to 2001. A selected poems collection is an important piece in the career of a high-profile poet. Often times individual volumes, even the award winning ones, go out of print fairly quickly, usually within five to ten years; selected poem collections, like a musician’s greatest hits album, are often what is looked to as an introduction to a poet’s work and stay in print much longer. This particular book examines one particular important piece of Bowering’s diverse work.
This book, for me anyway, can be divided into two halves: pre-1992 and post-1992. Poems in the “pre” category, especially those from the 60s and 70s were incredible. Lyric poetry is not usually my cup of tea, typically I prefer narrative poems. But Bowering’s early poems had a sharp wit and staccato style. As the book passes into the more the recent poems, they go from being a single page to upwards of 14 pages. I find when this author’s flavour of lyric gets to this length my attention wains and the message gets lost. In the earlier poems Bowering experiments with word usage, punctuation, rhythm, and the actual concrete form of the poem. One of his previous volumes from which a few poems are included is Curious; the selections from this 1973 book are poems addressed to other prominent Canadian poets, including bp Nicol, Daphne Marlatt, and James Reaney. This was one of the most interesting sections of the collection.
This was my first introduction to George Bowering’s writing and it certainly was an interesting one. This volume contains over 100 poems, many of which are very memorable. I’ve stated previously that reviewing a collection of poetry is very difficult; it becomes even more difficult when it is a selected poems book. Poetry, especially lyric poetry, can be difficult for someone who does not regularly read this genre, but I firmly believe that poetry can be just as accessible as any novel. You do not to get wrapped up in the metaphors, symbols, and overall message of a poem. Sometimes simply being swept away by the beautiful language and form is simply enough. Changing on the Fly was a nominee for the Griffin Poetry Prize, one of the richest poetry prizes in the world. Below is the jury’s citation of the book and Bowering reading a selection from the book.