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Dangled Bait:
Tim Bowling's Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief

Tim Bowling’s Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief
Tim Bowling, Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief

Tim Bowling’s Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief
Tim Bowl­ing. Circa Nine­teen Hun­dred and Grief. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau Press, 2014.
~Reviewed by Jean Van Loon

 

The first poem sets the hook:

This is for men and women
of cer­tain years, who,
hav­ing left prints on the sand,
remem­ber the feel­ing
of cas­tles in their fin­gers (“Child­hood”).

This auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal col­lec­tion brings to life a remem­bered child­hood in the Fraser Delta—the river, salt tides, salmon, herons, fog, rain—and a fam­ily wrest­ing a liv­ing from land and sea. The mem­o­ries range from the inno­cence of the poet deliv­er­ing news­pa­pers like his dad, “bike tires whis­per­ing down long streets in the rain” (“The Cycle”) to the sharp edges of child­hood cru­elty, and the bru­tal­ity of the hunt, “Shot! The mal­lard breaks // like a child’s wrist” (“The Duck Hunter”). Bowl­ing recre­ates child­hood not just for itself, but as the roots of the adult man, explor­ing the devel­op­ment of the poet, the search for mean­ing with­out faith, and the essen­tial soli­tude of the human soul.

The pow­er­ful and mem­o­rable poem, “The Look­ing Glass Scented with Cedar and Rain,” pulls these three ele­ments together, begin­ning: “The time on the town clock was always wrong. / Then the hands stopped. Then they were gone.” Later, in a short stanza: “I am the hour that is pointed to / and I am kept alone.” Rich lay­ers of phys­i­cal detail fol­low, then, refrain-like: “I am book and verse / of a faith with­out a church / and I am read alone.” More images—vivid and ominous—another refrain-like vari­ant on the theme of alone, and then, a stanza sets out the poet’s call­ing:

Some­one had to step out into the hori­zon
and bring the sun back to the barn.
Some­one had to kneel on blood­stained wood
when the salmon—those unframed oils
hid­den away from the wars of men—returned.

A strik­ing fea­ture of this col­lec­tion is its imagery. About child­hood, Bowl­ing writes:

that way of child­hood
that never returns to us
when the sun rolls over onto his grass-stained elbow
and slowly closes his earth-eyes
and we can smell every sea­son on his skin. (“The Odyssey”)

And again, in “Land­locked,” look­ing back with home­sick­ness from the prairie:

I have kept a name
but sunk the self –

reflected as I turn back
a child’s face that means
what the globe on the teacher’s desk
means to the gulls

cry­ing with­out a land­ing over the world.

Toward the end of the col­lec­tion, Bowl­ing sets out his faith:

there’s a god­head with­out a god
a harder faith, nei­ther in man
nor man’s sal­va­tion: it sees
empti­ness and names it
it sees pain and feels it …

Every bird, unbe­liever,
nailed to the cross
of its flight.

In this small, intense book, Bowl­ing nails every bird, recre­at­ing a child’s expe­ri­ence of a beau­ti­ful but often bloody world. He explores the adult loss of the child­hood self and the drive to find mean­ing by doc­u­ment­ing the world as it was and is. In this thought­ful and mov­ing reflec­tion on grow­ing old, Bowl­ing deliv­ers on his title’s dan­gled bait.

 

Jean Van Loon holds an MFA in cre­ative writ­ing from UBC. Her fic­tion, non-fic­tion, poetry and reviews have appeared in Cana­dian lit­er­ary mag­a­zines, includ­ing one story in Jour­ney Prize Sto­ries 19.

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