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“Your own searching will lead you to what you need.” Introducing Arc’s 2012–13 Poet-in-Residence: Tim Bowling

Arc is proud to welcome poet and novelist Tim Bowling as Poet-in-Residence. Tim is the author of 10 books of poetry including the Canadian Authors’ Association Award-winning Darkness and Silence and the Governor General’s Award finalists The Witness Ghost and The Memory Orchard. His most recent book, Tenderman (Nightwood, 2011), takes advantage of the subtleties of voicing in dialogue, monologue and lyric to explore “the dichotomy between the sensitive poetic observer and the tough, working-class subject.” The book has been nominated for the Acorn-Plantos Poetry Award.

Arc’s Poet-in-Residence program offers the community of writers a chance to work with influential Canadian poets. It takes advantage of the technology available to us to break down geographical barriers and allow poets from any region access to writers they might not otherwise encounter. Tim Bowling is our fourth Poet-in-Residence, following Elise Partridge, Roo Borson and Rob Winger.

Arc: Who have your mentors been?

Tim Bowling: Many. Don Domanski and Don McKay gave me important early (and ongoing) encouragement. More recently, the American poets Philip Levine and William Heyen have been an important support system, as have so many peers, including Russell Thornton and Stephanie Bolster.

Arc: Earlier in your career, which was more important to you: mentors or models/influences?

TB: I’d have to say models/influences. I was an isolated young poet, didn’t have anything to do with other writers until I was approaching thirty. I was a salmon fisherman who frequented used bookstores and libraries to devour all the poetry I could find. In my early twenties, I recall that Robert Lowell’s pyrotechnics had a big influence on me and I couldn’t read John Berryman at all. Now Berryman’s “Dream Songs” are one of my greatest pleasures. Poetry accommodates your personal changes; that’s one of its many beauties.

Arc: Is there a moment or a poem that you can identify when you felt you had crossed a threshold between starting out and having the chops that would lead to 10 books of poetry (and counting)?

TB: Oddly enough, yes. I was 28; it was 1992. I wrote a poem called “History” (unpublished), and then a day later “Old Barns” (which appeared in my second collection, Dying Scarlet). I know this because I have handwritten drafts of every poem I’ve ever written!

Arc: How do you sustain your remarkable output?

TB: Well, I guess it’s because I don’t think in terms of output. I read, read, read, and that keeps the creative fires burning. When my reading drops off, the fire dies down. At my age, I try to allow the natural rhythms of my busy life to dictate what gets written. Anyway, the output’s not so remarkable when you consider that, up until very recently, I’ve been able to work full-time on poetry. Most people don’t have that luxury. I paid a price for mine, of course, in terms of so-called worldly “success.”

Arc: What one piece of advice would you give to all emerging poets? Is it advice you were given or a lesson from your own experience?

TB: I don’t have any useful practical advice. But, in general, have the highest possible ambitions for your work, and maintain reasonable, even low expectations as to how the world will treat that work. Hard experience has taught (and continues to teach) that lesson.

Arc: If you could recommend one book of poetryother than your ownto get someone hooked, what would you recommend?

TB: My own? Sheesh, if I could recommend my own, I’d be in big trouble. A poet better have a lot of poetry he loves more than his own. But in terms of hooking someone, that would depend on the person. The right poet at the right time; it’s mysterious and delicate, and often your own searching will lead you to what you need.

Arc: If someone asked you where to start if they wanted to get to know your work, which of your books would you recommend?

TB: Fathom.

Arc: What are you reading now?

TB: Plenty of R.S. Thomas (as always) and Yehuda Amichai. Every autumn, I read Frost’s “After Apple Picking.” I really like Robert Frost. Eight or ten of his poems are among my favourites.

Arc: What poetic tic or habit of yours do you most wish you could change?

TB: None, really. I rely heavily on metaphor, and when I come up with one that impresses me, I know it will make up for any irritating tics or habits, at least in my own eyes!

Arc: Which current trend in poetry (themes, schools, retroactive or reactive movements, etc.) do you most wish you could change?

TB: I’d like to see more women become reviewers for the national press. I’d also like to see more highly regarded poets write reviews of their peers. But it seems that we mostly get mean-spirited young guys who recognize that reviewing is a faster track to notoriety than the difficult work of writing poems. It also saddens me to see poetry “professionalized,” to see people approach it cold-bloodedly as a career—by writing the attack review, making the right contacts, joining critical and academic cliques as if they were street gangs. For me, poetry is that rare place where the individual can escape all those worldly manoeuvres. And yet, we live in a culture where the careerists can indeed benefit from their careerism. There isn’t any more justice in poetry than there is in the world at large, I’m afraid.

Arc: What fault do you most tolerate in others?

TB: I wish I had a nice answer. But the truth is, I’m very hard on others. It’s a considerable fault of mine. I’m not happy about it. And being unhappy about it doesn’t make me tolerate that same fault in others. The paradox of human behaviour! Is it a fault to watch Antiques Road Show? I’ll tolerate that.

Arc: E-publishing: good for poets or not?

TB: I don’t know. It’s not the way I like to read poetry. But no doubt others feel quite differently. What matters most is the quality of the poem, though I happen to think that rich black ink in a lovely font on handmade paper affects the quality, or our perception of it, at least.

Arc: What poem would you most like to have written, and why?

TB: Whew, that’s a tough one. A sensible person would say, “Oh, there are too many!” But I’m feeling reckless. How about Randall Jarrell’s “The Making of The Lost World.” Jarrell not only loved childhood, but he respected it (a very rare quality). There’s so much mature feeling in his poems about his Hollywood childhood, so much clarity and directness.

Arc: What super-power would you most like to possess?

TB: What are the powers again? X-ray vision, flight, stretchy arms. Is time travel a choice? I seem to recall that the Silver Surfer had some nifty powers, but I’ve forgotten them. And he always seemed sad too. I don’t know, being an independent bookseller, a small press publisher, or anyone taking on the omnipresent money-first corporate mindset must have super-powers. I’ll go with those.

Arc: What are you working on now?

TB: A novel dealing with Nazi war criminals in the Greek community of a small west coast town circa 1972. And the search for fresh metaphor is ongoing and never-ending (I hope).

All those who submit their poems to Arc may be considered for participation in the Arc Poet-in-Residence program.