George Bowering - The Poet In Danger Of ExtinctionSaturday, November 03, 2007
"What brings you to La Plata? Don't tell me you've come to study?"
"I've come to take photographs of the city. I'm a photographer."
The Adventures of a Photographer In La Plata, Adolfo Bioy Casares 1985
When I went to La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires Province in 1966 I had no idea who Adolfo Bioy Casares was. My sailor friend Felipe Occhiuzzi and I had obtained a weekend leave so we had decided to take a bus to La Plata and visit the La Plata Museum, famous for its dinosaur finds. We managed to find a pretty girl to snap our picture in front of it with my Pentacon F camera.
This Tuesday during a break of my class, The Contemporary Portrait Nude, at Focal Point I went for a coffee at Bean Around the World which is next door on 10th Avenue. There in one corner I spotted my friend Brian Nation (a photographer, poet, writer, web designer, etc) and Canada's first ex (2002) poet laureate, George Bowering. Both smiled and I never got to sit down as Bowering said, "Alex, I am going to Buenos Aires. My favorite Argentine writer is Bioy Casares. Do you know where he lived in Buenos Aires?" I did not know but I mentioned a book Casares had written about La Plata and Bowering knew all about it. I felt that somehow I had to take a picture. But all I had was my very large Mamiya RB in a small bag. I took it out and measured the light with my Minolta meter. The exposure was was f-5.6 at 1/8 second. That was iffy but I slapped on the Polaroid back and took this picture that you see here. I gave it to Brian Nation who posted it the very next day in his blog. I downloaded it to here.
Some years ago I had to photograph Bowering for Books in Canada. I took Bowering to Nat Bailey Stadium to take some baseball shots.
One of the pleasures I used to have when Duthie Books on Robson existed was to visit the store and sometimes buy a book which I would then peruse in the Murchie's store on the other side of the street. Both are gone. But I fondly remember going up to Thea, (Bowering's daughter) who worked in Duthies and I would ask, "I am looking for a book called The Poet In Danger of Extinction." At first she was extremely serious in telling me that no such book existed. Then, when she caught on, she would just smile. Her smile was just as infectious as was Bowering's when I told him this story on Tuesday.
In Mexican poet/novelist Homero Aridjis's Eyes to See Otherwise - Ojos de otro Mirar Selected Poems. published in 2001 and edited by Homero Aridjis's wife and George McWhirter (born in Belfast) who happens to be our 2007 Vancouver Poet Laureate there is this poem:
The Poet In Danger Of Extinction
- The poet is in danger of extinction -
said the man with the moustache.
- The poet is someone from another age
who wonders through the day saying things
nobody understands - said the woman.
- While your bricklayer falls of a building,
the poet calls to us in the dead
language of mankind - said the shopkeeper.
- The poet writes books nobody
wants to read or sell or publish -
said the Professor.
- We ought to form a society
to protect these poets
in danger of extinction - said the woman.
- Baudelaire never was that popular -
said the man with the moustache.
- Dante, after seven hundred years
hardly anybody reads him - said the woman.
- Gongora - after the revival and reappraisal
is ignored all over again - said the Professor.
- What can we do so the public gets to know
poets better? - asked the shopkeeper.
- Nothing, absolutely nothing - said the poet.
- Didn't they say this was the type of person
who was already in danger of extinction? -
asked the man with the moustache.
The poet said:
through the smoggy streets;
in the world of communication
reach out through the dead languages;
in a marketplace of goods
that are smelled, pawed over, eaten
or shelved for a thousand years,
touch the body of a woman who never was.
See, in front of my bedroom window
the poet, my double, dodge between the cars,
lika an animal in danger of extinction.
Of George Bowering's favourite Argentine writer, this is what Jorge Luis Borges wrote:
We met in 1930 or 1931, when he was 17 and I was barely past 30. In these cases it is always supposed that the older becomes the master and the younger his pupil. This perhaps happened in the beginning, but years after, when we began to work together, Bioy was in reality, while secretely, the master.