George Bowering - PoetFriday, July 13, 2012
My Mother's Red Shawl - El Rebozo Colorado
George Bowering - Poet
Look at that photograph. Look at that man in the photograph. Well, there isn’t one. You are looking at a small two-dimensional something. You remember looking at an illustration in a culture magazine and saying to yourself, yes, that is Curnoe. But is it? Isn’t it a magazine illustration of a painting that was painted years ago by Greg Curnoe? So when you look at that photograph of the guy with a red shawl over his shoulder, some sort of imaginative power lets you make him adopt the right size and appear in three dimensions. Again—really? In our three-dimensional world, so-called, we see one side of anything. We get used to ascribing reality to that.
Then we try to represent that reality, to use a verb that Henry James thought would do the job here. Call it realism. Realism, I have thought since I turned twenty-one, is an admission of defeat. Whether a landscape or a kaleidoscape, it is an admission of failure. Sometimes a really likeable one, as in Each Man’s Son.
I have heard of great novels being called the “canon of representation.” But isn’t that kind of poormouthing a created art? The great quartets of Beethoven and Coltrane don’t represent anything (except the body of work managed by those geniuses). I am saying that word “representation” doesn’t properly refer to the art work; it refers to what the artist is doing, not so much on canvas or keyboard as in being oneself, maybe an advocate for presentation. Oh no, not again.
Because the referential act leaves out too much. Do you know what I mean? Too much that we do not want to slip away. I want to make it all cohere, like a fuzzy magnet. I am impatient with reference, with continuity, with unity, with the final coming to rest. Morse Peckham called his version of impatience a rage for chaos. I don’t think there is any such place. I’m the witch of And/Or.
Thus I have never been able to understand all those Canadian poets and fiction writers and especially professor anthologists who want to trace our literature to explorers’ journals. There are so many purposes for setting down words—why assume that frozen John Franklin is a model for you or me?
All right, I have strayed from that image of the old poet with the red rebozo over his shoulder. The photograph is by Alex Quarterhorse-Haywire or someone like that. What I have almost been saying is that I want to write fiction the way he photographs that rebozo. You see, it is an important item of family material. All my life I just have been offered stories that treat such items as “symbolic.” Not interested. For Alex it is an object that keeps showing up. Its reappearance is as pleasurable and meaningless as the alphabet. I love that. As soon as you start saying things about family heritage and matrilineal blah blah blah I am out of here.
But I should go back and make a little concession. Realism does not have to apologize for being around or for being a downer, as it so often is. Nor do other attempts to convey the real. That shawl looks very real, what with its colour especially, and I might even look convincingly like a Latin American uncle. But I did not feel any rush of recognition when I put it over my shoulder.
Celia Duthie Gallerist
Linda Lorenzo Mother
Katheryn Petersen Accordionist
Stefanie Denz Artist
Ivette Hernández Actress
Byron Chief-Moon Actor/Dancer
Colin Horricks Doctor
Ian Mulgrew Vancouver Sun Columnist
Jocelyn Morlock Composer
Corinne McConchie Librarian
Rachel Ditor Dramaturg
Patrick Reid Statesman, Flag Designer
Michael Varga CBC Cameraman
Bronwen Marsden Playwright/Actress/Director
David Baines Vancouver Sun Columnist
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward Photographer
Lauren Elizabeth Stewart Student
Sandrine Cassini Dancer/Choreographer
Meredith Kalaman Dancer/Choreographer
Juliya Kate Dominatrix