Tim Bowling, Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief

I love Tim Bowling's poetry so much that I'm jealous of sharing it. However, Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief is so affecting that I can't bear the thought of people not finding it who should.

There's no better explanation than hoarding for my not blogging about Tim Bowling since the adoration posted here eleven years ago about his much earlier The Witness Ghost, but if that's it, then I'm appalled at myself. I've recommended Bowling repeatedly over the years to all kinds of readers, but I've rarely included him in my teaching. Out of fear, certainly: I don't want my students not to love the books I've fallen in love with, and I certainly don't want to hear about it (or, worse, to read essays about it!).

For me Bowling is at his best when he's channeling a simplicity that's both direct (i.e., about the material world) and allusive (i.e., about the meanings above and behind and beneath). This is the first volume of his that tempts me to reconsider whether Witness Ghost still deserves pride of place, because it gives me exactly what I'm looking for again and again:
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," p.7)
Those lines from the book's first poem get quoted in many reviews, because they set so well the tone and the readership for this lovely Gaspereau volume. Nostalgia, even a self-doubting and -questioning one, works most potently for those with some access to what's being remembered, what's been lost, and so this poetry isn't for those "of certain years" but for those who've "left prints on the sand" and have had castles slide through their fingers.


  • "Still Winter" might be the greatest poem ever written about how sleepy old dogs follow sun across wooden floors of an afternoon, and
  • "Dread" asks bluntly the crucial manly question: "the salt in the tears / that men refuse to cry-- / where is it?" (p.68), and
  • "But Thinking Makes It So" has perhaps the perfect metaphor for the predictable pain of growing into a middle-age, middle-class life like mine: "feathering the nest / with feathers torn / from the self" (p.17).

Not every poem does what I want, because Bowling has multiple modes and interests, and apparently readers to satisfy other than me, but there was so much here for me. Honestly, it took two full weeks to read the 70 spare pages of this book, because I just couldn't deal with the prospect of finishing Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief.

Will the book club, the good lads at Beer and Books, be happy in April when they're forced to read a poetry volume for the first time in our nearly thirteen years together? Unlikely, but miracles can happen. But who else, if not Tim Bowling, for a troupe of middle-aged white dudes on Canada's west coast:
feathering the nest
with feathers torn
from the self


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