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Poetry Canadian

Low Water Slack

by (author) Tim Bowling

Nightwood Editions
Initial publish date
Jan 1995
Canadian, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 1995
    List Price

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In the language of the Fraser River fishermen, "low water slack" is that particular tide when everything slows down: the wind, the river, even the human heartbeat. It is a time to reflect, to count the stars in Orion's belt, to listen for the slow creak of the heron's wings. During low water slack, the challenges of life on the river give way to something much deeper, and the fishermen find themselves in a world so calm and beautiful that the very water beneath them seems a hushed breath.

At once historical and intensely personal, Low Water Slack takes the reader into a vibrant world populated with such characters as a ghost of a nineteeth-century salmon canner and an 800-pound white sturgeon. Here are infamous moments of BC's past (the Hell's Gate disaster, the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War Two) alongside childhood memories of a first kiss and meditations on the future of West Coast fish stocks. And moving like a quick shadow throughout is the Pacific salmon itself, whose life cycle mirrors and guides the poet's own exploration of mortality.

About the author

Tim Bowling has published numerous poetry collections, including Low Water Slack; Dying Scarlet (winner of the 1998 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for poetry); Darkness and Silence (winner of the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry); The Witness Ghost; and The Memory Orchard (both nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award). He is also the author of three novels, Downriver Drift (Harbour), The Paperboy's Winter (Penguin) and The Bone Sharps (Gaspereau Press). His first book of non-fiction, The Lost Coast: Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture (Nightwood Editions), was shortlisted for three literary awards: The Writers' Trust Nereus Non-Fiction Award, the BC Book Prizes' Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the Alberta Literary Awards' Wilfred Eggleston Award for Non-Fiction. The Lost Coast was also chosen as a 2008 Kiriyama Prize "Notable Book." Bowling is the recipient of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Award and the Orillia International Poetry Prize. Bowling was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008. A native of the West Coast, he now lives in Edmonton Alberta. His latest collection of poetry is Tenderman (Nightwood), due out in fall 2011.

Tim Bowling's profile page

Excerpt: Low Water Slack (by (author) Tim Bowling)


My first real kiss tasted of burnt chinook
and cherrywood. I won it in a smokehouse
on the banks of the Fraser River, cica 1975.
When I stepped out of that narrow darkness,
the scent of summer's spent desire on my skin,
October threw my shadow farther than I'd ever
thrown a stone; I could not see the far bank
of my own body, I could not hear my senses
splash on the other side. Along the fence,
the tall corn whispered secrets, and a cat's
eyes swallowed a robin whose heart thrummed
thunder from a distant rooftop. Was another
shadow running an arm to soreness in the grass?
I did not look. My eyes had dropped like stones
into the river, and the current pulled them deep.
Soemwhere up the valley, wind flayed the flesh
of salmon hung in the rocks, dried it to ribbons
pink enough for a schoolgirl's hair. Tongues
would tease it for flavour in another season,
and go silent in the tasting. But that day,
the clouds poured east in a rich smoke, faster
and faster, hunger of the earth for heaven,
hunger of the air for blood, hunger of the blood
for burning. Now, I stay my arm to listen.
These words step out of a high dark,
and there's fury in their swimming.

Steelhead, Spawning

What we dreamed of when young, but never found
comes in with the tide tonight. What we loved,
but lacked the will to pursue, moves swiftly
in the mouth. Beautiful ghost, blushing
in the gills, the saltmarsh sighs to see
your rare body beacon the night. What have
we done to yesterday? The river flexes its
last wild muscle, strong and sure. Casts
its bright hook in our sleep, and pulls.
While we rise to the unbreathable element
of loss again.

Editorial Reviews

"Tim Bowling's first book, Low Water Slack, is a rare find. Accomplished, assured, and stocked with memorable imagery, it trumpets the presence of a huge new talent."
-Kevin Irie, The Antigonish Review

The Antigonish Review

"Buoyantly optimistic and rich in imagery, these poems movingly depict rare moments of beauty in an otherwise harsh existence. Especially astonishing is the maturity of Bowling's vision, the breadth of his reading, and the ability to combine the abstract with the pragmatic in poems that shimmer like the scales of salmon he describes, particularly when he is writing about death. It's bloody and it's wonderful."


"His poems have an emotional intensity that brought lumps to my throat. There is a resolve, a high moral purpose to everything he is doing here, coupled with a compelling melancholy and an astounding level of artistry. With his grasp of the human condition and his lyric gifts, Bowling has the tools to become not just a good poet, but a great one. Low Water Slack (that particular tide when everything slows down, leaving time to reflect) went into second printing in less than a year, suggesting someone besides poets are buying it."
-Pat Jasper, Arc


"Low Water Slack richly creates a vivid sense of specific place and time and particular, personal emotion. . . . Tim Bowling shows himself to be a gifted poet, grounded in the narrative-lyrical modernist tradition, one who is adventurous and risk-taking in his use of surprising, suggestive language and unexpected, forceful juxtapositions. I finished his book an admirer of his work and will follow his career with interest."
-Libby Scheier, Books In Canada

Books in Canada

"Bowling's poems exceed expectations. His universe, suffused with the flux of water, is wondrous."
-Zoe Landale, UBC Chronicle

UBC Chronicle

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