About the Author

Tim Bowling

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.

Books by this Author
Dark Set, The

Dark Set, The

New Tenderman Poems
tagged : canadian, nature
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Darkness and Silence

Darkness and Silence

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Three Jack Spring

Three jack spring
briefly laid
on the wet grass
and forming
a loose silver triangle

And wasps
slow circling
as the careful dialling
of a rotary phone
their buzz the sound
of the numbers passing

And apple blossoms
from an overhanging bough
a few settling on the scales
as if to ice the fish
the others settling
on the cool patch of grass

Unseen is the heap
of the fisherman's son
all the fingers slick
with blood and slime
and curled into themselves
to make a tiny moon

Unseen is the heap
of cedar sawdust
red as the salmon flesh
rich too with the musk
of the life that's seeping
into the ground

Gone now are the fish
the patch of grass, the dust,
the blossoms and wasps.

But that hand is this hand
poised to pick up
on the first ring
of that call
which never comes
except as the wind
in the silver triangle
then static, than darkness,
then nothing at all.

Reading My Son to Sleep

Last night, for the first time, I went down the well
my father went with me.
It plunged deeper than the back of the little skull
whose edge lay page-thin on the white pillow
and darker than the earth's dusk seeping in
to blot the secret passwords that I spoke.

"Hello," I tested with each downladdering breath,
the letters pattering like rain in the murk
and echoing off the cavernous stone. A blink,
a butterfly's tentative settle, and the slight
way back had briefly closed.

Another blink, and I was left
with the aftersound of uttered entrance,
my eyes guttering, arms loose as rope.

With an inward cry I could not help
I watched darkness flood the praying-book.


A house under stars, still yet poised
as the white-tailed doe who stands,
head lifted, sniffing, a foot beyond
the supple chamois stretch of light
extending from a reading lamp.

Many-windowed, a house on a slope
through which the eyes of the wild peer
at a height equal to the stars, through
which the measured breath of being
pins the pages on a desk.

Earth-bound, a house of old wood
against which the hides of passing herds
still brush, and for which
the paper of an open, unread book
still longs.

A man under stars, hunched,
earth-bound, opaque of spirit,
what else shall he long for
to merit the doe's tentative address
and the stars' constancy
than the flesh that shelters him
and a small gap in the absence
of his wilderness?

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Downriver Drift

Downriver Drift

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Five days passed. Now the nights crackled under their trellised galaxies and the air tarnished the bright-silver bodies of the rushing salmon. Now the corncobs had fattened and threatened to burst their husks like boys' shoulders in outgrown suits. Now the river and its catacombing sloughs remembered the glacial touch and the paddles and the armstrokes and the cries of the coast's human dead. And now darkness fell over the bloodfat evening light like an executioner's hood. Everything became night and pregnant silence. The heart copied the sun and went down in the body, and the body became driftwood on the same charged current.

Fishermen unable to sleep floated through the streets and along the riverbanks, their necks harnessed to the current. Some carried vials of battery acid to pour on the nets of scabs, while others paced the wharf beside their own boats, resisting the urge to throw their reputations away just to have that cold silver weight their palms. And every night, sirens rent the stillness, as something else - a netshed, a pile of fishboxes beside a cannery, a boathouse - went up in flames. Always now, somewhere in the kerosene black of the first hours after midnight, a fire would build silently until it finally raged to life and screamed awake the mute bedrooms of the town.

The river had opened again two days after Raskin had first gone out. And this time he was not the only fisherman to break the strike. The word had spread not only about his scabbing, but also about how many fish he'd hauled in. As a result, when the canneries held firm to their last offer, some non-union fishermen decided the risk of being blackballed was worth taking. As each day passed without a settlement, and the Stuart run peaked, fishermen eyed each other suspiciously, with a half-concealed hope in their bloodshot eyes, as if waiting for someone to say "Ah, what the hell, might as well make a set before they're all gone."

But no one would say it. Most just muttered into their fidgeting hands and tried to convince themselves that the strike would be settled any minute and that they wouldn't be forced into making a decision that would cost them their self-respect.

Meanwhile, the scabs were harassed, on the river and in the town. The government, at the request of the canners, sent police patrols onto the river to protect the men who were fishing, but after a while the protection wasn't necessary. Few of the strikers could stomach being on the river while others were hauling in fish, and fewer still believed so firmly in the union's position that they were prepared to face arrest. Slowly, hour by hour, the solidarity of the strike was dissolving under the magnetic pull of the salmon and the growing sense that the gillnetters were being sacrificed for the sake of the seiners. Only the older fishermen and a few of their sons held out with any conviction.

The town no longer moved in rhythm with the events of the fishery. The local newspaper decried the violence of the strikers, accused them of setting the fires, and called for the police to start making arrests. Much of the citizenry either agreed or was indifferent, the world of the river already fading into the clamour and rush of the daily commute to Vancouver. And for those who wanted a fresh salmon, one could always be bought on the black market the natives conducted through their ceremonial food fishery.

On the sixth day, there was a change. The union circulated word of a meeting to be held in Chilukthan Harbour that evening at nine o'clock. The Mawsons and all the remaining strikers could hardly contain their hopes. Vic and Corbett went out into the yard after supper and sat by the fire. All through the meal, they had speculated on whether the companies had made another offer or whether the union was just trying to keep its membership behind the strike. Despite the scabbing and the big catches, the majority of fishermen had remained tied up, so the canneries, feeling the pinch, might very well be wanting to settle.

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Dying Scarlet

Dying Scarlet

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"I have had a great deal of pleasant time with Rice lately, and am getting initiated into a little band-they call drinking deep dying scarlet."
- Keats to his brothers, January, 1818

John Keats and his circle in their cups
died scarlet. And the poet's life
to its dregs did the same, his linen
bedsheets and nightshirt finely spotted.
The world loves him for drinking so deep
from the few years he had, for those pretty
tipples he took from his days' good wine;
the world honours blood flushed in a pale
brow that bends above the blank pages in candle-
flicker, giving joy, believing. Vitality
is beautiful even coughed on a lace cuff,
o little red cosmos, little red heaven,
that last faint breath exhaled before dust
and the cold grave smothered his youth.

I don't know anything certain about the dead
except they're gone, young Keats and his brothers,
the two women named Fanny he loved, his friends,
the publishers who respected his art, the guardian
who didn't, Shelley with a drowned volume in his
shirt-pocket under Italian stars, gone. A century
of letter-writing, gossip, tuberculosis and poems.
And I don't know where the spirit of any poet goes
if it doesn't die scarlet wherever it can, Keats's
joy in October sunsets over the Adams River, full in
the salmon's scales as they scrabble to spawn before
the air eats to nothing their lace-threaded bones,
Keats's fear in the eyes of the ring-necked pheasant
shot out of its heart in the blue skies of my marshland
home, the long script of its bright death trailing
off into the ditches and rushes. I have heard the music
of his lines gasped from a thousand slack jaws
while the world stood crowded on the riverbanks,
amazed; my hands have touched the spots of his truth
on a thousand downed wings still quivering in frost.
In my wrists live the ghosts of all the words
ever written in his, and his Queen's, English;
they gather in my pulses, drinking life, dying scarlet,
unrestrained in their gaiety and rowdiness, dying
like the salmon and the pheasant and the flushed
eves of fall, dying as a poet dies, face turned
towards what's left of his life, the spatter
of his joy's heaven on his clothes,
the light going out on his page forever, the wax
of the last candle on his nightstand melted down,
as he lies grieving for every second he's lost
of the sun: I don't expect to know the vivid dawn
that finally dissolved the gay circle of Keats,
but if I'm blessed to die scarlet on my native ground,
let the wind dig a grave for my pallid song.

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In the Suicide’s Library

In the Suicide’s Library

A Book Lover’s Journey
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Low Water Slack

Low Water Slack

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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.

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Selected Poems

Selected Poems

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The Book Collector

The Book Collector

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The Duende of Tetherball

The Duende of Tetherball

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The Lost Coast

The Lost Coast

Salmon, Memory and the Death of Wild Culture
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The Tinsmith

The Tinsmith

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The Witness Ghost

The Witness Ghost

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I woke in the dark to your voice
(Trickle of creek over rock,
clench of tide around pile).
We left in the dark, the old way,
down the lampless, houseless block,
past the row of wild cherries,
the crunch of our boots on gravel
like the drawn-out growl
of an old dog who doesn't really
mean it. And when the blossoms
touched my cheek, I understood
you had turned back to kiss me
without turning. I went into
those kisses like a bride.

There wasn't any light, though the stars
shone. It was as if someone
looked at us without seeing us;
we could have waved our arms
and never raised a blink. Half-
asleep, I lulled in your easy wake
along the wind-scoured parapet of dyke
down the gangway to the mossy wharf.
A mast-chain shivered as we left the planks.

After you had warmed up the boat,
I stood aside and watched you choose
to steer from the cabin not the deck
because a spider in the night
had attached a strand of web
to a spoke. I almost heard you sigh
for the ruin you'd have to make
later, when the dictates of your work
lorded over gentleness, as if
you had to spare a life for those
you planned to take. A reverse sacrifice.

The river trembled, sheened to silk.
Heavy in the damp, the musk
of mud and creosote. Distantly,
a coal train cried, leading
its black pod a little closer
to the kelp. I woke
further. At the towhead,
beside an island of rushes
slightly rising and falling
like the roped chest of Gulliver,
I saw the little throw of lights
up Grouse Mountain, in North Vancouver
where you'd been a boy, splashing
truant in creeks so silver that, whenever
you moved your body, even to kill,
something essential had been smithied,
struck from fire.

The net rolled off the drum.
You steered across the channel
from the stern. I stood
beside the doomed cathedral
on the deck, my heart
still as the unsuspecting spider.
For ten minutes, we strained
to hear a salmon hit the net.

Then we picked up. Closer,
I watched you hang above
the ripping silk. An urgent whisper
and I came beside you, on rubbery
tiptoe, staring into the drip of black.
Slowly, you bunched in your hands
the web as soft as muddied lace.
We bent like two sunflowers
seeking the earth's internal light.

Shhh. The unending caution
of the breeze. Your lips
had become the vessel of the race.
In your hands, the will to strike.
In your eyes, the wonder that you would.
I hunched into the sudden shadow
of your shoulders, gaping like a baby owl.

Something big was down there. You held
a single mesh between thumb and forefinger
and traced its tooth-snagged geometric
on the air, careful inch by inch. Then angled
the hook of the gaff, prepared to strike.
In the invisible, acrid clots of exhaust,
I held my bones and heartbeat in,
stifled a cough.

The downward arc dipped
in the black before it pierced
the skull in the fatal crush,
striking up from under
at the gill. You rarely missed
and knocked it loose, or stuck
the hook in the valued flesh.
A painter's skill - you must
have traced the pattern of death
ten thousand times
in the roiling dark
until even your sleep was etched
with crossing lines so thick
they came to mimick
the grains in a woodcut.

And I was the spider who watched.
I was the pupil in the crystal,
widening, my black into the black
of the earth, that has to turn and kill
whatever's formed from the guts
of the self - nothing gentle
in the fall of a blossom
onto a street black
as the lid of a coffin,
or in a bubble of black froth
at the torn jaw of a salmon,
nothing gentle in an art that
traces out lines only to turn
and stuff its own creation
in its mouth.

Yet I woke this morning,
and will always wake,
to your voice
and the hopeless task
of replication,
to string along the web
without breaking
the first, struck silver
of dew,
and listen for
the dying-as-it's-born
echoing afterclang of hush.


A man and a boy on a river
in a boat drifting rapidly to sea.
They labour together in the stern,
salmon fluent at their gumboot tops,
others flopping in across the rollers,
hanging, thrashing, in the meshes.
Over the island poplars
the tiny moon tenses
at every tug on the web,
creeps its white sack forward.

Late August. The corn has been cut
in the fields they drift past. The scent
of cut peas is on the wind, cut hay.
The salmon's mouths open and close,
open and close, like fast wounds.
The man and the boy drift faster.
At their legs, the sickles cut.
Decorously. As a caretaker cuts
the grass of the unvisited graves.
Almost without sound.

The boy fell first, too many
years ago to count.

And the man with the nimble fingers
who spoke always with a deer's look?

Three months ago this day,
the river struck his gold.

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Writing the Terrain

Writing the Terrain

Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets
contributions by Karen Solie; Rosalee van Stelten; Joseph Pivato; Charles Noble; Stacie Wolfer; William Latta; Christopher Wiseman; Cyril Dabydeen; Yvonne Trainer; Robert Boates; Monty Reid; John O. Thompson; Alexa DeWiel; Tom Howe; Leslie Greentree; John O. Barton; Tammy Armstrong; Doug Beardsley; Laurence Hutchman; Murdoch Burnett; Stephen Scobie; Aleksei Kazuk; Colleen Thibadeau; Colin Morton; Sid Marty; Greg Simison; Nancy Holmes; Vivian Hansen; Walter Hildebrandt; P. K. Page; Richard Woollatt; Gail Ghai; Kim Maltman; Joan Shillington; Ian Adam; Wilfred Watson; Michael Cullen; Robert Hilles; Erin Michie; Deborah Miller; Jan Boydol; Robert Kroetsch; Miriam Waddington; Jon Whyte; Leonard Cohen; r. rickey; Tim Bowling; Ivan Sundal; Phyllis Webb; Weyman Chan; Bruce Hunter; Ryan Fitzpatrick; D.C. Reid; Cecelia Frey; Sally Ito; Bonnie Bishop; Robert Stamp; Deborah Godin; Margaret Avison; Joan Crate; Rajinderpal Pal; Miriam Mandel; James M. Moir; Anne Swannell; Tim Lilburn; Pauline Johnson; Lorne Daniel; James Wreford Watson; Erín Moure; Ruth Roach Pierson; Stephan Stephansson; Aritha Van Herk; Fiona Lam; Jan Zwicky; James M. Thurgood; Roberta Rees; E.D. Blodgett; Gordon Burles; Eva Tihanyi; Carol Ann Sokoloff; Jim Green; Dennis Cooley; Christine Wiesenthal; Vanna Tessier; Douglas Barbour; Richard Hornsey; Ken Rivard; George Bowering; Aislinn Hunter; Anne Campbell; Tom Wayman; Peter Stevens; Anna Mioduchowska; David McFadden; Gary Geddes; Rita Wong; Barry McKinnon; Tom Henihan; Michael Henry; Alice Major; Allan Serafino; Gerald Hill; Jason Dewinetz & Sheri-D Wilson
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The 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology

The 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology

A Selection of the Shortlist
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Where the Words Come From

Where the Words Come From

Canadian Poets in Conversation
edited by Tim Bowling
tagged : canadian, poetry
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