A Magpie Life: Growing a Writer
Reviewed: February 20, 2008
By: George Bowering
Publisher: 222 pages
Key Porter, $21.95
The biographies of writers had better be idiosyncratic, because what can you
really say about people who spend eight or ten hours a day at a keyboard wrestling
with style and syntax. The whole enterprise runs the risk of becoming a Monty
Python skit (Oh - he’s writing the word “and”. No, he’s
Bowering plays tricks with the concept, beginning this engaging volume with
an “Alphabiography” in which each small section of the 32 pages
begins with the next letter of the alphabet: Angela (his wife), Birth, Childhood,
Death, Ewart Bowering, First times, George, Home, Indians, Journeying, Kerouac,
Literature. Montreal, North, Olsonites, Prose or Poetry, Quickness, Reading,
School, Thea (his daughter), Umbrellas, Vancouver, Writing, Xerography, Youth,
Amazingly, by the time you fill up some space explaining just why you chose
all those things, you end up telling a good deal about yourself, even if not
in an organized fashion.
“Growing a Writer” is a selection of nine short essays about things
that had an impact on his development as a writer, including influences literary,
personal and geographical. There is also an explanation as to how he came to
write “My Grandfather”, one of his most often reprinted poems. It’s
worth a read.
“Writing Baseball” contains seven vignettes about the author’s
lifelong relationship with the game.
“The Sixties” appears to be about how George missed most of what
a lot of us would call the Sixties because he was still digesting the Fifties.
“Impersonating a Writer” seems to be eight pieces about the disconnection
between what a lot of people think of when they think “writer” and
what the person who IS the writer thinks of the whole business. This section
includes an attempt at a journal which he tried to keep (because writers are
supposed to be great journal keepers - right?) while writing his novel, Shoot.
“Others” contains six pieces about other writers who Bowering admires.
If you want to learn details about Bowering’ life and work (two Gov. Gen’s
Awards, first Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate, Order of Canada, 40+ books
published) you might be better off to look at the entry in Wikipedia or the
Canadian Encyclopedia online, but A Magpie Life is a collection of interesting
conversations with the fellow behind the reputation, and worth a look.