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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

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 deleting it....)

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, Zzzz.

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. It’s hilarious.

“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.

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