The Book Collector is Edmonton-based poet Tim Bowling’s eighth collection. Add to that three novels, a collection of interviews edited by him, and the 2007 memoir The Lost Coast, and you’ve got one industrious writer. He is also one of the most gifted poets in the country.
But Bowling has a tendency to repeat himself. Without a trace of irony, he writes, “it begins,/ another salmon run to the Fraser River.” And anyone who has been following Bowling’s poetic migratory patterns inwardly groans, “Here we go again.” Bowling is an unabashed Romantic and the Romantic, as Wordsworth proved later in life, is a conservative creature.
What we need from Bowling at this point is not another book like all his others, but a fresh departure. Either that or a ruthlessly well-edited selection of his past books. He has essentially been writing one book all along and, pared to its bare essentials, that would be one of the finest books of poetry this country’s seen.
But the notion of restraint seems foreign to the author’s Romantic disposition. When a Bowling poem fails, it is almost always a failure of overreaching and overwriting, never a controlled shortfall. He is dedicated to a headlong approach, as is made explicit in this book’s title poem, the conceit of which is that it was written in 27 minutes – one for every minute it took the Titanic to sink and for every year of the title character’s suddenly truncated life. It’s a fine poem, and there are others like it in the book; in many of the unsuccessful poems, there are brilliant passages.
Perhaps this sort of uneven genius is all we can expect from Bowling; perhaps he has buried himself in what Randall Jarrell called “the real graveyard of poets, My Own Style.” But one hopes not.