In the Summer of Bowering, Geist blogger and Poetry Is Dead magazine Editor-in-Chief Daniel Zomparelli will be reviewing George Bowering's latest poetry collection, My Darling Nellie Grey. The collection is divided into twelve chapters, named for each month of the year, and Zomparelli will review one chapter a week all summer long.
We're just over half-way through the Summer of Bowering (insert Midsummer's Night Dream reference). The month of August was a good one for Bowering in 2006, probably because he enjoyed a trip to Rome. The chapter shows a shift when he travels from Canada to Rome. According to the introduction, Bowering's August chapter, "According to Breughel" uses Pictures from Brueghel and more specifically Landscape With the Fall of Icarus to base his style and restraint for the chapter. Bowering spends the month writing ekphrastic poems using a variety of art.
According to Daniel, this chapter was a bit hit or miss. I read this chapter over and over and over again, and found myself enjoying it better in the daytime, but then not so much as the sun came down. Not sure why. The poems were strongest when they played off the delicacy of the Renaissance artwork. Bowering spent much of his focus on the clothing and fabric: the gentle wind lifting robes and swaying light silk all made the chapter feel like I was reading it on a breezy porch. It could have also been that I was reading it on a breezy porch.
The other enjoyable factor of this chapter is reoccurring figures within the poems. Specifically in reference to Jesus and Mary. The two appear in a few poems—renaissance art, duh—and the portrayals of them re-envisioned in poetry reflected on how one perceives the story of Mary and Jesus.
The problem I have with the chapter is some of the poems detail the art in such a simplistic manner that—knowing what the portrait was—made the poem seem like an obvious depiction. Stylistically this is what Bowering was doing, but sometimes the poem came across as almost dismissive of these works; specifically I am thinking of the "According to Michelangelo/when God touched fingers/with Adam" poem (which, FYI, there is now a dead bug in-between—sorry Peta). I'm going to go ahead and blame Gillian Sze's Fish Bones for my refusal to fully enjoy this chapter. Gillian Sze's recent book is entirely ekphrastic poetry, and creates these complicated, somewhat imagined narratives using the art. I am in love with this book, and I had her book in mind when reading Bowering's ekphrastic poems. These are two completely different styles and approaches, so I shouldn't be comparing them, but my brain is young and easily corruptible. I blame Facebook and MTV.