In the Summer of Bowering, Geist blogger and Poetry Is Dead magazine Editor-in-Chief Daniel Zomparelli has set out to review 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.
An interesting thing about My Darling Nellie Grey, aside from the fact that it is 415 pages, is the introduction, in which Bowering tells the reader how the pieces in the book were formed. Bowering wrote a poem every day for a year. At the end of every month, he published the poems he wrote that month in a chapbook. At the end of the year, he combined all of the chapbooks to create My Darling Nellie Grey, which reads like many seperate poems, but also, to some extent, as one epic poem. In the introduction, Bowering also reflects on the themes of each chapter ofMy Darling Nellie Grey, which I will discuss here each week. This small insight into the writing process gives the reader a light entry into the poems. His first chapter, written in January, deals a lot with how to see the world through poetry.
I am not a fan of poetry that reflects on poetry, and the January chapter of My Darling Nellie Grey does just that. Still, I was able to see past the poetry about poetry and was able to enjoy it as more of a character study of an aging artist. Bowering presents a narrator who is writing a poem every day for a month. He discusses the feeling of despair he feels as a writer—which is a little too “Stranger Than Fiction” for me, but I got past that too. The narrator debates whether his life has been that of a fool or that of a wise man. He knows he has wasted his time, and asks if his words will live on? This reminds me of Shakespeare and how most writers' concern is immortality. And yes, I am referencing Shakespeare, so shoot me. In the line “that in black ink my love may still shine bright” from Sonnet 65, Shaekspear argues the immortality of words. Bowering, on the other hand, discusses nature as everlasting and humanity as being destructed by current environmental crises. Thus, humanity will come to an end, and with it, words will too. With humans destroying each other and the world, how can a writer hope his words will live on once the human race has left this earth? And not in an E.T. way.
This brings me to my favourite poem in My Darling Nellie Grey, which was written on January 4th, four years ago. Bowering discusses the state of corporate fat-catism and consumerism of the time. He starts with, “Whether to know,/or just abide,/to lie on your back/these last days.” Here the narrator contemplates his state as a consumer. Does one lie back and let the world fall apart because it is easier to ride a car or use all of the products that corporatizations supplies us with? The narrator rejects this ideal, and goes on to reject the “oppressor's” ways. He finishes the poem with, “let his carcass/ooze oil when he sits/in his extra wide/reclining chair.” And if you are not thinking of the BP oil spill at this point, you have not been watching the news. I like Bowering’s writing most when he is being funny and when he is angry. The January 4th poem is a great example of an angry Bowering. Funny Bowering shines brightest in his January 14th poem about being lazy. But you’ll just have to buy the book to read that one.
The poems in this chapter moved between love and tolerance, beauty and reality, all through the eyes of an aging poet. I couldn’t find where the narrator's feeling of foolishness derived from. Maybe I am just naïve at this age, which only proves I will grow to be a fool. Even when Bowering's narrator speaks out to young poets, it doesn't catch.
The January chapter was both playful and dark. It works as part of the book, but I wouldn’t buy this as an individual chapbook, but that’s because I still hate poetry about poetry.