As an English major in college and university, I chased after B.C.'s literati, looking for wisdom about the world, the art of writing, and how to be cool.
Now online literary journal Jacket Magazine has uncovered an interview I did with poet/novelist/personality George Bowering in 1979, for The Ubyssey newspaper and the Vancouver Poetry Center Newsletter (promoting a series of poetry readings by some of the big names of the North American poetry scene). Jacket is a remarkable online publication edited by John Tranter, well worth visiting.
Bowering was a delightful author to interview, with his gravelly voice, well-timed wink and deadpan sense of humour. A prolific poet, he had recently published Burning Water, a novel about Captain George Vancouver's voyage of discovery up the west coast of North America. In it, he captured the misguided certainty of the European mindset, and the bizarre, disorienting situation the sailors found themselves in, jockeying with the Spanish for territory in the new world.
In the lead-up to the Vancouver Poetry Centre events organized by UBC literature professor Warren Tallman and a legion of volunteers, I interviewed Bowering, Vancouver poet Daphne Marlatt, and independent thinker and writer Brian Fawcett (see a weblog Fawcett contributes to).
The reading themselves were eclectic and extremely well attended. The buzz of having some big-league American poets rubbing literary elbows with some of the best in Canada was pretty amazing. This was long before the Vancouver International Writers Festival. For one short season, Vancouver literary events were in the same league as the Harbourfront International Readings in Toronto.
I think my favourite reader was Lawrence Ferlenghetti, who had no trouble holding the audience's attention in the cavernous main room at the Vancouver Italian Centre. One of six-or-so readings put on that year was also the first time I heard a poet perform alongside a saxophone player, as Victor Coleman did.
I don't think Warren Tallman had the inclination or the energy to make the Vancouver Poetry Centre readings happen again. But by bringing some of the stars of the genre to a large audience in Vancouver, he proved the audience was there.
Update: Hmmm. After reading and rereading my interview, I realize what a literary ideologue I was. Where are the anecdotes and trenchant observations of the quirks of my interview subject? I see the poetry zealot worming away at the edge of poetics and polemic, but I don't see any humour.
For an idea of the kind of journalistic chops I needed to develop before I could be a good observer of the literary scene, take a look at the Allen Twigg interview of Warren Tallman around the time I met him. It perfectly captures the loopy, absent-minded professor that Tallman came off as, yet still captures his place in the literary world.