Left Hook – A Sideways Look At Canadian Writing

Posted on Feb 4, 2010 | 0 comments

George Bowering is always entertaining. I picked up Left Hook at Indigo from the bargain bin and a bargain it is.  Bowering has a lot to say about differences between American and Canadian readers, adventurousness in poetry, and what it is to be a struggling writer (if that isn’t redundant).

There are lots of engaging articles, but for some reason it was the second-last, entitled Thinking About Whalley, that resonated most.  It’s about George Whalley, a poet and English scholar who was born in Kingston in 1915 and died in Kingston in 1983.  This was the first I’d heard of him.

I suppose part of my interest in Whalley is the fact that he lived and worked in Kingston, though well before my arrival here. 

Whalley was a sailor, who worked for Naval Intelligence during World War II, “pulling wet Nazis out of the brine.”  He was also a Coleridge expert.  Bowering does such a great job evoking the man that I was compelled to seek out Whalley’s books. 

I picked up a copy of Studies in Literature and the Humanities, a collection of his essays, but I haven’t found the Poetic Process that Bowering praises.  I did borrow The Legend of John Hornby from the library and it’s as Bowering says, “it makes you bite your teeth” at the deprivation and hardship that Hornby and his fellow travellers endured.  Especially the achingly poignant death of Edgar Christian, one of two companions Hornby had on his last fateful trek.  Halfway through, I realized that I’ve already read the entirety of Edgar Christian’s harrowing account of his own death by starvation and cold in Farley Mowat’s TundraTundra is a collection of first-hand accounts of travelling in the far North, edited by Mowat.  If you’ve never read the story of Edgar Christian, it is worth looking for.  I’m tempted to re-read the entire book again.

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