Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews


by Tim Bowling

Mercy, what a book. Fathom, the seventh volume of poetry from B.C. poet Tim Bowling, is easily one of the most powerful books of Canadian poetry in recent memory, less a collection than a poetic landscape, a book-length exploration of personal history and geography.

The poems chronologically trace Bowling’s early life in a small fishing town on the banks of the Fraser River near Vancouver, and the inexorable connections he finds between his past and his later life. His was a childhood red in tooth and claw, idyllic but steeped in blood and the rawness of a life lived close to the earth, in sway with natural rhythms and tides.

The collection begins with “Sixteen Wild Cherry Trees,” an acknowledgement of the impossibility of return, the barriers faced by those intent on exploring the past: “In a pair of cut-off jeans and nothing else/I go back to raid them./They’re gone. If I want to stain myself/I’ll have to cut and bleed.”

Fathom is the result of that cutting and bleeding. Written with a stylized diction that manages to be at once terse and rich in metaphor and symbol, poems like “Brothers at Fifteen” and “Going to Work” ring from the page with deceptive ease. Death and loss are constant companions, and poems like “To Henry Vaughan, in Fellowship” are almost unbearably touching, steeped in a deep emotion too painful to look away from. Going back through the galleys, I realize I’ve written on virtually every page. Line after line is marked as another exemplar of insight or style. So many lines, begging to be quoted.

The volume finishes with the brief “Interview”: “Did you have a happy childhood?/I had a childhood. Dog’s breath for a clock./Intimate of the sun’s mood./And does the memory sustain you?/Gently it haunts. Dead gulls/can’t tease the living gut./Those tides are false salt.” The poem has its own power, but it’s also an appropriate envoi for the collection, a perfect snapshot of a sublime work.


Reviewer: Robert J. Wiersema

Publisher: Gaspereau Press


Price: $18.95

Page Count: 112 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55447-016-1

Released: March

Issue Date: 2006-5

Categories: Poetry