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The Memory Orchard

by Tim Bowling

Poet Tim Bowling’s first book of poetry, Low Water Slack, was published in 1995. In the nine years since, Bowling has proved himself to be extremely prolific, publishing five subsequent books of poetry, two novels, and a collection of interviews with other Canadian poets.

The Memory Orchard is Bowling’s sixth book of poetry. Where, one wonders, can he find inspiration to fill so many pages in so short a span? Well, for Bowling, the answer seems to lie, literally and literarily, in the grave. The Memory Orchard takes up the threads woven into his two most recent poetry collections, The Witness Ghost and Darkness and Silence, to meditate upon the ever-present absence that is death, and the slippery, unreliable presence that is memory.

Memory, or perhaps the nostalgic mourning that memory engenders, is what keeps, as Bowling writes in the title poem of the collection, “each human system of nerves/vital, involved, complicated.” If flesh cannot last beyond the grave, Bowling suggests, memory, in some imperfect way, can; or perhaps, memory simply “keeps the suffering vigilant.”

There is certainly a profusion of suffering in these poems. These are not the whimsical romps through the orchards of memory that the title might suggest, though many of the poems are drawn from Bowling’s childhood and family. The Memory Orchard is much more a meditation on the worm that devours the fallen (or soon-to-fall) fruit: “I reached into a closet/racked with bones/in a condemned house/I put my arm through/the dark of the dead/to wet this quill.”

At some points, this vision of death (or vision trained on death) is deeply moving – born as it is out of grief and loss. But after so many similarly styled lyrics all drumming the same relentless theme, the poems begin to wheel toward cringe-inducing sentimentality, or worse, trite moralizing. So it is my hope that when Tim Bowling publishes his next book of poetry (and that is sure to be soon) he stops seeking “the stern-end of moments” and looks to something new for inspiration – beginnings perhaps.


Reviewer: Heather Fitzgerald

Publisher: Brick Books


Price: $16

Page Count: 100 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-894078-34-9

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 2004-6

Categories: Poetry