Vermeer's Light: Poems, 1996–2006.


224 pages
ISBN 978-0-88922-565-7
DDC C811'.54





Ronald Charles Epstein is a Toronto-based freelance writer and published poet.


British Columbia author George Bowering was appointed Canada’s first Poet Laureate by Parliament in 2002. As such honourees are expected to promote their craft, Vermeer’s Light is supplemented with a concluding section of whimsical prosody.


Several of the poems in this collection are French Oulipo-style linguistic exercises, while others are computerized retranslations of Spanish and Franco-German versions of that work, processed through Babel Fish software. Readers might enjoy reciting the semi-incoherent results, but may only learn that human translators are indispensable.


Bowering uses his knowledge of Canadian literary figures to sharply satirize them. He points out that “Raymond Souster wanted everyone to read William Carlos Williams … and Irving Layton wanted everyone to read Irving Layton.”


This compilation includes A, You’re Adorable, a 1998 chapbook Bowering wrote as Ellen Field. An examination of that work reveals why he adopted a younger, female persona. Without it, he is in no position to playfully mock his gender, with a hint of erotic tease. Bowering is still free, however, to have fun at his own expense. In “Lost in the Library,” he realizes that his accomplishments cannot prevent him from being viewed as a fool. Although he can find his “name / on a couple dozen spines,” he is still “stranded in the stacks / … a standing huckleberry / wearing stained slacks.”


Insight is leavened with self-deprecating humour. Bowering is still mentally nimble, as this description—“an Okinawan / from the Okanagan”—proves. “Rewriting My Grandfather” contains several reinterpretations of “Grandfather,” his frequently anthologized poem. The “Sitting in Vancouver” sequence presents spare vignettes of Western life. Some have a special relevance: his late wife, Angela, was a patient in a “Multiple Sclerosis Clinic.”


This work expertly showcases Bowering’s literary skills and knowledge, taking his art to the next level.


Bowering, George., “Vermeer's Light: Poems, 1996–2006.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 1, 2022,