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Praise for Dying Scarlet

“It’s a pleasure to read a book of poems that does even a few things well. But it’s a deeper pleasure to read one that does many things well. Tim Bowling’s second collection, Dying Scarlet, belongs to the latter category.”

-The Fiddlehead

“There is a resolve, a high moral purpose to everything Bowling is doing here, coupled with a compelling melancholy and an astounding level of artistry. With his grasp of the human condition and his lyric gifts, he has the tools to become not just a good poet, but a great one.”


“What Bowling begins so well in Low Water Slack is expanded in Dying Scarlet so that he pulls ... much of twentieth-century poetry under his wing. This is a poet whose learning is a pleasure to be part of.”

-Malahat Review

Backwater Review
Shakespeare once asked the question: "To be or not to be . . ." In this, his latest collection of poetry, Tim Bowling answers that question with an affirmative "to be." The title poem and many others in this collection probe the varying means we all "die" scarlet or drink deep from the wellspring of life. But this is not to be confused with a happy book. As Shakespeare endured the death of his beloved son Hamlet, so too do these poems endure a certain death and arbitrary hardship. It is through this undergoing that we gain such acute appreciation for their lifeforce.

This book blooms with a sense of pathos. Bowling, the poet, could just as easily be Bowling, the storyteller. Here we follow the poet's grandfather into World War One "when trench rats . . . gnawed his poise/to the quick"; we gaze into the Great Blue Heron's "eyes still reflecting/an earth before time"; and we observe the romantic Keats as he "leans over blank pages in candle-/flicker, giving joy, believing." To call this book a history would be an understatement. It is a work of mythology - much closer to the truth.

Dying Scarlet is a book of searing beauty - rich in imagery and brilliant metaphor. These poems burn with desire, whether they explore the words of a dead Indian
Chief, a quarrel between brothers or the mysteries of a Chinese fortune cookie. They remind you of what poetry was meant to be: "When spirit loves/its flesh and
does not flinch from the burn,/the black ash yields the ripening word."

With the same deft devotion to craft and language achieved in his first collection, Low Water Slack (Nightwood, 1995), Bowling evokes a world of bittersweet sorrows, small mercies and unexpected joys. In short, he summons the world each of us inhabits.

-L. Brent Robillard, Backwater Review

Poetry at its best on subject of family past and present
Edmonton poet Tim Bowling's second book of poetry is rich in personal myth and history and moves into the realm of the metaphysical. At work here is an ability to crystallize a range of experiences and reach readers on many different levels.

Particularly moving were the poems written about family both living and dead, Response to a Dead Chief, Family Bible, Snooker, and Nocturne.

Bowling articulates moments with a profundity that makes them achingly real. Family Bible is dedicated to Bowling's grandmother and her children - three living and 15 dead.

"That naked bulb/ above the childbirth bed, cast on the three / sets of twins uncried at the slap." This poem symbolizes the sad history, the broken branches of a family tree, "a dashed Irish dream" and "poverty's pox and polio."

A sense of dissolution is also present in Open Season as the poet speculates on the change in his brothers' relationship, a change which may have occurred before he was even born. He links the place where this seemingly small moment occurred and wonders where his brothers were when JFK was shot. He questions that if the two are unable to remember where they were at that moment in history, how could they remember where they were when their relationship changed?

"I wasn't born. No myth / but theirs will line this poem, and no deaths either: / they're so young they can't foresee the rift that time will tear between them."

The image of time is also played out in Stray Dog, which finds a man and a dog sharing a telephone booth in the pouring rain. Even the dog's "fetid breath" and "soaking fur" cannot make the man force him out and when the storm subsides, the man ponders "this moment becoming tomorrow becoming the past / becoming everything we know about time."

The title of this book, as one of the poems in the collection, is derived from an expression, "drinking deep dying scarlet," coined by poet John Keats and his friends. Bowling's poems echo the philosophy behind Keats's phrase; Bowling "dies scarlet" as he imbues moments with a personal mythology. A sense of myth is particularly evident in his description of one of the quintessentially comforting dining experiences. In Chinese Take-Away, a restaurant becomes a labyrinthine place of magic and mystery; the fortune cookie a talisman which foretells all things good for patrons.

There are echoes of John Donne in poems such as Your Faithful & Obedient Servant and Venus Time which mourns love lost and the "nebulae of -dissolution" - CDs, books, "a lipstick burning on the bathroom vanity/red as Mars."

As Donne's "flea" symbolizes the potential union of lovers, Bowling's fly on the back on the back of a hand in One Year Later is a symbol of the disunion of lovers. "The fly is seven dips of a quill in John Donne's midnight."

"No one was lonely before Shakespeare," states the poet Sad, and turning Pages in the Oxford English Dictionary. “Lonely” was one of the many words Shakespeare invented. "One mind made the turning ... one heart moved the hand." What would have happened had Shakespeare not invented word? Paul McCartney wouldn’t have asked where all the lonely people come from, Roy Orbison wouldn’t have sung Only the Lonely.and Bowling could not have written this poem.

Faith, the final poem in this collection, sounds an appropriate note on which to leave to leave the reader. The last line in the book, "black ash yields the ripening word," alludes to the idea of "dying scarlet" and Bowling’s unflinching gaze upon love, life and death.

-Edmonton Journal, Wendy McGrath

Tim Bowling lives in Edmonton now, but dreams the west coast. "The swcet salt, memory, calls me home", he writes in Dying Scarlet. To be at home in the world, and in our own bodies, Bowling recommcnds ‘finding our dead', which includes not only ancestors, but also literary forebears.

John Kcats figures prominently in Bowling's imaginative family-tree. Like Keats, he laments the death of beauty - in our lives and constructs in 'Faith' a poetics of affirmation: "When spirit loves / its flesh and does not flinch from the burn / the black ash yields the ripening word."

Bowling has written an almost perfect lyric called "An Evening", which I wish I could quote in its entirety: "All day I have been reading Chekhov's stories / and lingering over his paragraphs on love. How sad / his characters arc, always meeting too late, then / parting forever before the train leaves the station. / Tcars, snowflakes in gaslight, a lowered lorgnette. / And a loveless marriage in the town of S__.

He also offers a superbly belated elegy for poet Chidiock Tichborne who was hanged four hundred years ago for being a Catholic in the wrong place and time. Wonderfully, Bowling celebrates Tichborne's love of life, rather than his marginal existence as a poct or his demise on the gallows.

Both poets reject a death-centered art, much as Susan Sontag does when she dismisses contemporary literature as a funeral for mankind in which the corpse is constantly kept in view.

-Gary Geddes, BC Bookworld