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Full review in The Star

The Book Collector is Tim Bowling's eighth volume of poetry. Two of his earlier collections were shortlisted for the Governor General's Award and last year he was the sole Canadian awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship — a sure sign that his work is well regarded outside the small pond of CanLit.

Bowling grew up outside Vancouver in Ladner, B.C. He now lives in Edmonton but, in an imaginative sense, he has never left his Fraser River roots behind. Again and again in his poetry, he harks back to childhood experiences and to time spent on the salmon fishing boats.

The salmon themselves, in their "explosive blood and silver," are potent metaphors. In the opening poem, the creatures seem relentlessly driven by fate: "their hard flanks ripple, / their dark eyes bore into the planet's flesh, / their jaws gape, streaming silt and seaweed."

The poet's fascination with the salmon is apt, for their life cycle is a natural tradition and Bowling is something of a traditionalist in poetic terms. His regard for the past comes through even in his imagery (in one poem, his brother's tan is "the shade of Roman breastplate bronze"). He also has a tremendous flair for figurative language, which occasionally tips into overdrive ("I went out to stare through the prison bars / of the heron's stance, dragging the rain-sky's / blood-drenched nobleman's cloak"). But he's never boring.

These are poems of strong feeling, but they're not a foghorn blast. Some of Bowling's most affecting work is elegiac and tinged with melancholy. In "Cineaste," he ruminates on the classic film The Seven Samurai: "youth's dreams go unrealized, you find your hair's grey, your parents are gone and you're all alone."

Elsewhere, Bowling writes with heartfelt directness: "I want what I can't keep from losing." It's his fierce, expressive claim on "the condemned surfaces of life" that gives The Book Collector its poignancy and its power.

Bowling uses his personal experience to refract the time-honoured themes of mortality and loss.

—Barbara Carey, The Star, Feb 08, 2009