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Full Review in Alberta Views

"The Witness Ghost mourns in a frank, adult voice. . . . the writing gains hallucinogenic intensity from the concentrated focus of Bowling's observation and his astonishing ability to recover and reconstruct evanescent states of feeling. . . .

Bowling's poetry in The Witness Ghost shares the intensely observant quality of his prose. The narrator in the title poem describes himself as "the spider who watched" and "the pupil in the crystal." The sense of fragility and menace in the spider crouching in its web, and the sense of vulnerability and receptiveness in the open pupil, run throughout the collection. Alongside these, Bowling places a forthright account of love for his father and grief at his absence. When the touch of blossoms on his cheek evokes kisses from his father, he writes, "I went into/ those kisses like a bride." Elsewhere he writes: "without you,/ there's a cut that cannot heal/ and I feel it when I hold the pen."

Though it's not something that shows on first reading, Bowling uses a pointedly selective vocabulary throughout the collection. Words like "fathom," "web" and "claw" continually reappear in new contexts as they cycle through a range of associations. The colours black, red and silver reappear as reliably as the coastal herons and the moon. You could write an article on the varieties of "dark" and "black" alone: there is "sweet black water," and the special "dark inside a dead whale" and "the black catch of the page." Within individual poems like "Since Last July" and "Remembrance," key images recur like the end-words or rhyme-words in a sestina or villanelle. All of this serves to enmesh the grieving and the memories within a net of particularity, so that landscape, weather and work anchor each poem.

It's a fairly common device in elegies to trump melancholy with a rediscovered joy in the world, in order to rescue such poems from their burden of sadness. Bowling doesn't do this. With its final poem the collection just manages to arrive at a state of plain-spoken acceptance.

Harry Vandervlist teaches English literature at the University of Calgary.