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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

poems by a well-adjusted draft dodger: ON THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE/Kent Bowman

Kent Bowman

Hidden Brook Press, 2010
$16.95  isbn 978-1-897475-52-2
85 pages

a biased review from Chris Faiers

Kent gave me this, his first major collection of poetry, at PurdyFest #4 last summer. Kent sang and played guitar to warm up the gathering in 2010 and the year before. So he is demonstrably a man of many entertaining talents.

Kent was also one of the first Americans to make a strong statement against the U.S. war in Vietnam. He left the U.S. in 1965, and ultimately renounced his American citizenship, an act of incredible bravery and a profoundly ringing personal statement of integrity.

I didn't have to make this decision until 1969, as I was raised in the U.S., although a Canadian citizen by birth. It was moral visionaries like Kent, and his longtime ally, Mick Burrs, who showed a generation of young men that there was another way to live on this planet other than through tribal warfare.

So a reader could reasonably expect polemical poetry, rants and rages, a la Milton Acorn, perhaps. But what one comes across repeatedly in this collection is Kent's normalcy, his very Canadianness, a profound ability to make an incredibly powerful moral statement early in life and then return to as normal a life as is possible afterwards.

The first of the book's four sections is simply titled Madawaska. The accessible poems detail the routines of cottage life familiar to generations of Canadians: corn roasts, Algonquin Park, The Shield, nature in it's obvious but sometimes sneakily transformative forms. 

Many times Kent acknowledges his poetic mentor, Toronto poet Ted Plantos. But the poet I'm most reminded of while reading this is Raymond Souster, another significant Canadian People's Poet whom I know Kent visits on a regular basis in a Toronto nursing home.

Like Souster, Kent's best poems are so pure, so simple seeming and artifice free, that on first visit they can almost seem naive. This is a talent all poets should learn.

Kent's laconic wit is another testament to his normalcy. Poems about getting duped into cane toad kissing sideshows and similar tourist traps on a recent excursion to Australia give proof that the poet's sly smile on the back cover is well deserved.

Of course my favourite poem is Zen River Memories about my neo-Buddhist retreat and PurdyFest campsite (published in And Left a Place to Stand On: Poems and Essays on Al Purdy/ Edited by Allan Briesmaster, John b. Lee, Linda Rogers, and R.D. Roy/ Hidden Brook Press, 2009, $22.50).

But my second favourite poem is the collection's final piece and an Acornesque tribute to mankind:

A Man of Many Hats

"How many hats could a hat man wear
If a hat man wore many hats?"

We all live in a one-dimensional mindset, one in which we file
each other away in narrowly constructed, uni-dimensional

This is an odd human concern, when all of us know within
ourselves that we are all really multi-dimensional beings who
define ourselves daily in a variety of ways.

I am a husband, a father, a homeowner who can, when required,
operate a snow blower, use tools and perform simple home

Other favourite hats I wear include a cottager who swims,
operates a motorboat, kayaks and canoes, hikes,  and is a
pantheistic seeker, trying to grasp my relationship with the
natural world and those mysterious forces beyond us.

My well-fitted, passionate hats are those of a writer who travels
regularly to this uncharted country we call poetry, a musician
who writes songs, and a fledgling arranger-pianist who plays
trombone, guitar and sings.

Nearly worn-out hats I still wear: rehabilitation consultant,
counselor-teacher, report writer.

Occasional hats identify me as a modest art collector, an
Aamerican-Canadian expat, a foodie of sorts, minor world
traveler (in spite of myself), and driver (born in L.A. with
a steering wheel in my crib).

When reading about acquaintances I am always amazed by
how much I never knew about their many hats.

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