Tim Bowling,
(Gaspereau, 2006)

The first poem establishes the subject matter: change and loss. The speaker in the poem goes out to raid the cherry trees that girded his town and discovers they're gone. Now, he says,

... who watches
The big mountain passes
For the man who must raid
What he loves
to survive?

That's what we're dealing with in Fathom. It's a look back, a nostalgic recollection of the poet's time growing up amid the salmon fisheries along the Fraser River in Vancouver, which the poet remembers as a "soggy mouse in a frozen attic."

Bowling remembers fishing, struggling against tight lines, "a child's wrist's swelling with a man's blood." He recreates the time when the recess bell rang and he did not go in, choosing instead to go on an adventure that matured him, awakened something in him that rendered him unable to rotely answer the bell from then on.

His way with an image is striking. Describing the impossibility of one task, he compares it to trying to leash a butterfly, and in another poem claims that the sun sinks each night with the clunk of a cue ball.

Since Bowling grew up on the river, it is probably inevitable that water is his central symbol. After a series of nostalgic poems on a childhood spent by the river, he turns to the lives of the fishermen -- a life he rejected because he was not suited for it. His descriptions of the working days of the tendermen -- the official name for crewmembers on salmon boats -- paint a vivid picture of a hard life. The long poem "Going to Work," which covers the working day of a tenderman from pre-dawn to midnight, is memorable and striking, in itself worth the price of the book.

The final poem, "Interview," aims at a summing up of sorts. In it Bowling says the memory of his childhood gently haunts him. Dead gulls, he says, can't tease the living gut. He describes himself now as fishing in a river of acid with bone. After reading Fathom I understand why he feels that way, but I'm grateful to him for taking me so deeply into a world I've never experienced.

by Michael Scott Cain
3 February 2007

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