Bowering is most interesting when he's squarely addressing literary matters whether in broad terms (for example, ruminating on groups of poets “working with each other, or against each other,” or on reasons to become a poet) or with a narrower focus (close readings of texts by individual writers such as Kroetsch, Atwood, Ondaatje, Acorn, and Purdy). It is Bowering’s preoccupation with form that links these pieces together. Indeed, this preoccupation links the whole collection together, as Bowering is always playing with the essay form regardless of the topic on which he chooses to focus. He notes in the preface that he regards essays as “improvisations made of writing” and he makes good on the promise of experimentation that is implicit in this definition.
Here are a couple of passages from the first essay in Left Hook which convey a bit of the flavour of the collection:
Of course when it comes to writing, maybe especially when it comes to the writing of fiction, there is no such thing as “content,” as opposed to form or even allied with form. What is there to contain? If a realist writer tells you that her characters “took on a life of their own,” how can they be said to be contained? There is no content in a book of fiction.
I do not want, as a reader or writer, to extirpate description and character altogether. I just want readers to notice the writing. Ethel Wilson said that the most important thing in a story is the sentence. She was kind of a realist, but she loved form. Loved it. If you notice the writing and the writing is good, you will love it. You might also notice in the moment of loving that the reader is the focus of the fictional act.
At his best, Bowering as essayist is playful, provocative, and insightful. I look forward to reading more.