Bright with Invisible History: A William Bauer Reader edited by Brian Bartlett

William Bauer (1932–2010), was born and raised in Maine, and completed degrees in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and North Carolina. In 1965 when the University of New Brunswick hired him to teach, he and his writer wife, Nancy, moved to Canada. Over the next thirty years, Mr.Bauer taught many fields of Literature at UNB, with a specialization in 18th-century British Prose. Also a teacher of Creative Writing, he worked as both Poetry and Fiction editor for The Fiddlehead.

As I was reading Bright with Invisible History, I had a feeling that I had encountered William Bauer’s writings before, as in forty-some years ago in a high school English class. This sent me searching for my English textbook (which aside from my Physics and Biology books were the only ones I kept over the years) and to my dismay, there wasn’t a mention of Mr. Bauer, although there were other Canadian authors in that ancient text of short stories and essays (it was published in 1967). So, despite the sense of familiarity or deja vu, William Bauer was a personage that was hitherto unknown to me. Perhaps that puts me in a better place to comment on the book, as well as Brian Bartlett’s editing of Mr. Bauer’s extensive works of poems, short stories, essays and book reviews from his archives.

The contents are arranged as:

I. Poems 1968-1978
II. Short Stories
III. Other Prose
IV. Other Poems

There is an abundance of wit and humour in Mr. Bauer’s writings, which I found quite entertaining. His hapless Everett Coogler character who has a roadside fruit and vegetable stand is quite the character:

Everett Coogler Turns Back Rumors

I am well aware of
What they always say
About me behind my back.
See if I'm not right;
They say something like this,
"That crazy old fool
Talks to the vegetables
Just like they were
People."
I'm here to tell you
That's a lie
And not even a very good one
At that.
Why all these years
I've stood firm
According to the saying that
My father said and I say too,
"It don't pay to
Be familiar
With the
Hired help."

You get the idea of Everett’s state of mind and his situation in life as Mr. Bauer relates his trials as a roadside vendor, as a husband to Josie, and as a member of the Hampsterville community. Mr. Bartlett has chosen a good amount of Everett Coogler poems so that we get a familiarity with the man. As Mr. Barlett comments in the introduction: “More than a colourful eccentric, Everett represents the defensiveness, fragility, pride and stubbornness most of us possess to some degree.”

Having enjoyed his poetry, I certainly looked forward to Mr. Bauer’s short stories. For this section, Mr. Bartlett has chosen two uncollected stories, “Pig of the Wind: A Figment from the Archives” and “Never Bet on a Dead Horse”. The other three stories are from the 1979 collection A Family Album. All three were enjoyable. “This Story Ends in a Pinegrove”, is the story of a young Lothario who is thwarted in amorous pursuits, a St. Bernard mix named Fern whose existence borders on the mythological, and the final “What Is Interred with Their Bones” a pastiche of Poe-meets-Twain-like story reconstruction of two women found dead in a shared bathroom. All three demonstrate Mr. Bauer’s wonderful turn of phrase and his mastery of language and style.

See also  Three for Trinity by Kevin Major

If like me, you are unfamiliar with William Bauer, I highly recommend getting a copy of Bright with Invisible History. While his writing comes from a vastly different time than today’s, it is refreshing to read and this collection is a welcome tribute to the man by Brian Bartlett, who was a student and a friend of Mr. Bauer’s.


Here’s a fine obituary of William Bauer over at the New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia: William Alfred Bauer | NBLE (unb.ca)

Brian Bartlett, born in 1953 in St. Stephen, NB, has published many collections and chapbooks of poetry, including The Watchmaker’s Table, The Afterlife of Trees, and Wanting the Day: Selected Poems. His other publications include two books of nature writing, and a compilation of his prose on poetry. He has also edited many books, including selections of New Brunswick poets Dorothy Roberts and Robert Gibbs, and Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan. Bartlett taught English and Creative Writing at St. Mary’s University in Halifax for nearly thirty years before his retirement in 2018.

  • Publisher : Chapel Street Editions (Dec 29 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 238 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1988299349
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1988299341

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. The Miramichi Reader (TMR) —Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases— highlights noteworthy books and authors across Canada from coast to coast to coast (est. 2015). James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife and their tabby cat.

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