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Geddes, Gary.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1984. 55pp, cloth, $17.95, ISBN 0-88750-529-5.

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Bohdan Kinczyk

Volume 13 Number 4
1985 July

In 1974 commune workers near China's ancient capital of Hsienyang unearthed, byaccident, a terracotta army of some eight thousand individually sculptured soldiers and horses that had been commissioned by Ch'in Shi Huang Di, the first emperor of China, to guard him in the afterlife. Gary Geddes travelled to the People's Republic of China "to meet the underground soldiers and to listen to their voices." He returned with The Terracotta Army.

This elegant volume consists of twenty-five poems. Twenty-four representatives of the terracotta army share their thoughts on Ch'in, the emperor, and Lao Bi, the artist. The soldiers speak of politics, war, death, and art. The minister of war, because he has "twice as much to answer for," speaks twice.

Each poem is cleverly standardized into nine open, unrhymed couplets, and each poem is paired with an attractive full-page ideogram. Each poem resembles the one before and the one after, yet each moves forward to shed new light on Ch'in's monumental vanity and Bi's breathing monuments. Together, the poems form a marvellous history of the Ch'in dynasty.

In "Regimental Drummer," the speaker is astonished to find a representation of Master Bi in the ranks of the sculptured army:

this unarmed soldier, turned slightly
to reduce the target area, legs apart,
hands ready to parry
or strike a blow, was none other than
Bi himself.
Portrait of the artist as master of
martial arts,
in the front line, ready for anything,
even his warts rescued from oblivion.

We are never privileged to view the rush of events from Master Bi's point of view. We never, of course, see his art, his terracotta army, except through the words of his subjects. Yet we know him perfectly, as he works the studs and fluted leather of the spearman's shoulder-pads, or wipes the blade of a chisel on his leather apron, he grows closer and closer to us, until finally we share in his terrible knowledge.

Geddes's poems have the clarity of prose, the form and texture of poetry. His couplets embrace the dualities of life and death, of the artist and his subject, of the world of the senses and the other-worldly. If you buy only one volume of poetry this year, let it be The Terracotta Army.

Bohdan Kinczyk, Central Elgin C.I., St. Thomas, Ont.
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