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Geddes, Gary.

Moose Jaw, Coteau Books, c1986. 67pp, paper, ISBN 0-919926-52-5 (cloth) $15.00, 0-919926-51-7 (paper) $7.00. CIP.

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Tony Cosier

Volume 15 Number 3
1987 May

Though this book of poems has been divided into two sections, an international and a national, the dominant concerns of the poet are consistent throughout the text. Just as Gary Geddes himself commutes between his farm in Dunvegan and Concordia University in Montreal, so do the poems strike a synthesis between earthy realism and academic control.

"Muskrat" is firmly planted in the rural context. The speaker in the poem attacks a muskrat that has been eating his windfall apples, clubs it to death and buries it, ironically under a farm's "blanket of leaves and rotting apples." "The Last Canto," on the other hand, is the stuff of sheer academe. The poem will make little sense to any reader who cannot piece together "Rapallo," "Mr. Nixon," "seafarer," "usura," "ideogram," and come up with Ezra Pound.

Several poems blend the rural and academic modes. "The Gathering," for example, opens with "Crunch of acorns/ underfoot/cold air/filling my lungs" before academicizing the tone with "almost indifferent to metaphor." The opening of "A Grammar of Foxes" reverses the order, going from academic abstraction to rural detail with "Put it down to the mereness of language,/calligraphy of fox on snow."

Geddes's well-schooled field notes are self-consciously crafted. Craft is placed in the foreground in several pieces. "Gail Pollock" begins, "This is a love-poem, not a catalogue," before listing its catalogue of objects on the way to its conclusion that "This poem is what we have in common." The list of statements in "What Does the Ming Tomb Say?" includes, "It says: I challenge you/to write a poem/that will last this long." "The Uses of Poetry" uses women carving blocks of ivory, a craftsman carving an ivory ball, and a master artist transcribing poems on a fragment of ivory to praise the painstaking efforts and the profound purposes of poets.

Geddes revels in words. He pictures himself as a squirrel with "cheeks bulging with syllables." He cannot resist puns. Notice what happens to the title in "Winnipeg Flood: Or, Too Much in the Red." The Changes of State of the book's title refer to changes of place, physical transformation, shifts in mood, and more. There are at least four applications of "sun Yat-Sen Memorial Gardens." A lyric on a slain fox ends, "the brief sentence of him comes to a full stop."

Geddes spins his love of words into graphic images. He captures the flavour of Philip Larkin's verse style by picturing the poet on a side-road, "pantleg rolled, cycle propped against a tree." A boy carrying a bucket of water becomes "galvanized," "drunken, brimming." A story about to unfold can be felt as "gentle, antlered and always in flight."

Geddes is at his most effective when he matches the form of an entire poem to the image he is defining. "Winnipeg Flood" does this. So do the ten minimalist woodsy chunks that make up "Not Out of the Woods Yet." So does a poem called "Fog that brings its visions one by one out of the morning mist.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H.S., Nepean, Ont.
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