Nationality: Canadian. Born: Vancouver, British Columbia, 9 June 1940. Education: King Edward High School, Vancouver 1956–58; University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1958–62, B.A. in English and philosophy 1962; Reading University, Berkshire, 1963–64, Dip.Ed. 1964; University of Toronto, 1964–68, M.A. and Ph.D. Family: Married 1) Norma Fugler in 1963 (divorced 1969), one daughter; 2) Jan Macht in 1973, two daughters. Career: High school teacher, Texada Island, British Columbia, 1962–63; visiting assistant professor, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, 1968–69; lecturer, Carleton University, Ottawa, 1971–72, and University of Victoria, British Columbia, 1972–74; writer-in-residence, 1976–77, and visiting associate professor, 1977–78, University of Alberta, Edmonton. Visiting associate professor, 1978–79, and since 1979 associate professor of English, Concordia University, Montreal. General editor, Studies in Canadian Literature series, Douglas and McIntyre publishers, Vancouver. Awards: E.J. Pratt Medal, 1970; Canadian Authors Association prize, 1982; Commonwealth poetry prize, 1985; National Magazine Gold award, 1987; Writers' Choice award, 1988. Address: Department of English, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Boulevard West, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8, Canada.
Poems. Waterloo, Ontario, Waterloo Lutheran University, 1971.
Rivers Inlet. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1972.
Snakeroot. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1973.
Letter of the Master of Horse. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1973.
War and Other Measures. Toronto, Anansi, 1976.
The Acid Test. Winnipeg, Turnstone Press, 1981.
The Terracotta Army. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1984.
Changes of State. Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Coteau, 1986.
Hong Kong Poems. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1987.
No Easy Exit. Lantzville, British Columbia, Oolichan, 1989.
Light of Burning Towers: Poems, New and Selected. Montreal, Vehicule Press, 1990.
Girl by the Water. Winnipeg, Turnstone Press, 1993.
The Perfect Cold Warrior. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1995.
Active Trading: Selected Poems, 1970–1995. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Goose Lane, 1996.
Flying Blind. London, Enitharmon, 1998.
Les Maudits Anglais, with the Theatre Passe Muraille (produced Montreal, 1978). Toronto, Playwrights Canada, 1984.
Hong Kong (produced Winnipeg, 1986).
Radio Play: The Inheritors, 1983.
The Unsettling of the West. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1986.
Conrad's Later Novels. Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1980.
Letters from Managua: Meditations on Politics and Art. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1990.
Editor, 20th-Century Poetry and Poetics. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1969; revised edition, 1973, 1985.
Editor, with Phyllis Bruce, 15 Canadian Poets. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1970; revised edition, as 15 Canadian Poets Plus Five, 1978; revised edition, as 15 Canadian Poets Times 2, 1988.
Editor, Skookum Wawa: Writings of the Canadian Northwest. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1975.
Editor, Divided We Stand. Toronto, Martin Associates, 1977.
Editor, The Inner Ear: An Anthology of New Canadian Poets. Montreal, Quadrant, 1983.
Editor, Chinada: Memoirs of the Gang of Seven. Dunvegan, Ontario, Quadrant, 1983.
Editor, Vancouver: Soul of a City. Vancouver, Douglas and McIntyre, 1986.
Editor, with Hugh Hazelton, Compañeros: Writings about Latin America. Dunvegan, Ontario, Cormorant Books, 1990.
Editor, The Art of Short Fiction: An International Anthology. Toronto, HarperCollins, 1993.
Translator, with George Liang, I Didn't Notice the Mountain Growing Dark, by Li Pai and Tu Fu. Dunvegan, Ontario, Cormorant, 1986.*
Critical Study: "Gary Geddes' War and Other Measures: An Analysis" by Donald R. Bartlett, in Canadian Poetry (London, Ontario), 8, spring-summer 1981.
Gary Geddes comments:
(1980) My poetry begins as an effort to come to terms with the influence of family and place in my life. Eventually it broadens out to include history generally, moving from lyric to narrative in order to accommodate anecdote and story. Unformed historical fragments (the Spanish conquests, the fall of Hong Kong, a reported journey of Chinese Buddhists to North America centuries ago, etc.) seem to give my imagination all it needs to work on. At the moment I am moving back and forth between poetry and fiction, writing short stories and exploring the fruitful ground between the two genres in longer forms, trying perhaps to write an epic for our times. Robert Kroetsch has said of War and Other Measures that it "builds, incredibly builds, it's the kind of long poem poets are only supposed to be able to dream." The trick is to combine the intensity of the lyric with the comprehensiveness of the epic. The lyrics continue to come, though the recent poem on the killings at Kent State, "Sandra Lee Scheuer," shows where my voice goes. Al Purdy has said of this poem that it is the kind of piece poets wait a lifetime for and some never achieve.* * *
Somewhere en route to a mystical "new world," in a time of laughter and flowers, fifty horses were cast into a boiling ocean. They were sacrificed for the lives of God's soldiers, the men who would create a new, golden kingdom. This genesis, as reconstructed by the Canadian poet Gary Geddes, is inhabited by lustful Spanish explorers, brown-bodied natives, and shimmering islands and forests. This was the beginning of things, the foggy, bloody dawn from which emerged contemporary understandings of life and time. It was an age of power and plunder, the absolute truth of men.
Then Armageddon, World War II, clawed its way into the consciousness of the world, and time and truth triumphantly concluded with the ceremonial bombing of two cities in Japan. At the end of things shell-shocked children are frightened animals, desperate men bayonet the sick and wounded in an army hospital, and rats eat human flesh nightly in screaming, terrible dreams. Existence, identity, and perception are fragmented and anarchic, and self-reflection creates a vacuum.
Through his works Geddes explores the uses of poetry. In his meta-World War II imagination the poem is a patchwork of obliterated, chaotic codes, a document of cataclysm, as in "Word" from his 1981 volume The Acid Test:
I became flesh. I swam,
impatient, in placental
waters. Rubber gloves
guided my lethal skull
into the breach, launched
me into thinner seas.
A quart of good champagne
splashed down my sides,
a tiny motor propelled
Ship after ship went
down, the screams
of men meant nothing.
I sang in the air, my song
shattered a child's thought.
They planted me in fields,
under bridges, no one
collected the pieces.
They dropped me on cities,
the charred flesh stuck
in my throat.
They updated me, made me
streamlined and beautiful.
I grew vain. My lust could
not be glutted. I turned on them.
They spoke of god, of honour.
I wiped my mouth
on my sleeve.
The poetry ultimately functions to provide a context for an isolated, jagged, and perplexing existence. From the periphery of accepted histories, a place sometimes arrived at by shock and revulsion, Geddes's poems resurrect fallen dreams and attitudes of mind and state, the psyche of our uncomfortable past. These fragments of previous lives still vibrate in the fractured present. We still institutionalize the unknown, arrogantly detach ourselves from death and life, and respond to conquerors with awe.
A pragmatic, angry voice inhabits Geddes's poetry. It is a voice weary under the weight of a murderous human consciousness, of the granite-clad institutions that deny its existence. Shimmering, transcending echoes are rarely heard. Geddes dislodges illusions of freedom, justice, and absolute truth with dynamite. He says in "Time Out for Coca Cola,"
Marlon Mendizabel turns on the television
to relax after a hard day of bargaining,
his children playing on the floor at his feet.
There's an international football match
in progress on the American channel.
All morning he has met with Company officials
at the Coca Cola plant, trying to resolve items,
wages principally, that will end the strike.
The Company has hired three army lieutenants
to direct warehousing, personnel and security.
Six eyes want him gone, six new laser eyes
negotiate his disappearance piece by piece …
His children watch the soft drink commercial
on television, cheering on the Coke truck
as it falls behind that of its rival.
He wants to tell them it's not a matter of taste,
that the truck contains the bones of 100,000
murdered Guatemalans, killed by the death-squads
financed by government and large corporations.
Instead he lays his invisible hands on their heads
and offers up a silent prayer for their safety.
Marlon's heart grows so large it fills the room
until even those on the television notice
and stop what they're doing to watch and listen
to the voice of that heart as it communes
with God. The football players take off their helmets
and stand with heads bowed; the announcers,
for once, are at a loss for words.
Somewhere, outside Dallas, the Coke truck
pulls over, lights flashing, a door opens
and those bones form a vast bridge
that stretches from Texas all the way
to Guatemala City. Children are crossing
over that bridge, their hands joined,
singing. Nothing can stop them.
This is the quintessential use of poetry as Geddes seeks to inform the process of contemporary mythmaking.