Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gary Geddes' Falsework

Gary Geddes' seventeenth book of poetry, 2007's Falsework, operates in that curious mix of poetic construction and prose patchwork. The concentration of prose isn't limited to the well-structured one- or two-page narrative characterizations, but are also evident in the poems. Though syntagms are suitably startling -- "seconds. Girders, piers, elephantine" -- , mimicking the fall from Vancouver's collapsing Second Narrows bridge during construction in 1958, far too many passages are flabby and awkward. Entire poems escape the tangled outlay:"Over-Easy" is a powerful, elegant exception. But more representative is "Great Blue": "From my bedroom window I watched the blue heron,//as precise and accurate as an accountant, balance". All three two-letter words beginning with "a" in the second line could be eliminated for greater musical felicity and dramatic impact, and either adjective is redundant. There's an effecting interchange between dangerous action and intelligent reflection throughout the creative reworking of a gripping story long past its one-week news flash, and that only heightens the frustration at the divide of imagistic force and the fatal falsework at the heart of the book's condemnation. Geddes has set down an admirable archival and imaginative investigative account of the grim, gross failures of Dominion Bridge and Swan Wooster and Associates. Unfortunately, though the multi-voiced poems emit heat (and often light) on the local tragedy, they're riddled with the same poorly engineered grillage of that massive span. As Geddes has one of his speakers reveal, "We die a little/when a structure fails."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sharon McCartney's Under The Abdominal Wall

This is fearless and direct. Though the subject matter -- family mortality -- is often harsh, even harrowing, readers who turn pages quickly in order to satisfy dramatic resolution may easily miss the subtle effects camouflaged in unadorned syntax, as in the delayed "together in a way we will//never be", from "Niagara, 1968". McCartney's sequencing gathers steam as one moves along Under The Abdominal Wall, and, in a number of moving poems as various as "Dying, My Mother" and "The Real Estate Market in Southern California", suggestion and curt phrasing etch assessments and moods more effectively than leaky, prosy explanations could ever hope to do with the same material.