1712 Liberating the ordinary

The Oysters I Bring to Banquets
by Gary Geddes

Montreal: Guernica Editions, 2022
$22.00 /   9781771837101

Reviewed by Doug Beardsley


Opening Gary Geddes’ new book of poems, The Oysters I Bring to Banquets, I am reminded of something Irving Layton said some thirty years ago, when he intuitively discussed the essential characteristics of the 21st century poet. Surprisingly, originality was not on Layton’s shortlist. Layton said the central virtue of the true poet of our time would be his or her ability to synthesize the cultural and social aspects of our time. Without this approach, the 21st century poet would be at sea.

This book is evidence that Geddes’ feet are firmly on the ground. He is more a participant in these poems than an observer. Over many years he has developed his craft, influenced by an astonishing array of writers. Yes there are real people in many of these poems, individuals who have suffered life-long wounds. The poet asks the seldom-asked question, “How do sophisticated cultures end like this?”, an invitation for us to reflect on our own. Unlike Auden, Geddes feels that “poetry is more persuasive than combat.” I’d agree – but poetry requires an army of readers.

In the opening “Elegy” for John Asfour, a word:

Gary Geddes

explodes into poetry. Words
that have limped along,
taking no responsibility for themselves
shape up and begin, slowly, to bear
weight, acquire beauty,

raise smiles,
like the one that spreads
across the faces in East Jerusalem

as children in the orphanage
cling to his arms and legs
John bent over the oud ,…

The poetic movement is much like the birth of a flower as it spreads outward, establishing the structure, as in a painting.

No detail escapes this poet’s attention. And yet his subtle superb craftsmanship, polished after decades of experience and reading, is delicately concealed. His poetry liberates the ordinary; he is a word-carpenter in whose hands each poem does its own dance of discovery. His carefully considered word choice revives the language in new ways. In the penultimate section, “Family Matters,” Geddes extends his sense of family roots back to the ancient Greeks in a delightful imaginative leaping that is sure to dazzle the informed reader.

The poems of Gary Geddes are the oysters he brings to our banquet table; they are aphrodisiacs, high in protein, full of flavour. These are poems you cannot do without. They’ll knock you off your feet.


Doug Beardsley

Born in Montreal in 1941, Doug Beardsley studied with Irving Layton at Concordia University. After travelling and writing in Connecticut; Sussex, England; and Dijon and Bordeaux in France; he returned to Canada and enrolled as a mature student at the University of Victoria, where he studied with Robin Skelton. He received his B.A. in Creative Writing from UVic in 1977, then went on to do his Master’s Degree in English at York University, Toronto, where he continued his studies with Irving Layton and Eli Mandel. He taught in the Department of English at the University of Victoria from 1981-2006. After retirement, he received an MA degree in Theological Studies from St Bede’s Theological College in Victoria. Editor’s note: Doug Beardsley has previously reviewed a book by Rhonda Batchelor for The British Columbia Review, and his book The Splendour and the Suffering/ El Esplendor y el Sufrimiento: Poems and Travels in Mexico (2018) is reviewed by Ron Dart.


The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

One comment on “1712 Liberating the ordinary

  1. I very much like this review. And the references to the poets who were so lively in their discussion of the power of poetry. And I’m glad we are all still sending (and writing).

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