By Gary Geddes. Goose Lane Editions, 127 pp, $19.95, softcover
Bridges capture the civic imagination in particular ways. Endlessly waiting to cross them, or thrilled to look over an edge suspended between two points of land, we inhabit their seemingly liminal and improbable space. In Falsework , Gary Geddes explores the terrain of the bridge, both conceptually and specifically, by poetically examining the collapse of the Second Narrows Bridge in 1958 in what he calls a "polyphonic narrative". The book gets its title, in part, from a poem called "The retired engineer shook my hand", which describes "the two temporary structures that take the weight of advancing spans during construction and are removed when the two sections are joined".
On an abstract level, Falsework acts as a historical bridge between then and now, but always with attention to the stories of the people who created the structures. Geddes, one of Canada's most prolific poets, renders the difficult subject matter from numerous angles and poetic approaches. In the poem "Gravity, Gravitas", he gets to the sudden simple realization of tragedy:
No warning, unless you count
vibrations, sudden shrug
before the bridge collapsed.
I felt it all right, stomach
rising to my throat. My god,
I thought, it's going down.
No time for philosophy;
no time for analysis. Simply,
I'm going to die.
Geddes brings fictional voices to life, building on archival research (and photographs). These voices collide in layers of lyric and prose poetry that make themselves heard without mediation. He tells stories in compact forms that expand in the reading process. He manages the "precarious balance" between historical and poetic forms by switching them up, so that as a reader, you are never in the same position twice. The subject "I" of the poems shifts every time you turn the page, so that you can never be completely sure of the structure on which you stand. The effect is clever, but meaningful.
> Jacqueline Turner
Gary Geddes appears at the Vancouver International Writers Festival on Friday (October 19) at 8 p.m. at Ocean Construction Supplies (1415 Johnston Street).