Gary Geddes's ancestors fished herring off the Orkney Islands, but his own fishing takes a different form. His new poetry collection, Skaldance, weaves in and out of the history of the islands like the wind, ocean, and invaders that have shaped the unique Norse-Scottish landscape and culture of the Orkadians.
An outsider with a stake in these remote northern islands, Geddes takes on the role of Skald, the poet of Old Norse tradition, who reports on love, politics, and the past. With wry, quiet humour or bold theatricality, Geddes establishes connections with a people and a land where his forebears lived long ago. Neolithic voices, Viking graffiti, and a fourteenth-century Venetian voyager all have their say in the polyphony of speakers created by Geddes.
So, too, do Armada refugees, Hudson's Bay Company recruits, and Italian POWs in these breathtaking poems that transcend period and time. Like the Scottish film Breaking the Waves, the tragic events of these poems are made bearable by moments of black humour. Yet, Geddes's long narrative poems also reverse the process, disarming readers with laughter before delivering the emotional punch.
Whether light-hearted or tragic, ironically detached or passionately engaged, the poems in Skaldance are deeply felt, intelligent, witty, and exquisitely crafted.
Gary Geddes was born in Vancouver and raised mostly on the west coast, where he gill netted, loaded boxcars at BC Sugar Refinery, stocked shelves at Woodwards, worked as a fishing guide at Whytecliffe, taught on Texada Island, and drove a water-taxi. After doing graduate studies at Reading University in England and at the University of Toronto, he embarked on a varied career as a writer, teacher, editor, and publisher. Gary taught for twenty years at Concordia University in Montreal before returning to the west coast, where he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Canadian Culture at Western Washington University (1998-2001) and served as writer-in-residence at Green College, and the Vancouver Public Library. He has written and edited more than thirty-five books of poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction, criticism, translation and anthologies, including 20th Century Poetry & Poetics and 15 Canadian Poets x 3. His literary awards include the E.J. Pratt Medal and Prize, the National Poetry Prize, the Americas Best Book Award in the 1985 Commonwealth Poetry Competition, National Magazine Gold Award, the Writers Choice Award, Archibald Lampman Prize, the Poetry Book Society Recommendation and the Gabriela Mistral Prize, which he shared with Nobel laureates Octavio Paz and Vaclav Havel and with Rafael Alberti, Ernesto Cardenal, and Mario Benedetti. Gary Geddes lives on Vancouver Island, where he divides his time between Victoria and French Beach.
"What's impressive is the deft narrative collage of interior rumination an expressive gossip, and precise metrical structures built with plain, unshowy language ... It's Geddes's skill for story and spirited characterization, his inclination to become both 'saint and ca, jilter and jilted, no action or sentiment / beyond my range of possibility,' that badges Skaldance as a must-read." — Globe and Mail
Pub date: January 22, 2004