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HONG KONG POEMS.

Geddes, Gary.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1987. 67pp, paper. ISBN 0-88750-673-9 (cloth) $19.95, 0-88750-674-7 (paper) $9.95.

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Maryleah Otto

Volume 15 Number 5
1987 September


There are many things that happen in wartime that everyone, including the Canadian government, would rather forget. One such event was the tragic attempt by the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada to defend the crown colony of Hong Kong against far superior Japanese troops during World War II. Ill equipped and undertrained, those who survived the battle were taken prisoner and spent the next three and a half years at forced labour. Illness, starvation, torture, and death were their daily companions. Of the handful who were still alive when the war was over, many suffered permanent physical and emotional disabilities including impotence and sterility.

Gary Geddes has compiled the results of his considerable research into the lives of these unfortunate men and has written about fifty prose-poems, each titled with the surname of the soldier into whose life the reader has a momentary glimpse. Interspersed with the poems are brief prose passages on [he role of the government vis-a-vis the Hong Kong situation, the effect of the war on the soldiers' families, and the author's reflections on the subject as he gathers on-site data forty years later.

Geddes, who has won the E. J. Pratt Medal and the America's Best Book Award, chooses words the way a gemmologist chooses diamonds for colour, clarity, and brilliance. The emotions that give life to these verses thud against the reader's consciousness with the immediacy of face-to-face encounter. Nothing is glossed over in deference to the Canadian leadership of the time or to the Allied war effort in general. The real focus, however, is on the human element, on the insanity of war, and on the role of the poet looking back through four decades at one of the most infamous blots on the conscience of civilized society. There is an epic quality in Geddes's work that has strong dramatic potential. The narrative was, in fact, produced by the department of theatre and drama at the University of Winnipeg.

History teachers in high school and college will find good use for this book, as will those who specialize in Canadian literature. Public libraries will also welcome it in their poetry collections.


Maryleah Otto, St. Thomas, Ont.
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