by Adam Getty
ISBN: 0889711879

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A Review of: Reconciliation
by Susan Briscoe

With his first full collection, Hamilton poet Adam Getty takes up his pen "to search for hope among Canadian peasants, / see blood pour down / running in torrents / by the side of the curb, staining snow." Reconciliation demonstrates that the People's Poetry tradition, despite such serious blood loss, lives on.
In his most populist poems, the diction is that of the working man, unpretentious but also, alas, uninteresting:

You can't do this the way they want,
at the proper speed, so trim
from below instead, slice twice
if you need it, just so's it gets done.

These are not decorative poems:

I must have done this a thousand times:
bolted the castings in, supported them
with chunks of steel-made sure
they don't shake when they're cut. The rust
has to come off, or they won't work.

The colloquial tone is tired and somewhat anxious, as if told over a five o'clock beer. While this style suits the content, it does tend to make the poems a bit soft.
And clearly, manual labour does get boring after a while, so the poet's mind wanders to places like Dostoevsky's Russia or Shakespeare's Naples. Getty starts to drop lots of Greek names-Solon, Pericles, and Sophocles (all in one line!). He rebels against a dearth of words too, breaking the populist rule of accessible language with words like pleroma and phloem. This is one of the reconciliations Getty, educated at the University of Toronto and employed in a Burlington slaughterhouse, attempts in this book: "to walk out of the library with ancient hands / still clutching me" and "to pick up / knife or shovel and perform some work to further my tradition."
Getty's poetry is weakest when he takes his plebeian mission too far-as far as the streets of New York and the factories of Eastern Europe. Affecting a populist sense of identity with the downtrodden anywhere, these poems are disappointingly predictable and never move beyond such clichd contrasts as the beggar with his tin cup and the successful woman in her Bloomingdale's clothes. The voice in these poems also fails to convince:

I don't care about myself-I have an ascetic nature: but please give something
to these others. Go without food yourself,
see how much the body needs it. Terrible
is the scraping you feel inside your gut

He avoids this problem on more complicated personal terrain. In the title poem, for instance, which deals with the strange dynamic of married life, the ambiguities are more interesting than the revelations that factory work is tedious and the homeless are hungry. Unfortunately it is virtually the only poem to enter this intimate space. Several of Getty's poems explore other territory however. Notably, he depicts a strangely reversed relationship between water and earth that is expressed as the "elusion of land." In the imagery Getty develops, water becomes a metaphor for the mystical power of the feminine in several poems with titles like "Mama" and "The Maid of the Mist." Reconciling the masculine with the feared feminine is another goal of these lyrics. Early in the collection the poet is uneasy as he contemplates Lake Ontario: "Deny the sway of her blue thighs: / she will force you to her breast soon enough." In the last section of the book he conquers this fear and finds his ultimate inspiration in the integration of the feminine, here represented by Niagara Falls:

And as I reached out for her then, longing to embrace
my people at last, her voice was in me: let justice roll
like a mighty river, let mercy fall down all around us
and love
dwell in our midst like a mist that rises from the
water forever.

This is too gushy (though I applaud Getty for the courage to be so uncynical). But these are also the poems that occasionally bring him out of the predictable, preachy, and prosy voice that dominates his workman poems. Tentatively, he begins to play with language:

She's a question, a sliver of silver
shivering on black water: a cloth
slipping down over Sherman Ave

Getty seems to be trying to negotiate a reconciliation between his plain People's style and a more demanding poetics. This book demonstrates a solid apprehension of the lyric form, each piece developing a distinct idea and carried by a pleasing cadence (indeed, Getty's verse is never stilted or forced, and his lines are broken with confidence) but formal constraints are few. Mostly these are short (nothing over three pages) free verse lyrics with regularised stanza sizes: on the page they look like Steeltown industrial buildings-plain and boxy, purposeful. But a prologue of five unrhymed sonnets, the best part of this collection, suggests the potential of Getty's poetry were he to apply a little more pressure to his verse. Here, there is less opportunity for the sentimental content that weakens other poems, and less energy is lost in loose construction and dull language. Perhaps he does see that "The rust / has to come off, or they won't work."

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