THE TERRACOTTA ARMY
Poems by Gary Geddes
The Terracotta Army won the Best Book Award, Americas Region, in the Commonwealth Poetry Competition when it was first published in Canada. Gary Geddes has also been the recipient of the prestigious Gabriela Mistral Prize and the National Magazine Gold Award and his Active Trading: Selected Poems 1970-1995 (Peterloo 1996) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Formerly a professor at Concordia University in Montreal, Gary Geddes is well known as Canada’s best political poet. His poems have been translated into Dutch, French, Spanish and Chinese, and his charismatic poetry readings are popular across Canada and in the U.S.A., the U.K., Europe and the Far East.
In the third century B.C. the first emperor of China, Ch’in Shi Huang Di, caused to be constructed near the ancient capital of Hsienyang (Xian) a pottery army of some 8000 individually sculpted, life-size terracotta soldiers and horses, to accompany him as an imperial bodyguard in the afterlife. These figures were discovered in 1974, quite by accident, when commune workers tried to sink a well. Had their shovels been pressed into the soil two feet to the left, the terracotta army may well have remained sealed in the earth for several more millennia. Now the reconstructed columns of men and horses look straight ahead, perhaps to some unknown point in the future where armies will be, truly, a thing of the past.
Minister of War
I was a young man on the make, a brain for hire,
a travelling politician. I saw my chance,
adopted Ch’in, advised the death of feudal tenure,
not to mention purges and the burning of books.
I scorned the golden mean of men like Mencius
and learned my politics from rats in the latrine;
yet I had respect enough for the written word to know
that old records and systems are better destroyed
than left to seed rebellion and discontent in the period
of transition. The same logic applied to scholars
and authors, those masters of anamnesis, or recall.
I kept the Emperor occupied with toy soldiers
and the arts, or fears of death and court intrigue,
while the real politics unfolded as I knew it would:
highways, taxes, centralization, promotion by exam.
He might have stopped my war against the past,
but I saw to the depths of his and all men’s hearts,
where artist lies down, at last, with bureaucrat.
THE TERRACOTTA ARMY
Price £7.95 per copy
Cover illustration: Calligraphy by Shuai Lizhi.
Publication: DECEMBER 2007 (56 pages laminated paperback)