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Toronto Star article on Getty Reading

Sheaf of burning poems thaws a frosty night

Stopping for odes on a snowy evening:

Whose words these are I think I know. His house is in the Balkans, though. I wonder what he's doing here, and are his poems full of snow?

Forgive me, Robert Frost.

Forgive me also, Goran Simic, who used to live in Sarajevo; the poet lives in Toronto now and he has done so for some time and we are much the better for it and his poems have to do with love and war, not snow.

Simic and fellow writer Adam Getty read from their new books on a cold and recent evening.

They gave a cracking good account of themselves at the Toronto Reference Library to a crowd of roughly 40 people, some of whom were rapt, and some of whom were wrapped in scarves or cloaked in coats because it really was a very cold night.

Mr. Getty, up first, has a poet's unkempt hair and an unlikely day job for a literary man he works in a meat packing plant which processes some 9,000 hogs a day. That is hard work for anyone, never mind a poet, but it has not dulled his sensibilities. He confessed that, on occasion, he pets some of the hogs with kind and final affection as they pass by on their way to destiny; going trough to strophe, I suppose.

Getty's book, his first, is called Reconciliation. His poems touch on three themes philosophy, religion and work. He is from Hamilton. Buckets of hot metal feature prominently and to good effect in his verse.

The most powerful of his work poems makes reference to an accident at the No. 2 Hot Mill, when a worker made a misstep near a relentless machine and was "crushed to an eighth of an inch." He received generous applause. I hope, in his next book, he writes about the pigs.

Simic, an old hand at this sort of thing, has a list of publishing credits and awards longer than this column. He began with some affable warm-up patter. "A cold night. It is minus-20 degrees. You must be very special people." He paused a beat. "Or masochists."

Laughter ensued.

His book is called Immigrant Blues.

I can't speak for the others, but I'd have stopped to listen to him if it had been minus-40 degrees and he'd been standing on the street corner. He added, "I will read all my poems and you can stay warm all night."

Laughter. "Actually, I can only read 20 minutes. I tried to buy 10 more minutes from Adam for 10 bucks but he wanted to charge GST." More laughter, which he neatly finessed: "I have six or seven poems. You want me to read slow or fast?"

The patter is deft, but the poems are deadly serious.

Simic and his family lived through the siege of Sarajevo. His verses reek of war. His poems crack like bullets. He is "a boy with a burning suitcase in one hand." He writes of a schoolmate who said, "I'd never been aware how beautiful my house is until I saw it burning."

Afterwards, there were questions.

A young woman asked Adam Getty what he was trying to get at. This might sound innocuous to you, but in the genteel world of the poetry reading, it counts as genuine hostility.

Getty didn't bite; he merely said he grew up with a lot of religious and philosophical ideas which didn't have much to do with everyday life; he said he was trying to connect them.

The woman, nipping at his heels, said she thought he was still trying to work things out. Getty sighed and said he was merely trying to record his experiences, and that the act of recording was a kind of commentary. I'd have thrown the book at her.

In response to the question, "Why Canada?" Simic said that after he escaped from Sarajevo, he had an interview with Canadian immigration officials in Rome. "They asked me, 'Why do you want to come to Canada?'" He smiled. "I loved that question. They wouldn't ask it in the United States." He meant that Americans think everyone wants to come to the U.S.A., whereas we Canadians are never quite so sure.

Simic also had an interesting job when he first arrived in Toronto. "I was working for Holt Renfrew. I was a labourer moving boxes. I would pick up a box with an Armani coat worth $20,000. I was making perhaps $1,000 a month; very strange."

Both men were asked about their favourite poets. Getty is a Sandburg man. Simic said, modestly, "My favourite poet is me."

Both were asked if they wrote many drafts of their poems; they said no, they wrote in their heads before they committed themselves to paper, which means that Getty wrote some of his poems while trussing hogs, and Simic wrote some of his while in the employ of Hilary Weston.

And then the reading ended, and many books were signed and sold, and we went out into the cold night because we had miles to go before we slept.