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Robert Finch.

Erin (ON), Porcupine's Quill, c1981.
132pp, paper, $20.00 (cloth), $7.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-88984-048-2 (cloth), 0-88984-046-6 (paper).

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by Sister Anne Leonard.

Volume 10 Number 4.
1982 November.

This work takes its title from the first poem, "Has and Is." The central theme emerges from the poet's preoccupation with the life-force that animates the visible object. Robert Finch, in this opening poem, speaks of "the whole" as so much greater than the sum of all its parts. This theme is played upon like a recurring musical motif with many variations of interpretation. "On Finding a Shell," for example, toward the end, suggests that we often stop at the model and forget "the moulder," whom Finch describes as "a master-builder/That living made and dying left the thing/Whose signature is in its fashioning."

Cryptic titles, classical and French literary allusions, and imagery resembling metaphysical conceits challenge the content of Finch's lyrics. In "The Two" he says "the months manoeuvre with their dozen jockeys." The ending of this poem, however, with its description of two ranches near the Rockies, is striking in its simplicity and design:

         A child leaves his unfinished exercise
         And goes to catch the sun pour its last
         Over the white escarpments till the boy
         Sees the two ranches merge in fire and

Robert Finch, professor of French literature, painter, and music-lover has published several volumes of poetry. His poems reflect a fascination for words, and his style is disciplined to achieve unusual originality and purity. The sonnet predominates, providing an appropriate form for Finch's keen observation and philosophical themes. Like the snail, he is a master sonnet-builder: his shell is spare and simple, full of musical effects.

Has and Is is well-bound with one poem per page, and the print large and clear. The only idiosyncrasy is the table of contents at the end of the book. There are seven sections, but these represent different moods rather than separate parts. While the first part explores the ambiguities in life, the second contains short, epigrammatic poems. Section Three looks at history and people; then the poet becomes rather cynical, reflecting upon the incongruities of today's society: the newspaper that creates paper lives; the library whose inscription might well be "Abandon daylight, all who enter here"; and the day-care centre, "which now is everywhere." In section five, the mood is almost nostalgic as the poet reaches out for love. Elemental imagery dominates Section Six, creating a sense of the narrator wanting to be one with the fish, the sea, the wood, the silence, and of time running out. The final section, moves with serenity; the poet seems to hand his life back to God. He does not fear death because like the opal "we too must break/Before the soul return/The living Light..."

This volume of poems has a message that appeals to youth as much as to adults. The poet's craft, unusual handling of words, and sensitivity to rhythm make Has and Is a worthwhile contribution to any high school or college library or to be used for a poetry unit.

Sister Anne Leonard, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Halifax, NS.
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