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Roberts, Kevin.

Lantzville (B.C.), Oolichan Books, c1984. 64pp, paper, $7.95, ISBN 0-88982-068-6. CIP

Grades 9 and up
Reviewed by Tony Cosier

Volume 13 Number 4
1985 July

At the outset of this suite of poems, Kevin Roberts hoes up the bones of a girl dead for three hundred years, and becomes lost in the hollows of reverie. Who is this girl? How did she die? What did her life mean? He spins his reflections in image clusters centred on place.

Nanoose Bay he pinpoints at 49 20N, 124 10W. He picks stones, splices driftlogs, watches herons and gulls. He scans oysters and crabs. He observes fishing boats bobbing and a sinister nuclear submarine. He never loses touch with where he is.

He spins through time from there. Back to the girl of 1683. To the Haida invasion of 1783. To the ceremonial mask of 1883. The peace camp demonstration of 1983.

Always there is violence. Roberts sees the lead ball amidst the bones, the war canoe approaching the sleeping village, the sailing ships of the murderous Spaniards and British and Yankees, the bombers, the nuclear submarine. The centre is death he tells us. Not a stone on the beach is blameless.

Amongst all this, most memorably, we have the poet as hunter sighting his deer at Nanoose Ridge and refusing to shoot. We have the green of spring returning with the crocus tip. We have the young girl risen from her bones, circled by horses brilliant in the centre of a field. Her voice chanting in the quiet sea light wakens the poet at dawn.

Circling out of his Vancouver Island environment, Roberts raises the quotidian to the mythical. A drowned bull in the sea becomes Mimir guarding his own wise death. The water bomber is the Thunder-bird whose wingbeats bring thunder and whose body brings rain. The frost that melts in his hand sparkles like the eye of Artemis.

Robert's verse measures are contemporary, built on the falling phrase that floats between contexts. They are punchy, with the jolts visual rather than aural, clogged with dashes and ampersands. This is a style that may gain popularity as more poets play break and run with their word processors. At occasional junctures in this suite, though, these tendencies seem out of place: they cut/across the profun/dity that should be the dominant strain in a work as blockily earnest as this. Oolichan Press has packaged these poems beautifully.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H.S., Nepean, Ont.
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