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C.H. Gervais
Waterloo (Ont.), Penumbra Press, 1991. 118pp, paper, $12.95
ISBN 0-921254-261. CIP

Grades 12 and up/Ages 17 and up

Reviewed by Ian Dempsey

Volume 20 Number 3
1992 May

Over the past twenty years, Gervais has published at least ten books of poetry. This collection contains a number of poems from those books along with new material. The subtitle probably should read "new and selected poems."

These are poems that chronicle a man's attempt to chronicle his life. He lived in Windsor, Ontario, grew up in Bracebridge, went to university in Guelph and Windsor, and then worked at the as a journalist. The poems and the attempt are Canadian and up to date, that is, there is little to comment on the technique. The form of the lines is the author's own; the style owes nothing to a tradition.

And as with many contemporary Canadian poets, Gervais must travel and report back from places such as Peru, France, Wales, Ireland, Central America, Italy. The Canadian content is his family - his wife and children - and memories of his childhood family.

There is a frustration and perhaps even a shame that he cannot do much here, in or with this country. In one of the few poems set solidly in the Canadian landscape, he asks, looking at hills, rocks, trees and lakes,

What is it that you want me to make of these? I am no land tamer. Or developer. This land has its own verse for things gone wild.

The few people encountered in the Canadian setting - the Mennonite girl, for example - are as elusive and hard to manage as the land itself.

And so he travels, and returns in thought to his family, hoping along the way for enlightenment, a breakthrough, a breaking out of self. Or this may be what the reader is hoping for. Does it happen? There is always religion. He visits monasteries in Ireland, Kentucky and Orangeville, Ontario. The result in these poems is the same diffidence that suffuses the rest of the poems.

Perhaps humour will help. In "Condom Nightmare" he tries his hand at a familiar adolescent-embarrassing-funny-in-retrospect situation. But underneath and around all seems to be the sense of family, an unspoken hope that the love of his children and of his patient wife will save him.

The cover is a drawing of himself by his four-year-old son. At the end, the poet imagines a simple line drawing of his wife: "In my drawing, there wouldn't be mystery. Just you."

Ian Dempsey, Cambridge, Ont.

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