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Coles, Don
Montreal, Vehicule Press, 1991. 79pp, paper, $9.95, ISBN 1-55065-021-1. CIP

Grades 9 and up/Ages 14 and up

Reviewed by Ian Dempsey

Volume 20 Number 4
1992 September

The book is a single poem seventy-four pages long. The poem is made up of four-line stanzas, four to a page. There is a conversational tone and an easy rhythm that carry the reader along. There is even some rhyming going on a sporadic basis. Sentences run on from one stanza to another and may stop in the middle of a stanza. Younger high school students should have little trouble reading these lines. There are a few brief notes at the back to explain some foreign-language phrases.

The poem is a long complaint, lightened with wry humour. Even older students may, though, have trouble understanding the depth of the complaint. The poet is an older man whose father has died at the age of eighty-nine, and the poet is a little bitter that his father never understood him. Therapists say that it is important to resolve these misunderstandings before the parent dies. The poet ignores the fact of death and addresses his father across the chasm. The aim, he says to his father, is "to build some kind of bridge towards you." Crossing the bridge, he hopes to make himself and his father whole.

In trendy terminology, his father seems to be left-brain oriented a taciturn man of business whose world is the accounting sheet. The son is, of course, right-brain oriented, a visionary who relies on words to bring his vision to the light and to his father's world. His father, in life, rejected his outpourings of words. Now, his father gone over, the poet is left in a nadir of doubt: Has any writer yet, leafing his praised, sad pages, heard that ineffable cadence he's laboured or dreamed his years of words towards?

He rejects the doubt and struggles on, "babbling" and "chattering," using words to reach his father. Do they meet? Do they each see the complete person shining through the other? It's worth reading this moving, passionate, funny plea to find out.

Ian Dempsey is a teacher-librarian at Gait Collegiate Institute and Vocational School in Cambridge, Ontario.

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