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Tom Marshall
Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1991. 108pp, paper
ISBN 0-88750-854-5 (paper) $11.95, ISBN 0-88750-853-7 (cloth) $23.95. CIP

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up

Reviewed by Ian Dempsey

Volume 20 Number 2
1992 March

The poet has gathered a number of pieces-almost like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This image is hackneyed but appropriate. Some of the pieces are as small as five lines, some fill sixteen pages. As we read, we seem to be watching the author trying to assemble them into the finished picture. He doesn't manage it. It is up to us. The pieces, not finely formed, do not fit well together. Finally, what we have is a kaleidoscope of images:

bruised-peach sky after sunset...
Turquoise sky
sky eggshell-blue,
white half-moon wobbling...

We have to be satisfied with these slippery bits of colour. Many of the poems are travel pieces. Almost forty per cent of the pieces concern the lives of other poets. In the long poem "Ghost Safari" the poet combines the two. It is as if our attention is being diverted from something by the long list of sights seen in China, Africa, Cuba, Central America and Norway, by the stories of the famous poets and the Canadian poets known intimately to the author as Peggy, Al, David, Mike, Bron and Gwen. National Geographic (not Canadian Geographic) and The National Enquirer (or some tabloid that would include stories about Canadians) combine. These descriptions that slip and slide from small stanzas to fullblown prose passages and back again will entertain and divert many readers. But some may put the toy down and ask, Is that all there is? The poet's answer, in the last line of the book, is to turn off the slide projector and put down the kaleidoscope:

Day shuddering, delight of dark ...

Perhaps, as I've often suspected about today's poetry, we cannot expect finely crafted, finished pieces. Instead, we are given the sketches, the plans, the raw material, and it is up to us to make the poem out of ourselves, our lives.

The poet hints at this:

Like all bright creatures vanishing in love
we leave our magic images behind us.
Let us persist, then, with what we yet have.
In our long, bewildered dying, let us live.

Students wanting intimate details of modern Canadian poets' lives provided by a member of the group may be referred to this book.

Ian Dempsey, Cambridge, Ont.
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1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


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