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Francis Sparshott.

Ilderton (ON), Brick Books, c1983.
Distributed by Brick Books, Box 219, Ilderton, ON, NOM 2AO.
35pp, paper, $5.00.
ISBN 0-919626-22-X.

Grades 12 and up.

Reviewed by Sister Anne Leonard.

Volume 12 Number 6
1984 November

The title poem, "The Cave of Trophonius," coming at the end of this slim volume, is a kind of apocalyptic piece; in fact, it may even be the "poem you have not read" because it is "the book of the dead." The three other poems, entitled "Stations of Loss," "At a Later Symposium," and "Netsuke" are like preludes to "The Cave of Trophonius" depicting life from different periods and cultures.

"Stations of Loss" suggests the Stations of the Cross and recalls the death of Jesus: Death comes for Jesus who is coming/for death. The poet seems preoccupied with death, and with trying to leave some mark, some letter that would prove that death did not have the last word. In the notes to "At a Later Symposium,"Sparshott explains that his poem is an alternative story invented by Socrates in Plato's dialogue "The Symposium"; the poem plays upon the theme of love where "there are mysteries/it seems and mysteries" that one ponders to the end of life. "Netsuke" describes the Glooscap countryside and the cyclical renewal of earth; nature can accept the end of things because "metaphors brood in the deep" with the expectation of something new.

These poems, at once cerebral and lyrical, set the mood for "The Cave of Trophonius," which Sparshfttt describes as "a trip of the Shaman through the universe." The poem is based on the Greek legend of having to go through the ritual of purification and enter the god's cave if you have a question to ask Trophonius, the son of Apollo. Powerful images keep the poem moving, and in the end the question is not asked. The effect is one of mystery, like the experience of the first Easter with "the dead rock rolled away." This poem won the first prize for poetry in the 1981 CBC Literary Competition.

Sparshott is the author of five books on philosophy as well as five volumes of poetry. As poet and philosopher, he seeks to discover connections between philosophy and poetry that are not evident. For the most part, Sparshott is a serious writer, and his verses are frequently metaphysical with scholarly allusions. Sometimes, however, there is a kind of capricious irreverence when he speaks, for example, of "the priests opening their lunches" but always, Sparshott maintains a lyrical quality to his writing exemplified in stanza four of "The Cave of Trophonius" where he skilfully handles internal vowel and consonant rhyme; the "o" and "i" vowels together with the "g" and "c" consonants create a kind of ritual incantation:

          ...your mind turns
        to the conversation of priests
        growing old in the grove and the cold
        thinking of oracles
        given among the dead.

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