Finnigan, Joan

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Nationality: Canadian. Born: Ottawa, Ontario, 23 November 1925. Education: Lisgar Collegiate, graduated 1944; Carleton University, Ottawa; Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, B.A. in English, history, and economics 1967. Family: Married Charles Grant MacKenzie in 1949 (died 1965); two sons and one daughter. Career: Teacher in Beechgrove, Quebec, 1945–46; reporter, Ottawa Journal, and freelance journalist, 1949–67; public relations, promotion, and special events director, Kingston and District United Way, 1969–74. Freelance writer, for the National Film Board of Canada, 1966–71, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto. Writer-inresidence, Ottawa Public Library, 1987. Also photographer: individual shows—Upstairs Gallery, Renfrew, Ontario, 1982; Gallery Cafe, Pembroke, Ontario, 1982; Octogan Gallery Show, Calabogie, Ontario, 1986; Ottawa Public Library, 1988. Awards: Borestone Mountain poetry prize, 1959, 1961, 1963; Canada Council grant, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1973, 1977; Centennial prize, 1967; President's Medal, University of Western Ontario, 1969; Genie award, for screenplay, 1969; Ottawa-Carleton literary award, 1986; Pat Lowther award, 1988. Address: Moore Farm, Hambly Lake, Hartington, Ontario K0H 1W0, Canada.



Through the Glass, Darkly. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1963.

A Dream of Lilies. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1965.

Entrance to the Green-house. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1968.

It Was Warm and Sunny When We Set out. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1970.

In the Brown Cottage on Loughborough Lake. Toronto, CBC Learning Systems, 1970.

Living Together. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1976.

A Reminder of Familiar Faces. Toronto, NC Press, 1978.

This Series Has Been Discontinued. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Fiddlehead, 1981.

The Watershed Collection, edited by Robert Weaver. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1988.

Wintering Over. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1992.

Second Wind; Second Sight. Windsor, Ontario, Black Moss Press, 1998.


Up the Vallee! (produced Toronto, 1978).

Songs from Both Sides of the River (produced Ottawa, 1987–92).

Screenplay: The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar, 1969.

Radio Plays: Songs for the Bible Belt; May Day Rounds: Renfrew County; In the Brown Cottage on Loughborough Lake; Children of the Shadows; There's No Good Times Left—None at All; Coming over a Country of No Lights, 1976; The Lakers, 1977; Valley of the Outaouais, 1979; Poems from Pontiac County, 1984.


Canada in Bed (as Michelle Bedard). Toronto, Pagurian Press, 1967.

Kingston: Celebrate This City. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1976.

I Come from the Valley. Toronto, NC Press, 1976.

Canadian Colonial Cooking. Toronto, NC Press, 1976.

Giants of Canada's Ottawa Valley. Burnstown, Ontario, General Store, 1981.

Some of the Stories I Told You Were True. Ottawa, Deneau, 1981.

Look! The Land Is Growing Giants: A Very Canadian Legend (for children). Montreal, Tundra, 1983.

Laughing All the Way Home. Ottawa, Deneau, 1984.

Legacies, Legends, and Lies. Toronto, Deneau, 1985.

Finnigan's Guide to the Ottawa Valley. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1988.

Tell Me Another Story. Toronto, McGraw Hill-Ryerson, 1988.

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Left Behind (for children). Toronto, Groundwood 1989.

Old Scores, New Goals. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1992.

Lisgar Collegiate, 1843–1993. Ottawa, Ontario, Lisgar Alumni Association, 1993.

Witches, Ghosts and Loups-Garous. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1994.

Dancing at the Crossroads. Kingston, Ontario, Quarry Press, 1995.

Down the Unmarked Roads. Burnstown, Ontario, General Store, 1996.

Tallying the Tales of the Old-Timers. Burnstown, Ontario, General Store, 1999.


Bibliography: by Catherine Carroll (thesis), Carleton University, Ottowa, 1999.

Manuscript Collections: Queen's University Archives, Kingston, Ontario; National Library, National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.

Joan Finnigan comments:

Since the age of seven I have been writing poetry. At forty I came to creative film scripts and so began to write long poems. My poetry had always veered towards the dramatic, and my film scripts are strongly poetic: done with intensity, a boiling down to the quintessence, a search for ultimate essence. At forty I had matured enough to move from the short form—the poem—to the one requiring greater sustaining power—the screenplay. At sixty The Watershed Collection, a collection of the best of all my long poems, edited and with an introduction by Robert Weaver of CBC Anthology, was a milestone in my movement in the poetic direction; Songs from Both Sides of the River, my 1987 play at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa, was a high-water mark in the dramatic course of my work. I am working seriously on fiction now, but I know that, when I grow older and wiser, I will be able to return to my poetry.

*  *  *

That "poetry is not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion" has become axiomatic in the criticism and the writing of modern poetry. Such a statement finds support in the general scientific and philosophic evolution of the age, and it informs the modern poetical canon's skepticism toward the perception of nature as a paradigm for benevolent humanism or the articulation of traditional themes (love, birth, death, marriage) through the filter of sensibility removed from the conditioning factors of the man-made environment. In Canada this consciousness is central to the work of E.J. Pratt and the poets of the McGill movement, and it is emblematized in the wilderness-garden mythos of the Frye school of poets from D.G. Jones to Margaret Atwood. The rejection of the facile romanticism at the core of Eliot's pronouncement was germane to the poetics initiated in the 1920s in Canada as a reaction against the nineteenth-century Confederation poets. At any rate, it is a commonplace now that the eternal verities can be improved upon by being expressed in diction and vision attuned to the age.

With these considerations in mind, it is no small surprise to encounter the poetry of Joan Finnigan celebrating a domestic world revolving around family life, the family cottage, family friends, love, and nature rendered in language free from sophistication. An openness toward self and others characterizes an outlook whose subjective correlative is the operations of benevolent nature. The world is Edenic and pristine in her first three books, dominated by radiant colors and cheerful sounds controlled by the key symbol of the sun shining at the height of summer. The poetry exudes a feeling of oneness with the elements that culminates in transcendental intimations of immortality, no doubt sincerely felt by the poet. Eve-like, but unlike Eve since her boundless innocence cannot precipitate any Fall of Man, she celebrates a garden whose paradisiacal emoluments she has no reason to suspect. To be sure, a few queries are raised ("Oh, who in all of heathendom, / Is half so sad as I?"), but they pose no threat of disruption to this Arcadia, where no vital concerns are entertained.

Finnigan's two favorite themes—love and nature—recur in her books. The related feelings of nostalgia, flight of time, and urbanophobia convey an undercurrent of sweet melancholy and are accentuated with the intrusion of death. In It Was Warm and Sunny When We Set Out, the theme is at first embarrassingly stated—"And I think perpetually now of your dead HEART (for no one could get directions to that place, not even yourself) …"—in the not surprising, ingenuous confessional style—"Who, who could ever believe our private murders or the possibility of this revenge?"—Finnigan delights in. It finds a more felicitous expression, however, in the contrasting use of symbols. The sun that hitherto glowed on a bountiful world presently reflects the destruction of the Covenant: it is blinding, bleeding, mocking, scorching. Though the diction falters—"If people really love one another, / snow, why do they die?"—one nonetheless finds interesting the substitution of the symbolic winter grip for the vision of warmth generated by summer. The intensity of personal suffering finally yields through visceral apprehension a sober consciousness structured by a lucid polarization of the universals in In the Brown Cottage on Loughborough Lake. In a book markedly contrasting with her earlier work, the weaving of alternating polarities (light and dark, summer and autumn, outer life and inner life, life and death, happiness and sorrow) germinates in the mature expression of pain endured, challenged, and possibly conquered. Her beloved nature is still there, as anthropomorphic as ever, and the language is still mined with clichés, the world as restricted as usual. But this elegy, which can all too easily be assigned to the Wordsworthian canon, is quite moving in its expression of emotions barely recovering from the trauma of exposure to the existence of pain and cruelty. Even fractionally, Finnigan has been able to master and contain pain and bear witness to this control over emotion by finding a structure of objective correlatives. Maybe Eliot was not wrong after all.

—Max Dorsinville