Unsung Hero: Maggie Finch of Bath, poet and pacifist

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“Haunted, burnished passion echoes through these deft and beautifully alert lyrics. Margaret Rockwell Finch uses poetry’s traditional means to ends that are purely her own. From time’s quarrels, she has fashioned poems that resonate with poetry’s timelessness.”

— Baron Wormser

BATH — On some mornings, poet Maggie Finch said, she’ll wake up with an idea in her head and then spend the whole day writing a poem.

“It’s such a wonderful feeling to create something,” Finch said.

Good poems endure and so, it must be said, do good poets and good houses. Finch lives alone at age 91 in the King’s Dock, a stately house built in 1758 overlooking the Kennebec River in Bath.

Born in New Jersey in 1921, Finch moved to New York City as a young girl to live with her mother and two aunts after her parents divorced. Her roots in literature and poetry run deep: her father was a poet as well as a garden writer for the New York Times, her mother was a writer, and one of her aunts was a poet. She often received books of poetry for presents.

Finch’s pacifist roots also run, too. During World War II, she worked at the office of the War Resister’s League, an organization founded by one of her aunts. She was feeling a bit sorry for herself at that time, she said, since her first marriage had ended in an early divorce. A friend from the office offered to introduce her to a young man who was also a pacifist.

Finch met the man at a lecture by the poet W. H. Auden, and as she recalled, “I looked into his eyes and fell immediately and passionately in love.” That first glance resulted in a wonderful 50-year relationship with Roy Finch, who died in 1997.

In 1986, Finch decided to accompany her son Roy Finch Jr. on a peace march across the country. She had thought that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have convinced the world to move toward peace, but that hadn’t happened. Unfortunately, she and most of the other activists had to drop out after some key sponsors pulled out, although her son continued on.

Twenty-four years later, in 2010, Finch joined the Maine portion of a peace march led by an order of Buddhist monks. She walked the full 130 miles, pleased to have completed what she called “unfinished business.”

Poetry has remained a constant in Finch’s life. Her business card reads, appropriately, “A Life in Poetry.” She produced her first book of poems, “Davy’s Lake,” in 1996 and her second book, “The Barefoot Goose,” in 2006. Her poetry has appeared in The Saturday Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Passages, and in many other periodicals. She was the recipient of the 1973 Poetry Society of America Member’s Award, and she served as the editorial chairwoman of Coming Home Twice, the anthology of the Maine Poet’s Society. In addition to her poetry, Finch gained a national reputation for her skill at making fine art dolls.

Finch’s extended family includes five children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her daughter Annie Finch, a poet, translator and critic, serves as director of the Stonecoast low-residency master of fine arts program at the University of Southern Maine. Another daughter, Marta Rijn Finch, is also an accomplished poet.

“My mother taught me how to live authentically,” Annie Finch said. “To cherish my own female values, intuitions and strengths. She encourages each person to follow an inner light.”

‘The Seventeenth Day of May’

Grow maples in me this grow-maple day;

I lie in the long chair and wait your coming.

Spin from branches heavy with fruit of leaves

My sudden seeds, my one-wings, turning, turning!

Leap in the wind that understands the life:

Land on my leg and do not slide;

Catch in the ready furrows of my hair – I say

I have no pride.

For in me all the broad and murmuring branches

Wait but to hear it spoken.

The porch, the chair, the gutter will not take you.

But I am open.

Heads of life, stretched to the shape of flight

Plunge to my upturned palm, and with good reason:

My earth, my rain, my sun, my shade will grow you.

Let your season bring me into season.

— Maggie Finch

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Maggie Finch at home in Bath.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.

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