Margaret Rockwell Finch was born in Cape May Point, New Jersey, on April 20, 1921. Her mother Marjorie Hughan Rockwell, a singer and writer, was the sister of the founder of the War Resisters League, Socialist economist and educator Jessie Wallace Hughan. Her father, Frederick Frye Rockwell, was the garden editor for the New York Times, a specialist in growing roses, and author of books on gardening. “Peggy,” the youngest of four children and the only girl, attended a one-room school. After her parents divorced when she was nine years old, she attended a small Communist-run farm school, Manumit School, where her mother had a job as house-mother. They then moved to New York City where she attended Lincoln School and began to write poetry under the guidance of her English teacher, Mr. Stolper. With her mother, brothers Don, Hugh, and Fritz and aunts Jessie and Evelyn Hughan, she spent many summers on the mid-coast of Maine.
In high school Margaret learned to sculpt in wood at the studio of her mother’s first cousin, noted sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies. She earned an acting scholarship to attend Bennett Junior College, where she developed a lifelong love of opera and ballet. She left Bennett at the age of 18 to marry photographer Jack Holmes before their child Julie Margaret (Julie) was born, followed three years later by their second child, Martha (Marta). Soon divorced from Jack, she lived with her mother on the Upper West Side of New York City while she worked various jobs: at the War Resisters League, at Brentanos Bookstore, and as the personal secretary to pacifist Bayard Rustin. At a lecture by W.H. Auden on Shakespeare at the New School in 1946, she met her second husband Henry LeRoy Finch, a conscientious objector and a professor of philosophy. They married in 1947 and eventually moved to 106 Liberty Avenue, New Rochelle, New York. Roy adopted Margaret’s two daughters, and over the next decade they had three more children, Mary, Annie, and Roy Jr.
While raising five children and looking after a demanding husband, Margaret continued to write poetry and also began to make dolls. In the 1950s these were “walnut babies”—tiny babies in walnut shell cradles hinged shut with ribbon—and one-of-a-kind historically accurate figures, such as George Washington and Chief Sitting Bull, carved from wood. During the 1960s she crafted numerous costume dolls of needle-modelled cloth, including a series of women dressed in the style of each decade of the nineteenth century. She became active in the National Institute of American Doll Artists and eventually rose to vice-president. In the early 1970s her needle-modelled cloth dolls became more imaginative, especially a series of half-human, half-animal dolls she called the “Phantasmata.” Several of these, including a Monarch Butterfly and a Cat with a bird nesting in its ear, were exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York by curator John Noble in the late 1970s. Soon after, her daughter Marta joined her and they became a doll-making team, creating numerous dolls together over nearly 20 years under the name “Transcendence.”
In 1976 “Maggie,” as she now called herself, finished her B.A. degree at the College of New Rochelle with a major in Life Studies. A lifelong pacifist, in 1986 she accompanied her son Roy on the first half of a cross-country march, the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament.
Maggie continued to write poetry seriously, publishing in periodicals such as the Saturday Review, Christian Century, and Christian Science Monitor and winning a 1974 Members’ award for her poem “So in the Mind” from the Poetry Society of America. Her first book of poetry, Davy’s Lake, was published under her daughter Annie’s supervision by Annie’s imprint, Caribou Press, in 1992.
In 1997, Roy died of cancer, and a year later, Maggie moved to Bath, Maine, where she would spend the rest of her life. Her second book, The Barefoot Goose, was published by Just Write Press in Maine in 2006. Her third,Sonnets from Seventy-Five Years, was edited and published by Marta in 2011. She served as co-president of the Maine Poetry Society with Marta from 2009 to 2014. Her final book, Crone’s Wines, edited by Annie, was published by Ablemuse Press in 2017.
In the last years of her life Maggie moved from her home of many years, King’s Landing at 1463 Washington Street in Bath, to Portland’s Seventy-Five State Street and then to Cape Memory Care in Cape Elizabeth. She passed away peacefully and joyfully on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, at St. Joseph’s Manor in Portland, survived by five children, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Maggie believed firmly in reincarnation, as evidenced in this late poem:
When Will She Turn
Old woman tumbled in her dreams
Ready at midnight, under the far
Cold stars above the river—are
Still some losses tangled in the beams
Of her waning moon?—
(Or even in the sun
Soon to begin to rise higher than moon
Over the warming fields where soon
Even the losses will have won.)
When will she turn again to earth?
What new beginning—in what womb
Engendered in her own sweet tomb?
Old woman tumbling into birth…
From Crone’s Wines: Late Poems by Margaret Rockwell Finch, Word Galaxy Press, 2018