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XEclogue

Marita Dachsel

a highly acclaimed poet, Lisa Robertson was a Governor General Award finalist for her 1997 collection Debbie: An Epic. Possibly because of this distinction, New Star Books has recently reprinted Lisa Robertson's 1993 poetry collection XEclogue.

XEclogue book cover XEclogue is a cerebral journey through mystic time and complex language. Robertson simultaneously pays homage to the eclogue and modernises it for her own use. The writing is dense, wry, sophisticated and difficult; admittedly, there were some passages in this collection that I could not have read without an open dictionary by my side.

Robertson has organised XEclogue into 10 eclogues idyllically titled (e.g. "Beauty", "Liberty", "Nostalgia") with a Prologue and an Epilogue as bookends. On its most basic level, it is a dialogue, often as correspondence, between the characters of Nancy and Lady M. with interruptions by the impish chorus of the Roaring Boys. The writing is often beautiful and always original. Never does it come near being cliched or tired. From Eclogue Ten: Utopia:

Just try it, cut across a trope' s tenured night - we expel
that purposeless movement, struck, bending to a throbbing
queen. Or disobediently blaze up, stammering in the
wilderness. We find the night's lexicon an utterly weary
garment, a caked scrim of ink.

I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of this collection. With. so much happening on the literary, intellectual, political and metaphysical levels, I am certain that I must have missed quite a bit and should go back and study it some more. And studying it deserves. With an eclectic list of influences and references from Virgil to Rousseau, Marguerite de Navarre to L 7 and Patti Smith among many others mentioned in the Note on the final page, I can envision this as being the primary text in an upper level university course.

As stimulating as that may be, it is also a problem. While its complexity, rich language and literary references may be the making of an academic wet dream, just as all things academia hold dear, XEclogue is not for mass consumption. Nobody likes to feel stupid, and unless you hold a post-graduate degree in English Literature, chances are when reading this collection there will be instances when you do. I know I did. But please do not think of this as an unfavourable review because the text was too smart (or, if you must, that I was not smart enough). Consider this a warning: if you have recently begun to read poetry, or you read as an escape and not as a mental exercise, pass on this.However, if you find an intellectual challenge exciting, words beautiful and have grown tired of the pabulum pulp that often masquerades as literature, Lisa Robertson's XEclogue will seem heaven sent.

published by new star books
ISBN 0-921586-72-8


Marita Dachsel is a Vancouver based writer.

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