cover image Xeclogue


Lisa Robertson. New Star Books, $11 (82pp) ISBN 978-0-921586-72-2

A Vancouver-based poet of pointed, controlled lyricism, Robertson has released two terrific books over the last decade with her home city's New Star books. Debbie: An Epic (1997) elliptically rendered its main character with a grand mix of tough talking, typographical experiment and sweet description. XEclogue was originally published in a limited edition in 1993, and appeared in its present, revised form in Canada last year. Divided into 10 (""X"") abstractly named eclogues (""Honour,"" ""Beauty,"" ""Liberty,"" ""Romance,"" ""History,"" etc.), the book begins with the manfesto-like prologue, ""How Pastoral,"" riffing on its chosen form: ""I needed a genre for the times that I go phantom. I needed a genre to rampage Liberty, haunt the foul freedom of silence."" The eclogues themselves proceed in a dialogic pastiche of archaic diction and current Newspeak, and are staged between ""Lady M"" (as in 18th-century poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu) and ""Nancy,"" who are gently menaced by a chorus of ""Roaring Boys"" loosely based on 4th-century latinate authors of songs to Venus. It's a delightfully complicated rhetorical frame, one that easily supports Robertson's serious investigation of her terms, and outbursts such as this of Lady M's, from ""Cathexis"": ""I tumble in the luminous musculature/ of an ideology/ Swift and pretty, enclosed as the edged-zest/ Crossed-sex jut of knowledge/ As knowledge is French, bombastic/ End-stopped, supple, passing as a tulip-shaped/ End-stopped panic epistemology, legitimate/ Fantasy. Chthonic Machine!"" Along with Thalia Field (see review above), Pamela White Hadas and Stacy Doris, among others, Robertson contributes to a rewarding and varied tradition of post-feminist verse-monologue and drama. (Mar.)