96 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-921586-72-8
DDC C811'.54





Reviewed by Beryl Baigent

Beryl Baigent is a poet; her published collections include Absorbing the
Dark, Hiraeth: In Search of Celtic Origins, Triptych: Virgins, Victims,
Votives, and Mystic Animals.


I wondered if I was opening an “X-File” when I began to browse Lisa
Robertson’s second book. The front-cover depiction of a
black-and-white female nude with strategically imposed flower, set in a
darkened circle, further added to the mystery, as did the variety of
photographed body parts on the subtitled pages: an arm for “Honour,”
a pair of soles for “Beauty,” a pointed foot for “Nostalgia.”
However, neither the illustrations nor the endnotes offered many clues
for deciphering the enigma.

In the endnotes, Robertson explains that she was introduced to the
eclogue after reading a collection of satirical poems by the
18th-century poet, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. A glossary of literary
terms notes that an eclogue is the model for the traditional pastoral
poem, an urban poet’s nostalgic image of the peace and simplicity of
the life of rural people in an idealized natural setting.

Voicing translated lines from Virgil’s “Songs to Venus,”
Robertson’s persona, “the Roaring Boys,” sing: “Hey Blushing
Berries, you’ve got us curious. Groves / Nodding can’t masque your
emotion’s curious / Fretwork.” Each of Robertson’s 10 eclogues
expresses some of Virgil’s sentiments. Eclogue Eight Romance
emphasizes the subtitle with: “You suss her nervy spite, new as fire
gets / Her nectar’s cunning gist needs quelling / This time in the
filmy cave we’ll quote Cupid’s vulgar luck / To taste her lurid lips
we’d flaunt that silly stamen.”

In these eclogues, which are part verse, part prose, part dialogue,
Robertson also “shares a vocabulary with George Thornley’s 1657
translation of Longus’s “Daphnis and Chloe,” while other pieces
echo Rousseau, Patti Smith, Thomas More, and a diverse group of writers.
I would not have recognized these reverberations but for the endnote.

Robertson, who is part of a “collaborative feminist history and
writing practice,” remarks in her prologue that she “needed a genre
for the times that [she goes] phantom to rampage Liberty.” Searching
out a new/old genre for the times is admirable. However, the convoluted
language, archaic references, and distancing that the poet applies to
her work do not offer a suitable or inspiring alternative for this
reviewer, although no doubt some academics who wish to make poetry the
realm of intellectual study may value this conundrum.



Robertson, Lisa., “XEclogue,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/7502.