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Jane Urquhart.

Erin (ON), Porcupine's Quill, c1983.
63pp, paper, $6.95.
ISBN 0-88984-049-0.

Reviewed by Vivienne Denton.

Volume 12 Number 5
1984 September

At first glance, this book, in which the chief character is Madame de Montespan, mistress of Louis XIV of France, would seem to be more poetry on the subject of sexual politics, and indeed, the title of the first section, "The Baroque Bed," reinforces this impression. However, there is more to this interesting and subtle collection, whose author is clearly alive to new directions in contemporary literature, particularly to contemporary French critical theory. The poems are not solely about the relationship between king and mistress. Rather, the poet imaginatively responds to the palace of Versailles, and the latter is the real protagonist. The Versailles of Louis XIV, surely an autonomous "coded" world, constitutes the omnipresent interest of this work. Like its mistress's affections, the palace is a world centred on the Sun King; now without its heartbeat, it is but a museum whose artifacts Urquhart catalogues. A poem about the baroque bed that was the centre of this royal passion is a description of the artifice, and perhaps of the artificer, of the Arcadian scenes woven into its brocade coverlet: "I am lost in the fabric/Smothered in your private furniture," complains the poet, "I know the loom that dreamed this bed."

The intent is interesting, but the book is not entirely successful. The total effect of these meditations is rather in-cohesive. Particular weaknesses are poor line division, and pacing and rhythm that are not always convincing. Despite this reservation, the poems recapture the courtly artifice of the Versailles of Madame de Montespan in appropriately elegant poetry. This elegance is enhanced by the fine production of the book and by Jennifer Dickson's evocative photographs of vistas and reflections at Versailles.

Vivienne Denton, Toronto, ON.
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