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An Extravagant Mind:
Erin Robinsong's Rag Cosmology

Erin Robinsong, Rag Cosmology
Toronto: Book*hug Press, 2017.

This is Erin Robinsong’s first book and its scope is vast, its premise to somehow gather the cosmos into a bucket an ambitious one. We’re reminded that there’s “no eros / like earth,” and that to be human is to be sensuous. Lines pulse with succulent life, hypnotic in its eroticism, heartbreaking in its frailty. An exploration of life’s many shapes, from polygons and fractals to amorphous entities, leads the reader through a landscape before cities and villages, before humans stamped the map.

Robinsong’s relationship to that vastness is one of awe and surrender. She brings to her poetry an experience of immanence, where the distinctions between the self and the space around us no longer matter, creating a timeless quality. Speaking as a “polyrhythmic / rugrat noticing there is nothing that isn’t / moving,” Robinsong has a remarkable ability to parlay life’s evolutionary impulse. Many poems have a tidal effect, resisting borders and the defined shapes of traditional poetic form. In essence, she writes a sort of eco-eroticism, remapping a feminine consciousness in tune with the Earth’s “[g]reen extravagant mind wet and moving.”

Individual lines are wraith-like―ungraspable and forever on the move. The narrator herself is at times a vaporous apparition, as she observes, “I was hard to remember / hard to count,” barely pausing for a moment before shifting focus elsewhere, as if a spokes-poet for these distracted times. And here lies one of the book’s ironies: ecology matters so much and yet the intimate details of a place that make it distinctive are sketched with the barest detail. While Robinsong seems to acknowledge a certain distraction in her poems (“learning to pay attention and shift states is addictive / I’m working on it”), without more grounded specifics of a particular ecosystem or region, there’s a chance her primordial awareness will leave the reader unaffected.

The poems hone in on a number of environmental concerns―plastic gyres, climate change, logging and pollution―in subsequent sections of the book. In “Swans Beat Police,” for example, where “Gold goes underground” and “Clouds release tear gas on the crowds,” Robinsong maintains pace and momentum, driving the work to a satisfying close. “Secession Garden” recreates life’s evolutionary spin through dizzying turns of phrase, while word play and political statements about the effects of free-trade economics on our planet are subtly―and skilfully―combined in “Bank of Sound.” These are some of the book’s undeniable jewels.

Reading “Rag Cosmology” leads us to ask whether the answer to so many of our problems is relational. Could it be that the single-pointed focus, so much admired in the “real world,” is what got us into this mess in the first place? Certainly Robinsong’s prayer that “we shift slide rise tilt roll and twist” is a timely one for humanity in these ecologically destructive times. Twirling like a dervish, these poems remind us of life’s vast richness, alert us to the dangers of unfettered capitalism, then carry on dancing regardless.

Anouk H. Henri holds a Master’s in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Ottawa.

ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.