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Kill-site

by Tim Lilburn

In an interview with Shawna Lemay in Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation, Tim Lilburn expressed an interest in “the interior of the poem,” a place where the writing is governed by intent observations rather than formal structures externally imposed. It’s an interesting premise, with its hint of evocative poetry not necessarily grounded in definitive meanings. Kill-site bears out its author’s credo. The uniqueness of Lilburn’s sixth collection rests in its eerily mystical descriptions of the natural world.

The book is divided into three sections of fairly long poems describing Prairie landscapes, coyotes, and dingy motels. Infrequent line breaks help create an impression of sacred verse, with its continuous, weighty intonations. Classical and oriental references abound, and the word “erotic” pops up repeatedly in ways that don’t always make sense: “the dark stalks of the tongue fall/under the murked erotic momentum of what is/entering light in the world.”

Lilburn’s rhapsodic lines tend to be abstract, with openings such as “I was in the ground and the animal came to me wearing signs.” The scriptural, matter-of-fact delivery is paired with obscure symbols, resulting in a fortune-cookie flavour to many of the lines: “The tongue casts its shadow but the mouth is bright.”

Yet many of the poems’ effects, especially analogies pairing human or animal perceptions with larger natural phenomena, render Lilburn’s insights fresh and arresting: “Like the Dilberry Lake/area where otium sanctum flops back and forth like an eye-tipped grass blade in the noses of a few animals.” He has also a knack for nailing individual images – “smoke from the bus undressing upward”– and a corresponding reluctance to bind those images into a coherent whole.

The overall style is reminiscent of T.S. Eliot, who also liked to mimic religious texts, but in this case (perhaps because the high tone is so relentlessly sustained) Lilburn’s figurative constructions often seem to be more indulged in than justified.