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The Spaces in Between: Selected Poems, 1965-2001

by Stephen Scobie

In a country rich in, and appreciative of, its poets and poetry, Victoria writer Stephen Scobie has never quite received the attention that he is due. A noted academic, and winner of the 1980 Governor General’s Award for poetry, Scobie is recognized by his peers and verse aficionados, but remains largely unknown to the reading public. The Spaces in Between may not make for a mass-market breakthrough for the Scottish-born poet, but it serves as a valuable reminder of his considerable and varied talents.

The Spaces in Between is a chronological overview of Scobie’s career, a tracery of his
recurring themes and obsessions over more than three decades, including post-structuralist literary theory, travel, the nature of love, and Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Scobie balances plainspoken emotional honesty with a delight in language and linguistic play, as well as the intertextual dynamic between his work and that of other writers. His poetry is immediately accessible, yet yields considerable treasures to closer reading.

The collection includes such poems as “Idiot Wind,” an elegiac account of journeys both physical and emotional. The poem reads well, and one is aware of Scobie’s lifelong obsession with Bob Dylan from the title and the general theme, but a closer examination reveals that the poem is also an acrostic: the first word of every line forms a couplet from the titular Dylan song.

This crucial balance is perhaps best exemplified by the book’s final poem, “Maureen: poems for the weeks of her dying,” a previously unpublished suite about the death of the poet’s wife last year. In under 10 pages he vividly evokes a life, a love, a relationship, and a crushing loss with a naked emotionality that gains resonance from references to Tristam Shandy, Ezra Pound, Balzac, and Leonard Cohen among others. It is at once beautiful and haunting, learned and thought-provoking, and almost too much to bear.

As a retrospective, The Spaces in Between is simply too short to do justice to Scobie’s multifaceted career. The decision not to include any representative poetry from his book length works (including McAlmon’s Chinese Opera, The Ballad of Isabel Gunn, and Gospel, Scobie’s compelling revisioning of the life of Christ), while justified on the surface, seems ill-considered, depriving this anthology of some of Scobie’s most impressive work.