Writing Lovers: Reading Canadian Love Poetry By Women

Is it possible to capture something as ephemeral as love with mere words? Méira Cook draws on Lacan, Derrida, Barthes, and Kristeva to wrestle with the theoretical problems of representing the unrepresentable. In Writing Lovers she searches for a language adequate to articulating the discourse of passion, desire, and longing in the love poetry of Dionne Brand, Elizabeth Smart, Daphne Marlatt, Dorothy Livesay, Kristjana Gunnars, and Nicole Markotic.

In writings by the French post-structuralists, rhetorical tropes such as speechlessness, fragmentation, and deflection testify to the writer’s difficulty in broaching the subject of love. Similarly, Cook shows that love poetry proceeds out of a profound failure of language resulting from the opacity of discourse, its lack of neutrality, or the fugitive transparency of reference. Writing Lovers also explores race, ethnicity, age, and sexual identity within the context of the passionate excesses of amatory discourse.


“This is a timely and important book which can expand our critical repertoire about Canadian women’s poetry. Cook’s theoretical and stylistic sophistication is impressive.”

—Di Brandt

“The appeal of Cook’s analysis will be instantly recognizable to anyone who reads Canadian poetry, or any poetry, with passion; she loves these poems because they are problematic rather than in spite of their difficulties. Cook does not flinch from the monstrosity of love’s force in these poems, nor from the complications that the lover’s body introduces into a feminist politics of shifting subjectivities. Using the trope of the book as love letter, Cook glosses her own text as yet one more example of the passionate literary imperfect: that which produces in excess, claims a desiring subjectivity, and batters itself against the limits of representation. Writing Lovers does all that, and something else beside: like a letter, it arrives where it has been addressed by those who read love poetry with a curious frustration; like a love letter, it declares its intentions to woo readers to its subject, and like a longed-for love letter, it succeeds by fulfilling its promise.”

—Tanis MacDonald, Malahat Review

“In Cook’s hands, love is the reader’s dream too. She is the impassioned reader rather than the impartial critic, and that lends her work a compelling present-ness [. . .] Cook is the reader we might all aspire to be. She is passionate, she is thoughtful, she is demanding, she is astute. She opens herself to a text, then she checks the effects. Writing Lovers is a powerful book, a provocative book.”

—Charlene Diehl, Border Crossings

“Among its accomplishments, Méira Cook’s Writing Lovers will introduce readers outside Canada to a group of modern and contemporary poets they could easily come to love. The works she has chosen are interesting, involving, poetically challenging, and full of passion; moreover, as a fine poet herself, Cook writes with grace, insight, and passion as she explores the writing of love in its many manifestations.” [Read full review »]

—Douglas Barbour, Modern Philology

Writing Lovers is an admirable, enviable project; Cook’s passion for her subject engages the reader through an active voice that is both critical and creative, exploring why ‘amorous discourse leaves neither narrator nor reader intact.’”

—Triny Finlay, University of Toronto Quarterly

“This beautifully written book, which is as much a celebration of language as it is of love, is densely theoretical and at the same time surprisingly fresh [. . .] Insightful, complex, and learned, this book stands as a love letter to a varied group of poets.”

—Linda Quirk, Canadian Literature


Writing Lovers (Excerpt)

Although my fall has been involuntary, its duration has outlasted accident. While infatuation drew me to these poems, what has encouraged me to continue reading with passion and purpose has been a rather more considered evaluation and one that owes its endurance to the skill with which these poets — Gunnars, Smart, Brand, Livesay, Markotic, Halfe, Marlatt — have written about love, written off love, been written by the effects of love, written for and against and towards love, written to and beyond the lover, written over and been overwritten by a discourse that continues — joyously, bitterly, gently, maliciously, ardently, adjectivally — to confound writing.


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