|The Endless Garment / Marguerite Pigeon|
Hamilton, ON: Wolsak & Wynn, c2021.
Today's book is an unusual find, a collection of poetry all tied to fashion: its impact, history, past and future. I had to order this one as soon as I saw it mentioned in a library catalogue. It's told in epic style, and like the cover says, in Five Collections.
It's an interesting concept, and the author's obsession with fashion comes through, with ghostly appearances by Alexander McQueen, the Comte D'Orsay, Coco Chanel, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, even Elizabeth Barrett Browning who leads the narrator through the last section, a Dante-like circle of hell: a sweatshop in the basement of a metaphysical department store that she's been making her way through.
There's commentary on fast fashion, on consumerist shopping frenzies, on fashion figures, designers and models (one description of a Vogue shoot was so clear I knew exactly the image and model she was talking about). However -- this does mean that if a reader is not already quite conversant with fashion and the system from the last few decades, they might be lost while reading this. The references are plentiful but there's no explanation, you've got to catch them yourself.
Otherwise, there is still a lot to gain from reading this. Lots of social critique and some commentary that anyone, not just a fashion nerd, will catch. And the language is great. She uses so many terms that sewists will appreciate, from techniques to fabrics, and it makes you realize how rich the language of textiles is. I enjoyed seeing those words used and shaped in these poems.
The language and style is also formally epic. It echoes Dante's style, and also reminded me of another collection I once read that was informed by Dante, Seth Steinzor's To Join the Lost (only in tone and style). I think it's a brilliant idea, and one that shows that fashion, clothing and our desire for ornament are all part of the human experience; they don't sit apart. While I found it a little obscure in parts on first reading, I know it's one I can go back to and get more from each time.