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Lisa Robertson returns to UMaine with new novel for the New Writing Series

On Jan. 29, Lisa Robertson, a Canadian poet, novelist and essayist returned to Orono after 17 years to present as a visiting poet for the New Writing Series. Robertson read excerpts from her new novel “The Baudelaire Fractal.”

The New Writing Series is located in the Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center’s AP/PE Space, and intimate and dark theater. Since 1999, The University of Maine has brought visiting writers to the area to share their work and participate in a question and answer session with the audience. Robertson has read for the New Writing Series once before in 2003.

Introduced by Ben Friedlander, Robertson read two chapters from her novel that she wrote in just six months. Following her 1997 novel, “Debbie: An Epic,” Robertson’s second novel adds to her collection of published critical essays, poetry and other works. “The Baudelaire Fractal” will be available to purchase on Feb. 4.

“I didn’t think it would be so different when I started writing it. I love writing prose and sentences and that is part of my exploration as a poet,” Robertson said. “I kind of really treated it like a super long poem. There was a period of intense focus and I hunkered down and wrote a draft in 6 months.”

Coach House Books writes, “One morning, the poet Hazel Brown wakes up in a strange hotel room to find that she’s written the complete works of Charles Baudelaire. Surprising as this may be, it’s no more surprising to Brown than the impossible journey she’s taken to become the writer that she is. Animated by the spirit of the poète maudit, she shuttles between London, Vancouver, Paris, and the French countryside, moving fluidly between the early 1980s and the present, from rented room to rented room, all the while considering such Baudelairian obsessions as modernity, poverty, and the perfect jacket.” 

Written in chapters titled after the french poet’s poems, the novel follows Hazel Brown on her spiritual and intellectual journey through this fantastic situation. Robertson drew on earlier writings and diary entries in crafting this novel in just one year. 

“The durational aspect of novel-writing was brutal, and I didn’t expect that. I went into it with a light-hearted approach,” Robertson said. “I had this idea that I wanted to explore, and I began to explore it in the three beginning chapters.” 

Robertson read a short introductory chapter from the novel as well as one titled “Rich is Real” from later in the book. Audience members, many UMaine English faculty and students, were encouraged to share comments and ask questions after the hour-long reading.

“This was a ravishing experience of literature. It was delicious and exciting,” Stephen Wicks, a professor of English at UMaine, said.

Robertson was born in Toronto, Canada in 1961 and started writing in the 1980s. She has worked as a writer in residence at many colleges and universities, and currently spends her time traveling between France, Canada, the Netherlands and England.

The next New Writing Series event is Feb. 13 featuring Deborah Willis.

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