Monday, April 11, 2011

‘a gentleman collector of sentences’: notes on rereading Lisa Robertson

In an interview conducted by Kai Fierle-Hedrick in The Chicago Review (51:4/52:1, spring 2006), Lisa Robertson said:

The prose poem has always seduced me—I find that the grammar of the sentence truly is glamorous to me. With the sentence it’s more of a losing myself in the balance of phrasing, in the geometry of making that balance fresh each time. I do find each sentence is exciting, even erotic. I always loved parsing sentences in grade school. I don’t do that now—though it would be fun to begin again. I relate to prose thoroughly at the level of the sentence, not at all at the level of narrative. I’m really a gentleman collector of sentences. I display them in cabinets.

Why not take Lisa Robertson at her word? A Victorian collector of sentences, the way Bolster and Swensen collect gardens and zoos, writing into display cases. Accumulation of lines that fall out of notebooks, collected there too, from archives and reworked, reordered, from one sense into another.
I NEED A GENRE for the times that I go phantom.
Lisa Robertson, “How Pastoral, A Prologue,” XEclogue
Lisa Robertson, before anything else, a poet of sentences. Again, why not take her at her word? Sidestepping genre by refusing to fall into obvious patterns. Creating new genres out of the even-older. The Weather, a book that came out of the language of weather reports, sitting in an archive in Cambridge. All the weather a library could hold.

Known for her sentences, in a landscape of poets who, more and more, exist in the pure language of sentences. Ron Silliman. Cole Swensen. Christine Stewart. Margaret Christakos. Juliana Spahr. Rachel Zolf. Lisa Jarnot. Sarah Manguso. Paige Ackerson-Kiely. The straight line. The direct statement. What is it she’s writing? Where is it she’s leading us? As Christine Stewart wrote of Robertson (and Susan Clark, Nancy Shaw, Catriona Strang and Lissa Wolsak) in “This Then Would Be The Conversation”: “In reading, we are writing; in writing we are reading, conversing, waiting, listening and no longer waiting. This is a discussion. We are around a table. we pass warmth to our left, cool glass to the right. there is a clatter of plates and implements. Our human becomes un-human as the possibilities for being extend into the furthering edges of words.”

I dreamt that Virgil mapped my lavish sleep
I read the curbs of epic lust’s derive
And there, saw myself
Lisa Robertson, Debbie: An Epic

The (deceptive) straight line. Never as simple as what she is pointing at. Phil Hall a poet of the compiled folk-fragment, Jay MillAr a poet of accumulation. Erin Mouré a poet of translation, Stephen Cain a poet of tens. Christian Bök our conceptual poet. John Newlove a poet of bare bone, Fred Wah our poet of breath’s only rhythm. Andrew Suknaski, the poet of Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan. Lisa Robertson’s sentences.
I don’t understand what I adore.
Lisa Robertson, Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip
In WITH+STAND’s “Lisa Robertson issue,” Stephanie Young writing her “Reading Report” on Robertson, on being caught by a coupe of Robertson’s sentences; run through, and run.

It’s still January, I’m getting there, I’m reading Laura Moriarty’s Conceptualisms Diary in the new issue of ON: Contemporary Practice. It is giving me a great sense of permission. I think, huh, “highly prosodized syntactic units” (how Laura has come to refer to A Tonalist writing). Maybe Lisa Robertson’s writing is A Tonalist.

Tone, without tone. Writing the sound out of words, into. Hammered, out. Further. A poem of sentences, a poetry of sentences. R’s Boat, and earlier Rousseau’s Boat. The pastoral line of XEclogue. Her greenspace, perhaps. Bordering her city of everything else.
We die and become architecture.
Lisa Robertson, “Utopia/,” Rousseau’s Boat
Soft architecture, walking in lines, whether ruler-straight, curled. Seven walks, about talking. A short exercise, walking out around Vancouver, around the thoughts in her head. Thoughts, which are never linear, straight.
Yet our city is persistently soft.
Lisa Robertson, The Weather
Sentences that distill and twist order, moving linearily back and forth, confusing the issue. What is the issue? Straight lines. What is your issue with straight lines? Not necessarily pointed all in the same direction; not necessarily all in the “correct” (so called) order. What does this order afford us? what does it give that simplicity doesn’t? A collision, collusion of sentences. We sentence these lines to a new, further life. As Lise Downe once wrote, all of these words have appeared elsewhere, but their order has been changed, to maintain their innocence. No one is innocent.
This is a history of sincerity.
The tree uses silence.
Lisa Robertson, “Utopia/,” Rousseau’s Boat
As Jorge Luis Borges wrote of Pierre Menard, who word for word rewrote Don Quixote, and thus made it new. Will this make all the difference? I am writing out sentences, across and around Lisa Robertson; what might be impossible to write through. Writing them out, again. Rewriting. Is this important?

Works Cited:

Robertson, Lisa. The Apothecary. Vancouver: Tsunami Editions, 1991; 2001.
________. The Men. Toronto: BookThug, 2006.
_______. R’s Boat. Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2010.
_______. Rousseau’s Boat. Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2004.
________. XEclogue. Vancouver: Tsunami Editions, 1993.
________. Debbie: An Epic. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1997. [Published in the UK by Reality Street Editions, 2001.]
________. XEclogue. 2nd revised edition. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1999.
________. The Weather. Vancouver: New Star Books, 2001.
Stewart, Christine. “This Then Would Be The Conversation,” Antiphonies: Essays on Women’s Experimental Poetries in Canada. Toronto ON: The Gig, 2008.
Young, Stephanie. “Reading Report,” WITH+STAND #4, “The Lisa Robertson Issue.”, 2010.

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