Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lisa Robertson, _The Weather_

ONE CAN LAZILY slip into assuming that avant-garde practice automatically means confrontational, transgressive, shocking, and so on, but Robertson's work goes to show that it ain't necessarily so. She can be tough-minded (see The Men), but she forgoes jaggedness and hectoring and instead calmly, gently (but authoritatively) puts you in a place you do not remember ever being in before. Some psychedelics slap you upside the head, turn you inside out, scour you...others just take you there. Robertson just takes you there.

The Weather (2001) has seven prose (well, at least unlineated) sections titled after the days of the week, each section a few pages long. Sentences and phrases recur with small variations, images and rhythms repeating, but not exactly... quite a bit like the weather, actually, in that any day's weather is quite a bit like other days' weather without being perfectly identical to that of any particular day. Each section is its own climate du jour. From "Monday":

Bright and hot. Flesh and hue. Our skies are inventions, durations, discoveries, quotas, forgeries, fine and grand. Fine and grand. Fresh and bright. Heavenly and bright. The day pours out space, a light red roominess, bright and fresh. Bright and oft. Bright and fresh. Sparkling and wet.

Succeeding days bring new observations, sometimes breaking into assertion--"When you're on the sea, nothing else is happening" ("Thursday"), "Pop groups say love phonemes" ("Saturday")--the assertions breaking up and forming new wholes, new weathers, as the day goes along.

Between these prose sections are six poems, or six sections of a poem, called "Residence at C---," which is braided with diary poem, sometimes offering explanatory commentary ("My purpose here is to advance into / the sense of weather, the lesson of / the weather"), sometimes additional observation ("The sky is / mauve lucite"), sometimes additional assertion ("Who's / the King? Not I").

"Residence at C---" both creates form for the book, simply by not being the diary poem while being in dialogue with it, and illuminatingly comments on the very idea of form: "Sometimes I want a corset like / to harden me or garnish."

Hmm. Is form a hardening, or is it a garnish? Does it chemically transform the substance of the content into something more enduring, or does it simply decorate the surface? Robertson goes on--

as the domestic emotions elucidate
themselves a sea of mist
exists so strangely side by side
the potent mould of anarchy and scorn.

What common ground can there be between that sea of mist and that potent mould, the one seeking but to wander and expand, the other eager to contain and shape? And yet--"so strangely"--they do co-exist. Weather seems to be pattern and chaos at one and the same time--people, too, for that matter, and perhaps poems too--at least the good ones, like Robertson's.

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