Space to Play: Lisa Robertson on Poetry and Inspiration

“I used to write shorter poems,” said Lisa Robertson, author of R’s Boat, in a recent interview on the Canadian radio station CKUW’s program Speaking of Poets, with host John Herbert Cunningham. “They just weren’t satisfying to me…I wanted more space. I wanted to follow ideas and see what they could become over time. I wanted…images and concepts and metaphors to rhyme across a wider arena. I just wanted more space to play, really.”

In the interview, she explains why she defies classification as a “language poet” and why R’s Boat is not a long poem but a unit of composition. She reads from R’s Boat and other works, and discusses her inspirations, from Virgil and the classics to meteorology.

The following is an excerpt from Lisa Robertson’s poem The Present, from R’s Boat.

The Present

You step from the bus into a sequencing tool that is moist and carries the scent of quince
You move among the eight banner-like elements and continue to the edges of either an object or a convention
And in Cascadia also
As in the first line of a nursery rhyme
Against cyclic hum of the heating apparatus
You’re resinous with falsity

It’s autumn
Which might be tent-scented or plank-scented
Their lands and goods, their budgets and gastronomy quicken
You want to enter into the humility of limitations
Coupled with exquisite excess
You walk in the green park at twilight
You read Lucretius to take yourself towards death, through streets and markets
In a discontinuous laboratory towards foreignness
You bring his prosody into your mouth
When you hear the sound of paper

C. Bergvall says space is doubt—
What emerges then?
Something cast in aluminum from a one-half scale model of a freight shed
Intrication
The slight smudge of snow in the shadow of each haycock in the still-green field
The hotel of Europe. Its shutters.
Fields and woods oscillate as in Poussin
While the vote is against renewed empire, or at least capital temporarily
Each wants to tell about it but not necessarily in language

I overbled the notational systems in transcription
And my friend was dead
What is the rigour of that beauty we applaud
(Secularly)
At the simple vocal concert?
The otherworldly swan wearing silver and white passes on into current worldliness
The steeple-shaped water bottles ranged on the conference table seem unconditioned by environments

I had been dreaming of Sol LeWitt and similarity
In somebody’s visual universe walking
In the sex of remembering
But I have not made a decision about how to advance into your familiarity
This trade has its mysteries like all the others
It is a labyrinth of intricable questions, unprofitable conventions, incredible delirium, where men and women dally in the sunshine, their clothes already old-fashioned
They can still produce sounds that are beyond their condition

Here is the absurdist tragical farcical twist
In order to enter I needed an identity
In identifying this figure of reversal
The vital and luminous project
Will measure itself against women
And this has seemed poetical
When it is the ordinary catastrophe

—Lisa Robertson

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