cover image Cinema of the Present

Cinema of the Present

Lisa Robertson. Coach House (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-55245-297-4

Reviewed by Alex Crowley. In this non-linear, self-referential book-length poem, Canadian-born poet and essayist Robertson (Magenta Soul Whip), who currently lives in France, asks, amid a host of queries and interrogations, %E2%80%9CWhat do you believe about form?%E2%80%9D From the beginning one must be prepared to %E2%80%9Cmove into the distributive texture of an experimental protocol,%E2%80%9D an initially disorienting procession of questions, observations, and images advanced by Robertson. The work%E2%80%99s use of non sequitur is reminiscent of David Markson, as is its invitation to readers to draw their own connections between the poem%E2%80%99s major themes%E2%80%94description, memory, prosody, alienation, and gender, among others. Robertson%E2%80%99s lines, in alternating roman and italic text, flow unceasingly, without overt indications of breaks or stoppages, perhaps providing a response to her question, %E2%80%9CHow else do you construct a pause in cognition?%E2%80%9D Many lines throughout the work are repeated once later in the poem, though never at any regular interval and always with the text style transposed. This shuffling exposes the banality of d%C3%A9j%C3%A0 vu, how shifting the context changes the nature of expression. Or, as Robertson writes, using the language of epigenetics, %E2%80%9CYou are a position effect.%E2%80%9D Is her poem, then, a kind of internal dialogue? Perhaps, and, if this is the case, it underlines her question, %E2%80%9Cwhat is the subject but a stitching?%E2%80%9D Addressing the self%E2%80%99s perpetual conflict over which desires take prominence (%E2%80%9CThere%E2%80%99s no logic to what organisms demand%E2%80%9D), Robertson even wonders, %E2%80%9CTo whom do you speak?%E2%80%9DOne can with more certainty call Robertson%E2%80%99s poem a magnificent testament to the eroticism of thought, one where %E2%80%9Cthe enjoyable gland also dribbles its politics.%E2%80%9D The specific gland to which she is referring remains obscure, but that%E2%80%99s partly the point: she%E2%80%99s hinting at the sexual while keeping the door open to an exploration of the physical body more generally. In this way, her primary concerns find their expression in tones and textures that are quintessentially Robertsonian and reveal how desire is intimately entwined with the self%E2%80%99s coming into being. %E2%80%9CThe way you practice emergence,%E2%80%9D she declares, %E2%80%9Cis through longing.%E2%80%9D So, if the irrationality of tension within the self demands a synthesis, then, %E2%80%9C[y]our new skin would be prosodic%E2%80%94that is, both esoteric and practical.%E2%80%9D Amid all this %E2%80%9Cbrutality of description%E2%80%9D%E2%80%94which, for Robertson, %E2%80%9Cis the traversal of this infinitely futile yet fundamental and continuous space called the present%E2%80%9D%E2%80%94the %E2%80%9Ccinema of the present%E2%80%9D becomes that ever-passing surface of time, the sheen of a moment in the description of that moment: %E2%80%9CBy means of description, a whole profound mass of time became your milieu.%E2%80%9D A social environment thus enlarged serves one of Robertson%E2%80%99s explicit goals, that %E2%80%9CFeminism wants to expand the sensorium.%E2%80%9DThis book%E2%80%94which will feature four different back covers designed by artists Hadley + Maxwell, emphasizing its status as an objet d%E2%80%99art%E2%80%94defies review, instead demanding engagement, conversation, and multiple rereads. It may not be a great place to start for newcomers to Robertson%E2%80%99s work, but fans or those who simply relish getting lost in a sea of thought will discover almost infinite depths: %E2%80%9CIf you speak in this imaginary structure, it%E2%80%99s because other choices felt limiting.%E2%80%9D (Oct.)