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Dirk Does Dallas
Have you yet read Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip? I haven’t, fully, due to the previously mentioned feelings of deep inadequacy my first foray brought up. I picked it up and read umpteen pages, and then skimmed the rest, flipping it like a flip book to see how the texture of the language makes an image rise up, holographically from the pages. I AM going to read it, for real, soon, O reading, posture of stillness and the eyes darting, and the experience of reading it will be much bigger-better-faster-quieter than the experience of talking about it–not so different from theater, really, Joel, I think: to some extent, you have to be there. And maybe there’s the dynamic and distinguished difference between poetry and criticism/response to poetry. Not to say that poetics or writing about poetry or thinking and feeling about poetry is necessarily not describable as poetry, but maybe at least for me there is somehow a qualitative difference in the experience of reading it. Or maybe that’s bull-hockey and all letters in arrangement on the page are permissive in all the same way. Or maybe it’s totally true, quantitatively, and a team of neuroaesthetes have measured synaptic charge during reading experiences and thusly determined what qualifies as poetry.
There’s a few (two, really, with a changeable dozen others) poets whose work has enduringly done this for me, and I’ve always felt safe mentioning them when anyone asks me who I particularly like to read: Marjorie Welish; Clark Coolidge. In reverse order, chronologically; The Crystal Text was my high-school discovery, at the Barnes & Noble on 17th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City, which I believe has the dubious honor of being the very first Barnes & Noble EVER, while Marjorie W’s colossal abstraction was inhaled, perhaps an anodyne, along with the agri-businesslike sickness of the air at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the early 1990s. I’m really talking about agriculture, here, you know. I wonder which workshop leader at the moment was hot on that beautiful book The Windows Flew Open.
And, I confess, I’ve read none of Lisa Robertson’s previous several books, all of which have been heavily recommended to me. This is kind of a common situation for me as a reader of poetry: I think something like “I know it must be really good and it will wait for me; I’ll get to it later than everyone else. If people stop talking about it or recommending it to me then I’ll know it wasn’t really that good and I didn’t need to waste time seeking it out, forming an opinion of it, etc.”
I’ve long been excited by the blandness of her name, though: Lisa Robertson! It’s so white, generic, suburban, so Simpson-esque/Cleaver-esque, though she be not American but Canadian. While the language and affect is declamatory and incantatory and synthetic and ultra-civilization (yes, that’s an adjective. “The Dogs of Dirk Bogarde” is the name of one poem. Fag-hag hag in me perks up.). For my last trick, off-stage I will divine the agenda or ideology governing the language or at least dictating who mostly reads it. Let’s go read this book all together now: