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Dirk Does Dallas

By Rebecca Wolff

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:

Comments (11)

  • On July 16, 2009 at 11:28 am Jordan wrote:

    Great Tallis article. I like also your tentative exploration of the social field in which certain books and authors — the popular kids — are more heavily recommended than others. I can’t be the only one to want to read your insights into how that field works.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 11:30 am Michael Theune wrote:

    Intrigued by your comments about Robertson’s book, Rebecca, I’ve looked up what I could of it online… I wonder if you’d be willing to identify and say more about the images in the text that seem to rise holographically from the page.

    I’m interested in the capacity of words to pull off this kind of feat (one of the reasons I love Elaine Scarry’s Dreaming by the Book, a great work of literary criticism that examines how powerful images are created in language), but I didn’t see a lot of this in Robertson’s work–what I saw was more language delivered with a very (even, dare I say it?, intentionally) flat affect, a la Michael Palmer.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 11:46 am Henry Gould wrote:

    Wanted to second Jordan – yes, thanks for link to Tallis article! More needs to be said about the determinism of the brain-explainers.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm michael robbins wrote:

    OMG you have to read her previous books, esp. Occasional and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture & Debbie: An Epic. Um, & The Men.

    Btw, the title of Robertson’s book is actually (awesomely) Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 12:06 pm Travis Nichols wrote:

    If you put that book next to Tan Lin’s Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe, what happens?

  • On July 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    you look for a mop.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm Clay Banes wrote:

    Rebecca, let’s split up. You read The Weather (I urge you), I read The King, and we meet back up again in a fortnight.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 7:36 pm Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    I can’t believe I didn’t register that. It adds a frisson of ultra-cheesiness.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 7:38 pm Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    Sounds like a date. I’ll bring the bitter radicchio, you bring the sour vinaigrette. Chewing makes things sweeter.

  • On July 16, 2009 at 7:55 pm Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    That sounded like it was meant to be really heavily metaphorically laden, but really it was total nonsense. What I meant to say was: If you’re reading The King, shouldn’t I be reading Clay Banes’s hidden or not-so manuscript? How does that date work otherwise.

  • On July 17, 2009 at 10:30 am Rebecca Wolff wrote:

    I’m afraid this is my hallucination, not yours, and cannot be further explicated, except perhaps to say that the phenomenon I experience is probably more akin to Emily Dickinson’s I think famous declaration that she sees auras around words? auras around words in combination? I can’t find this anywhere on the internet which may mean that I actually hallucinated it myself. Here’s a poem of mine, since we seem to be sharing poems in this venue, in which I at the very least refer to it:


    on the rainy
    road to daily

    Returned at last
    to an elevation
    from which inflation

    (Words as visions)


    offers a reprieve from
    the “community.”

    Do those words seem special to you?
    In light of Emily Dickinson’s aura
    and the room in which she labored.

Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, July 16th, 2009 by Rebecca Wolff.