Poetry News

'Everything will be a hormone': Klara du Plessis Reviews Lisa Robertson's 3 Summers

By Harriet Staff


Klara du Plessis reviews Lisa Robertson's latest book, 3 Summers (Coach House), for The Rusty Toque. Recalling Robertson's note to Charles Bernstein that 3 Summers is less a "book as a unit of composition" and more a poetic "grab bag," du Plessis writes that the collection is unified by its "key words, thought processes, creative involvements and concerns [that] repeat, pulse, loop back and insert themselves persistently into the texts, and ... by the emotive artwork by Hadley+Maxwell that appears throughout." "For me, 3 Summers as a book-length work comes together to articulate a cohesive, poetic feminism: 'the total refusal of each existing narrative of femininity' ('The Middle'); it incorporates fleeting rewritings of myths, reappropriations of derogatory terms, and fluid, nonlinear glimpses of form." More:

A major concern throughout 3 Summers is the reversal of the traditional dialectic division between intellect and sensuality. Robertson topples the philosophical entitlement of mental exertion and the scientific prerogative of linearity on its head. She embodies thought and infuses creativity with the rigor of cognition, reversing the established dichotomies, embracing the possibility of a collaboration, an oscillation, between intellect and the senses instead. This book opens with the poetic speaker “lying in the heat wondering about geometry / as the deafening, uninterrupted volume of desire / bellows, roars” (“The Seam”). Immediately, there is not so much a juxtaposition as an inclusion of a highly abstract form of mathematics and the pulse of arousal. “Now it’s time to return to the sex of my thinking” (“The Seam”), Robertson writes, projecting the coexistence of intellectual stimulation with physical pleasure:

“I made my muscles into thoughts.” (from “A Coat”)

“Research as pleasure.” (from “Toxins”)

“Cognition in the room
felt like sensuous human activity” (from “On Physical Real Being”)

An offshoot of this valorization, or intellectualizing, of sensuality is an ongoing project throughout 3 Summers, which takes the form of an ideology of hormones. Traditionally, hormones go hand in hand with an excess of emotion, the irrational counterpart to logic. The hormonal is often a depreciatory code word to diminish female experience in a vague, offhand way—oh, she has her period, oh, she’s pregnant, oh, she’s menopausal. Robertson channels the uncontainability of hormones or the nondefinitive, fluid context of hormones away from their negative connotations, embracing its ubiquity and allowing it to suffuse her text. The omnipresence of hormones throughout 3 Summers is a fine counterexample to the supposed “grab bag” structure of the book; hormones periodically slip into the poems as a thematic thread running through them. The reader would be hard pressed to escape from hormones as they reside in and progress through the poems, and the promise lingers that “Everything will be a hormone” ...

Read it all at The Rusty Toque.