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And poetry can also be sculpture, or at least more like sculpture than it’s like conversation. Lisa Robertson’s Monday , from her collection The Weather, is a poem that defies immediate analysis, although even the most perplexed reader will still be able to state a few givens. The poem repeats words and motifs. The sentences are short and declamatory. There is no apparent narrative structure. These observations do not “unlock” the poem, but they present a case of the poem as a language object. This gives the reader insight, to some degree, into the process.
But examining what is being repeated leads to a collation of ideas. Belief repeats. Two-stage depictions of something repeat (“Fine and grand. Fresh and bright.”) A pastoral landscape is depicted in fragments. Is this an ideation of Paradise? Is this a series of free associations detached from their sources? The reader of the book takes in seven prose poems and seven more traditional poems. Many weathers appear. Many fragments of history, of reading, of emotion, appear.
The poet, having asked us first to experience the poem as a language event without any support from her, then tells us about the process: “The Weather took shape when, wanting to make a site-specific work during my six-month stay at Cambridge, I embarked on an intense yet eccentric research in the rhetorical structure of English meteorological description.” She gives us some sources. Wordsworth. Shipping forecasts. Academic explorations of dew.
Does it “explain” the poem? No, but it brushes dust off the motherlode and the poem bursts open into a phenomenological exploration of something present in the everyday. It’s a collage. It’s a list. It’s a meet-market where ideas intermarry and produce shadowy offspring of association and insight. It may frustrate or bewilder. Or (as it does for me) open up a whole new range of expression, something unique that feels, at the same time, related to the world I’m familiar with. This is poetry, something only our species does, using this project called “language” to help us keep waking up to the new.
–Michael Redhill. This column originally appeared in the Globe & Mail.