The Weekend Read: The Device

Fragment of Lisa Robertson The Deviceby Benjamin Spencer

I left Lisa Robertson’s December reading at the Atwater in Montreal feeling conflicted. At first listen, her work seemed tight, complex – even cold. I felt academically ill-equipped to thoroughly unpack it, yet remained uncomfortably drawn to its syntactical elegance and its deft weaving of lexicons. She did not provide a flashy or terribly expressive reading, adding a thick veneer to texts that I already found barely permeable.

I needed more from the reading; I felt the urge to disembody that voice, and to relocate it. I decided to tinker with something that she’d written. This process was enabled by the highly referential and intertextual character of her work, which thus provided multiple access points for adaptation and re purposing. The result is this sound poem, which incorporates material from Lisa Robertson’s piece, ‘The Device’, comprising its partial performance by a digital text-to-speech generator amid a post-industrial dream-scape.
As the sonic and literary elements of the sound-scape coalesced, I began to recognize a distinct charm and humanity in the poem – something I’d overlooked in my pro-active, academic first-response. There is a dream of ‘being’ that permeates this and other texts by Robertson. That dream is described by the mechanics of phonetic play, by the narrator’s clear and honest fallibility, and by the broken dialogue between referee and reference. Above all, my further readings admitted a strong and endearing undercurrent of irony. These are the aspects that I wished to represent and comment on, here.
In order to better understand any object or text, our first impulse is often to take it apart. This, conversely, was a project of reconstruction – one which ultimately led me to a deeper appreciation of a writer’s work.
A songwriter and a poet, Ben Spencer relocated to Montreal from Edmonton in 2007 in search of higher taxes and poorly-paved roads. He is currently studying Communications and Creative Writing at Concordia University.