In her latest poetry collection, 3 Summers, Lisa Robertson manages something exciting: she captures the visceral quality of embodiment—and its corollaries like desire and materiality—while offering those experiences to reader through the meditative filters of language.In Robertson’s poems, the body is something lived in and something thought about simultaneously, and is further linked with the contouring structures of language and discourse. 3 Summers is an exciting book because it represents an embodied poetics, that feeling that “[w]e were always running away from our bodies and then we weren’t” (28).
This sense of the body is present from the beginning of the book. The opening lines of “The Seams,” the poem that opens the collection, grounds the reader in a particular body in a particular moment: “4:16 in the afternoon in the summer of my 52nd year/ I’m lying on the bed in the heat wondering about geometry/ as the deafening uninterrupted volume of desire/ bellows, roars mournfully, laments/ like a starling that has flown into glass” (10). The specificity of the first line situates and grounds the image in a comprehensible space while the second bridges the sensual quality of the heat with abstraction of geometry. Abstract or analytical thought happens in a body and always happens in a body. What may be the most important part of this passage, however, is the invocation of desire. Throughout the book, Robertson evokes desire, but, as is the case here, does not necessarily resolve it. It remains a constant force, but these aren’t love poems and there is no reason to seek relief from desire. The significance of the reoccurring fly that crawls along the page of a book, whose presence causes the pages to quaver, is that it connects “The Seams” with Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems where the speaker observes two flies making love on the ceiling, In Webb’s poem, the pleasure of the text is not necessarily in the expression of desire and the lover’s embrace, but in the chaos of wanting, the recurring and visceral desire for the absent. Desire foregrounds the body, it is strange and awkward and exciting for those very reasons. Robertson’s use of unresolved desire—like Webb’s—does not explain the body, but describes it. As she writes in “The Middle,” “Next I realize that all along it’s been my body/ that I don’t understand./ I just have to describe what it means/ supernatural, negative and sexual/ and blooming on one side. It’s fierce and then/ it’s tired” (62). The body is discernable, it can be described through the senses or the wants of desire, but it resists complete understanding. The body in Robertson’s poems is knowable but resists reduction to thingness. This is what makes it productive space for this book.
3 Summers is an exciting book to read. The text is littered with beautiful Steinian flourishes. The quality of language in this book alone is worth the price of entry, however, what makes this book is Robertson’s approach to the subject matter. As a book length work of experimental Canadian poetry that considers the body, it calls to mind bpNichol’s posthumous organ music. While organ music is a fascinating and beautiful book—its opening line is among the best written by a Canadian—3 Summers is more fully realized as Robertson isn’t synecdochal and remains fully present. Robertson’s book lingers with you after you read it, never fully finished with you. This is perhaps the best reason to read it.
by Lisa Robertson
Coach House Books, 2016, 118 pp, $18.95
Dr. Ryan J. Cox has a BA and MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor. He has also earned a PhD in English Literature from the University of Minnesota. His writing has appeared in Canadian Literature, English Studies in Canada, Arc Poetry Magazine, Carousel, and The Windsor Review.