By early June, I lost speech.
What about the conceptualized trees?
What about the phosphorescent sexes that took my strength away?
I wanted narrative to be a picture of distances ringed in purple.
Then I wanted it to be electronic fields exempt from sentiment.
Then I wanted it to be the patient elaboration of my senses.
The section that these excerpts are from, UTOPIA/, is a heady continuum of arresting phrases, separate yet strung together by a non-narrative, philosophical arch that approaches a quasi stream of consciousness. Robertson capitalizes the beginning of each line, the majority of which end with a period. Lines are double spaced except between stanzas, after which there are three spaces before the next stanza commences. The overall architecture of the section—and of the entire book, in that case—is like that of an edifice with few walls and many windows. Sentences hover through white space, space which becomes as essential as the text. Punctuation is sparse and never unexpected, acting only as fermatas through which the jouissance and liquidity of each phrase detaches and attaches itself to the next.
This fluid quality of the poems must have something to do with R’s Boat itself, the vessel of Rousseau which Robertson has used both as a muse and a sounding board off which the patina of her text reflects. Rousseau, in his Reveries of a Solitary Walker, describes floating directionless in a lake, perceiving the flickers of his consciousness at one with nature’s patterns of light, water, sound and foliage. His writings featured a focus on subjectivity and self-examination which would greatly shape modern philosophy. Yet Robertson is not a philosopher in the literal sense, she is a poet, and therefore these poems are archival and at the same time autobiographical, mapping out the experience of daily life in a method that relies on collage and a certain morphological layering.
The cell which Robertson layers, manipulates, and ultimately has her way with is of course, the sentence. “It is always the wrong linguistic moment/So how can I speak of sex?” she writes at the beginning of A CUFF/. In that first sentence is the only question mark in the entire twelve page poem, which does not contain even one period.
And if I degenerate into style
It’s because I love it very much
All week long
Like a first thing
Like a technique or marriage
Where conditions are incomprehensible
Thus satisfying the narrative of the body
It is interesting to note that she writes of narrative when the poem seemingly is devoid of a conventional narrative itself, and more remarkable that she writes of it in juxtaposition with the body. The aura of this poem is somewhat sexy, but faintly clinical, as if from a biology student’s point of view as he dissects anatomical parts from the whole. I believe that this dissection is key to Robertson’s work here. It is widely known that Robertson gleaned text from sixty of her personal notebooks in writing R’s Boat, yet her aim was not confessional, but rather to create an “autobiographical book that was not self-referential.” Therefore the sentences are like amputated extremities of a whole, an odd assemblage of parts that is not imbued with the innate pulsation of a narrative or coherent body but which rather finds its embodiment in its fractured, indexical quality. ~WSW