Lisa Robertson talks with me about her new book, Cinema of the Present, and its form; rethinking lyric and epic poetry through feminism; experimentation and/or subjectivity; prose versus verse; the persistence of beauty, pleasure, and the aesthetic; early connections to the Kootenay School of Writing; living bilingually in France and the bubble of monolingualism; soft architecture; writing essays for visual arts publications; and seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. Close Listening is produced for Clocktower Radio in association with PennSound.
Lisa Robertson’s epic, nothing-quite-like-it Cinema of the Present reads and screens like its title. I daresay it is a textual film. On paper. But moving. You often hear about “poetic” or “text-films” but on film. But what about the opposite? Films on paper. After you’re done reading it you will feel like you’ve just watched a film. The images will come back to haunt and unhaunt you over and over. You’ll remember and then you’ll remember you just read a book, not a film.
In the summer 2012 issue of n+1, Nicholas Dames has a pretty good essay describing how contemporary realist novelists of what he calls the “Theory Generation” — educated in American universities after 1980, steeped in deconstruction and poststructuralism — have been “thinking back on their training.” In their novels (including The Corrections, The Marriage Plot, The Ask, A Gate at the Stairs), “contemporary realism has its revenge on Theory” by treating it, in bildungsroman style, as one of the educational “follies of
Liz Howard was born and raised in rural Northern Ontario and is currently a poet and cognition research officer in Toronto. She is co-curator of the feminist reading series AvantGarden and graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing from The University of Guelph. Her chapbook Skullambient (Ferno House Press) was shortlisted for the 2012 bpNichol Chapbook Award.
In a post-riot-grrrl world, it’s hard for those of us who were too young for the theoretical debates of the eighties to understand the amount of collective cognitive labor that was required to move us from feminism’s second wave to its third. We easily take for granted the radical cultural shifts that had to take place for Kathleen Hanna’s emergence on stage with the word ‘slut’ written on her belly to be seen as a populist punk feminist act, until we are kindly reminded otherwise.
In October of 2000, Lisa Robertson presented along with Steve McCaffery at the seventeenth episode of PhillyTalks. She read from a then-new work, The Weather, just a few months before the book’s publication by New Star in Vancouver (2001). Here are the segments from that 2000 reading: “Monday” (2:10): MP3; “Tuesday” (7:06): MP3; “Wednesday” (2:14): MP3; “Thursday” (6:38): MP3; “Friday” (9:16): MP3; “Saturday” (4:02): MP3. The book-length project, organized as such by days of a/the/every week, was in part stimulated by the poet-researcher’s experience during a six-month Judith E. Wilson Visiting Fellowship at Cambridge University: as a non-local, she found herself listening to late-night weather and shipping reports on the British radio, discerning there and elsewhere a specifically localized language that seemed abstract and was yet radically precise.
Lyn Hejinan writes in The Book of A Thousand Eyes:
“The bed is made of sentences which present themselves as what they are Some soft, some hardly logical, some broken off Sentences granting freedom to memories and sights” 
If a bed is made of sentences, then we take rest, converse with the unconscious, locate freedom, the intimate, night, dark, gestational silence, the forming of images and ideas — all within what can be built from an assortment of varied sentences. Sentences become our increment, lumber, and leisure.
Lisa Robertson writes in her recent book, Nilling, “The most temporary membranes serve as shelter.”
What is it about the sentence that encourages one to stretch out?
I started thinking about Rita Copeland's book in remembering my experience in 2009 with Chus Pato and a few younger translators and poets in Galicia, translating poems out of English and into Galician, on Facebook! First, some Wallace Stevens—poet Oriana Méndez had felt on reading WS in English that the Spanish translations she had earlier read were inadequate—and as there were none in Galician, we made a couple. Then I turned to “Wooden Houses” by Lisa Robertson, which originally appeared in April 2005 in Jacket 27, and later was included in Lisa Robertson’s Magenta Soul Whip. Just wanting to share Robertson's work in Galician. Chus Pato helped me immensely in my task.
“Wooden Houses” was written in Vancouver, Canada (forests, rain, a country of wooden houses), and became “Casas de madeira” (forests, rain, a country of stone houses), thus transferring not just the poem but the very materiality and vernacular of “wooden house.”
The Perfume Recordist scents herself into sounding and sounds herself in scenting.
The Perfume Recordist is an encounter between Lisa Robertson and Stacy Doris across countries (Canada, USA, France), across senses and perceptions, across technological devices, across kitchen tables.
The Perfume Recordist field records, manifests, performs.
The Perfume Recordist is not interested in the fallacies of origins and the intrinsic essence of things but in the layered odour of momentous existence, in the whiff of an ear, in the noisy bouquet of a city’s undergarments.