Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cinema of the Present

When I was in college my creative writing professor told me that "poetry is not to be 'understood' -- it's to be experienced." Lisa Robertson's Cinema of the Present is a mesmerizingly excellent and unique experience. Reading the second person lines that make this long poem, it feels like something is happening.

The "you" of the poem had me feeling like I was being directly addressed, like the speaker was intensely focused on me in this way no one else has been or can be. It was like being a locked chamber of narrative but also like a house of narrative mirrors. I mean all this in the best way, of course.

Cinema of the Present is made entirely of interspersed lines, one in regular text, one in italics. It is not clear if this is meant to represent different speakers in dialogue. That is how I first experienced the poem, but within ten or so pages if felt like one speaker in slightly different voices. A sort of echo-self.

Every single line of the poem is amazing and can stand on its own. What makes Cinema of the Present is the way these lines stand on the page as stark statements at the same time that they interweave and form a complex fabric of language. The poem to me did not have any sort of narrative arch, but there was a building internal momentum that increased in intensity, particularly as some lines were repeated. My take on this is that the poem is its own present, with no beginning middle or end. Just a pure happening.

I'm going to quote a section, but do remember I found just about every line extremely good and very quotable. So much of my book is underlined:

"Thus your data shimmers.

Then sleepiness came link an incision.

You wore the dress as payment for entrance to the symbolic order.

There will be a period of exuding, celebrating and cheering.

How does it look?

Then there will be the unknown period, the one you do not wish to represent.

You're in a life-facing position,

Then you are occupied by a question.

You're fierce, then you're tired."

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