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   Jacket 33 — July 2007        link Jacket 33 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Jake Kennedy reviews
The Men
by Lisa Robertson
69 pgs. BookThug. Paper. Toronto, Ontario. 2006. 0973974257 $16, CND

This review is about 6 printed pages long.

A Lyric Comportment with Succulence:
Some Notes on Lisa Robertson’s The Men

‘The grandfather fortifies aquariums belonging to a young girl otherwise known as Mom’  — Carla Harryman from ‘Foreword’


- Is it a circling back to return to fathers? Or to men generally? I’m not sure because Stein was always there, at least, at the beginning of The Making of The Americans pulling a couple of boys by their scruffs—it seems that nowadays there is more space and romance to wonder about the wicked marvellous ones (aka The Dudes).


- I read The Men as blithely preoccupied with turgidity, squirt, and empires of their egos. Lisa Robertson (matador) side-steps irony and thus illustrates how one might undermine and long at the same time. It’s a pretty amazing li’l lean book.


paragraph 3

- The Men: a lyric book
(the men: a liar book [men lie])
The mean
The me
Men in reverse are almost new but really only nem(esis).


- (Men Deft Men)


Robertson inherits (from Stein’s Tender Buttons to Doris’s Paramour) a prodigious sense of humour and a penchant for taxonomical language.


That the potential of men is [hold on this]...


that they, perhaps, might inspire real poetry. And Robertson is apparently playing with the scandal that they have hidden—up till now—their sexy muse-ness. Robertson is feeling (sensate) some of the men all over:


Each man—I could write
His poem


You will find that the men have cocks here ‘pink tip of their thing’ but also are conceptual recognitions. Then The Men as telephone wires or/and any old/new technology that connects many discrete but necessarily interwoven routes of desire. What I mean to say is that she discovers that men and women, during fucking, exchange their designations and all identities become stupid as strict genres. Thus, because so many people have fucked so many others, this is why you (a culture) need to create telecommunications systems: ‘What we refer to as men is any / Communication’.



- Steroids and Postmodern American Male Poetry? Some men’s blogs?
What are hormones?
Does size matter?
Why are the men (Today I had my 750, 000th visitor) so obsessed with statistics?



- Lisa Robertson’s men are funnier than Anne Carson’s (until recently, “she lived in Canada”— according to the blurb) because she addresses them (‘I address men’!). Robertson dies in this romance as a way to take the genre with her: just as ‘angry’ as Carson but the Rhetoric is wonderfully needful in terms of dialogue: a talking to... and thus beyond any simple binary... salutations. Her ‘spurious craving for men’: to talk out a poetics of men as The Men involves a funnyness about the men: their floppy wankers embodying the ‘funny pathos of men’; this book is like a saucy Lycidas? I’m not sure yet. But this book can be a drinking buddy that ends up slapping you in the head. Which I—at least—need.



- I believe that much of The Men is preoccupied with how big chunks of language are physically shared. Sensuality/materiality of the talk: men exist, eh, and often in women’s mouths (non-crude/non-pig phrase, i.e. an ideological speaking of the man’s words) so that there is a dire infra-mince (when the words reek of the oppression that exhales them). I love it exceedingly, she says: that is the Stein mystery/the tease of political desire. The ‘it’ and the adverb which means all fucking will go on and yet she is radically hip to the problems of the it (who names it? why? in order to sell what product and to protect what hegemony? ... I am going to call it ‘hege[men]y’.)


-In this cataloguing of men (a history/epic: counter-to-Debbie . . . What about Debbie? Pastoral ass-kicker?): also a strategic self-declaring as ‘I am shady and terrestrial’ in which Robertson illuminates the dark continents (whatever) with such effulgent, irreverent light that she barely needs any other subversions. All of this ‘lighting up’ tends to make glossy the otherwise matte commonsenseness of culture. So much so (so effectively) that ‘Men’s commands are laminated’ so it is very difficult to take the words away (sealed under plastic). This is how law works in poetry (which is waking life); and this lamination is violent and purposefully silly.


-The reference to Debord somewhere is there (for me, at least) in order to détourne détourners and to see the laminations (even well-done ones) as fish-hooked in between quotation marks. Men are enjambed in this book (this they deserve) which makes a reading of men constantly or contiguously. Men act like line-breaks. (The men look broken, line by line, but these hard returns are flows—she shows.) Therefore—my thought is—don’t trust them much!)


-‘Psychic life of pigment’ made for me the gestures of skin or paint that make up a Lucy Hogg – pointing at not only the performances of power but their dependence on image. Thus what the men have ([is] a house) such as it is: a block structure thing that they point to and go into and own. Women have the interiorities (not just this but).


-Robertson’s The Men is a loving cutting inventory: this is the way to excoriate privilege: feel Woolf sounds [this sound is the whisper of a sabre being raised]. Yin (however) and Yang! There is a deliciousness apparently for LR in this gender distancing: this lyric makes the lyric naked and embarrassing, as it should: if we really want to confess then here it is : no fakery trumped up as bodies but sweating men, larches, men, plain men.



- Rilkean men too and so this lyric book (who is she kidding?) sings: if the men turn towards me what are the rights of my solitude? Adrienne Rich talks about writing furtively (on scraps) in the early days. Where are the rooms? Here framed is a crux of ars poetica /crux poetica: note the collective legion pluralized men turning and the individual Lisa agent: in this I hear a détourning of Rilke against the turn of men: her solitude is more than just self-ness as artist, it’s also a gender solitude (often ashamed uncertain) but longing to find escape into a oneness?



- ‘all men seem to think’ [from Harryman ‘The Male’: ‘Do I think, said the Male?’] truncating this sentence [‘all men seem to think’] shows what Stein showed: sentences hold step-by-step powers. Hilarious. Also the Men are substitutions: could, as a proper name, be replaced with The Boners, The Third Legs, The Screwdrivers, The Power-Towers... so The Men are a rock band and we feel a little sorry (a lot sorry) pathos for the Rolling Men. Keith’s tongue, Keith’s jowls, Keith’s throat skin. men are so stupidly static that they end up changing everything. ‘i fear life will change’ [why not just say what happened? Marvellous!].


-An elegy for the unchanging changing men of sorts, life must already be changing: good riddance, but said in a husky, longing way. Sad little boys adorably framed in blue sky they are boys and this is a dismissal but one that gathers them and them puffs them back into the air: sweet explosion of the Men as they are made of meat but also old dusty flower ingredients.



- (‘Evening Lit the Gnat’)


-Furthering of I hate speech to I gland speech: inside transparencies or passion there is the Johnson/junk/python/something-to-cripple-your-sister of the men, wiggling in our faces (‘a man could learn a lot from conchologists’)—to be taught to be the men is shown in The Men a mirthful extension of Butler’s psychic life to show the performing of men-ness. All The Men lick the conch on Survivor when they are not being watched. They are being watched. We see their devil eyes in the night-vision: a green licking. That is the men that could learn. And –‘this is where I speak from the false mouth of the man’/ this is poverty.


-LR’s incessant interest in what the men have done, removed, or augmented with respect to poetics; again I accept this fever of a theme as evidence that LR wants us to see the desire for falseness (how the men have established a world of self-love of love-love—they are very adorable, very belligerent). ‘This is our passion to speech.’ When we speak concoctions of desire? Hydromel? ‘ejecting men’? I [she?] calls it hydromel? Juice names a syllable on my face—ejects/ejaculates the men-truth having to do with wet gifts/ LR’s bleating ‘I’ falling up to a ‘You’: kind of terrifying in that her ‘A Lyric Book’ makes you wonder how much of the beauty she wants to be read as violence and vice versa.


-I have no right—ever?—to even overhear some of this—do I? ‘I Laura I Hazel’: the names of women as The Women to testify to a poetry that is replete with real bodies. Yet, she says that ‘as much falsity as I can use, I carry’ so I must explore spuriousness/ The men are not true and therefore the women must be carrying fictions.



- There. Now. The men are concepts. Of course this declaration is a gloss on the book itself. Men never was a concept before. Obscurely the men are preamble [I like this because it proves that we are going to walk right beyond the men even if we are admiring them too]. What? What? What? Insistence of a grouping/taxonomy that revels in ongoingness [a lyric book like Stacy Doris’s “conservative” book apparently flags the formal knowingness of the manuscript: but these are not descents, regressions or retreats and therefore of course the joke on the men and other paramours is that declaring the lyricism/conservatism is to banish both—charmingly (in the sense of magic).]


-Let’s get down to that admiring, as the body does it with other bodies. -trashfuck or hydromel/ prolix. Summation of prolixity: the text knows that clear prose is also not feasible.


-they have an electric fan rubbery mastery occurs to me—finally—that this green book could make a fine rejoinder to the Green Box. As Duchamp (original Girly Man) details and anatomizes his agricultural machine (the bride rendered mechanical-vegetable a la rubber leather fakery of Given) LR returns the favour to the chocolate grinding bachelor. Stripping the célibataires also required/s wedding the technical argot with the everyday slop-sounds of desire. Desire is therefore neither a science nor a quotidian ho-hum: we must continually keep doing it as a middle living.


-it is amazing that any men are Buddhists



(‘A Record’)


-Diane Williams’ story: masters of the universe, the stink of men even boys-before-men same odour here (LR: ‘I’ll be their glamorous thing and then I won’t’).


-Litany of men, wry apologia!


-Formality of speech ( I dare not/there is a physiognomy of men/I cannot condemn) of a man archly proper; I (LR’s?) makes 17th Century sounds and not an easy ironic ventriloquism but an entering into the ‘reverence of speech’ as men have spoken it/recorded it throughout history; here the sound of ‘I dare not’ halts us into feeling (again) the performance of words in their particular histories.


-Wondrous migraine of that task: attempting to understand the truth of them that have wielded so much fiction—using representation to get at what’s behind representation, Robertson (wondrously) wrestles and admits to submitting to appearance until ‘real pain crowds my real head’—so for me this failing opens up at least one body that we can read as real and feel that suffering... which is good.


-The concept of the men is elastic (erotic stretch muse subject).



(Of the Vocable)


-Checked-in perhaps to Cohen’s I am a Hotel but simultaneously we ride with her despair; she cannot or has not advertised it as such saying ‘inside the men are people.’ They are tiny and going about their business. Or inside the façade there exist ‘real men.’ Are they real people? We know that ‘the men are as mysterious as art’ and that this book is malediction, valediction, middlediction. How else to speak about men’s health and ‘the little teeth in their passion:’ as homage-like as it is she has mastered them, honour and desire


-she honours/desires both their honour and desire but sends-up both too.





What is the/a speech? LR says, ‘a lyric comportment with succulence’ but also ‘how boring and fascinating the men.’ What does rhetoric get you? It gets you ten men named Phil and Jeff (Hundred Brothers?); a permanent revolution; and some wild horses. So, yo, what are the men for? To have or to be—I can’t make up my mind.

Jake Kennedy is a poet and he also teaches in the English Department at Okanagan College, British Columbia, Canada. He has published a chapbook of poetry, entitled Hazard, and is currently co-editing (with artist Paola Poletto) a book of contemporary graphic poems.