Boys to Men


For Lisa Robertson, writing has always been a collaborative endeavor—whether real or imagined. A Canadian author now living in France, Robertson already had a steadily growing poetry-world reputation before her collection
Occasional Work and Seven Walks From the Office for Soft Architecture (a 2004 VLS favorite) introduced her writing to a wider audience. Gathering mostly short essays on art and urbanism,
Occasional Work furthered Robertson’s collaborative approach by culminating in a series of “walks” through the city of Vancouver taken with an unnamed guide resembling Virgil to Robertson’s Dante.

Robertson’s earlier poetry frequently engaged “boys”—usually wan and effete—with an ornate form of running banter. In her latest book of poems, the boys have either grown up or been replaced by The Men. Given the focus in much of Robertson’s writing on the question of being governed, it’s tempting to read “the men” as The Man. But Robertson’s “feminism” has never had much patience for essentialisms: “I cannot condemn a man for ignorance/I cannot condemn the men. Their reason wears me./I envy no man, instruct no man, nor/Condemn a man.”

Rather than condemnation, Robertson’s ongoing response to boys, men, and their imposed strictures is an unruliness, a refusal to obey, a positing of fluid sexuality, a participation in alternative communities, and a delight in overlooked shared spaces. In this way, her poetry performs a witty and mischievous dialogue while conveying a subtle recognition that fear and even pathos oftentimes motivate the need for order: “Amazed head of a man I feed/you violets and fall upwards bleating.” In
The Men, as in much of her work, Robertson makes intellect seductive; only her poetry could turn swooning into a critical gesture.