Lisa Robertson was born in Toronto, has been a long-time resident of Vancouver, spent some time in the UK and California, and for quite a while now, she has been living in France. She has been a visiting professor at a number of universities, but is not affiliated with any institution. For Robertson, writing has to do with sensing and filling a given space, and she does this in a number of ways.
As an essayist and animator behind 'the office for soft architecture', she has explored urban spaces in relation to modern art since the late nineties. 'Soft architecture' represents a way of looking against the grain: not the scaffolding or the vertical structure, but the surface you can touch invites reflection. In the same contrary movement, she ventures into the realm of the philosophical essay in Nilling, in which she sets out to describe the invisible place of reading.
As a poet she often works on a particular poetic genre, exploring and appropriating it like a wanderer in a landscape. Debbie: An Epic, for example, creates an epic panorama in which the hero of the story is neither a king nor a crusader but Debbie, 'moot person in moot place.' The protagonist may be obscure in an ironically explicit way, her ambitions aren't. As the epic demands, she wants to tell something about the world 'we' live in. That world is sensual but smart, and 'we' are thinking women; 'woman lounged on the clipped / grass, shadows and intelligence moving / lightly over their skin, compelled by / the trenchant discussion of sovereignty. Language is a physical presence here (‘nouns and nerves decay’ and a game about power (‘If Virgil has taught me anything, it’s that authority is just a rhetoric or style which has asserted the phantom permanency of a context’).
Robertson writes to demonstrate the fluidity of contexts (the weather, for example, appears as an atmospheric context in Weather) and to compel them. All her work is political and aims for nothing less than ‘[t]he feminist sky split[ting] open.’ In the world we create for and with each other, it matters who writes about who, she shows in The Men, a book as sharp as it is charming. In R's Boat she stirs some waves, via Rousseau no less, in our accepted thinking about what counts as a personal experience, and in her most recent volume of poetry Cinema of the Present she picks up on the idea of collective dialog. She presents a conversation in which two voices take turns. The pronoun 'you' jumps from one party to the other. Since the question as to who or what is exactly the one or the other remains implicit, and there is few narrative to shape the conversation, 'you' itself is the central theme. 'You' is what ties together the echoing questions and answers, the observations, imperatives and wishes, 'you' is what connects the one and the other. 'You', Robertson demonstrates here, is the space we share and ‘You never agreed with disambiguation.’
The Weather. BC: New Star, Vancouver, 2001; UK: Reality Street, 2001
The Men: A Lyric Book. BookThug, Toronto, 2006
Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip. Coach House Press, Toronto, 2009)
R’s Boat. University of California Press, 2010
Nilling: Prose. BookThug, Toronto, 2012
Cinema Of the Present. Coach House Press, Toronto, 2014