Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip by Lisa Robertson

by Fox Frazier-Foley

Employing the timeless immediacy of a wound, juxtaposed with artifice of the sword, the illustration, and the page itself, the physicality of Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip wrests the attention of the reader.  From its bright color to the silver embossed lettering, the book itself demands attention, insisting on a margin of independence from its author by the inclusion of the author's name in the title.  This book is presenting a poet's work to you—rather than a poet proudly presenting her book. The title page bears a heavily traced-over “o” in the word “soul” (it also appears on the cover), and is followed by a blank page bearing only the impression marks of the emphasized letter, as though it had been traced through from the title page’s scribble, perhaps the ghost-like residue of the author or an absent-minded reader tracing letters while waiting for her name to be called.

The book’s mission and effect are possibly best summarized on its back cover, which reads with one word per line, “My fidelity is my own disaster,” in large capital letters and unapologetic silver print, addressing the potential for self-injury along Robertson’s chosen path of questioning, as well as a defensive posture against outside interference or disruption of her potentially self-injurious endeavor. Clearly, one’s choice to remain faithful to an idea, a human being, a system of values, or a text, is one’s own. It is something qualitative and personal. It is also, in the world according to Robertson, a complicated undertaking with potentially dangerous or damaging repercussions. Rather than avoid potential traumas, Robertson embraces them for her gain, inspiring her readers to do the same.

One might see a comparison between Magenta Soul Whip to contemporary volumes of poetry, such as Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely, which also incorporates the physical form of the book as object into the invented form of the poem.  However, attempting to find context for Robertson's work in mainstream North American poetics only limits the scope of her radical experiments.  Magenta Soul Whip manages to exist in a universe of its own making, in which Baudelaire and Lucretius both make appearances, as do Jesus Christ and the adulteress he saved from stoning, a conversational dog, and contemporary Canadian visual artist Lucy Hogg. The book teaches us how to read it as it unfolds for us page by page, although some individual pieces do this better than others, a pinnacle of which occurs in the poem, “Wooden Houses.”  Robertson’s familiar themes from previous works are visited: literature, architecture, art, and artifice; gender, sexuality, and the possibilities of language itself to preserve and to mutate meaning, to convey and to obscure reality. Magenta Soul Whip is a record of a human attempt to relate to the world around us from the vantage points of knowledge and non-knowledge, illustrating by example why this is both a worthy and daunting goal.


Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip, Lisa Robertson