The Weather of Weeds: Lisa Robertson's Rhizome Poetics

Adam Dickinson

The tick is organically constructed in such a way that it finds its counterpoint in any mammal whatever that passes below its branch, as oak leaves arranged in the form of tiles find their counterpoint in the raindrops that stream over them. This is not a teleological conception but a melodic one in which we no longer know what is art and what nature...

— Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?

[1] In Natural Alien, Neil Evernden argues that "The inclination to tell the story of 'how the world is' seems basic to being human....We can only hope that when the story turns out to be too far removed from actual experience to be reliable, we still have the skill to return to the world beneath the categories and re-establish connection with it" (56). The emerging field of ecocriticism has consistently celebrated environmental writing that depicts ecological processes from the perspective of scientific analyses. For these ecocritics the reliable story of the world is the one told by science. John Elder, for example, emphasizes the importance of botanical and zoological familiarity with the environment of Vermont to a proper understanding of Robert Frost; Laurence Buell in The Environmental Imagination similarly argues for the importance of a "bioregionalist approach to self-education in environmental literacy" (108); Laurie Ricou encourages greater familiarity with scientific understanding in order to extend the interdisciplinary reach of ecocritical studies; and Glen Love, whom I will discuss in greater detail below, has issued a fervent call for more specific scientific literacy in environmental writing in order to be adequate to the contemporary ecological crisis. Nonetheless, how are we to judge the reliability of stories about the world? What are the consequences for any prospective environmental ethic of defining faithfulness according to the analytic methodologies of science versus the extra-logical figurations of poetic discourse?

[2] Despite the laudable aim of attempting to build disciplinary bridges between literature and science, this ecocritical emphasis on scientifically established realism has resulted in suspicion of contemporary experimental poetics. The story of "how the world is" in such unconventional texts appears to be more surreal than real, irredeemably obscured—according to some ecocritical charges—in a socially constructed linguistic totality. While scientific methodologies are indispensable for a responsible apprehension of one's environment, the argument that environmentally focused literature sufficiently represents reality by reflecting scientific stories about the world undermines the importance of alternative forms of thought expressed in the metaphorical and paratactic poetics of experimental writing. The scientific method is one way of thinking. However, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari point out in A Thousand Plateaus, our faith in a discrete and quantifiable reality is misplaced: things (objects, environments, ideas) are not necessarily substances, but assemblages; there are always "lines of flight" and "deterritorializations" (creative mutations of "territorialized," or rigidly fixed systems, that evolve in connection with other ways of thinking and becoming) that enact and express the generative openings in totalized conceptions of bodies, things and spaces. A more environmentally literate writing is not necessarily one that simply traces a single form of thought, but instead remains actively (or ecologically) open to the potential becomings of other forms, or maps, and associated deterritorialized lines of inquiry. Of course, as Evernden points out, there are dangers in pursuing what might be farfetched stories about the world. Indeed, Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge the risks represented by possible lines of flight and their potential to conflict and reinforce "rigid segmentarity" (205). However, the anxiety about deterritorialization, about opening the question of the environment as equally to culture—or, more specifically, postmodern social constructionism—as to scientific discourses of nature, is what confines ecocriticism to a narrow conception of the "reliable story." [i]

[3] In what follows I argue that despite the suspicions of ecocritics, particularly Glen Love, about the perceived social constructionism of postmodernist poetics, there are examples of experimental works that offer responsible ways of thinking the materiality of the "real" world as a "rhizomatic" articulation between nature and culture. By "rhizomatic" I mean to evoke the structural ontology of the rhizome as it is conceived and enacted in the work of Deleuze and Guattari. The rhizome is the site or event of a relational dynamic of being and becoming that does not assimilate or fuse identities, but articulates them in a connection that is also a separation, a materiality that is an assemblage rather than a fixed entity. The rhizome is not a closed metaphorical language through which to trace the contours of material properties; rather, it is the expression of an articulatory dynamic that hinges together in aggregate connections incommensurate multiplicities—literal and figural, actual and virtual, real and surreal. The materiality of the rhizome is in a constant state of becoming, opening to other divergent contexts through lines of flight and deterritorializations. As I will demonstrate, the rhizome offers a way of thinking materiality that does not submit to the prevailing model of scientific literalism in ecocriticism.

[4] Canadian poet Lisa Robertson has consistently explored issues that, as a consequence of her unconventional experimentation, directly intersect with ecocritical concerns (especially in XEclogue, The Weather, Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, and Debbie: An Epic [ii]). Nonetheless, despite recent increased critical attention, including an entire issue of Chicago Review devoted to her writing, her work has not received any sustained ecocritical consideration. I argue that Robertson's The Weather in particular is an example of an experimental long poem that exposes the relationship between rhetorical dynamics at work in the science of meteorology and those at work in the social conventions of sincerity in order to demonstrate the role weather plays in social dynamics and the role abundant descriptions play in approximating—as opposed to obscuring—the phenomenological, rhizomatic reality of the weather, and by consequence other "natural" phenomena. In addition, as a response to the archetypal "matter" of "nature poetry" itself, Robertson's XEclogue is an example of an experimental work that intervenes in the conventions of the pastoral genre through translations and mistranslations of lyrical songs, letters, and dreams in order to enact surreal shifts in imagined perceptual worlds, where bodies and things are beside themselves, beside their representational reality, in a deterritorialized space of unfolding potential. These perceptual shifts are homologous with the critique of scientific objectivity posed by one of the founders of modern ecology, Jakob von Uexküll and his emphasis on the distinct umwelt (self-world, or subjective universe) of living things.

[5] Moreover, Robertson's paratactic poetics enact the conjunctive potential of rhizomatic thinking as it is explored in A Thousand Plateaus. "A rhizome has no beginning or end," Deleuze and Guattari point out, "it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo" (25). I want to think of this "between-ness," or adjacency to the logic of beginnings and ends, as a space of exemplary potential, of becoming-other to prevailing categories. In The Coming Community Giorgio Agamben describes the "example" as a linguistic being constantly called into question because it fails in its particularity to stand for the universal. "The proper place of the example [therefore] is always beside itself, in the empty space in which its undefinable and unforgettable life unfolds" (10). This empty adjacent space, not tied to any common property or identity, is a space of pure potential, according to Agamben, where "Whatever" singularities can circulate and "form a community without affirming an identity" (11, 86) [iii]. Not only does this adjacency represent a becoming-other to prevailing categories, but the reality of the example in this case can be said to be overdetermined, or—in the surrealist spirit of André Breton—abundantly real. In the context of Deleuze and Guattari, reality is a function of both virtual and actual conditions—any action or identity (actuality) emerges from a conceptual and emotional framework (virtuality) that while not empirically present is no less involved in the event or state of affairs in question. The virtual, like the example, is beside the actual. Surrealism's recuperation of the importance of dreams and the extra-logical, virtual associations of primary process to any apprehension of reality offers a corrective to Freud's emphasis on the logical, actual interpretive apparatus of secondary process. The surreal is an event of adjacency, a rhizome that involves the real, rather than rendering it as a marvelous image or supplementary tracing. Indeed, I propose that this is the surreal or abundantly real materiality expressed in Robertson's texts. The book is not an image of the world, not a discrete actuality, but an assemblage of multiplicities that stand in adjacent relation, expressing the potential to matter (to exist, to become, or to mean) differently. All of this is to argue that the story of "how the world is" can appear to be surreal even as it approximates and involves the real, which thereby provokes us to think differently about the role of poetry in determining what and how things matter—socially and naturally.


[6] How do we judge the reliability of stories about the world? Ecocritics have long struggled between disciplinary roots in biology and environmental studies and the more culturally inflected perspectives of contemporary literary scholarship. Despite considerable integration of literary theory into ecocritical studies, it remains the case, as Jonathan Levin points out, that "for some, ecocriticism did and still does represent the possibility of stepping away from narrow and isolating textualisms, as well as from those forms of historicism that still seem driven by textualist preoccupations and methodologies" (174). Ultimately, it must be said, contemporary ecocritics do not subscribe to a naive realism; there is widespread acknowledgment of the role culture plays in inflecting the "environmental imagination," or "toxic discourse," as Lawrence Buell has argued extensively. However, the emphasis on an environmental reality supported by scientific materialism remains prevalent; which means that more experimental poetic approaches that call into question linguistic and referential concerns are often accused of being anthropocentric or hermetically theoretical. Leonard Scigaj in Sustainable Poetry argues that "it behoves us to be referentially oriented, to learn nature's biocentric, ecological logic, and conform to it" (56). Scigaj is dismissive of poststructuralism and postmodernist poetics for obscuring the real unmediated materiality of nature. With reference to poets such as Robert Hass and Jorie Graham, who he identifies as excessively postmodern, [iv] Scigaj goes so far as to suggest that "A steady reading diet of such poetry will massage our youth into a perilous self-indulgence that will also render them oblivious to the needs of nature" (58).

[7] In his recent study Practical Ecocriticism Glen Love calls for an even deeper engagement with the biological sciences and the scientific method in writing and studying literature. The biological sciences are, as he sees it, "the necessary basis for a joining of literature with what has proven itself to be our best human means for discovering how the world works" (8). Love argues that "We require the standards of evidence and rational thought to move us beyond attractive theories of unreality. Ecocriticism...should work in the direction of that spirit of rigorous methodology" (45). Postmodernism, on the other hand, according to Love, is prone to solipsism in its emphasis on discursive constructions at the expense of accepted scientific understanding (26). Love argues explicitly for an environmental writing that more accurately reflects scientific materialism; he admits, consequently, that he is attracted "to a literal—that is, scientific—ecology and to the evolutionary biology upon which it is based" (6). He sees in evolutionary theory the "one story, which belongs to everybody" (165).

[8] However, as Deleuze and Guattari point out, the story of evolution is not a single story: "evolutionary schemas may be forced to abandon the old model of the tree and descent" in favor of the rhizome, with its "heterogeneous and jumping from one already differentiated line to another" (10). This is not to throw suspicion on the theoretical foundations of evolution, but to underscore the point that the character of the story changes, the terms shift and adapt (deterritorialize and reterritorialize) as new insights challenge the totality of the closed descriptions. The problem with Love's distrust of the proliferating and competing narratives of postmodernism, and his emphasis on the single story of evolution, is the presupposition of distinctions that he claims to have already reconciled. Science and literature are not so much brought together in Love's understanding of the primacy of evolutionary theory as employed for the sake of disciplinary distinctions: writing about nature with reference to the biological sciences presupposes a division between the referential world, the book, and, ultimately, the writing subject. The book's principle concern is to tell the story that science tells; it is to be exterior to the scientific insight and to serve as a reflection, a tracing. On the other hand, the rhizome, the assemblage, as it is theorized by Deleuze and Guattari challenges this ecocritical emphasis on the objectification of the outside: "There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author)...In short, we think that one cannot write sufficiently in the name of an outside" (23). This assemblage between the book and the world is precisely what is at work in Robertson's poems. The materiality of things is not discretely determinable from the outside, rather one must have an ecological relation to matter in which, as Deleuze and Guattari point out in describing the rhizome, "multiplicities drawn from each of these orders [world, book, subject]" come to matter (23). The rhizome, therefore, undermines the internal/external dichotomy, which stands in contrast to ecocriticism's objectification of the outside in the name of scientific literalism.

[9] Scientific insights into the nature of materiality are indispensable, as I mentioned, for thinking about human relationships to the environment. However, scientific materialism itself is an assemblage of multiple discourses, dependent on images and models of interpretation in order to be made meaningful. In Toy Medium, Daniel Tiffany claims that scientific materialism, throughout its exploration of the elemental—and hence invisible—constituents of matter, has depended on an equation between images and realism. Countering this historical atomist equation between materialism and realism, the crisis of representation in quantum physics, for example, exposes the fact that "materialism is not inherently realistic" (268). Tiffany proceeds to demonstrate how "materialism in its most rigorous forms descends unavoidably into language, to a place where matter is mostly not matter, where matter cannot be distinguished from the tropes and analogies that make it intelligible (and hence secure the equation of materialism and realism)" ("Lyric" 76). In other words, what we take to be the empirical foundations of material substance are founded upon the very rhetorical constructions that are dismissed by some ecocritics. I would argue that the equation between realism and materialism is an underlying assumption of ecocriticism and its interests in the real world of nature. The ethical priority that is given to this equation undermines other, experimental poetic apprehensions of materiality that suggest a less literal approach to how we might conceive of environmental ethics.


[10] Meteorological bodies have long been part of the iconography of material substance. In fact, as Tiffany observes, "Natural philosophers repeatedly visualized the invisible foundation of matter as a kind of weather" (87). Lisa Robertson's long poem The Weather apprehends materiality in meteorological terms; however, in doing so she embarks on an analysis of the "rhetoric of sincerity" (this is the term Robertson gives to the historically shifting structure of expressions of sincerity; "nice day today, eh?" may not be understood to be particularly sincere, but it is nonetheless part of a rhetoric of social intimacy). She pursues this analysis of the rhetoric of sincerity in order to underscore the degree to which the weather, as a rhizome, becomes involved in our social interactions, and in turn, demands of us rhetorical prolixity in order to approximate the incommensurability in phenomenological experiences of the weather, and by consequence other bodies. Indeed, the questions of materiality that the poem explores have implications both for the natural "object" of gender, and the "matter" of social community.

[11] The impetus for the poem, Robertson describes in an endnote, came from a six-month stay at Cambridge that involved "eccentric research" into "the rhetorical structure of English meteorological description" (80). Her research into rhetoric, which she describes in more detail in "The Weather: A Report on Sincerity," reveals a curious intermingling between the customs of sincerity and the natural dynamics of the weather. Thomas Sprat, historian of the Royal Society produced a 1667 account of English rhetorical style designed to refine English diction to a purified economy devoid of verbosity. Sprat argued for this economy of description because it was "natural," it reflected the way the climate had shaped English intellectual and social customs. According to this clear and pointed style, sincerity was to be conveyed directly; the truth of things was to be told literally with no adornment. To paraphrase Sprat: words were to equal things. However, as Robertson explains, in 1796 Luke Howard invented a typology of clouds that eventually inspired great rhetorical excess, consuming the attention of artists and scientists alike. The elaborately metaphorical descriptions of cirrus clouds, for example, by Thomas Ignatius Forster illustrate, for Robertson, the very "process of transmutation in the clouds themselves, even discernibly within the real time of those observed fluctuations" (34-35). As an attempt to precisely describe the cloud, Forster's "cloud-sentence" [v] reflects, according to Robertson, "the need to extend descriptive grammar towards a rhythmically paratactic prolixity, when the object of description itself is in a state of constant transformation" (34). Sincerity is no longer a matter of economy, of words being adequate to objects, which is the implication of the realist position in ecocriticism. Rather, being descriptively sincere to the difficult materiality of the weather involves expansive rhetoric that is constantly in paratactic tension or motion. The rhetoric expands as an expression of real experience. The materiality of the weather is real as a consequence of its surreal, excessively figurative description, its rhizomatic assemblage of multiple lines of experience.

[12] In Robertson's poem we move about in metonymic chains of metaphors not as a means of obscuring the weather, the natural world, but of making language and description partake in its incommensurability. She turns to verbose parataxis in order to stand in relation to a materiality that is in constant flux. The "Wednesday" section of the poem, for example, makes repeated use of semicolons hinged between descriptions of meteorological phenomena and human actions:

A beautiful morning; we go down to the arena. A cold wintry day; we open some purse. A day is lapsing; some of us light a cigarette. A deep mist on the surface; the land pulls out. A dull mist comes rolling in from the west; this is our imaginary adulthood. A glaze has lifted; it's a delusional space. A great dew; we spread ourselves sheet-like. A keen wind; we're paper blown against the fence. A little checkered at 4 pm; we dribble estrangement's sex. A long soaking rain; we lift description. (28)

[13] The semicolon is the paratactic articulation par-excellence; it is the breaking and the joining of the description to its object and of the phenomenological experience to its cultural context. "We lift the description"; we elevate it, make it abundant, but we also lift and remove its singular limitations as a totalized definition of matter. The descriptions deterritorialize into specific actions (the beautiful morning becomes the walk to the arena, etc.) but reterritorialize into the repeated blending, or assembling, of action and description, which becomes the very dynamic of the poem (in other words, the descriptions reterritorialize into the act of deterritorialization itself). This is suggestive of the relationship among heterogeneous elements in the rhizome described in A Thousand Plateaus: "the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities" (10) [vi].

[14] As its own kind of intense "descriptive cloud," the poem enacts a materiality hinged between subject and object, inside and outside, human and nonhuman. The poem begins on page two (the verso); its beginning, therefore, is plural, two pages facing each other. Immediately the question of material presence is posed:

About here. All along here. All along here. All the soft coercions. Maybe black and shiny, wrinkled. A sky marbled with failures. A patterned revision. And got here about one o'clock. And got here wet to the skin. And here are houses too, here and there....And here again wisps. And here gained real knowledge. And here got into the wild. And here, too. Arrived here about two o'clock. Here alone the length. There is a bed of chalk under this. (2)

The identification of matter is not discrete. As Susan Rudy points out, "through the repetition of the word 'here' an alternate structure emerges: the relentlessness of the long prose line is undercut by another pattern building within" (219). Rudy draws attention to the fact that for Robertson reality is both a human construct and "a fact not necessarily human" (219). The complex interrelationship between nature and culture is "here" exposed. The very foundation of presence is chalk, which is the earth, as the speaker points out repeatedly: "there is a bed of chalk under this" (Robertson 2). Chalk, moreover, is the earth involved (when used on blackboards or sidewalks) in the signification of ephemeral signatures. Thus, the writing of "here," the signature of place, is transient and ever-changing. There are gaps; there is "namelessness." The thing itself, the very matter of presence, is not wholly identifiable: "The thing is not done here. The thing will not stop" (5). However, the thing does stop here—it stops, or rests in the sincerity of its abundant descriptions; in the composite landscape of its multitude of contexts. This is a key insight in Robertson's poem. Here is a materiality, an assemblage, a relational dynamic we can call ecological precisely because of its capacity to preserve difference in community, to preserve the particularities of things in their larger contextual, rhizomatic relationships. To be here is to be among others. This is not a sceptical materialism, but one open to the wilderness of its own composition. As Tiffany points out: "poetry renders the world effectively by making illusory and even impossible images of things—by rendering the world as what it is not" ("Lyric" 76). For Tiffany, the materialism that poetry depicts is a strictly discursive formation ("Lyric" 75). The paratactic leaps in Robertson's poem, however, employ language but also push against the limits of linguistic logic. Thus, Robertson's poetic materialism interrupts the matter of language itself to a myriad of extra-logical wild and delusional figurations. [vii]

[15] In "Residence at C___" at the end of the "Tuesday" section of the poem, Robertson states that her "purpose here is to advance into / the sense of the weather, the lesson of / the weather" (24). The "sense" of the weather is its employment in a specific rhetoric of sincerity. We greet each other ritually with comments about the weather that are part of an economy of greeting—the encounter with the other in such circumstances is static and objectified—the matter of community, so to speak, is dispensed with as quickly as possible. The lesson of the weather, on the other hand, is of an open materiality that is not reducible to an exhaustible description. Moreover, the lesson of the weather is that it inhabits our culture as a climate that produces us, not as static objects, but as beings and bodies in transition (springs in our steps, clouds in our loneliness, so to speak). As Robertson points out the weather is "real. It's mythic. It's wild. It's vernacular. It's didactic. It's boredom. It's ceaseless. It's a delusional space" ("Report" 28).

[16] If the naturalizing function of the weather is to make matter (be it a cloud, a climate, a culture), and if this very process involves incommensurability, then this "lesson" must interrupt the "sense" of the weather if we are to change the way we naturalize, or objectify the social and objectify the world around us. Description must be excessive in order to provide the "delusional" lines of flight that Robertson enacts throughout the poem, where things are real and yet surreal, expressing a poetic and rhizomatically ecological materiality always in transition, always open to potential re-articulation in order to subvert the "naturalization" of repressive or damaging ideological assumptions.

[17] Consequently, the materiality of social relations in the poem comes to involve wild, indeterminate meteorological dynamics. The materiality of rhetorical descriptions is similarly unhinged—the literal address will not do because it reinforces a kind of realism that reduces and assumes the direct relationship between word and matter (which is what Robertson criticizes Thomas Sprat for emphasizing). The poem is alive to the difficulty of wholly facing the other, human and nonhuman, and of assuming or conceiving of the other by way of total rhetorical description. As Robertson writes: "I'll finger / sincerity, by exemplum relate / a portrait of my luck" (25). She will describe by way of example. As Giorgio Agamben reminds us in The Coming Community, the example always stands beside the category it is meant to stand for; its reality is adjacent to its exemplarity (10). Thus, by standing beside the thing, beside its ostensible reality, by "speaking of this small / thing, repeatedly to speak of some small proximity" (25) the interaction between the self and other (human and environmental) is not a restrained rhetorical event, but one of surreal, overdetermined, rhizomatic abundance. In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari observe—in a way that resonates with Agamben's exemplary space of unfolding potential and Robertson's poetic in The Weather—that rhizomatic writing knows "how to move between things, establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings" (25). Robertson's poem, therefore, can be understood as a weather-rhizome, or a becoming-weather of meteorological bodies and of those bodies that take shape in the rhetorics of sincerity, folded between the surreal and the real.


[18] Given the anti-genealogical nature of the rhizome, its nullification of foundations (as a weed-like assemblage it cannot have an original hierarchy), Robertson's more explicit engagement in her book XEclogue with the very "matter" of environmental writing, or in this case with archetypal "nature poetry"—the pastoral genre—is less a reckoning with the particular history and origins of the genre than it is a refiguring intervention that mixes different times, spaces, and consciousnesses. Here again, the ecocritical emphasis on realism extends with some fervour to the genre of Pastoral poetry, which, despite historically relying on imagined evocations of Arcadian retreat, is still, ultimately, as Paul Alpers points out, a poem about Shepherds "speaking the real language of real men" (460). Glen Love argues that the pastoral must reflect the biological sciences in order to be sufficiently grounded in actual natural processes. Such writing has the potential to function as an "ecological reality check" because the pastoral impulse, as Love sees it, is in fact an aesthetic form of a biophysical expression of—what Edward O. Wilson famously calls—biophilia [viii] (79). As a corrective to social constructionism, Love proposes that "the new pastoral exemplified in contemporary nature writing and scientific ecology has the capacity to reel us in when we have gone too far, insisting upon our implacable connection to a nature finally resistant to our controlling and ideologizing tendencies" (87).

[19] One way of thinking this less literal approach to the environment has its seeds in the alternative and unconventional scientific methodology of one of the founders of modern ecology, Jakob von Uexküll [ix]. As Giorgio Agamben points out in The Open, Uexküll's strange, 1934 investigations into the sensory environments of organisms such as ticks and jellyfish (alluded to in the epigraph at the beginning of this article) are contemporaneous with the artistic avant-garde and deserve to be read in the spirit of such texts (39). In order to refute the notion of objectively fixed environments, Uexküll proposed that nature be viewed through an infinite variety of perceptual worlds. By imaginatively blowing a bubble around a specific creature, "A new world comes into being. Through the bubble we see the world of the burrowing worm, of the butterfly, or of the field mouse; the world as it appears to animals themselves, not as it appears to us. This we may call the [umwelt] phenomenal world or the self-world of the animal" (5). Uexküll's theory undermines the notion of discrete scientific objectivity; however, it does so not by denying perspective but by making it plural and abundant. He argues that "no animal can enter into a relation with an object as such" (qtd in Agamben 42). In other words, because objects are always subject to particular perspectives, no animal—humans included—can assume a totalized point of view. This does not mean that there is no real world, but that it is not unilaterally determinable; it is a function of a plurality of realities—surrealities, we might say. Matter, consequently, is always beside itself, composed of other, unidentifiable, wild figurations.

[20] I am using "surrealism," as I have alluded to earlier, in the way that Breton defines it in his 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism as more than real, as an abundant real. Moreover, I also want to call to mind Breton's interest in "previously neglected associations" as a way of emphasizing how surrealism recuperates marginal relationships and perspectives (26). This is in no small measure what Robertson is doing in XEclogue as the pastoral is refigured, ruptured by unconsciousness, by plant-like, rhizomatic dreams of difference. In "How Pastoral: A Manifesto" Robertson equates her project with the deliberately irrational interventions of surrealist dream-logic: "My intention is to slip into the narrative as a hybrid ghost and steal the solipsist's monocle as he sleeps and dreams of the rational future. What would the dreamland look like seen through at least two eyes simultaneously?" (26).

[21] Robertson's XEclogue is significant in light of Uexküll because her employment of the pastoral genre is pursued from the perspective of one who is trying to question perspective itself and open the systems that determine and objectify nature and women. Moreover, the poem is not a conventionally realist enterprise; the jumps between times and speakers, the blending of epistolary forms with lyric, and the parataxis of experimental poetics makes the matter of the poem itself antagonistic to closure, to definition. Robertson's poetic might be readily dismissed by some ecocritics as an example of social constructionism. However, the fact that Uexküll's alternative model of scientific thinking might also be said to be consistent with the "social constructionism" of postmodernism suggests that such attempts to inhabit other perspectives do not have to be narrowly anthropocentric; rather, they may demonstrate responsibility to the multiplicity of "things" and the way in which the nature of matter—be it gender, community, or natural resource—is not reducible to an objective account.

[22] Consistent with pastoral convention, in the ten eclogues that make up the poem, Robertson looks into the past; however, she does so not in order to recall a "Golden Age," but instead to evoke a kindred spirit to assist her interventions into the historically restrictive genre. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an 18th Century feminist writer celebrated chiefly for her letters and unconventional life, is "twinned" with the protagonist, Nancy. Lady M (as she is referred to in the poem) writes:

Ontology is the luxury of the landed. Let's pretend you 'had' a land. Then you 'lost' it. Now fondly describe it. That's pastoral...What if for your new suit, you chose to parade obsolescence? Make a parallel nation, an anagram of the Land. Annex Liberty, absorb her, and recode her. (4)

To make an anagram of the land is to apprehend it otherwise; it is to translate perspective. Translations or mistranslations (of Fourth Century songs to Venus, Rousseau's social contract, music from Patti Smith, Annie Lennox, and P.J. Harvey, for example) are ubiquitous in the poem and function as an initial poetic imperative: "I needed a genre for the times that I go phantom." (3). This is where Robertson's poem enacts the ecological theories of Uexküll. XEclogue is an anagram of the pastoral landscape in which the relationships between things are expressed from the perspective an alternate umwelt. The Roaring Boys, who appear in the poem as pastoral archetypes, as shepherds trying to outdo each other with songs, have a particular umwelt that consumes all other perspectives, that materializes the natural in a discrete way: "When a boy walks into the philosophical, he's on a private earth...Liberty stands on this bare, bare, rocky and chilly ground" (80). To be "raised as a girl" on the other hand, "was a language, a system of dreaming fake dreams" (49).

[23] By "piercing" the descriptions of the Roaring Boys, Lady M and Nancy succeed in conveying their own alternate umwelt: "We're outside the garden. A perspective extends like a green aperture through which we view another world. For a moment, all the figures have been replaced by foliage" (79). This "translation" leads to an alternate, deterritorialized apprehension of materiality, one which interrupts the privilege of the Roaring Boys by attending to and enacting diffuse and rhizomatic assemblages. It is just such an assemblage that closes the poem in the form of a catalogue in which objects are constantly moving in paratactic associations:

Day of Parked Cars; Day of Physical Secrets; Day of Consonant's Lip; Day of Lucite; Day of Black Grapes;...Day of the Theoretician of the Animals;...Day of Bitter Lupins;...Day of Physical Secrets;...Day of Verisimilitude;...Day of Flickering Flesh;...Day of Weeds;...Day of Flowerchasers;...A Bird's breath is in my throat. (82)

The catalogue, not unlike the anaphoric lists in The Weather, moves about in metonymic chains of metaphors as a means of making language enact asymptotically the incommensurability of the natural world, rather than serving to obscure it. Abundant parataxis in the poem underscores a "real" that is "surreal" because it escapes the system of verisimilitude imposed on women and nature in the pastoral. Moreover, the plurality of "days" calls attention to the different umwelten that inhabit the matters and concerns of any particular viewpoint. How does one look at the world where nature matters not as a definition, but as an articulation, a breaking that is also a joining? In "How Pastoral: A Manifesto," Robertson argues that "We must become history's dystopic ghosts, inserting our inconsistencies, demands, misinterpretations and weedy appetites into the old bolstering narratives" (23). A weed, of course, is a matter of perspective; it is a plant that is at once real and unreal, natural and illegitimate. Robertson's poem proposes a rhizomatic genre for the times in which such surreal appetites offer proximity to the real by exposing the potential of deterritorialized lines of flight to join with and yet break from the particularity of apparent identities.

[24] In conclusion, to return to the beginning, Evernden expresses the hope that when our stories turn out to be too far removed from experience, we can still re-connect with the world in a manner unmediated by categories. The ostensible "unreality" of Robertson's abundant rhetoric and her shifting umwelten in pastoral tradition illustrate a poetic materialism that expresses an ecological relationship to the world by virtue of interrupting the literal categories that reductively define the limits of bodies, communities, and environments. As Evernden points out in "Beyond Ecology," "The really subversive element in Ecology rests not on any of its more sophisticated concepts, but upon its basic premise: inter-relatedness... [Ecology] winds up denying the subject-object relationship upon which science rests" (93). Deleuze and Guattari remind us that the rhizome, like that expressed in Robertson's poetics, similarly subverts the distinctions between the book and the world—distinctions upheld by ecocritical suspicions of postmodernism in favour of literalism and scientific discourse. We are all readers of the weather, and, as creatures of climate, we are all expressions of it. Where does the subject end and the object begin? Where is the border between the wasp and the orchid, or the weather and the weeds? Robertson's poetry provokes us to consider the surreality of the matter.

[25] Rather than retreating from artistic practices that seem outwardly divorced from the referential world, it is imperative that contemporary ecocriticism turn its attention to experimental poetics, and other such radical deterritorializations, as a means of more fully reckoning with issues intrinsic to our environmental/cultural predicament. Human interference with the climate through greenhouse gas emissions, or interference with genetics through endocrine disrupting, carcinogenic pollution is, ultimately, a form of "experimenting" with the environment. To label it thus is not to excuse these activities or to somehow aestheticize them as "art"; rather, it is to argue that we need a way of coming to terms with the problem that is more adequate to the associated conceptual complexities. If we are to imagine re-articulations of our cultural relationship to the environment we must cultivate experimental creativity, refigure the lines of flight, deterritorialize the toxic corridors of human potential, and change the nature of the experiment.


[i] Others have criticized the emphasis on a realist aesthetic in ecocriticism, particularly Dana Phillips in "Ecocriticism, Literary Theory, and the Truth of Ecology." My objective is not to dismiss referential writing, or the insights of scientific analysis as they pertain to environmental writing; rather, I wish to assert the significance of a plurality of apprehensions (alternative ways of knowing) and the necessity to consider the multiplicity of details (instrumental, phenomenological, scientific, artistic) that are inevitably involved in the composite materiality of any environment. Consequently, I with to explore the ecological dimensions of experimental rhizome poetics such as those operative in Robertson's text that have so far been overlooked by the ecocritical neglect of postmodernist poetics.

[ii] In "'The Frayed Trope of Rome': Poetic Architecture in Robert Duncan, Ronald Johnson, and Lisa Robertson," Stephen Collis, while not explicitly concerned with ecocritical implications, characterizes Robertson's Debbie: An Epic as an "'epic' poem-garden" indebted to Ian Hamilton Finlay's Little Sparta garden "with its neoclassical inscriptions placed about its pastoral landscape" (159).

[iii] To approach Agamben's Whatever through the example is, according to Thomas Carl Wall in his book Radical Passivity: Levinas, Blanchot, and Agamben, "to approach an ever-elsewhere that is not absent, an ever-here that is not present" (124). To form a community of such singularities is to make material a social rhizome intolerable to the State and its dependence on categorical identity. As Agamben points out in The Coming Community, "Wherever these singularities peacefully demonstrate their being in common there will be a Tiananmen, and, sooner or later, the tanks will appear" (87). Moreover, I would propose that the "surreal" materiality of this kind of social formation is emphasized by Agamben's assertion that "Tricksters or fakes, assistants or 'toons...are the exemplars of the coming community" (11).

[iv] Robert Hass and Jorie Graham, while extremely inventive poets in their own rights, are not readily associated with what are conventionally taken to be more postmodern experimental American poetic traditions, such as LANGUAGE poetry. It is safe to assume that Scigaj would have even less sympathy for Robertson's poetic and her sympathies with LANGUAGE poetry. In an interview with Kai Fierle-Hedrick, Robertson remarks that "I don't really consider myself a Language poet. Although I would intellectually take that position in many, many, many contexts" (46).

[v] Robertson quotes Forster's "cloud-like" description of a cirrus:

Comoid tufts, like bushes of hair, or sometimes like erected feathers; angular flexure; streaks; recticular intersections of them...which look like nets thrown over the firmament; forms of arrows; stars with long fibrous tails, cyphen shaped curves, and lines with pendulous or erect fringes, ornament the sky; still different appearances of stars and waves again appear, as these clouds change to cirrocumulus or cirrostratus, which modifications also seem to form and subside spontaneously, in different planes, and with the varied and dissimilar appearances of flocks at rest, fleeces of wool, or myriads of small specks; of long tapering columns like the tail of the great manis, or of mackerel back skies, or of striae, like the grains of wood. (qtd in Robertson "A Report" 34)

[vi] The act of reterritorializing into deterritorialization is also suggestive of Deleuze and Guattari's conception of "the nomad" in A Thousand Plateaus (381). "Nomadology" and the rhizome are interrelated concepts inasmuch as "the life of the nomad is the intermezzo" (380).

[vii] In Vis à Vis: Fieldnotes on Poetry & Wilderness Don McKay theorizes "Wilderness" as "the capacity of all things to elude the mind's appropriations" (21). For McKay, the hinge that metaphor represents between the linguistic and the extra-linguistic is an expression of and encounter with wilderness. For a more detailed discussion of McKay's notion of wilderness and its implications for thinking poetic materialism in the context of the environment and ecocriticism see my article "Lyric Ethics: Ecocriticism, Material Metaphoricity, and the Poetics of Don McKay and Jan Zwicky." Canadian Poetry 55 (2004): 34-52. Robertson's paratactic combinations in The Weather (not unlike McKay's metaphorical articulations between divergent contexts) are extra-logical linguistic relationships that, in light of McKay, can also be considered expressions or events of wilderness.

[viii] "Biophilia" is the theory proposed by Edward O. Wilson that attempts to explain human tastes and preferences from an evolutionary biological perspective. Wilson defines biophilia in his book of the same name as "the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes" (1). For example, our hunter-gatherer instincts explain general preferences for living or settling on open prominences with a view of water (110).

[ix] Uexküll also figures prominently in the work of Deleuze and Guattari. The discussion of the umwelt of the tick is explored in What is Philosophy? as an example of "a melodic, polyphonic, and contrapuntal conception of Nature" (185).

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