Thursday, October 02, 2008

Meredith Quartermain's Matter and Nightmarker

The third of a longer sequence of works that includes Abstract Relations (Vancouver BC: Keefer Street, 1998) and "Space" (published as Spatial Relations, Boca Raton, FL: Diaeresis, 2001) is Vancouver writer and publisher Meredith Quartermain's collection Matter (Toronto ON: BookThug, 2008), but one of two trade poetry collections she has out this year. A 28-part sequence, it extends a series Quartermain has been working for years, in-between various of her other projects, including the publications Terms of Sale (Buffalo NY: Meow Press, 1996), Gospel According to Bees (Vancouver BC: Keefer Street, 2000), The Eye-Shift of Surface (Victoria BC: greenboathouse books, 2003), trade publications A Thousand Mornings (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2002) and Vancouver Walking (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2005) as well as the collaborative (with Robin Blaser) Wanders (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2002). How does she work her way through such matter, such abstract physicality?


Each word, a theory of everything
speaking to how it is ―
how it is cloud or sap, ichor or ether,
how it is succulent that earth is not air,
earth is not water from the true legs
of culture on which we stand ― that we are here
to be true in vapors, as true the same
showing true between, and gathered at night
to be the true and the untrue always
the humour of us, elastic, fluid
sounding what listens. Ripple of Chinese
in the street. Zag of a saw in the hand
of a carpenter. Bird peep
from fir branches, the pouring of tea,
a day's beginning. The touch of bellies, arms,
breasts, naked, have matter and must be
the idea of mattering. The why of a thing
does not matter ― Man's structure is animal,
volatile, speaks of purpose, use,
but for who? for whom?
is this grammar of pigeonholes?
Wonderful though it is that mail
arrives in its niches. In hydraulics
the Greek thought of water-organs
a way of blowing the sea through
Pan's pipes. Borne in mind
in the life of each.

Her second trade poetry collection out this year is Nightmarker (NeWest Press, 2008), a follow-up to her first poetry collection with the same publisher, Vancouver Walking. This is Quartermain marking her territory, writing out the geographies of her Vancouver, poems written out of long walks, and years of personal knowledge. This is Quartermain writing days spent walking, and sometimes sitting in library archives, digging through history. In Nightmarker, Quartermain writes "Geo, Vancouver," who is (according to the back cover), "Geo, an earth-geist, who struggles to comprehend humanity's siege of Earth while enabling us to examine the human condition, bound as it is by the drive to evolve, multiply, and simply exist." Part of what makes this character interesting, through this series of letter/poems, is how it also references George Vancouver, explorer, managing to reference Vancouver writer George Bowering's own piece from the same material, George, Vancouver (Weed/Flower Press, 1970), writing his own self-titled "discovery poem" through the explorer, himself and where they both exist in some of the Vancouvers that have existed over the years. How does one book link there to the other? Quartermain even has a sequence running like a thread through the collection written by (possibly) the explorer that her coastal city is named after, the "Discovery at Sea" poems, ending the third with:
Your steadfast and humming servitude,
Geo, Vancouver

With two trade collections on Vancouver the city, what is Meredith Quartermain working to accomplish? This is "discovery" from an alternate angle, writing from both the insider and outsider points-of-view, each counter-point to other, struggling through the binary of what a city is made from, and what it becomes.

Nothing goes faster than the speed of light. Except bolts of thought for centuries unveiling. Or not. Thought forgotten wavelets wiggling out past Menkar and Deneb. Nose of a whale, tail of a hen. Draw lines in the sky, to perch on with Cheshire smiles. Flip, flop, hang by a claw in dark energy. Two billion with less than $1 a day.

Thought seeks thought. Or not. Thought tangles into giant thinking: telescopic, microscopic proboscides. Unstoppable. Six billion mouths. Progressed beyond all previous epochs of human mouths. Flow-through in the brain that's thinking everything. Whizzing thoughts around in words' infinite flavours of quarks. Or names of beavers.

What do we know besides hunger and the uses of hunger? Humans build nests as birds do, make concerts in the way of cicadas and frogs, and damn up rivers à la Castor canadensis. Listen to the tail-slap on the pond, the whistling and buzzing of gravity, dark repulsive gravity pushing the universe apart, dark matter bending the paths of stars. Climb beyond trails, tracks and shadows, beyond trial by peril. to foresight and the scaffold of use.

Outside these, only care ― find some way to care.

From my iron core and granite eggshell,
Geo, Vancouver ("Discovery at Sea 10")
If not for the works that include Matter, Quartermain's publishing would give the impression it was all writing geography, instead of geography being one of a series of threads her writing explores. Any great writing works its way as an ongoing series of explorations, and Quartermains' does exactly that, working not just through geography but physicality, through both concrete examples and philosophical considerations.
Dream House 1 Centennial police museum. The old Coroner's Court. Roman-arched window and moulded lintel over the door. Inside, police are plugging jacks into a switchboard. No, just manikins at work. Upstairs chained off. No one's around, policing remembrance of police past. Yellow do-not-cross tape marks off chunks of masonry on the floor. Large hole gapes in the ceiling. Past cordoned area, man in blue on phone wants to get particulars. Around him, walls are full of boards full of fabled badges. Letters, newspapers, green garbage sacks litter 1940s metal desks.
[Meredith Quartermain reads as part of the ottawa international writers festival with Monty Reid and Dannabang Kuwabong, hosted by Rhonda Douglas, on Saturday, October 25, 2008]

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