RS: This book of stories seems to draw on multiple genres. Can you share any thoughts on your experience as a poet, essayist, novelist, writing in the short story form? Any particular surprises? Challenges? What drew you to the short story as a means of expressing the themes in this book?
MQ: I generally don’t rigorously divide the genres because I think the most interesting things happen around their edges, where one drifts into another. I’ve always been attracted to lyric prose and poet’s prose. Early on, that of Gertrude Stein, then Charles Baudelaire and Fernando Pessoa but also Francis Ponge, Georges Perec, and the essays of Michel de Montaigne. In Canada, the prose of Gail Scott and Lisa Robertson.
Narrative comes in many forms, not just that of conventional hero/heroine driven fiction. Narrating the no-man’s land between our flimsy categories has long fascinated me. In Nightmarker, I shifted away from lineated verse and into lyric prose. Recipes from the Red Planet extended my prose narratives to explicitly work with action and character.
Then I wrote a novel, Rupert’s Land, which works very conventionally around a storyline with crisis and resolution. That was challenging. I had to let go of poetic associations and think rigorously about characters as forms of consciousness, ways of thinking through deeply felt issues, how tensions and conflicts emerge and resolve between them.
After that I needed to write things that took less than five years to complete! So I returned to short forms of narrative, but whereas Red Planet was a collection of occasional pieces with some thematic connections, I wanted the pieces in I, Bartleby to interconnect in a more complex weave.
RS: Were there key events or moments in world history, local politics, or your personal life that acted as pivots or founts, anvils or doors?
MQ: Vancouver has a history of iconic poetry conferences, such as the one in 1963 involving the “New American poets,” and the 1985 Poetics Colloquium featuring the “Language Poets.” The 1985 conference was a real turning point for me. For the first time, I heard writing that connected with the way language occurred in my thoughts, writing that exploded forever the narrow confines of anecdotal confessional poetry. Nicole Brossard was one of the important prose writers I heard there.
But even before this my husband Peter’s investigations of US poets such as Charles Olson and William Carlos Williams, both poets whose work focused on multifaceted exploration of place, had shown me paths into my own passions.
Mapping the ground we dwell on, defamiliarizing its everyday solidity, making visible its controlling histories, is a central concern in my novel Rupert’s Land and many of my poems about Vancouver. A lot of what drives my work too is my shock and dismay at human neglect of all that supports us and gives us life; the patriarchal capitalism that values earth, air and water as nothing, that values little the job of caring for others, that chisels labour to as low a wage as possible…
Stay tuned for Part 2, forthcoming next week.
I, Bartleby is now available at http://www.talonbooks.com/. Cover image featured with permission from Meredith Quartermain.