An Interview with Meredith Quartermain, Part 4

The fourth and final part of my interview with Meredith Quartermain, whose new short story collection, I, Bartleby, launched April 23rd.

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I Bartleby by Meredith QuartermainBook Design

RS: The book cover and book design: beautiful. The cover art from your own collection, entitled “Haunted House,” by Susan Bee. I am reminded of a long ago article in Canadian Dimension about a Quebec psychoanalyst: “A human being is a haunted house!” What can you tell us about the artist and her work? How did you come to choose this painting and this particular detail? 

MQ: Susan Bee has been painting since the 60s in New York City where she lives. She is a brilliant colourist. Her works are readily available for view on-line, and I highly recommend them. I have been following her work since the 80s. Some of her early works involved the iconography of women. She used cutouts from magazines and painted around them. I found these pieces very absorbing and intriguing, and used one of them on the cover of Recipes from the Red Planet. Her work is full of wit and drollery, yet serious at the same time.

I loved The Haunted House as soon as I saw it at her opening in New York. It was a couple of years before I thought I could afford to buy it and did. I totally agree with the human as a haunted house. I, Bartleby definitely explores some of my many ghosts, particularly literary ones. Continue reading “An Interview with Meredith Quartermain, Part 4”

An Interview with Meredith Quartermain, Part 3

Part 3 of my interview with Meredith Quartermain, whose new short story collection, I, Bartleby, launched April 23rd.

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On Language  I Bartleby by Meredith Quartermain

RS: There’s a tone established here in these stories: whimsical, light on the surface, with a cadence that pulls the reader in deeper. This tone comes to me as if a fable. For instance, the first story of the first section, seems both a light drawing room piece and also, at the same time, inextricably linked to the Bible (KJV), and perhaps, Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. And of course, Herman Melville. The language of these stories is at once microscopically precise and, within that density, open to interpretation. In both style and content, one moves from the particular to the universal, and deftly! Each story in each of the five sections is but a mere handful of pages. Please comment.

MQ: You’ve certainly hit on something that fascinated me as I wrote these pieces – how to keep the storytelling voice perched on the edge of literal sense and figurative sense. What’s at stake in these stories is not so much issues like will she get her man or will she have revenge, but rather how do we make sense of humans in a world they are rapidly destroying? Continue reading “An Interview with Meredith Quartermain, Part 3”

An Interview with Meredith Quartermain, Part 2

Part 2 of my interview with Meredith Quartermain, whose new short story collection, I, Bartleby, launched April 23rd.

Read part 1 of the interview HERE.

I Bartleby by Meredith QuartermainInfluence

RS: What examples in literature, and in the world of text, did you turn to when writing these stories? I’m thinking here of those mentioned outright in titles and story-references such as Christine Stewart, Malcolm Lowry, Robert Walser (e.g. The Dinner Party), Robin Blaser, Pauline Johnson, and many others (including W.G. Sebald, of whom many speak, but I’ve not yet read)…but also those sensed beneath the surface…page-haunters, if you will: Proust, Gertrude Stein, as well as Lydia Davis, perhaps even Fred Wah, In Diamond Grill!? (for instance, in the way that the first line of each story is also, in part, its title). Syntax, chiseled to perfection, allows your stories to flow as if seamlessly from the tangle and specific to the meta-fictional and perhaps even, to the meta-physical!

MQ: About 10 or 12 years ago I discovered the work of Swiss writer Robert Walser. The philosopher Giorgio Agamben praised Walser highly, so I began reading his work, which includes several novels and many short pieces that seem to blend autobiography and poetry with fiction – playful, musing pieces, sometimes very poignant, sometimes quite poetic. Walser was also highly regarded by Franz Kafka and Robert Musil, and he has some of the same droll irony in his work as those writers. I read everything I could get by Walser, and this reading led to my book Recipes from the Red Planet, a collection of short narratives that run the gamut from prose poems to flash fiction.

The formal possibilities opened by Walser and other writers mentioned above gave me the widest possible scope for short narrative. However, more recently I immersed myself in the work of W.G. Sebald, a marvelous writer who seamlessly blends autobiography with fiction and essay. For instance his Rings of Saturn: An English Pilgrimage makes a Suffolk walking tour into an episodic novel, exploring encounters with people and places along the way, as well as historical connections to the landscape. These opened the way for the more autobiographical pieces in I, Bartleby, such as “Scriptorium” and “Moccasin Box” (which follows Sebald’s practice of including photographs counterpointing the text).

I also read the whole of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which describes itself as part novel, part essay. And yes, the short quirky narratives of Lydia Davis have been crucial to my imagination of formal possibilities. Her novel The End of the Story is an amazing blend of autobiography, fiction and metafiction.

RS: There is a vast expanse to I, Bartleby and the book is “only” 112 pages of “story.” Can you share your thoughts about how these stories took shape (their form)?  Continue reading “An Interview with Meredith Quartermain, Part 2”

An Interview with Meredith Quartermain, Part 1

My interview with Meredith Quartermain, whose new short story collection, I, Bartleby, launches April 23rd:

I Bartleby by Meredith QuartermainOn Genre

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.

On Motivation

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.