Poetry Muse: Meredith Quartermain + Lullabies in the Real World

Meredith Quartermain and her collection Lullabies in the Real World (NeWest Press) make up today’s Poetry Muse feature. Read how the collection is in part a conversation with other poets like bp Nichol and hear Meredith read “Styx” from the book.


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An interview with Meredith Quartermain

1. Who or what is your muse?The mountains, forests, and streams of the Kootenay Lake valley where I grew up. The spirits of places.2. What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing?Lullabies in the Real World began with notes from a cross-continent train journey west coast to east coast. The title comes from bpNichol’s poem in The Martyrology: Book 6 recording the same crossing. I researched the history of places along the way and framed poems around them, trying to come to grips with the terrible legacy of colonization. Some of my poems dialogue with bp and other poets.3. When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?In my teens I was jotting poems, but I didn’t get serious about it until my mid-30s, after many other career adventures. My first poems made it into print in the mid-90s. The tactile sounds of words always interested me, as well as the rhythm of syllables and the way sense works best when it’s in sync with the rhythm of an utterance. I was fascinated by intensely rhythmic work in writing by Gertrude Stein and by Canadian poets Fred Wah and Daphne Marlatt. Whenever I began writing, I became enthralled by rhizomatic links among words and phrases that came through half-rhymes and echoes of rhythm.4. How would you describe your poetry collection?Travelling across the continent by train, the poet finds herself in a patriarchal colonized world that constantly erases her and many other beings and communities. It is also a world she knows only through the language of colonizers. Styling herself Odyssea, she seeks to undo the patriarchal epic of nationhood and to undo the British Lit conventions that colonize her thoughts. The poems invoke forgotten histories of the places crossed out and crossed through by the nation-building railroad.Three Words to describe the collection: Railroad. Undoing. Odyssea.5. What advice would you give to aspiring poets?Read your poems aloud and listen to their rhythms. Pay attention to the stumbles and glitches. Revise. Avoid saying anything you’ve heard somewhere else. Invent words you’ve never seen. Put away your poems, read them aloud three months later, rewrite. Repeat.

A poem from Lullabies in the Real World: “Styx”

across the great flat ancient silted sea
I set out for a dead monarch
a continental pelt
the coureurs des bois
and their trading posts
coureurs des morts
epic Canada proclaims
her oil, lumber, potash
her Canadian Forces Base
and third largest stampede
at Wainwright
V.P., Grand Trunk Pacific
the dead knit grave-lace
the dead portage
Fish Creek, Battle River
Frog Lake, Batoche
poem mutters
wheels and wains
what current curves
through what
unworded –
bubble, gurgle, babble,
those humans sang
never outtalking
vagabond river

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Meredith Quartermain’s Lullabies in the Real World was shortlisted for the Alberta Book Publishers’ Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry. Vancouver Walking won a BC Book Award for Poetry, and Nightmarker was a finalist for a Vancouver Book Award. Other books include Recipes from the Red Planet; I, Bartleby; and U Girl.

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During the month of April, you can buy Lullabies in the Real World and our other featured Poetry Muse books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with the promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!Keep up with us all month on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryMuse. And catch up on the rest of the Poetry Muse series here.