Vancouver Walking is dedicated to Peter Quartermain, the husband of Meredith Quartermain, a poet who, among other things, edits a literary website called The News and co-owns Nomados Literary Publishers, which published Lisa Robertson's Rousseau's Boat in 2004. Vancouver Walking, Quartermain's latest book, is about walking around old sections, streets, alleys of Vancouver BC, a sparkling city that's caged by black mountains. Quartermain is not a flâneur, which is what one might expect from a person whose book is about urban ambulation. The flâneur in essence is apolitical and ahistorical. He simply stares at the city, and does not try to change it or interpret it. The ultimate moment of a 19th century flâneur is to pause on a bridge and stare for a few moments at Paris. And the pace of the flâneur is dead slow, unhurried, indifferent to time and money. According to Walter Benjamin, "In 1839 it was considered elegant to take a tortoise out walking. This [was] the tempo of flânerie."

Peaceful and contemplative walks produce the "fruits of idleness" (impressions, vague sensations, suggestions). This short passage from Proust's Swann's Way is an excellent example of idle walking: "...without definite attachment to anything, suddenly a roof, a gleam of sunlight reflected from a stone, the smell of a road would make me stop still." Quartermain's walks are dynamic and result in the complete opposite: the fruits of labor. Not just her labor, the energy she expends visiting this or that neighborhood. But the labor of others, the labor of men and women who are in the present, and the near and distant past. "We built this city on rock 'n' roll," sang Jefferson Starship of a city they loved; Quartermain's Vancouver is built on what Stetsasonic once called "blood, sweat, and tears." She writes: "...terminal city/commercial drive/Engine five-five-20 and seven-oh-63—/spewing diesel—goading the train/600 Chinese killed in the Fraser Canyon—/landslides, careless dynamite,/scurvy and meager tents—/300 corpses along the banks of the Fraser and Thompson/sent to China for proper burial..."

Vancouver Walking opens with a quote from Lisa Robertson, who in 2003 left Vancouver for the capital of the 19th century, the capital of flânerie, Paris. The first part of the quote: "Description is mystical..."; the second part of the quote: "...It's afterlife because it's life's reflection or reverse." As a whole ("Description is mystical. It's afterlife because it's life's reflection or reverse"), I can't get to the proper meaning of Robertson's statement because its first part is stable but its second part is destabilized by vortexing "or" between "reflection" and "reverse." The passage however makes sense in the context of Quartermain's walking poems, which are usually structured in this way: She comes across a stable street (Hastings Street, Arbutus Street, Dunsmuir Street, Frances Street), describes it ("gas station, public school, Owl Drugs & Post Office/Sandwich Farm. Lattes./lunch counter tacked on the back of the building/anything you can sell to keep going"), and then in a swirling vortex instigated by the forces of history and economics, the streets' façades, storefronts, columns, concrete crumble like the madeleine in Marcel's mouth: The past becomes present, the present becomes the past, the "afterlife" becomes "it's life..."

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More Quartermain: "...stopped at dumpsters, dead mattress and computer/drives, streets, avenues from history/all thick forest when Israel Powell got in 1877/everywhere trees, underbrush/home to ravens bear deer/the sea invisible—sea-less/now shorn skin down Victoria's drive to the grain silos/orange steel cranes gawking at blue-grey mountains/the gate-way to the pacific..." Each street is filled not so much with the crowds that enchanted the 19th century flâneur—the crowds in Charles Dickens's late London novels, in Edgar Allan Poe's mad short stories, in Charles Baudelaire's satanic poems. In Vancouver Walking information crowds the street, historical facts and economic data rush toward you. The beauty of the poems in Quartermain's book is the beauty of information.

The collection ends by leaving Vancouver for Seattle (by bus), and then the rest of the West (by train—Coast Starlight). Quartermain radiates outward, to Tacoma, to Eugene, to Reno, to Denver. And the further out she goes, the thinner her poems become. They lose the terrific density of her city, Vancouver, which does not have a stone, a wall, a drive that is silent about the bloody, moneygrubbing past.