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Liquidities: Vancouver Poems Then and Now

by Daphne Marlatt

Liquidities: Vancouver Poems Then and Now extends a project Daphne Marlatt began over 40 years ago with the 1972 publication of Vancouver Poems. Liquidities includes a reprinting of the earlier poems – some revised and extended, some removed, some rearranged in sequence – and two sections of new poems: “Some Open Doors” and “Liquidities.” As such, the book provides a glimpse at how Marlatt’s writing – and the Vancouver she writes – has evolved over the past four decades.

The more recent works, read alongside the earlier ones, provide a kind of relief topography of the ways in which neo-liberal globalization and demographic shifts have transformed Vancouver from “Empire’s furthest outpost” to “real / estate cult.” If Vancouver Poems could be read as Marlatt’s scaled-down version of Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems, articulating her concern with the local, the new volume demonstrates how Marlatt’s understanding of the local has changed, and how her syntax and line, rooted in the rapid deviations and juxtapositions of the earlier work, continue to correspond to a “shifting context of remembered history, terrain, and sensory experience,” as she puts it.

Complicating a reading of Liquidities as a simple contrast of poems past and present are Marlatt’s ongoing concerns with the layered history of urban space, the pronounced class divisions of the lower mainland, and the juxtaposition of extraordinary natural beauty and the unavoidable fallout of a resource-based economy.

The book’s title emphasizes its water leitmotif – these are Vancouver poems, after all –  while also alluding to financial liquidity and the global flows of capital. The relatively straightforward aquatic imagery of Vancouver Poems’ opening lines – “Wet fur wavers / up a long eye-line Sunday sprays / interior city ground” – shifts to the multiple registers (pastoral, financial, climatological) of the closing lines of “Liquidities”: “Suezmax tanker traffic liquid asset runoff / liquid(i)city / ’s melt oolichan near gone / it’s warming up.”

Arthur Rimbaud’s “Car je est un autre” serves as the book’s epigraph, and if Liquidities speaks to the difference within both the writer and her city, it also attests to their continuities.