I knew before I read A Walker in the City by Méira Cook that it would be unlike any other collection of poetry that I have ever read. It was described as a mystery story that is “a whoizzit rather than a whodunit,” and it revolves around a young woman and an old man walking through a city. It provides an interesting challenge to the reader as the poems carve out two narratives that in turn create themes and multiple characters for the larger narrative.
An intentional focus on the simple exercise of walking allows Cook to provide a rich feast of words, rhythms and wisdom. Each of the seven sections revolve around and flow through each other, providing an enchanting sensation of having seen each part of the city before. A Walker in the City is based on Cook’s exploration and love of her adopted home in Manitoba.
The rhythm is a delightful amalgam of the vivacious and brisk tempo of the pert young woman and the deliberate, measured steps of the old man. In this variance of tempos, the reader is able to experience the city at different speeds and levels, making Manitoba a place for both a hurried pursuit and ambling discovery.
The young woman is written by this “old city poet,” an educated and well-read writer who inserts a broad literary tradition into his poetics, smattering the text with allusions to folklore and references to the works of Nietzsche to Dante. This rich literary tradition is tangled together with the old poet’s own thoughts and appears on the page as something entirely innovative and unique.
The reader is challenged by Cook as she then adds in another character, Em Cook, a librarian and a lover, who is in turn writing the old man. This new character creates a delightful mystery for the reader to speculate whether Cook has lead the cast of characters back to herself as the author. Cook’s verse is the kind that thrills her reader’s heart and is thick with satisfying metaphors such as her walker who “slants into the wind like handwriting.” Her plot and characters are meant for her readers to puzzle over. This challenge is most obvious in the beginning of her fourth section when the narrative voice suddenly changes in a note from a fictional publisher writing about an invented writer, Felix Kaye, who wrote about a character that is the narrator of the first section. The challenge continues in the last three sections of the book as the poet who is described as an amanuensis presents an abundant array of characters and images for the reader to sort through.
To me, the beauty of A Walker in the City is that there must be deliberate reading and rereading of the collection, much like a leisurely walk through the city, taking a street many times to understand where it leads. One can breeze through the work with the restless feet of a young walker and be entranced by the delightful rhythms and metaphors, or can choose to loaf and meander through the pages, following the complexities and allusions and discovering the same wealth that Méira Cook has found in her Manitoba.
JESSICA KUEPFER is an English graduate from the University of Waterloo working and writing at Alternatives Journal, Canada’s Environmental Magazine. When she is not poring over literature, she is outside training for her next ultramarathon.