Review of A Walker in the City
From Quentin Mills-Fenn , Prairie Books Now, fall 2011

Walk this way

Cook’s latest collection sets a new pace

A Walker in the City is a perambulatory text. South African-born writer Méira Cook says the volume draws on at least two of her interests: ambulation and her adopted home, Winnipeg.

Her ways of walking have changed over the years, Cook says. “When I first came to the city, I was a student. I didn’t have a car, so I walked. I walked fast and looked at the world from the corner of my eyes. That’s how I learned about the city.

But when she came back to the city, some years later, she had small children. “Now,” she explains, “walking was ambling and loitering.

“Both are ways of being a flâneur. There are all sorts of different ways of walking, different rhythms.”

Cook included these variations reflected in her book. “I wanted to write in different rhythms. I wanted to capture the rhythm of walking in the language.”

“I looked at different ways of handling rhymes. I don’t usually write rhymes. But I thought they would show the kind of freedom you sometimes have when you’re one with the world.”

The long poem tradition provides flexibility, allowing Cook to develop characters and story. “I wanted this book to be witty and fun and playful. I wanted to play with all these phantoms.”

Cook fills the book with multiple voices and forms. In the book’s pages, the reader encounters references to works by many, from Dante to Robert Kroetsch.

“One of the characters is a poet,” she says, “so he’s very well read. He has all these writers in his head, all jumbled together in his mind.” By working with allusions, Cook is “harnessing a tradition that I hope the reader will recognize.”

In the book, words breeze by as two strangers, an aging poet and a pert young woman, cross paths.

Cook describes the young woman as “this bold, braggy character” who came to her.

And these two walkers determine the shape of the book.

“It’s not my walking that dominates the book, it’s his, his unsteady gait. And her, she would not keep within the line.”

“I loved writing these characters. They track each other. In the city, but also in the mind. I was interested in how these two characters would come together in the city.”

The final character is the city of Winnipeg itself.

“This book is a love story for Winnipeg,” Cook says. “I’ve finally found my home. My real and true home. I feel such pleasure living here. I’m so delighted with this city.”

And just as a walk through a familiar place can still surprise with eye-opening vistas, writing can take a writer somewhere unexpected. Cook admits she wasn’t entirely sure where the book’s peregrinations would lead.

“I’m very pragmatic in my writing,” she says. “I turn up every day and I work hard. But the element of unknowing is there. I don’t know where the narration is going to go.”

“I know that something happens between the pen and page,” she says. “Something happens in language.”

Quentin Mills-Fenn reads and writes, mainly about books, in Winnipeg.

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