Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer


Volume 34, Number 2 (2009)

The Afterlife of the City: Reconsidering Urban Poetic Practice

February 23, 2010


What does it mean to write the contemporary city? More specifically, what role does the poet play in cultivating or reconfiguring an urban imaginary? Two Vancouver-based poets respond to such questions: Lisa Robertson in the essay-poems collected in Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, and Meredith Quartermain in her poetry collection Vancouver Walking. Both poets establish a strong connection to that traditional domain of the urban poet, the street, but they also reconsider the role of the poet as street-level observer. This role has been conceptualized most famously by Walter Benjamin, who associates the urban poet with the ragpicker and the practice of bricolage. Robertson and Quartermain are clearly invested in the tradition of the poet who explores the fringe and forgotten spaces of the city, gathering and telling marginalized stories; but they also query the poet’s position in such spaces, interrogating the aims and impact of their work and resisting the reduction of the arts of urbanity to trend or “lifestyle.”