Rousing earth to excel (PoemTalk #153)

Daphne Marlatt, 'Arriving'

From left: Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah, Meredith Quartermain


In January 2020, Al Filreis and the PoemTalk team traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, where at the home of friends Richard Cook and Lucy Oh Cook they met up with Meredith Quartermain, Fred Wah, and Daphne Marlatt to talk about Daphne’s poem “Arriving.” The discussion was witnessed by a lively live audience and was filmed. The unabridged video is available here below and also on YouTube. Chris Martin expertly engineered the sound, and Zach Carduner graced us with his talented camerawork.

“Arriving” was published in 1981 in the book titled Here & There. It seems to have been written during — and in any case is about — a summertime gathering of artist friends and others in the Kootenays in July 1980. Here & There is dedicated to “my fellow swimmers.” And “Arriving,” the first poem in the group, bears a dedication reading “for Fred & Pauline,” and they would be Fred Wah and Pauline Butling, her hosts those summers — both present at Lucy and Richard’s home. The poem records Daphne’s nine-and-half-hour journey from the city of Vancouver to that remote haven in a steep mountain valley, and in its lines we sense a body in motion, the rushing occurrence of the environment, an “ambushing” of the natural, and a sense of being seemingly always on the way, or a towardness.

Typically for PoemTalk we play a recording of our poem from the PennSound archive, where indeed Daphne Marlatt has an excellent author page. But as that page did not yet include a performance of “Arriving,” we asked her near the beginning of the PoemTalk recording to perform it for us live — and that she did, with remarkable lucidity (as Fred immediately observes).

The text of the poem is available here. It has also been included in Intertidal: The Collected Earlier Poems, 1968–2008 (Talonbooks).