Waiting Room


Reviewed by Geoffrey Nilson

In Waiting Room, the debut poetry collection from Jennifer Zilm, form is an expression of the moment. The poems declare their identity one form to the next, in the spirit of what Donato Mancini has called, “writing at the site of writing” (34). Meaning is found not only in the subjects, ideas, narratives, or places of the poems but also in the very poems themselves, the lexical variety, forms, structures, and typography. In a word: language.

Not a coincidence then that Waiting Room makes frequent use of found materials: phrases, words, quotes, the poet’s own dissertation. Zilm’s focus is the assemblage of sources and new language — poetry at the site of the book. She plots a course through the fragments, building layers of image and metaphor, the literal layered with conflict: “Beneath amalgams there is almost always decay” (13). The poems don’t avoid the lyric, but shrug it off when it starts to feel too safe. The personal rears its head when least expected.

Still, beauty in Waiting Room is not of the traditional categorization, that of a clear image portrayed artfully and true, but in the constructions of the poetry. Yes, traditional imagery takes place in the book, but it’s de-emphasized in favour of a collision of form and content. In “Academy of Fragments,” the structures of academia come alive in paratext — the footnotes, the emails, and the erased dissertation of an abandoned scholar. But failure has still provided fragments of enlightenment — “He has proven that Syriac manuscripts found in the caves circling the / Dead Sea convey the / word blessed as linguistically identical to the word lucky” (20). These poems critique academia while employing formal aspects of the academic. In “Footnotes to the Associate Professor,” much of the poem is contained within citations. Zilm encourages readers to engage a bit more than normal in the activity of reading. She dares readers to find beauty in the leftover and the unfinished, in the margins.

This review is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Jennifer Zilm is the author of Waiting Room (BookThug, 2016), Ephemera (Guernica, 2018) and two chapbooks. She is a former biblical scholar, occasional librarian and archivist and works in social housing. She lives in East Vancouver.