Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Entitled Interview with Jennifer Zilm

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Jennifer Zilm (photo credit: Melia Sorenson)

Vancouver's Jennifer Zilm is the author of two chapbooks and a host of award-nominated poems that have appeared in publications across Canada. Now, her full length debut has arrived: Waiting Room (BookThug), a draft of which was shortlisted for the 2014 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.

Formally energetic, incorporating everything from sonnets to footnotes, Waiting Room tackles therapeutic spaces, from psychiatry and religion to graduate school and art and asks how patience and patients fit into these spaces. Wittily observant, it's an exciting collection from a smart and engaged writer.

We welcome Jennifer to Open Book today to talk titles for our Entitled Interview series. She tells us about the 'waiting' aspect of Waiting Room, her suggestions for an awesome dissertation title, and her all time favourite titles.

Open Book:

Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.

Jennifer Zilm:

I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms and commuting. I wanted to explore what happens in appointments, in the therapeutic encounter. But then I realized I was interested in the liminal state of the waiting room and also how waiting is also embedded in the appointment itself. The whole book is about waiting — e.g. for the dentist appointment to start and then for the moment when you can get out of the dentist chair with a clean mouth. I was trying to explore how if you can just embrace the waiting you can eliminate a lot of panic. There are a lot of different rooms and spaces in the book. There are doctors’ waiting rooms, there are hallways, there is the bank of the river you wait on for your father to finish fishing, there are the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were waiting for 2000 years to be discovered. And stanza is the Italian word for room and the third section of the book Singular Room Occupancy: Cantos from Main & Hastings uses a lot of language from Dante’s Purgatory so there’s a room and a waiting connection there as well.


What, in your opinion, is most important function of a title?


For a book of poems, I like titles that have resonance throughout the entire book. It can act as a guide to the reader. And it should be intriguing. Every year I try to write at least one poem based on the titles of books I have read that year.


Did you consider any other titles for your current book and if so what were they? Why did you decide to go with the title you eventually picked?


In initial drafts it was called The Appointment. Then I had an idea to call it Waiting Room: Appointment Poems — because I like subtitles. Waiting Room just stuck and seemed to encompass more than The Appointment.


What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)


I once wrote something called “The history of redhead orphans” but the title is the only thing I can remember about it. I would like to start a cottage industry of coming up with dissertation titles. For example, "Nothing Means Nothing: Gender Performativity and 1980s era WWF: Randy ‘Macho’ Man Savage as a test case".


What about your favourite title as a reader, from someone else's work?


So many: Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past (which later was retranslated as In Search of Lost Time) was a favourite title when I was a teenager and I saw that book in the library. I like titles that are unique like Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent. I’m sort of a librarian and appreciate the fact that a title like that will never be miscataloged or mistaken for another book. There’s no need to disambiguate. I like books where the titles pretend the books or the poem are something other than what they are. So the artist Sophie Calle and the poet Steven Heighton both have books called The Address Book and Charles Wright has a poem called “The Appalachian Book of the Dead”. Anything also that pretends to be an instruction manual like Ron Padgett’s How to Be Perfect or Dina Del Bucchia’s chapbook How to Be Sad. But I also like simple titles like Anne Marie Turza’s The Quiet or Anne Carson’s Nox. I’m also a sucker for alliteration, like William Gass’ On Being Blue, The Sense of Sight by John Berger or Anthony Grafton’s Codex in Crisis or Lynn Crosbie’s Life is About Losing Everything — which is actually a quote from Mike Tyson.


What are you working on now?


I just finished a residency at the Banff Centre where I completed a draft of a poetry manuscript called (tentatively) Charismatic Macro fauna, Research Questions and Crimes of the Century. I also just finished a rewrite of In Search of Lost Time set in Surrey, B.C. — home of the girl as punch line. It’s shorter with more aphorisms and erasures and Surrey stands in for Combray, Vancouver for Paris and Sherbrooke, Quebec stands in for Venice. It’s also written in English but each piece has a French title.

Jennifer Zilm received a B.A. and an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of British Columbia and was a doctoral fellow at McMaster University, where her (unfinished) dissertation focused on the liturgical and poetic texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls. A graduate of Simon Fraser University’s Writer’s Studio and the Humber College School for Writers, Zilm’s writing has been published in numerous journals, including Prism International, Prairie Fire, Grain, CV2, The Antigonish Review, Vallum, and Women in Judaism and Poetry. Zilm is the author of two chapbooks: The whole and broken yellows (2013) and October Notebook (2015). Zilm has been a finalist for many contests, including The Malahat Review‘s Far Horizons Award and CV2‘s 2-Day Poem Contest. A draft of Waiting Room was shortlisted for the 2014 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry.

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