Never the Less: Walking Poems by Gillian Jerome

This delightful volume not only is green-covered but feels evergreen. It is rooted specifically to a place, Vancouver. It conveys snapshots of walks. Luminous moments are set within a clear-eyed chagrin, as in,  “Demolition, the trope of this city’s/history. I sit myself down” (‘Walking in Strathcona’, p 27). She seats herself in the troubled history of the place, not only the beauty. The disparity is set within the vibrancy of people in the park, each on their own trajectories,  [kids] “dump buckets of water on each other./A man sharing the bench with me smokes a joint./A woman chews on a chicken wing.//Further on, a boy carries his cat/half the size of his body/homeward—”

“What makes the book distinctive is that the poet is not a distanced anthropologist alone in a crowd but part of the community.”

Note in ‘Poem for Fraser Street’ (p. 26) it is for the street not from or about. She pulls out precise loving details as if a Lonely Planet guide to home. For instance, the bus stop with ladies “with umpteen bags from Save-On-Foods/their swollen feet hanging out of sandals”. The saturated colours and bright light is so vivid you can hear the wind rustle the plastic shopping bags. The poet’s eyes embrace “Over yonder a man asleep// on the sidewalk holds a half-eaten pork bun in his hand.”

She doesn’t obscure or brush over the scene with a label of ‘homeless’. She sees a man, safely asleep, with the next meal already secured.

The poems relate or relay to us, concrete tangible relatable worlds. For example, in

‘Poem for May 2020’ (p 64-67) “listen to the neighbour/going bonkers with his pressure//washer the neighbours—so aloof!—/are finally talking to each other”.  I love that pointing to the neurotic suburban pressure behind the washer propelling the cleaning.  As with many of these graceful poems, this poem ends on a high and unexpected sustained note. “We lay down in a /meadow together// spoon the night sky—” Although the content is good, it’s phrasing and pivots like this that bring the book to the next level.

Unexpected but logical turns occur such as “there in the woods/buttercups appear/the colour of childhood” in ‘These Seasons We Wander’ (p 74-76). That poem is like others in the book, a series of fragments without feeling fragmentary. A poem series strings along beads of attention. are sunlit moments marked by yellow and red that gives a focal coherence, whether the poet is tying together cedars dying with roots crushed, marginal pop of buttercups, a child with yellow hair or autumns of climate change.

All the poems are from the middle of it all. What makes the book distinctive is that the poet is not a distanced anthropologist alone in a crowd but part of the community. Not an outsider or voice for others but transcriber and interacting such as in ‘Walking One Spring Evening at Trimble Park’ (p.25) where she’s chatting with a neighbour who herself sits on a bench where she can talk with people. She and the author make space for interaction and the random element that is other people. It’s not writing in a constrained silo. Doors and windows are open. The text gives the sense of not authorial conclusion but open-ended hope and continuity.

See also  The Tempest by Ilona Martonfi

Poems are in plain speech but not prosaic. Grounded in a self-soothing balanced perspective it reminds me of the quiet details, cosmic reach and clear language of Monty Reid.  It is a book that is utterly re-readable. In ‘Poem for Grief’ (p. 40-43) she declares “What is ordinary saves us.” and “feels a tender kind of potentiality”

Never the Less is a case demonstrating that you don’t have to invent a new species and planet to do world-building.  Whenever you write you select what to keep for your world and to suggest others do the same.


Gillian Jerome is a mother, writer, and teacher who lives on the unceded land of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, land and water she is grateful for and responsible to. Her first book of poems, Red Nest (Nightwood Editions, 2009), was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and won the 2010 ReLit Award for Poetry. She co-edited an oral history project, Hope in Shadows: Stories and Photographs from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008), which won the 2008 City of Vancouver Book Award. Recently her poems have appeared in Hunger MountainNew Poetry and Geist. Having taught literature at UBC for two decades, she is turning her attention toward teaching language arts to Vancouver teenagers.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nightwood Editions (April 30 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 96 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889714126
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889714120

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