canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Human Resources
by Rachel Zolf
Coach House Books, 2007

Reviewed by Joanna M. Weston

This book blurs the edges between poetry, the printed page, the monitor, and the reader. Zolf rages at the clichés that form common usage in business and news media, spoofs the way words are wasted and over-used.

In ‘Start here’ Zolf says

The job is to write in ‘plain language.’ (sic) No adjectives, adornment or surfeit of meaning nuclear increasing (w1269). All excess excised save the discrete pithy moment. Sonnet’s rising eight lines, sublime orgasmic turn, dying six: perfect expenditure. Brisk stride along the green green grounds, sudden dip, ha-ha!


This, while fairly straight-forward, links language to time, to poetry, to cost, to golf courses: the scene is set to take aim at business’ casual use of language. On the following page, Zolf says ‘We’ll have to wrap our heads around clear as mud I would like to move the goal posts.’ (p.5)

From there on, she shreds expectation of where any sentence might go, turns images on their head, and metaphors inside out, leaving meaning lost on the journey. If anger is the route of her poetry then she is the poet stuttering, spluttering to communicate her rage, in the throes of an incandescent fury: ‘My head’s spinning in reverse 360’s just to close the loop with you.’ (p.7) ‘I’ll prepare a strawdog on double character do you want to litmus test it I extracted all the communication.’ (p.21)

Take the book with a pinch of salt, a laugh, and sit back and enjoy someone else’s anger:

Orwell says freedom and democracy bloom from plain speech. Let us say language hardwired to heterogeneous aggregate, plain altar an 18 iron Alas poor Yorick rod no more (or less) political than military – or theory-speak. Or poetry butterfly 1391 from ambiguous octopus bacon. When you use short words and amputate adjectives in a Trinidadian what-bank-folks-on-brochure for the big Canadian limit offers, we want to say fragmentation sans Oedipal daddy-mommy-me.


George Orwell, computers, church, gold, Shakespeare, poetry … Zolf spins language on its axis and invites slow reading to appreciate her combinations of worlds and words.

It would easier for the reader if the notes on p.93 were at the front of the book so that the reader could be aware from the beginning from Lewis LaCook’s Markov-chain based Flash poetry generators, QueryCount at, and the Gematria of Nothing at have been used. As it is, the sheer imcomprehensibility of the poetry becomes a stumbling-block to pleasure until the last pages.

Technically, punctuation is sometimes omitted, sometimes not, the variation an undercurrent to the ongoing aberrants.

‘Look for the hidden meaning use it as a lightning rod more pokes at the communication.’ (p.91) is almost Zolf’s last word, which leaves the reader gasping with laughter or closing the book in frustration, but emotionally untouched by her caricature of present-day language and methods of communication. Another’s anger can be held at a distance, and Zolf’s fails to draw one into the experience.

Joanna M. Weston

A SUMMER FATHER - poetry - Frontenac House
2006 ISBN: 1-89718105-1 $15.95
THOSE BLUE SHOES for ages 7-12





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