review
by rob mclennan

Human Resources by Rachel Zolf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007)

I kill my sentence and Celan is totally blown out of the

water caught up by the Swan's brute squirt.

 

Not warm hard phallus but Bataille, bleached WASP and

feeling like you've lost your ship.

 

Can we link this a bit to Leda and his own decomposing,

develop her rhetor-tribadistic touch?

 

It's a mishmash, witness the orphan organs and Carson

end-dated out of this sixfold slippage.

 

A few years in the making comes Toronto writer Rachel Zolf's magnificent and deeply rich third poetry collection, Human Resources (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2007), on the heels of her Trillium Book Award shortlisted Masque (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 2004) and Her absence, this wanderer (Ottawa ON: Buschek Books, 1999). Much in the way Lisa Robertson brought the language of weather into her poetry collection The Weather (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2001), or Michael Holmes brought the language of professional wrestling into his Parts Unknown (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2004), so too, Zolf brings in a language traditionally outside of the realm of poetry. For her Human Resources, Zolf incorporates a series of lines and phrases otherwise known as "office language" or "office speak," the kind of middle-management talk that wraps around itself and gets nowhere (that Randy Gervais brilliantly parodied in his original BBC series The Office); a language which, to many working people, is far more the language of the everyday than anything out of any poetry collection. Part essay on the language and ideas of other poets such as Robertson, Paul Celan, as well as language theory, Jewish theory and history, and part lyric poem, Zolf's Human Resources questions the fundamentals of what a communicative language actually is and actually means, working through the so-called effectiveness of how we relate (and fail to relate) to each other.

 

The work of the sword and 4 relays cross when we try to

give financial advice. Boss heavily edits to get the 'tone'

right: take a holistic approach to risk management,

steer clear of portfolio potholes and don’t get caught

chasing hot 1125 baby method of surface sale returns.

Strange quirk, since you’ve never worked in a big

company (and often toil all day in pyjamas) yet can still

whip off a snappy business-attire policy. Don’t own a car

but expend many a lubricating word on transmission-

fluid theory. Our regular column on diarrhea evangel-

izes the brand traction, floating out key messages

based on current accrued liability. Don’t settle for 170%

passion and impactful equity in la perruque. Concur with

the psychology of tense selection, vet her specificity-

equals-felicity cathexis, how do you like that human-

asset-component grammar?

 

How do our relations change as our language changes? It's a debate held in the United States pretty regularly these days, watching their own President fumble around the language; how does the language of ideas fall apart once the language itself does? In Zolf's Human Resources, the shape and the theory of language become everything, even as it shapes itself into form after form, refusing to break apart. It's been said, too, that language can't help but be political. What does that leave us in the grammar of the white collar workplace? Where does that leave language as a communicative tool?

Rob Mclennan is an Ottawa-based writer, editor & publisher, and the author of over a dozen trade collections of poetry, including The Ottawa City Project (Chaudiere Books, 2007), & the novel white (The Mercury Press, 2007), as well as two non-fiction titles, subverting the lyric: essays (ECW Press, 2007) & Ottawa: The Unknown City (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007). He often posts reviews, essays & rants at www.robmclennan.blogspot.com, & he was recently named writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta for the 2007-8 academic year.

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