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by Suzanne Zelazo

Though Parlance is her first book-length publication of poetry, Toronto poet Suzanne Zelazo’s name is likely familiar to many through her role as editor of the Queen Street Quarterly. This literary magazine has a reputation for publishing both lesser-known and established poets, particularly those with an experimental edge to their work. So it should come as no surprise that her own work walks a non-traditional path, making Parlance good company for such other recent Coach House publications as Christian Bök’s Eunoia and Derek Beaulieu’s with wax.

Parlance is, at its most simple, a collection of poems exploring ways of communicating meaning. The dense, textured poems in the first half of the collection spin many possible interpretations through every line, making the spaces between words and between poems as resonant as the words themselves; or as Zelazo writes, “Knitting less the tracks more the mesh-/work or space and crossing.”

It is, however, in the long poem, “Through the Lighthouse,” which occupies almost half of the book, that Zelazo truly explores the resonating potential of silences and spaces, represented visually by the gaping white spaces between lines. Here, Zelazo’s poem forms a counterpoint with Virgina Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and her fragmented reflections on motherhood, poetry, and the loss of both shimmer with the remembered appeal of that novel and its author. This is a poem principally about absence, so the opening maternal image (reminiscent of Mrs. Ramsay in Woolf’s novel) is, from the start, “a hole drawing inwards an interlude the somehow tender reaches/of her back/small envelopes to ferry nighmares.”

In this poem, as in many others in Parlance, there is a yearning for presence and wholeness that undermines the carefully detached and unemotional ways of speaking: “Quick harmony all the colours of leaving./A resignation that I do not have. Head/bent in its own gaze like longing.” It is this yearning that ultimately aligns Zelazo’s work most closely with Woolf’s own, as she presents not only the holes in meaning, but also “the elements of wholeness compacted.”