Odes to the ordinary

Nevertheless: Walking Poems 
by Gillian Jerome

Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2022
$19.95 / 9780889714120

Reviewed by Adrienne Fitzpatrick


The title Nevertheless: Walking Poems intrigued me. Walking informs my own writing process, and I was curious to see how Vancouver’s Gillian Jerome incorporated walking into her work–picking up clues and insights, and making observations that may later turn out to be prescient but always a reflection of the world as it is, in the moment. Where the subconscious works out issues and problems with its ingenious and mysterious pokes and prods. Where changing views summoned a word or memory, or opened a perceptual door.

I wanted to see–and hear–how Jerome’s work explored the rhythm and freedom that walking affords. In walking one can find the beauty in the ordinary, explore external and internal landscapes. 

Jerome’s work does just that–she takes the reader on walks through her town, Vancouver, and through stark changes in her life, with the unexpected finding its way in:

We eat late. Read late. Feel
4,382 kilometres closer than the last
Time we caught up. Crows hide their tiniest
Trinkets in our hair. Days unfurl their bright
Their bright moments: good salads, a seat on the bus…

The book is separated into three sections–reveries, songs, and odes; work produced by daydreaming; and poems meant for singing and sharing. One section flows into the next; the walking rhythm and ambling tone remains consistent throughout Jerome’s changing emotional states. 

The intention and the feeling is lyrical and Jerome’s language is cool-eyed in its observation, such as when she takes us out walking on urban paths near the Burrard Street bridge: “Inside the blackberry bushes / A man with black hair and dark eyes sleeps inside a plastic cylinder / Kept dry by a blue tarp –.” And in Strathcona: “At the park, a man talks to himself. / A woman lays herself down in the grass. / Kids run through sprinklers.”

As a former Vancouverite, I knew the places Jerome leads us. I remembered taking some of the same walks. But whether you’re familiar with the area or not, the pace and clarity of her work brings readers along. We experience the freedom and openness of a ramble and can also compassionately observe with the lives of others Jerome comes across. We are there with Jerome, taking it all in, not passing judgement or interpreting. The walking, the observing is enough.  

Author Gillian Jerome

Along with the observational, there are poems that guide us through some bracing emotional states and reckonings. We see distilled pain in these, beautifully wrought in clear, heartbreaking images. Though stark at times, there is a lightness in Jerome’s voice that doesn’t linger. She doesn’t dwell in the hollows and curves she introduces. Jerome observes, lays bare her grief, and moves on. This through line of emotion and transformation weaves through the poems; I appreciated the weight they brought to the book, countering the ephemerality walking can produce. 

Jerome lets us in on life happenings. Her marriage founders. With that fissure there is a reckoning with the unforeseen and massive disruption that such change can wreak on anybody: 

Thing is – you 
Think you’re ready for anything; then it happens,
And you’re not. You’re really 
Not. Each day you wake up,
Make lunches. Get two kids off 
To school. Run for the bus.
What is ordinary saves us –

Nevertheless celebrates the ordinary, the fleeting, the disturbing and beautiful, and, above all, the bracingly real. Both exuberant and bittersweet, Jerome (Red Nest) directs the reader through her walking life–the outward and inward wandering and searching–through fluctuating states of being and ultimate transformation. 

The title perplexed me for a bit. Nevertheless. On the other hand. However. It made sense when I viewed the poems and odes of a skilled writer mulling over her everyday world and personal changes. How she keeps going with open eyes and heart. And along with the lightness of walking and observing, there is the bravery of getting through tough patches and moving on.  

I found that some of the poems resonated more after I read the book. They rose to the surface, like thoughts settling after a walk. Jerome’s resilience comes through in a clear, wry, and inquisitive voice. An image stayed with me: after a fallow period, a time of grief, the poet digs up her yard and starts a new garden. She chooses plants she and her kids love, that inspire her. A stripping down and a remaking has occurred, and the joy of that moment is what stayed with me: 

For a year the front grass
Grew cockeyed in dirt.
& clay after the city
Dug it up with a backhoe
To fix the drain tiles
So I let the grass in the back
Grow feral – 
The last month, I lifted four thousand 
Pounds of sod off the front lawn
With a shovel, tilled the dirt
Added new dirt, planted seed. 
Dug up garden plots and planted
Rows of Spanish lavender.


Adrienne Fitzpatrick

Adrienne Fitzpatrick grew up in the north and returned to complete a MA at UNBC. Her poetry, stories, and reviews have appeared in a variety of periodicals. Based on her travels to massacre sites in Europe, Asia, and Canada, The Earth Remembers Everything explores the phenomenological experience of place. Instructions for a Flood, based on Fitzpatrick’s experiences with Indigenous Nations in BC’s Central Interior and Northwest, was reviewed in BCR by Catherine Owen. [Editor’s note: Adrienne previously reviewed Harold Rhenisch for BCR.] 


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (nonfiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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