Poetry in Transit  has been sparking inspiration and meaningful thought on transit in BC since 1996.
For those of us who adore the written –and spoken – word, (*ahem* ME), this is such a great opportunity to share the work of BC authors across the province and promote and celebrate this wonderful art form.
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Zilm , one of the featured poets for this 20-year anniversary about her poem and Poetry in Transit.
Tell me about your inspiration for this poem?
It’s part of a three part poem called Spiritual Media  and I was trying to take on different forms of social media. So, the first part is about Twitter with really bad hashtags because it was before I understood what hashtags were! But I love them. It’s interesting how the hashtag modifies the content of your message. The second part was about book history… but it was about Facebook and what happens when you’re talking to somebody and you don’t really know who they are or what they’re doing. The third part, the part on the bus, is only loosely connected to social media because I was interested in this therapy procedure called EMDR  where you focus on light or sound while focusing on a traumatic memory with headphones in. So, it’s sort a being linked in and how what you’re linked into affects you.
This poem can be found in your collection, Waiting Room . This piece is very observational, how does it compare on that level to other pieces in your book?
I would say I like to observe and write things down but I also like to work from a certain conceit. There’s a section in the book where I was working at a housing project in the downtown East side at the front desk and I know that those experiences absolutely inspired the way I wrote. I compared it to Dante’s purgatory… which is the good one, I think. Or at least, that’s my theory! But where you are and what you see of course affects how and what you write.
What makes transit a good place to gather inspiration?
I think it’s the last, great public space. I also find, personally, that it’s really hard not to do things when you’re on transit. There’s something about the bus that you get on and you just need to trust where it’s going and it forces you to be contained where you are and read or write or do whatever you need because your brain is not occupied with driving or biking. It helps me focus. It gets me down to business!
Poetry in Transit has been around for 20 years now. How do you feel being a part of this anniversary special?
If you’re from the Vancouver area, and I am, I grew up in Surrey, you remember Poetry in Transit! I remember reading Jamie Reid’s poem Prez  or Stephanie Bolster’s Many Have Written Poems About Blackberries . I have memories from the beginning of this program. When you’re a person who writes poetry, it’s not always obvious to you what your career “landmarks” will be. I remember people saying, “well, maybe one day you’ll get a poem on the bus!” People don’t read poetry that much anymore and having it in a public space like transit, where you can just look up and read a piece on your bus, it connects people. It’s like a great, classic disruption. It’s not an ad for the dentist or a job college, it’s a poem!
What do you hope people take away from reading your poem on transit and the others included in this project?
You can be really idealistic and why not?! Maybe it will be inspirational? Maybe it will disturb them, but in a good way! Any time we get a chance to see something in these public spaces that aren’t market-based is really amazing. So, something like Poetry in Transit, if you’re someone who doesn’t have books in your house or visits the public library, it can be a hidden suggestion that there are other things in the world, besides what is immediately around you.
How long have you used transit? What’s your favourite mode?
My entire life! Growing up in Surrey, the Expo Line was my life blood. I rode it all the time. Now, in Vancouver, the #7 bus is my temple. It’s my thought bubble, it’s my inspiration at times. Plus, 7 is really lucky in Judaism so I feel like all around it’s my little bus home!
You can see Jennifer’s work along with the other amazing poets in this month’s special Poetry in Transit edition of the print Buzzer as well as on buses, bus shelters and SkyTrains across the system!
If you really can’t wait to see each poem on the system, you can head to the 2016 Word Vancouver Festival  this weekend and hear live readings from some of the featured Poetry in Transit authors.
Author: Adrienne Coling