About the Author

Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch is the author of three collections of poetry: The Fat Kid, Burn (a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award) and, most recently, Between the Walls. He is also the editor of the anthology The I.V. Lounge Reader. His next collection, The Reinvention of the Human Hand, is forthcoming in 2010. His poetry has been published widely in literary journals and magazines. He lives in Toronto, where he works as a teacher and serves as poetry editor for Insomniac Press. He is a long-time reader and admirer of the work of Al Purdy.

Books by this Author
Between the Walls


Man to man.

If only I knew more about the human heart,
I could fuel its fire or stamp it out
completely. If only I knew more
about songbirds, I could tell you
exactly what is singing there unseen
in that tree across the street – that song
has been, so far, the best part of my day,
a song as old as our four-chambered hearts,
older maybe, a melody composed a million
years ago and never altered – surely
musical genius thrived before the wheel,
before our weapons and our calculus,
and when we’re gone that song
will continue in the trees and will not change.

But we know that song, too. We were born
with its notes and rests transcribed
in the cells of our own warm blood
and we’ve sung it more or less
unsuccessfully in a hundred-­odd cities
between us, lone birds in full throat,
joyous and unheard. And we’ve fallen
silent, sullen, drunk, when our song
has failed too often. But not that bird
across the street – he will not drown
his sorrows, because he has none.
He will sing until his lady comes or,
in her place, his death, always proud, always
singing, and you know as well as I do
what he does not feel: the bitterness
of solitude, and you also understand
there are times when, if I could catch him,
I would break his neck and end it
so he will not have to sing his song alone.

A Word About the Poem By Paul Vermeersch
When I was writing the poems in my book Between the Walls, I had the feeling--though I took little notice of it at the time--that I was writing a “city” book. It seemed to me I was tackling, for the most part, themes and subject matter that evoked an urban environment: litter-filled alleys, busy streets, upscale neighbourhoods encircling a rundown core, sprawl and development at the city’s edge, etc.

It’s interesting how often writers can surprise themselves. When the book was completed, I was struck by how much of the natural world was present in the collection. Birds and animals inhabit the poems as much as humans do.

Often, the animals in my poems represent human emotional states, or else stand in counterpoint to human flaws and characteristics. This poem, “He Will Not Drown His Sorrows,” is a good example. I wrote it for a close friend who at the time had been complaining about his lousy, if non-existent, love life. I felt, in order to commiserate completely with my friend, I needed an external target at which to direct a hapless single person’s Valentine’s Day acrimony. A witless bird who persistently sings his song, ever sweetly and beautifully, even when there is no hope of attracting a mate, seemed perfect.

My friend enjoyed the poem, and though I can’t claim it helped him get out of his dating slump, I’m happy to say he is now engaged to be married.

How the Poem Works By A. F. Moritz

The first thing likely to strike a reader about Paul Vermeersch's "He Will Not Drown His Sorrows" is the incisive, pungently contemporary voice that speaks it. This voice is of our moment not only in the casual yet dartingly swiftness of its movement from one experience and feeling to another, but especially in its basic tone. The tone is complex, but encompasses a sense of dislocation from society, a certain dread, a controlled bitterness, and an assumed self-mastery in which menacingly violent, even self-destructive emotions sometimes approach the surface. Vermeersch leaves the nature of the sorrows undefined, which emphasizes the painful concreteness he has given to the speaker's contemplation of the way in which sorrow itself, frequently repeated in perhaps many forms, has been an almost unmanageable constant in his life.
But the second thing a reader might notice is how much of the English classics there is in this very current poem. For example, it is like a dark rewriting of the "Ode to a Nightingale." Like Keats's nightingale, Vermeersch's bird sings in a way that reminds us of human sorrow, but which is free of sorrow, and thus seems to offer a release, an alternative ... until we return into ourselves. Vermeersch's tone and ideas are different, of course, but still the similarities are striking, and the poem develops some of its power from this grapple with Keats. Similarly, the racy versification, seemingly so conversational, on closer inspection is always within hailing distance of traditional metrics, and at points discloses a strictly classical fingering of the syllables. For example, note how both stanzas end with a resonant pentameter, each equipped with a little anapestic skip in the first foot. Here again, the allusion to the "classic", with its dominant ideal of calm and balance, adds tension and contrast to the contemporary mood, and contributes much to the beauty of the poem's central emotional revelation.
A.F. Moritz's poetry has recently won the 2005 ReLit Award (for Night Street Repairs, and the Bess Hokin Award of Poetry magazine and the Stover Award of the Southwest Review.

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Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy


1: The Country of Previous Enthusiasms


The Country of Previous Enthusiasms




The grandeur of their Expos was familiar:


their pastime was commuter rail departing


from geodesic spheres, and grand arches built to span—


if only allegorically—disparate ideals.


The elders of our nation found it quaint.




Their designers were philosophers. Ours,


engineers. In their country, with its globular buildings,


and lanky, finned automobiles, the people


might have been happier, but we


have more efficient use of space.




They would chat with their neighbours about


such bric-a-brac, and visit their landmarks


in eager groups. When they finally reached


the age of shortage, overcome by harsher facts,


their assimilation was all but certain.




There could be no treaty. It isn’t just


the Apollonian need to set things square.


There was always so much waste, even in the way


they walked. Our incursion was immaculate.


We are a decent people who only wish to be correct.


Without Architecture




There would have to be another vision for occupying space,


new rituals for sitting and standing, for the physical interruption


of the planar world. No longer would we distinguish


between exist and inhabit. No asking where we live.




We live. Now to lug our dwellings like a hermit crab


or not. What would the word for shelter be?


Like cave or under-hang, or more like shade or company?


Two hundred words for horizon comprise an anthem.




Without walls, privacy would still occur, only wilder.


We would vote by standing upright, and emphasize


ourselves by raising our hands, lengthening our votes


as a challenge to the levelness of the meeting place.




Prisons would be nothing—but banishment theoretical and severe:


how best to find a cave or shade beyond the vanishing point?


And who goes there? It was the heretic and prodigy who said:


I can make a cathedral of my condition and worship there.


Without Agriculture




We’d have to rethink our investments—bearish


on the local trade. We never put much stock in that.


And reckless with our gratitude, assigning it


helter-skelter to the windfall and the kill.


Otherwise, we’d only have ourselves to thank.




But we’d be bullish on travel points and dining out.


And bad with names: no Mud Hens, no Netherlands.


Of course there would be more fundamental gaps.


Just tally up the unanswered questions: How


do you make a straight line run parallel to another?




What are the secrets of the integer and the abacus?


When does the accounting of an ox head lead to A?


Without roots, we’d find the answers here and there.


Here, the world would be our chocolate factory.


There, we wouldn’t have to settle for anything.


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Shared Universe

Shared Universe

New and Selected Poems 1995–2020
tagged : canadian
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SHARED UNIVERSE                     



You and the ice cream truck and the King


Cobra all exist in the same universe as


the two-legged tortoise, the Star Queen Nebula,


and me. Eventually, there must be a story


that involves all six of us: you will be driving


the ice cream truck among the furthest stars


in search of His Majesty King Cobra, despite


his famous venom, despite his propensity


to strike, and I will follow behind you riding


the wounded tortoise, the front wheels


of a plastic Batmobile glued to her shell


as prostheses. These are the forms we will take


when we encounter the Star Queen in her home,


the pillars of creation billowing from her head.




And there is King Cobra, coiling his long body


around the pillars, emanating from her third eye


as Uraeus from the forehead of a pharaoh.
“You have come here,” he says, “to learn


what you already know: that you exist


in the same universe as ice cream, Batmobiles 


and the act of mutilation.” New stars are fusing


within the pillars, and within the stars, new-born


elements: hydrogen, beryllium, carbon, iron…


“Use these to make an apple,” the serpent says.


“Or make it out of gold, it’s all the same.” And now


a blind donkey arrives behind us, and a silvery


porpoise, and an immense hypothetical mountain,


and we all nod knowingly, knowing what we know.


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The Reinvention of the Human Hand

the painted beasts of lascaux

Their discovery has been a kind of homecoming, too.
Part of you has been here before, germinal, hidden.
A painted hand resting on the stone, a molecule,
a memory of muscled, brawling bulls entombed
deep within, their horns goring the darkness
locked in the rock of ages. These yellow ochre horses
were born too long before they could be anything
but horses, before they could be centaurs, before
they could be starships. Remember, these herds
are the same on these walls as they were in their fi elds,
the same as they are in your mind. Listen.
Their hoof beats trampling this ancestral earth
are still the drums that drive the song in your blood,
the abiding chant of the hundred billion dead
who came before you. Their distant voices vanished
into your voice, deepening it. Their song the song
that’s been snarled in your heart – breaking it,
trying to pound its way free – for your entire life.

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The Al Purdy A Frame Anthology

The Al Purdy A Frame Anthology

tagged : essays
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