I read Vermeersch’s latest collection in a single sitting, which I don’t do very often. The language is dense, but there’s such a strong rhythmic pull to it – to me, gloriously reminiscent of James Dickey – that you just get carried; at times, it feels as though it’s being spoken to you by the most captivating and enlightened tent preacher. There’s also a deep empathy in Vermeersch’s work that helps to remind me what poetry – what language – is, or should be, about.Read the whole piece here.
Friday 24 December 2010
Wednesday 10 November 2010
Here's how our conversation started:
Jon Chapman: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Paul Vermeersch: When I was a kid, I always sought out creative activities. I loved to write, but I also loved to draw. I had a subscription to National Geographic, and I liked to imagine that one day I would write stories about wildlife for them. But I also wanted to be a painter. I couldn't choose between painting and writing. In university I studied visual art and English, and when I gradulated I moved to Poland to teach at a college there. I thought I would paint a lot in Poland, but I didn't. I wrote a lot of poems, though, and when I came back to Canada a year later, I had most of my first book written. That's when I knew which path I needed to follow. I decided to devote myself to my writing, and I haven't looked back.
JC: What do you like best about being an author now?
PV: I don't really think of being an author much to be honest....
Read the rest here.
Wednesday 3 November 2010
The series is located in Clinton's Tavern, at the corner of Bloor Street and Clinton, near the Christie subway station.
For more information on the Art Bar, visit their website.
To RSVP via Facebook, click here.
Wednesday 29 September 2010
What is the purpose of literary criticism? Among other things, to guide the reader past his or her resistance. Most art, subtly or aggressively, resists the familiar. Poetry in particular suffers from this resistance, because poets take the material that we depend on to operate in and make sense of the world (language), and bend it to other, often seemingly obscure, purposes.
Readers, sophisticated and beginner, need critics to explain why and how poets are using language for these different purposes, and what those purposes might be. Our attachment to familiar language is powerful, and understandable. Without critics, we will hold on to the familiar and be unable to accept that there are other uses for language, that there is new and exciting poetry all around us.
Critics can do one of at least two things. The first is simply to insist that something is good, or bad, and rely on the force of personality or reputation to convince people. The second is to write, with focus and clarity, about how the piece of art works, what choices the artist has made, and how that might affect a reader. Only then can the reader grow to meet work that is unfamiliar, that he or she does not yet have the capacity to love.
Read the whole essay here.
Saturday 18 September 2010
She has created The Pencil Project. These pencils are engraved with lines by several Canadian writers, and I am proud to be one of them. Proceeds from the sale of these pencils will go directly to the school. I urge you to read all about it on Kalpna's blog. Every little bit helps. It's a wonderful project. Please support it.
The Pencils are being unveiled today at the Queen West Art Crawl, which runs today and tomorrow in Trinity Bellwoods Park from 11-6. Go check it out!
Tuesday 24 August 2010
Tuesday 17 August 2010
Both a swan song to our shared primordial past and an examination of how the animal within thrives in spite of, or perhaps in retaliation to, our best efforts to subdue it, The Reinvention of the Human Hand might very well be the year’s most astute meditation on human nature and its lingering pastRead the whole review here.
Saturday 14 August 2010
Poet Roxanna Bennett (pictured is one of her illustrations), who was at my reading in Toronto this past Wednesday in support of Now Hear This, has written a combined review of my reading and of my new book. She's posted it to her blog called "Roxanna Bennett Hates Almost Everything," and while I often relate to that sentiment, I'm pleased to report that my poems appear to be one of the exceptions. Here is a sample:
Many thanks to Roxanna Bennett. Read the whole review here.
Saturday 31 July 2010
From the store's bookmark: "A unique store in Parkdale buying and selling good quality books, CDs, DVDs, and assorted interesting items, and affording a convivial space for authors to read and artists to show their work. Call David for details: 416-452-6727."
Today is the grand opening, so if you're in the neighbourhood, drop by and check it out!
Jacob McArthur Mooney has more on the story at Vox Populism.
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Tuesday 20 July 2010
But it's a fallacious dilemma from the start. There's a wide, wonderful spectrum of different approaches to poetry between these two wintry poles, any of which might produce work that could be called innovative, experimental, or difficult -- words that certain branches of the avant garde usually claim to have a trademark on, though many of Geoffrey Hill's lyrical poems could be called difficult, for example, and Tony Hoagland's approach to the narrative poem as an exponent of American cultural commentary is certainly innovative, etc. And I notice that, more and more, younger poets are quite rightly disinterested in band wagons and pigeon holes. Such things might provide some poets with a shortcut to recognition within their circle, but not necessarily to a practice of good writing.
And what does it mean to be avant garde, anyway? It's a good question, and one that this year's Scream Festival and now the TNSOW have both raised. Some other poets have jumped in with questions of their own. There's even some dissension within the avantesque ranks over who's more avantish (and I'm sure the answer is it doesn't matter). But in artistic parlance, the term simply means "at the very forefront of the art." To me, it seems a little arrogant and presumptuous to claim this territory for oneself, but in a more general way of speaking the expression has come to be used as a blanket term or brand name for a whole host of post-modern and theoretical approaches to writing that may actually have little in common beyond an aversion to established poetical tools like narrative syntax or a lyrical sensibility. I prefer the term "post-modern" to describe these approaches to poetry for the reasons mentioned above.
To be fair we must also ask what does it mean to be a traditional lyrical poet? Surely no one is actually interested in repeating the same themes in the same styles as Tennyson or Hopkins or Petrarch. Even traditionalists need to experiment in order to be relevant in their time. But to what extent must traditional poetics be abandoned in order to experiment? To what extent must tradition be observed at the expense of innovation? There is only fallacy in positions that offer only black and white answers to these questions.
All poems, in their writing, are experiments. Their outcomes are never assured. There is always some risk, some possibility of failure. Or there should be. I love poetry for these reasons and more. I love to read it. I love to read about it, talk about it. I think about it almost constantly, and I enjoy a wide array of different approaches to the writing of it. Sure, not all poetries are to everyone's tastes, but having personal preferences doesn't have to narrow the mind. In a very general way I love what poetry is, and I love what it does. I love the possibilities of poetry, and I became a poet because I am fascinated with the bounty of its history and the promise of its future, in all its mesmerizing, inimitable manifestations. I think most people who come to poetry humbly and sincerely have that in common. Why else would anyone devote a life to it?
Furthermore it seems ridiculous to me that so much hot air is vented in a spurious contest between the two most diametric camps: the stubbornly newfangled and the intractably fusty. Both camps have their merits and make their contributions to poetry at large, but poetry at large is much larger than both camps. If there was less evangelizing in the aesthetic fringes, less defending of camp-like mentalities, the art form would be better for it. In the meantime, I would encourage the majordomos of poetry's most terminal outposts to spend more time prospecting the vast, fruitful grounds between their ideological citadels. There's so much to explore out there in the open.
Monday 19 July 2010
A couple of days later (i.e. yesterday), novelist Mark Sampson gave my book a thorough review on his blog, and this is what he had to say: "The Reinvention of the Human is, quite simply, a powerhouse book of poetry, an astonishing feat for a poet who has not yet turned forty."
I am grateful that the book is being read by people who like it, and more grateful that they want to spread the word.
UPDATE: Mark Sampson's review has been reposted on the Maisonneuve Magazine website. Thanks everyone.
Wednesday 14 July 2010
It seems I'm not alone. Billy Collins, among others, has weighed-in on the disaster of reformatting poetry to the clumsier e-book format:
"I found that even in a very small font that if the original line is beyond a certain length, they will take the extra word and have it flush left on the screen, so that instead of a three-line stanza you actually have a four-line stanza. And that screws everything up," says Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate whose "Ballistics" came out in February.
When he adjusted the size to large print, his work was changed beyond recognition, a single line turning into three, "which is quite distressing," he adds.
Read the whole article here.
Thursday 1 July 2010
PHALANXafter Dennis Lee
and bolted like rabbits, zigzag
-- Paul Vermeersch,Canada Day, 2010
This is an “elision” poem; the entire text of this sonnet is redacted from Civil Elegies (part 1) by Dennis Lee.
Tuesday 29 June 2010
The Leacock Summer Festival presents:
Paul Vermeersch, Matt Lennox and Meaghan Strimas
Sunday, July 25 beginning at 12 noon.
Leacock Museum National Historical Site
50 Museum Drive, Orillia, Ontario
For tickets call: 705-329-1908
The Hear/Hear Reading Series presents
Paul Vermeersch, Devon Code and Colin Frizzell
August 11 beginning at 7pm (doors at 6:30)
The Free Times Cafe
320 College Street, Toronto
Wednesday 23 June 2010
"I don’t want to label what other people are doing, but you could say what I’m doing in TFS is a poetry of doubt— its insights, pleasures, and dangers. The disassembling impulse you mention is just that: the attempt to move inward (or outward I suppose) and find some rung to grasp on to. What are the things that are fundamental, constitutive, in the world and in our own personal mythology? So, as you can see, this is a very first-book probing of identity.
"It seems, though, that one of the ideas we’ve inherited from the 20th century’s focus on destroying meta-narratives (God, morality, truth, etc.) is that anything is possible: I mean, that one can do anything they want, or be anything they want, that everything is bendable and flexible and, truly, anything goes. There are entire industries (self-help, cosmetics, some branches of medical science) that are devoted to selling the idea that you can have it exactly the way you want it, whenever you want it. This is the engine of modern consumerism, and, I feel, some part of me was cast in this fire. I suppose that’s what makes this personal."The book, then, is in many ways also a reaction to this idea, as I’ve self-defined it. I suppose what I see myself struggling against is a more general co-opting of language (in politics, marketing, news, etc.) for the purposes of making things easy. I want to make things difficult again. But I want there to be a rung."
-- Jeff Latosik
To read the whole interview, click here.
For more information about Jeff Latosik's collection of poems Tiny, Frantic, Stronger, click here.
Tuesday 22 June 2010
(I stole this from Jake's blog, but it's for a good cause, and the more places we post this, the better, so...)
As promised, here is the go-to information for how to donate to the grassroots cause of saving This Ain’t the Rosedale library and, if not quite doing that, at least recognizing that what Charlie and Jesse have been doing for the last thirty years amounts to a form of public service. If we can’t save the store, we should at least let our thanks be known to the owners. Donations of any and all sizes will be appreciated. I gave them a hundred bucks, which is an amount of money I routinely pay my bartender for what amounts to a hangover and a lingering sense of guilt. I won’t miss it as much as a bookstore. If you have more, you should consider giving more. Or less, whatever you can reasonably spare.
Here’s a link to paypal page. And, to pull the heartstrings, here’s Charlie’s personal message describing recent events at the store…
“Our situation, which could be told as a long story about the plight of bookstores in Toronto and in many North American cities, is really quite a simple one. At our new location in Kensington Market we found a space with lower rent and overheads which thus represented an enticing solution to the difficulty of inflated rents facing many stores of our kind. For a year we worked in this space happily, until the recession hit with full force and we began to fall behind with our rent. Our response to this situation was similar to that of any small retail business. We bought shrewdly, held regular events, did book tables for small press launches, conferences and author appearances, did not invest in advertising, fixtures, signage or renovations, kept only minimal staff (the store has one part-time staff person), and most importantly worked full-time or more with long store hours, while drawing the absolute minimum for our own rent and expenses. In this way we were able, albeit very gradually, to pay our back-rent, and maintain an amicable relationship with out landlord. While the space presented a number of challenges, including our basement flooding whenever there was heavy rain, and though we heard many stories of rent reductions in our own neighborhood we were not offered this option, but continued none-the-less to enjoy working at the store and feel inspired by our customers’ enthusiasm for the books that we were selling. Quite suddenly this changed. Our landlord became impatient with the rate at which we were able to pay her and made demands for large repayments, without providing a precise accounting of what was owing. In light of our workload and the proliferation of other causes in this city, a fundraiser remained only an idea. Instead we responded to these unrealistic demands with an informal proposal which would not have been profitable to us, but to our landlord. We received only further demands which we attempted to meet within our resources until the locks were changed on Friday June 19th. We are once again offering our landlord a choice which would be beneficial to her and allow us to re-open our doors, and are hoping that the outpouring of encouragement from the public might influence our situation. Along with this we are seeking help with organizing a fundraiser, and we are accepting PayPal donations. As we were living day-to-day, as many small business owners do for years after opening or relocating, our own livelihood has been erased, and our present situation is very uncertain. None-the-less we have seen that many people value what we do and are eager to help us, and thus remain hopeful that a resolution is around the corner.”
-- Jesse and Charlie Huisken.
Monday 31 May 2010
Judging a literary prize isn't easy. Reading so many books in such a short time is a herculean task, and then there's the heartbreaking chore of selecting a winner. All this must be doubly hard for judges of the Griffin Poetry Prize; not only do they select one book of poetry as the best in English Canada each year, they must choose another winner for the entire English-speaking world. According to the Griffin Trust, this year's crop amounted to nearly 400 books from a dozen countries.To read the entire article, click here.
First on the Canadian short list is Kate Hall's debut collection, The Certainty Dream. This book is concerned with those cornerstones of surrealism, ambiguity and the unconscious mind. It's fertile ground, but difficult to plow....
Tuesday 18 May 2010
Here's the context:
In a style that evokes paintings by Hieronymous Bosch, Vermeersch’s writing has a lyrical elegance and an extravagant horror that lingers and invites us to re-think how we are living. For instance, “A Scorpion in Alcohol” is kept in the kitchen as a reminder that it is not the actual scorpion sting but the fear that once petrified and still haunts that is the true poison.
You can read the entire review here.
Sunday 2 May 2010
Here's a sample:To read the entire article, click here.
The campaign to save the house seeks to create a well-maintained retreat for writers for eight months of the year. The property must be purchased and the buildings restored to meet code and contemporary needs, after which heritage status can be appointed by local and provincial agencies. According to the organizers, if every Canadian donated just three cents, the dream could become a reality. “Small donations from a number of people do make a difference,” says Eurithe. That said, a handful of major donors would enable the residency to open that much sooner. If 18,000 avid Canadian readers donated $50 each (the minimum for a tax receipt), success could also be achieved. Whether or not apathy defines our culture yet again remains to be seen.
To increase awareness and raise additional funds, Harbour Publishing has produced The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology. Proceeds from sales of this informative and beautifully produced book, edited by poet Paul Vermeersch, go directly to the campaign. It includes passionate essays by Michael Ondaatje, Dennis Lee and Steven Heighton, among many others, interspersed with Al Purdy’s own recollections of and poems about life in Ameliasburgh.
Friday 16 April 2010
The preoccupation with the disconnect between man and our distant, ancestral history is one of the prominent themes of this book. In this poem, the image of the human hand possessing “a fierce, primeval strength” is significant in that it harkens back to the days when humans had not yet fully developed as a species and still remained intimately connected with other primates and, it may be argued, the natural world as a whole. There is a frustration in the image of the smashing of hands against stones, which underscores this tension between man and nature, this uncomfortable reminder that we are not as far removed from apes as we might wish to believe.
To read the whole post, click here.
NOTE: the problem of bushmeat poaching is severe in places where gorillas and chimpanzees live. The use of wire snares has become a constant danger. To learn more about it, please read Dr. Lucy Spelman's Quest blog which chronicles her time (2007 to 2009) working with mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
Monday 12 April 2010
This is cool. Matt Robinson's new collection of poetry Against the Hard Angle takes the reader on a tour of Halifax, and now ECW Press, Robinson's publisher, has created an annotated Google map to guide the reader through key locations in the book.
View Halifax in Verse in a larger map
Wednesday 24 March 2010
"Oscar predictions are familiar fare, and while predictions regarding literary prizes are similarly ubiquitous, they are often kept strictly between friends. This year I've decided to put my Griffin Prize shortlist predictions out there for everyone to see, and I'm calling on the readers of Open Book Toronto to share their own predictions..."
Click here to see my picks!
Monday 15 March 2010
Tuesday 9 March 2010
"I dislike fundamentalisms of any kind, and that includes both critical and aesthetic ones. In poetics, at both the conservative and radical ends of the spectrum, you have those modes that fetishize their own kind of formalism to the detriment of (or even to the exclusion of) concerns about content. At either extreme these formalist fundamentalisms (say a revived take on the radical poetics of Oulipo or an orthodox approach to classicist meter and rhyme) you will find a kind of literary autism; the poems are toying with their physical minutiae, but they are disinterested in actually communicating much of anything."In the current issue of the Christian commentary magazine Image, Australian poet Les Murray, who himself has Asperger's and a son with autism, says something very similar:
"A lot of modern art is very autistic. There is this arbitrary law that you're not supposed to be sentimental or have any feelings. What the bloody hell is that but autism, pretending to be some kind of automaton? I came across a wonderful phrase recently. Some fellow writing against the Conservative Party of Canada, parodying their attitudes, described the conservative image of Harvard as 'the great ice-palace of the modern elite'—where it's all intellect and no feelings allowed."You can read the entire conversion between Les Murray and J. Mark Smith, who teaches English at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, on the Poetry Daily website.
Monday 8 March 2010
From Open Book Toronto:
March Book Giveaway: Paul Vermeersch's The Reinvention of the Human Hand
We're thrilled to announce that Paul Vermeersch is Open Book's March Writer in Residence. Visit his WIR page to read his blog, his Reading Recommendations and his Ten Questions with Open Book. Send an email to email@example.com with the title of one of Paul's Reading Recommendations, and your name will be entered in a draw for a copy of his latest book, The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland & Stewart, 2010). The contest closes on March 31st.
You can send your questions and comments for Paul to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them onto his page.
Wednesday 3 March 2010
Following yesterday's unpleasant news about our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, I felt this needed to be done.
Certainly, gay and lesbian Canadians have made a considerable contribution to our national identity through our literature. I propose we assemble a reading list for Mr. Kenney, one comprising the very best of Canada's queer literature, great books by queer authors and books on queer themes....
Now, I'm calling on Canadian publishers from sea to shining sea to send Jason Kenney a "review copy" of all the books you've published by queer Canadian authors. You can find his address by clicking here.
Send him books by Ivan E. Coyote and Camilla Gibb, and books by Wayson Choy, Michael V. Smith, and Sina Queryas. Give him Billeh Nickerson, John Barton, Jen Currin, and Betsy Warland to read. Recommend something by Marnie Woodrow, Darren Greer, and Sky Gilbert! Of course there must something by Sky Gilbert!
To read the rest, please visit my Open Book Toronto Writer-in-Residence page.
Tuesday 2 March 2010
THINKING ABOUT GERMANY, LIAO YIWU, AND EMPTY CHAIRS
Three years ago I was invited to participate in the Berlin Poetry Festival. I have many fond memories of that trip and still consider it one of the highlights of my writing life. It's a powerful thing to travel internationally in order to share your work with people -- with readers and writers -- from around the world. The invitation was an honour. The experience was unforgettable.
Today in China there is another poet who has been invited to a literary festival in Germany. His name is Liao Yiwu. Unfortunately, he will not be able to attend his conference in Cologne. The Chinese government, which has been cracking down lately on people they consider dissidents, will not allow Liao Yiwu to leave the country.For those of us in Canada, similar restrictions would be unthinkable....
To read the rest, please visit my Open Book Toronto Writer-in-Residence page.
Monday 1 March 2010
Tuesday 23 February 2010
From the interview:
Jacob McArthur Mooney: The Reinvention of the Human Hand reads, in many parts, like the author is feeling out a human territory inside the animal world, trying to identify the parts of us that are ancient and imperative versus those that are cosmetic and fleeting. Obviously, this is a poetic concern with a lot of history and varied degrees of what we might dismissively call anthropocentric attitudes, from the animal-as-human metaphors of a Ted Hughes to the increasingly ethereal nature-speak of Canadian poets like Tim Lilburn or Robert Bringhurst or Roo Borson. There’s an attempt in this book, I think, to find a third way, a kind of rapprochement between the two. Where do you see yourself in this tradition?
Paul Vermeersch: It’s interesting that you should mention Hughes. I feel that I’m coming at the topic of the human/animal in a very different way than Hughes did. I’m more interested in the human-as-animal than the other way around. I think that’s an important distinction. Intellectually, I guess I wanted a kind of post-humanist approach to primitivism. But creatively, I didn’t want to set out to arrive at a predetermined conclusion with the poems in this book, so “feeling out” is a good way of putting it. I don’t like writing poems that exist merely to illustrate a theory. Like animals, poems have their own life; that is an idea I share with Hughes. So I wanted the book to evolve, in a manner of speaking, rather than force myself to write poems to fill pre-existing niches. In the end, I explored several poetic approaches to a few different ideas I have about the human/animal divide, and then I put them next to one another to see how they behaved.Read the whole article.
Saturday 20 February 2010
As Dwight Garner points out in the New York Times, Hoagland "writes in an alert, caffeinated, lightly accented free verse" which at first glance might seem frivolous and rudimentary, but it would be high foolishness to accuse these poems of lacking the poetic rigor of more stringently blueprinted fare.
Deep down, Hoagland's poems address the growing malaise of our times, of a civilization drowning in its own disposableness. The voice of these poems isn't so much desperate for an authentic, emotional experience; it's more like the voice of someone who was once desperate for an authentic, emotional experience, but who has now given up the search, more-or-less, but is still open to the possibility. He holds a mirror up to our complacency and laziness and suburban comforts, and it should almost horrify us, except that it's so damn funny.
So potent is Hoagland's anti-tonic for the cushy, slovenliness of Western life, The New York times felt inclined to review the book twice, once by Dwight Garner (mentioned above), and again by Joel Brouwer, who said, "Hoagland rejects both the cynic’s lie that everything superficially beautiful must be rotten underneath, and the romantic’s lie that everything apparently ugly must possess some essential nobility."
Which is not to say that there is neither cynicism nor romanticism in Hoagland's poetry. I think there is plenty of both. Like chocolate and chili, Hoagland combines the two flavours into something powerful.
Tuesday 16 February 2010
As readers of this blog may know, Perillo is one of my favourite contemporary poets. If you haven't read her yet, you should. And her latest book Inseminating the Elephant is a good place to start. Perhaps this interview will convince you.
In this interview Perillo discusses her "origins" as a poet and the shift in her outward identity that came with a diagnosis of MS.
I have never really thought of Perillo as a "disabled poet" or as a "poet of disability" even though her subject matter often covers that ground. Mostly, I think of her as a kind of nature poet (in the broadest possible sense -- she is a trained biologist, and as a poet she is remarkably attuned to the physical universe), and as a poet of the borderlands between the body and the mind.
Read the whole interview here.
Sunday 14 February 2010
Happy ninth anniversary to Forget Magazine, and happy Valentines Day!
Saturday 6 February 2010
A few days ago I received the advanced copy of my new poetry collection The Reinvention of the Human Hand from McClelland & Stewart, and I have to say I am very happy with how the book has turned out. Andrew Roberts did a marvellous job with the design, and this is certainly my best looking book to date.
As with my last book, I got to work with A.F. Moritz as my editor. We all know he's one of the best poets in the English language, but as an editor he's an absolute joy to work with; he's so astute and generous... simply top notch. He really helped me whip the manuscript into book-shape.
The book's official retail release date is March 17, and plans for a launch party in Toronto are in the works (date and venue TBA).
In other news, I am still busy with my studies. I am enrolled in the MFA progran in creative writing with the University of Guelph. Right now, I am wandering through the forbidden forest of fiction writing, and with the help of Michael Winter, I might just find my way. Writing fiction feels strange to me in many ways after working solely in poetry for so long, but with some help, I'm sure I'll learn a few tricks and put a few more tools in my toolbox.
Also, coming up in March, I will be the Writer in Residence for Open Book Toronto. Stay tuned for more information.