Wednesday 18 December 2013

A poem for Christmastime

Another Effect of Global Warming

The last of the ice cap finally splinters like a tray
of ice cubes cracked into a pail,
and the wooden workshop floor buckles into the ice cold
water and begins to sink. Slowly
at first, bottle-bobbing in the black and white
ice-choked swells, then slipping deeper
as it fills, until its buoyant trash
spills out – nutcracker, skin horse, and baby doll –
bubbled up and scattered all about, each
in a dead-man’s float, before the whole picture is swallowed.

As the surface calms itself, the candy-coloured spires
of the workshop plunge downward
through the ever-darkening green, trailing
its inventory of rewards, its thousand years of legend,
its blackmail paid in chores and the niceness
of the nice. Yes, Virginia,
there is a Greenland shark, with parasites
trailing from its blighted eyes,
nosing through the wrecked and lightless halls of Christmas
deep beneath the vanished ice. 

From The Reinvention of the Human Hand (M&S, 2010).  

Photo Credit: Collection of Dr. Pablo Clemente-Colon, Chief Scientist National Ice Center. Creative Commons.

Friday 6 December 2013

Stuart Ross's Our Days in Vaudeville


I'm very happy to have collaborated with Stuart Ross on some of the poems in his latest book Our Days in Vaudeville. Every poem in this book is a collaboration between Ross and one of 29 other writers. 

It launches this Sunday in Toronto with other Mansfield Press titles. Please come! 

Mansfield Press Fall Launch Party!
Sunday, December 8, 7:30 pm
The Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street (just south of College)
Readings by Stuart Ross (+ guests), Stephen Brockwell, Jason Camlot, 
Glen Downie, Sara Heinonen

Saturday 23 November 2013

Friday 15 November 2013

New Chapbook News!

A new chapbook of my poems called "The Technology of the Future Will Emerge Hungry: Erasure Poems" (published by Proper Tales Press) will be available tomorrow at the Meet the Presses Indie Literary Market. It takes place in Toronto at the Tranzac Club from noon till 4:30. 

Monday 28 October 2013

Rock & Rule: a forgotten Canadian, post-apocalyptic rock opera.

For all the Lou Reed fans out there: Canadian animation company Nelvana's first feature film was 1983's Rock & Rule. This ambitious post-apocalyptic rock opera took too many risks for critics and audiences of the time and has faded into obscurity. Aimed at an older audience -- with songs and musical performances by Cheap Trick; Debbie Harry; Iggy Pop; Earth, Wind & Fire; and the late Lou Reed -- Rock & Rule attempted to capitalize on the campy, cult popularity of 1981's animated film Heavy Metal (also a Canadian production, produced by Ivan Reitman) as well as the music and fantasy films of American animator Ralph Bakshi (for you Bakshi aficionados, Rock & Rule is like American Pop meets Wizards). They don't make them like this anymore, and that's a shame. Thirty years after its initial release, Rock & Rule is a slick, moody, forgotten gem that deserves a second look. This is a cult movie waiting for a cult. Apparently, you can watch it on YouTube.

Monday 9 September 2013

Paul Vermeersch at the Tree Reading Series in June, 2013.

Here's a reading I did at the Tree Reading Series in Ottawa in June, 2013. I read from my books Between the Walls and The Reinvention of the Human Hand, as well as some newer work not yet published in book form.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Australian poet John Wainwright interviews me before I head to Brisbane for the Queensland Poetry Festival

Paul, what do you intend to present at the Queensland Poetry Festival this year?

Well, John, I guess I’m bringing the kitchen sink! Most likely, I’ll have poems about cavemen and cartoons, about gorillas and grizzly bears, about dogs that get shot into space. All those things are in my most recent book, The Reinvention of the Human Hand, which was published in 2010. It was received quite favourably here in Canada, so I will definitely be reading from that. I will most likely read some older work, as well: more bears and cartoons, and maybe something a little more frightening. I’ll be reading in front of an Australian audience for the first time, so I’m hoping to give them something memorable.

Well that sounds very Canadian! What are your main sources of inspiration?

Interesting. Can you tell me why that sounds very Canadian? Is it the bears?
I get my inspiration from everything around me, I suppose. From books and film and television. From people I know, or people I don’t know. I think the creative mind is a lot like an oyster. I will encounter a certain thing, like a gorilla using sign language or a video game or a cave painting, and something about that thing sticks in me, like a grain of sand inside an oyster. My mind starts spinning a poem around it the way an oyster makes a pearl around a grain of sand. But poems are more tricky than pearls, and the human mind is not as perfect a craftsperson as the oyster. The hard part is polishing the pearl (or poem) well enough so that you want to show it to other people; then, when you have enough of them you can string them together to make a necklace (or a book, if you prefer).

Click here to read the rest

Wednesday 19 June 2013

I'm reading at the Queensland Poetry Festival this summer

I'll be appearing at the Queensland Poetry Festival in Brisbane, Australia this August 23 - 25.

The festival program is now live on the QPF website. Canadian readers will see a few familiar names. Click here to see what's on!

Monday 17 June 2013

Some tips for live literary readings, or how not to be a prima donna:

A colleague of mine recently asked for some tips to give to writers before a live reading. This is what I came up with.

- Show up early, not late. 

- Ask the host how long she/he wants you to read.

- Be flexible. If there is more than one reader, don't demand to go first or last. Let your host curate the evening as she/he sees fit.

- Don't read longer than the time your host has requested/suggested (remember: leave the audience wanting more!).

- Be gracious. Remember to thank your audience/host/fellow readers/venue during your reading.

- If other authors are reading on the same bill, it is polite to stay for their readings, as well.

- Plug your book. It's okay to do this yourself if the host doesn't. It's why you're there (and your publisher will appreciate it). Mention the price.

- If selling your own book, decide on a book price for live readings. As an incentive, it can be a little lower than the list price, but don't shortchange yourself too much!

What would you add? 

Monday 10 June 2013

An erasure poem after Susan Sontag’s “The Aesthetics of Silence” (part 1)

                                      “          .     (     

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                                       ,     .     ,     .     ,     ,     ,     ;     ,     ,    
                                       ;     .          ,          ,     .               ,    
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                                                 .     ,     ,     ,     .     (     :     ,    
                                       ,     ,     .     )     ,     .     ,     ,     ,     -    
                                       .     ,     ,     .     ,          .     (     .     )
                                       ,     -     ,     .     ,     ,     ,     -     ,     ,    
                                                 (          ,          )     ,     ,     .    
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                                       ,    :                         .     ,          (    
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                                       .     ,     .     -     (     )          ,     ,    

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Friday 3 May 2013

"Slam Poetry" explained

All anyone needs to know about "slam poetry" is in this short video.

Thank you.

Thursday 18 April 2013

The Wolsak & Wynn Spring Poetry Launch is this Wednesay, April 24, in Toronto

Please come to the Wolsak & Wynn Spring Poetry Launch is this Wednesay, April 24, at The Garrison (1197 Dundas St W.) in Toronto. Doors at 7pm. Launch at 7:30pm.

Join us as we celebrate the launch of three new outstanding books of poetry from Wolsak & Wynn:

Arguments with the Lake by Tanis Rideout

The Civic-mindedness of Trees by Ken Howe


A Nervous City by Chris Pannell.

The authors will be on hand to give short readings from their new books and to sign copies for you.

If you're looking for an easy way to keep up with all of W&W's news and events, consider joining our Facebook group here:


For Tanis Rideout

“Cold-eyed and driven, these poems carve away the fatty sentiments around the Great Lake swimmers, those glamour girls of myth. With these constantly surprising and multifarious narratives starring Marilyn Bell and Shirley Campbell, two girls swallowing the ‘frigid knife of water’, Tanis Rideout proves herself capable of just about anything.”
— Carolyn Smart

"Poems that swim elegantly, that slide streamlined with every other flowing thing—as if they themselves were another layer of fluid."
— Gord Downie

For Ken Howe

"In The Civic-Mindedness of Trees, an acorn has a “beret tilted at the exact subtle angle/and round face exquisitely featureless.” Play here is serious business. In Ken Howe’s witty, thoughtful new book, trees are points of reference, compositional elements, instigators of verbal riffs, and splendid imaginative fields. Without being required to behave like human beings, they show us, mostly by contrast, and with pleasing complexity, something about what it is to be human."
— Daisy Fried

For Chris Pannell

"Sub- and -urban both, Chris Pannell's poetry is as much emotional cartography as verse, little maps of knowing place, and all the raw love that comes with that kind of attention. A Nervous City looks beyond the veneer and facades of modern urban sprawl to find the what's broken and filthy, then examines it minutely, seeking beauty."
— George Murray

Saturday 23 February 2013

John MacKenzie ponders rationalism, art making, and The Reinvention of the Human Hand

Poet John MacKenzie takes a little time to consider the implications of a rationalist mindset on the creative process as he analyzes aspects of my book The Reinvention of the Human Hand. Here's a sample:
Vermeersch makes poetry out of anything and everything: the cave paintings of Lascaux, a Bosch landscape, anesthesia, a boy of an early, unspecified hominin species, and even Warner Brothers’ cartoons. This willingness to experience, examine, and synthesize the whole of life and culture is to me the essence of artmaking.
Read the whole piece here

Thursday 7 February 2013

Peer Pressure: The Next Big Thing

I have been asked to particpate in The Next Big Thing, a blogging meme concerning forthcoming books, first by Catherine Jenkins and then again by George Murray, and despite the almost certain fatal hubris of the meme's title, I suppose it's time for me to get with it and just do the damn thing, so here goes:  

What is the working title of the book?

The working title of my book is Don't Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something.

Where did the idea come from for the book? 

While completing an MFA in creative writing at the University of Guelph, my thesis was a collection of poems on apocalyptic themes using a variety of forms that generate new poetry from existing texts (centos, erasures, glosas, ekphrasis, etc). For example, the working title (actually the apocryphal last words of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa) appears in a cento (a kind of collage poem) composed entirely of the dying words of notable people. The gist of it was that I was creating apocalyptic poetry using fragments of past literary works in the same way that survivors of a calamity might build new structures from the rubble of a ruined city. The finished book will be a continuation, greatly revised and expanded, of the work I began in my thesis.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This question is clearly biased toward fiction writers, but I'd be happy if the cast of the 1963 film version of Lord of the Flies could be gathered together for a reading of the poems.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? 

If the world is going to end, you'll need the right book of poetry for the occasion.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Over three years and counting. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

One of the themes of my previous book was the origin of human culture, so imagining the end of it seemed a natural starting point for my next book.

What other books would you compare to yours within your genre? 

The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands by Nick Flynn uses some of the same para-textual techniques I'm using, although my book won't adhere as strictly to those constraints as Flynn's does. I see the formal challenges as more of a launch pad than a finish line. Perhaps Apocalyptic Narrative and Other Poems by Rodney Jones is similar in its thematic concerns. I draw inspiration from many sources; I wouldn't be able to name them all here.   

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The book is, I believe, somewhat of a stylistic and formal departure for me. It's an adventurous undertaking, but if we aren't trying something new, then we're only repeating ourselves. I think people who have enjoyed my previous work will enjoy it, but perhaps I will win over some new readers, as well. 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This question doesn't make any sense to me. Having an agent isn't the opposite of self-publishing. This book will not be self-published, nor do I have an agent. Because work on the book is still in progress, I haven't signed a contract for this book yet, so it is too early to say who the publisher will be.

Make up a question you think is pressing in way of poetry today.

Why are people always checking its pulse?


TAGS: I was supposed to line up five more participants for this in advance, but I hate to be pushy about these chain-letter memes, so I haven't done that. I don't know whether or not they will want to participate, or if they have already been tagged, but I would like to hear about what Stuart Ross, Lauren Kirshner, Chris Banks, Grace O'Connell, and Natalie Zina Walschots are working on. And hey, if they don't want to play, they won't get any guff from me, but you should still visit their websites, buy their books, and read their stuff.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Tracking Down Alice in Bluebeardland

An appreciation of the poet Gwladys Downes and a poem I've been hunting for 25 years

I loved the anthology we used in high school English class. At least I think I did. I remember reading things in it that weren't even assigned for homework, especially the poetry. Like many of my peers, I was hungry for culture, and here was a book with a variety of voices and experiences from the English Romantics to the American Modernists to Canadians doing their own renditions of Romanticism and Modernism. It was a book well suited to its purpose, and for anyone who bothered to open it, it offered an escape from the harsh pecking orders of secondary education and from the increasingly dismal environs of Sarnia, Ontario. 

Sarnia in the late 1980s seemed a cultural wasteland. It had a shopping mall, and it had a beach, so at least the possibility of pretending to live out to the shallowest "valley girl" lifestyle was there four months of the year--even if the perfunctory Californian subculture was already passé, it was still exotic in Canada's "chemical valley." Not that pop culture was a reliable distraction; there was a fluctuating number of movie screens in town, and Sarnia was not a frequent stop for a lot of concert tours. Even if you wanted to get lost in your work, you had your work cut out for you. Often literally. Jobs were being cut, and many industrial positions that meant pensions for baby boomers were already being converted to contract and temp work for the next generation. Getting a summer job cutting grass at a petrochemical refinery had become a coveted privilege for anyone aged 16 to 25. The downtown core was already showing signs of demise. But there was this book...

I can't remember the title of this book, or who the editor or publisher might have been. It has been almost 25 years, after all. I believe it was green, but that is a common enough colour for anthologies of English literature. I do remember that this book was instrumental in my discovery of poetry, and I first read many of my early favourites in its pages. There was E. E. Cummings' poem "Buffalo Bill's" and William Carlos Williams' poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" which I thought was hilarious at first until I realized how sad it really is.

It was in this book where I first read William Butler Yeats and Emily Dickinson and Stephen Crane along with so many other famous writers. And it was in this book where I first read a poem by Gwladys Downes.

Gwladys Downes was a Canadian poet and translator who had a long and distinguished career as a professor of French at the University of Victoria. She was not prolific in her output as a poet, publishing only four volumes over a career that spanned half a century. The sparseness of her output has likely meant that she is not as well known as some of her contemporaries like P. K. Page and Phyllis Webb, but she was a fine poet in her own right and did much to advance the art form beyond the writing of her own poems. In addition to her role as an educator, she was a passionate and active translator of Quebecois poetry into English.

For many years I knew nothing of Gwladys Downes' work as an academic or translator, and, to be quite honest, I knew nothing of her work as a poet beyond a single poem of hers that was included in my high school English literature anthology. The poem was called "Alice in Bluebeardland," and I remembered only that I loved it.  

As much as I tried, I could not remember the exact words of the poem, but I knew that it relayed the story of a girl who, having experienced some kind of metaphysical or existential horror, was forever altered in her ability to navigate the "real" world. I know that I likened it to the near-universal trauma of adolescence, and I appreciated the unsentimental appraisal of the damage done therein. It was a good poem to give to high school students, but this wasn't assigned reading. It just one of the many poems I discovered in this book, and its effects have stayed with me over the years.

I would sometimes look for books by Gwladys Downes in libraries and second-hand shops, but to little avail. I would occasionally happen upon House of Cedars, her last book of poems published in 1999, but never anything earlier than that, and so the poem "Alice in Bluebeardland" continued to elude me.

A few years ago, I began to search online in used booksellers' catalogues for Lost Diver, Downes' first collection published in 1955 by Fiddlehead Books, and for When We Lie Together, published in 1973 by Klanak Press, but these titles seemed to be lost to the digital age. Repeated searches of ABEbooks yielded only scattered postings for House of Cedars, which I had already acquired.

Recently, I asked several old classmates from high school if they could remember anything about our English anthology that might help me track it down, but none of them could remember any more than I could. Several weeks later, though, I tried ABEbooks again, and this time I was surprised by what I saw. There were a few listings for a Gwladys Downes book that I had not seen before: Out of the Violent Dark published by Sono Nis Press in 1978. I ordered it immediately, hopeful that "Alice" would be found inside.

The book arrived the other day, and I was instantly pleased with it. Other than some fading to the cover, and a strong, musty aroma of basement storage, the book was square and tight and in near fine condition. The volume itself was a de facto "new and selected" though not advertised as such. It contained poems taken from Downes' earlier collections as well as many of her translations of Quebecois poems that had appeared in various periodicals and anthologies over the years. And to my absolute glee, there it was on page 70, the very poem that I had been hunting for so long: "Alice in Bluebeardland."  

It was everything I remembered it to be: stark, vulnerable, vivid, and riddled with suspense. Here was a poem that I had fallen in love with almost 25 years ago, a poem that made the tedium of "chemical valley" more livable for a curious teenager, and that helped me (though I might not have known it at the time) find the path to a creative pursuit that would occupy the rest of my life.   

See for yourself.

Friday 11 January 2013

I have a new poem in Taddle Creek Magazine

Taddle Creek Magazine has been good to me over the years, and I'm happy they wanted to publish one of my poems in their latest issue. They've got the poem up on their website now, so you can have a look without evening buying the magazine, which you should do anyway, because they have lots of great stuff.

Anyway, here's the poem:

Sugar Transformed By the Sun

“Whatever can / be destroyed is going to be destroyed. Patience, patience. / Hate what needs to be hated. All is finished. All’s completed.” —A. F. Moritz.

Skin. An eye. An ulcer. Whatever
can bleed will be torn by the nail
or the knife. Matter that ripens, that
rots, will be cuisine for the grubs.
If it can burn, be it paper,
or muscle, or coal, it will be ash
when the sun swells and reddens,
taking the inner planets into its bloom
when the apparatus falters.
Whatever can be destroyed

with a look, with a glance, will stand
before the basilisk, the gorgon,
or the cockatrice, and will petrify
as when the heat escapes, all at once,
from a face, from a forest,
and is swapped with layers of
many-coloured silica...

Read the whole poem here.