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In celebration of planetary poetry month 22 Add to ...

By Judith Fitzgerald


Paul Vermeersch, born in Mississauga and raised in Southwestern Ontario, writes circles around his immediate contemporaries, everywhere demonstrating his stunningly honed wit, keenly observing eye and finely tuned ear. The author of 2000's Burn, 2002's The Fat Kid and Between the Walls (2005), the now-Torontonian's work ranks among the finest inked by any poet of his generation.

Jacob McArthur Mooney: We're about to jump into a poem by Paul Vermeersch from his yet-to-be-published fourth book, The Reinvention of the Human Hand (McClelland and Stewart, 2010). This is an ideal specimen of his work. Paul is an incredibly dexterous poet, capable of a tonal range that in a single line can oscillate organically between high art and low, between reverence and mischief, between grief and celebration. It has been a pleasure to see him introduce his new poems on the Toronto reading circuit over the past couple of years, and to witness that rarest of compliments, the sight of the (usually reserved) crowds in attendance at poetry readings spontaneously rising to their feet, out of turn, and rewarding every poem with unembarrassed applause. It promises to be the kind of book that garners attention. A theme throughout Paul's work is empathy for the animal world that never loses its human subjectivity, one that is committed to seeing the unique "otherness" of the wild rather than only its anthropomorphised translation. This selection is from a three-part poem for Koko, the most famous resident of The Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California; it demonstrates his unique ability to speak simultaneously to the specific while pointing a finger at a world hidden beneath it.

Ape (part one)

For Koko

Ape born in Frisco, born out of darkness of mountain           forests, out of rain that doesn't fall, but hovers. Come, Ape, out of bushmeat trade and war zone,           out of coffee and tea for human need. Come out of blood diamond, come out of strip mine,           out of pit viper and mosquito, out of tick. Ape who lives in Woodside, Ape who rides in Honda,           who wears red sweater. Come speak. Ape of legend, come. Out of colonial science, out of Bible,           come monster of Skull Island, of Original Sin, of           City of Gold, come take this kitten to your breast           and speak of love unconditional, Earthmotherhood. What did the old men make of you, Ape, when they drew           their Victorian cartoon, when they posed for their           daguerreotype holding your scalp? Teeth of the meat-           eater, murderer's hands, bush devil, gargoyle, proof. Come Morning Star, come Adversary, daughter of the East.           Come beast-thing, come witch, child of the Nephilim,           giant in the Earth, come demonstrate the egg-shell           gentleness of your strength. And what did the young men make of you when they came           with their machete genocide, radiating smoke? They made you Lamb of the wilderness, one animal's breath           at the centre of the green and white day. Hush-a-bye,           hidden, quiet with your kind on the unclimbed slopes. There, in shadow, in the hovering rain, the family almost stirs.

-- Unpublished. © 2009 Paul Vermeersch. Exclusive to The Globe and Mail. Reprinted by permission of the poet. All Rights Reserved.

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