Review: Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something

Paul Vermeersch
Poetry
120 pages
5 ½” x 8 ½” Paperback
ISBN 9781770412224
First Edition
ECW Press
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Available HERE
$18.95


It’s not
their place to hear our prayers. Instead,
they heed the prayers of shrikes, and the shrikes’
saviour is a mouse impaled on a thorn, and
the Messiah of the mouse is the unsweepable
crumb, and the god of that crumb is the ant,
delving in spongiform pathways, scissor-faced
and legion.
(“Magog — 5,” p. 15)

The past several years saw a rise in the popularity of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature, mainly in the realm of the novel. Poetry, on the other hand, has mostly continued to explore the inner realm of human emotions. Up until now, that is. Paul Vermeersch’s collection, Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, is just as movingly painful to read as its title — taken from the dying words of Pancho Villa — suggests, combining the novel approach to presenting the apocalypse with poetry’s continued fascination in the human condition. The result is a startling series of poems that successfully weaves its way through several time frames, presenting both the extreme apocalypse seen in movies, as well as taking the time to point out the seeds of chaos already ingrained in our society.

The collection is divided into six sections, the title of each one just as startling as the collection title. Moving through them creates a feeling of wading through time, in and out of the present moment, until the timeframe becomes hazy. Vermeersch interchangeably explores both personal and social destruction, convincingly demonstrating how the two coexist. The societal apocalypse side of the poems is filled with familiar imagery of ruined buildings, metal, and a general sense of erosion, presented in such a way that it’s easy to forgot all the clichéd associations with the genre, instead feeling like the movement has only recently occurred, that it is still only beginning to cover the vast territory of possibility.

I personally preferred the inner apocalypse much more, best captured, I found, by the following lines:

You will discover, again, apricots, and again
disappointment.
(“The Palace of Eternal Youth,” p. 40).

The poems in this ‘category’ point out, arguably, everything that is ‘wrong’ with us as humans, yet do so in a way that allows for the reader to connect back to himself, going in search of memories and experiences that bring about a natural empathy and process of analysis that is by no means forced. Poems worth singling out are “They Will Take My Island,” in which the speaker is sitting on an island and pondering the fact that all his past loves and current one will come and conquer him, emotionally and physically, as well as the poem, “I Became Like a Wooden Ark the Lives of Animals Filled Me”. (Vermeersch has a noticeable love of long titles, which are both mesmerizing and always appropriate to the work itself.) The latter is a poem that rapid-fires one brilliant line after another, resulting in both a state of being emotionally overwhelmed but also of feeling enlightened despite the bruising experiences. It’s astounding that lines such as this:

This is an apple. Grenade, I said.
This is a bird. Interceptor, I said.

and this:

One day my clothes didn’t fit,
so they cast me out.
(“I Became Like a Wooden Ark the Lives of Animals Filled me — 2,” p. 42)

can be found on the same page. There is a heap of segments that are quotable for a variety of reasons, constantly reaffirming the fact that Vermeersch is a poet both in tune with the concept but also who knows which words will capture it perfectly, always choosing ones that are ripe for the picking.

One of the other things that stood out about this collection was Vermeersch’s willingness to experiment with form, to pick pieces from other sources and sew them together into a sort of life raft for the reader that would guide him along on the perilous journey. The section “On the Reintegration of Disintegrated Texts: A Manual for Survivors” was a perfect example of this — part musings, part writing prompts, and entirely experimentation and clever imagination. I found myself poring over it the longest, sometimes even taking the time to try writing in my head the kind of poem that the ‘prompts’ proposed.

Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, taking its name from the last couple lines of the very last poem in the collection, doesn’t need to worry about being forgotten anytime soon. It’s a collection that is both down to earth and prophetic, dirty and hopeful, but always entirely honest and wickedly witty.

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