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Book Reviews

Between the Walls

by Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch paints poems with a palette of words so sincere that even his darkest moments avoid the usual clichés of the depressed poet. His latest collection, Between the Walls, views society as it is, with no pretty phrases to gloss up reality.

A sad and frustrated voice runs through the collection. It cries out to discard materialism and find beauty in the small and unnoticed, even when greedy neighbours desire the opposite. One poem wonders why we work “to pay for food that coats/our hearts in lethal grease” and another poem hopes “the water might finally be clean again,/and the old music will play/in the bandshell again.”

Despite a hefty dose of cynicism, Between the Walls is more than the diary of a curmudgeon. The descriptions and metaphors are both colourful and fresh, such as the unique way Vermeersch personifies faces of nameless people: “Phosphorescent bodies glow/in geologic eras of beerfog.” An elegant command of language mixes well with layered stories. Recalling a boy drawing Snoopy on a steamy mirror flows as seamlessly as describing a pigeon dying under car tires, and both examples also highlight Vermeersch’s penchant for symbolism.

The poignant portrayal of life-changing moments is not a great departure from Vermeersch’s last collection, The Fat Kid. Vermeersch’s eye has always caught moral decay, but now his words tremble with restlessness. These poems want people to pay attention to their isolating attitudes, or at least pay their dues before assuming roles of power.

Framing these portraits is a tone that also carries a depressing aftertaste. Poetry can only be so bitter to be consistently
palatable, and many of Vermeersch’s poems are weighed down by dismal ruminations. Heavier material may not work well for a spring read, but Between the Walls is an ideal sidekick for an indoor night, when loneliness feels better than it sounds.