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

by Paul Vermeersch

Paul Vermeersch’s new collection is the latest example of a turn to conceptual poetics in Canada (ongoing since the success of Christian Bök’s Eunoia in 2000), which coincides with the persistent notoriety of Kenneth Goldsmith’s “uncreative writing” stateside. The volume includes centos, erasures, found-text collages, and a series of procedural, transcriptive poems. Don’t Let it End Like This is prophetically post-apocalyptic; rather than confronting the present head-on, Vermeersch comes at it from a recovered past, a parallel present, and an imagined future.

Don't Let It End Like This (Paul Vermeersch)The opening sequence of the book, “Magog,” juxtaposes an apocalyptic rhetoric drawn from Revelations with the lexicon of contemporary culture, offering a comment on (or, at least, observations about) late capital and its relationship to the ecological crisis: “Under spinning beach balls punched aloft, they march! With smokers’ tooth polish, with scratch-and-win! Beware! Beloved of Zippo and Bic, isn’t this what you wanted?” We see a similar admixture of rhetorics in “What the Prophecy Could Not Foretell,” where the­ speaker laments the inability to foresee
“[t]hat boastful automakers on the verge of ruin would wage a PR war against sculpture.”

The best sequence is “On the Reintegration of Disintegrated Texts: A Manual for Survivors.” The sequence is reminiscent of Darren Wershler’s The Tapeworm Foundry in providing a series of suggested – and occasionally impossible – conceptual writing projects, such as “Transcribe every word from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Michael Bay’s Transformers, alternating as you go,” or “Write out Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on blades of grass, mow them, and then paste the clippings randomly into a book.” Vermeersch actually takes himself up on some of the challenges, such as when he removes “all the words from Susan Sontag’s essay ‘The Aesthetics of Silence’ and arrange[s] the remaining punctuation into sonnets.” The result is amusing and oddly lovely.

Demonstrating remarkable virtuosity and range, Vermeersch here assumes the contradictory mantle of the prophetic, post-apocalyptic poet, and the poems suitably offer a paradoxical mix of cynicism and hope.