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The Fat Kid

by Paul Vermeersch

For his second collection of poetry, Toronto poet and editor Paul Vermeersch writes, in a linear series of narrative poems, the life story of a fat kid’s battle with anorexia. The kid of the title is Calvin Little, a boy who is little only in name (and in his own sense of self-worth).

On the surface, Vermeersch’s book reads much like a gender-modified version of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. At this level, the poems seem, like the character they describe, rather weak and even occasionally pathetic: “He was sick/of the kisses and invitations flying/like rich kites above/the low-lying slums of the ugly,/the dizzying heights reserved for those/who walk on air….” But there is more going on here at the level of language itself.

Vermeersch is adept at teasing resonant images and phrases out of even hackneyed ideas. Running throughout the text, for example, is the image of Calvin Klein (and for those whose German is a little rusty, klein means little). Klein’s picture perfect ads stand as the symbol of society’s, and thus Calvin Little’s, obsession with thin: “Calvin,/who starved himself marvelous because the billboards told him to.”

This somewhat predictable approach eerily blurs as the figures of Calvin Little and Calvin Klein merge into and emerge out of one another. In “Obsession for Men” the pronoun “he” shifts to describe both the dream body of Klein’s male model in a magazine and Calvin’s own body: “He is/looking fabulous, smelling fantastic,/and this is his world. His. He is/sweating like a work horse in a wool suit….”

Though it decribes a strong character and story, The Fat Kid is a little thin on the textured poetic writing Vermeersch is clearly capable of. Perhaps intentionally, the poems tend to play with the surface of things, with appearances and image. But though this is an interesting approach to a weighty subject, the lack of depth ultimately makes the collection feel, like Calvin after his battle with anorexia, a little on the light side.