Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Poetry Canadian

Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy


by (author) Paul Vermeersch

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2018
Canadian, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2018
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2018
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it



It is the Third Millennium. The 20th century is a memory. Humans no longer walk on the moon. Passenger planes no longer fly at supersonic speeds. Disinformation overwhelms the legitimate news. The signs of our civilization’s demise are all around us, but hope is not lost. In these poems, you will find a map through our dystopia and protection from all manner of monsters, both natural and human made. Only the products of our imaginations — buildings and movies, daydreams and wondrous machines — can show us how to transform our lives. Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy is a survival guide for the Dark Age that lies ahead.


About the author

Paul Vermeersch is the author of three collections of poetry: The Fat Kid, Burn (a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award) and, most recently, Between the Walls. He is also the editor of the anthology The I.V. Lounge Reader. His next collection, The Reinvention of the Human Hand, is forthcoming in 2010. His poetry has been published widely in literary journals and magazines. He lives in Toronto, where he works as a teacher and serves as poetry editor for Insomniac Press. He is a long-time reader and admirer of the work of Al Purdy.

Paul Vermeersch's profile page

Excerpt: Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy: Poems (by (author) Paul Vermeersch)


1: The Country of Previous Enthusiasms


The Country of Previous Enthusiasms




The grandeur of their Expos was familiar:


their pastime was commuter rail departing


from geodesic spheres, and grand arches built to span—


if only allegorically—disparate ideals.


The elders of our nation found it quaint.




Their designers were philosophers. Ours,


engineers. In their country, with its globular buildings,


and lanky, finned automobiles, the people


might have been happier, but we


have more efficient use of space.




They would chat with their neighbours about


such bric-a-brac, and visit their landmarks


in eager groups. When they finally reached


the age of shortage, overcome by harsher facts,


their assimilation was all but certain.




There could be no treaty. It isn’t just


the Apollonian need to set things square.


There was always so much waste, even in the way


they walked. Our incursion was immaculate.


We are a decent people who only wish to be correct.


Without Architecture




There would have to be another vision for occupying space,


new rituals for sitting and standing, for the physical interruption


of the planar world. No longer would we distinguish


between exist and inhabit. No asking where we live.




We live. Now to lug our dwellings like a hermit crab


or not. What would the word for shelter be?


Like cave or under-hang, or more like shade or company?


Two hundred words for horizon comprise an anthem.




Without walls, privacy would still occur, only wilder.


We would vote by standing upright, and emphasize


ourselves by raising our hands, lengthening our votes


as a challenge to the levelness of the meeting place.




Prisons would be nothing—but banishment theoretical and severe:


how best to find a cave or shade beyond the vanishing point?


And who goes there? It was the heretic and prodigy who said:


I can make a cathedral of my condition and worship there.


Without Agriculture




We’d have to rethink our investments—bearish


on the local trade. We never put much stock in that.


And reckless with our gratitude, assigning it


helter-skelter to the windfall and the kill.


Otherwise, we’d only have ourselves to thank.




But we’d be bullish on travel points and dining out.


And bad with names: no Mud Hens, no Netherlands.


Of course there would be more fundamental gaps.


Just tally up the unanswered questions: How


do you make a straight line run parallel to another?




What are the secrets of the integer and the abacus?


When does the accounting of an ox head lead to A?


Without roots, we’d find the answers here and there.


Here, the world would be our chocolate factory.


There, we wouldn’t have to settle for anything.


Editorial Reviews


“Replete with deep thinking and reflection, revealing the poet’s wide-ranging intellect, eclectic mind, and penchant for sharp satire.” — Publishers Weekly

“Pataphysics meets pulp in Paul Vermeersch’s sixth collection . . . Gone is the flat-footed earnestness which sometimes troubled Vermeersch’s earlier work, replaced with a canny pop acceleration equal to the obdurate cargo of politics.” — Quill & Quire

“Beautiful . . . Part inspirational tract (borne of a deliciously playful inspiration, not the usual kind), part prophetic revelation, and all crafted with Vermeersch’s signature elan, Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy is a generous chocolate box stuffed with bon(-bon) mots, the perfect gift for your inner visionary. Shine on, you crazy zircon.” — This Magazine

“Wit is Vermeersch’s stylistic signature, and it is present at full power in this collection.” — The Coil Magazine

“Paul Vermeersch’s Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy is in turns wry, funny, horrifying and incisive . . . It both delights during a quick read and rewards careful re-reading, and I highly recommend it . . . Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy is perceptive, carefully-crafted, melancholy and funny. The simultaneously critical and wryly amused attitude of the collection is perhaps the only self-defence that we have against time and the monsters of our own creation.” — The /t?mz/ Review