The Bull Calf

Reviews of Fiction, Poetry, and Literary Criticism

Vermin by Lance La Rocque

Reviewed by Gillian Massel

Lance La Rocque

Vermin. BookThug, 2011

89 pp.


Lance La Rocque’s debut publication, Vermin, is a collection of atomized meditations on love, capitalism, family, the body, and the unappealing realities that infest everyday experience. Poignant, quixotic, and even, at times, unsettling, La Rocque’s small, epigrammatic poems reveal La Rocque’s great potential. In Vermin, La Rocque attempts to reach the nucleus of his poetics by stripping each poem down to its essential features. What emerges is an almost anti-poetic collection that refuses to sentimentalize the speaker’s experiences, yet one that is nevertheless striking, refreshing, and provocative in its crude simplicity.

Poems such as “Capitalism,” “Open,” “Note,” and “Vermin” most successfully reflect La Rocque’s minimalist ambitions.  In each instance, La Rocque begins with the familiar only to delicately reverse the reader’s expectations in the turn of a line. What results is a pithy aphoristic statement that establishes itself as “truth” while simultaneously undercutting its own claim to essentialism: “Be grateful / for what you get. / It’s all just / a great theft” (49). Indeed, La Rocque outlines his design in the poem “Buried,” where, in answer to the question “Can one come to the end of the book?” (57), La Rocque affirms, “it comes to no one THE IRREFUTABLE TRUTH” (57, original emphasis).

If there is an aesthetic statement in Vermin, it can perhaps be found in the poem “Molecular” where La Rocque describes his own collection as “barely / poetry / fucking [around] w/ / the real” (83). La Rocque is uncompromisingly economic with his verse. Many of the poems in the collection are not more than one or two stanzas in length and demonstrate a conscious attempt on La Rocque’s part to unceremoniously excise poetic language. Thus, while Vermin is unlikely to impress the reader with its lyricism, La Rocque’s poems, which are “not then / about words” (83), nevertheless register along “barely bearable / topography of nerves” (83).

In particular, poems where La Rocque addresses his daughter Emily demonstrate the emotional “realness” La Rocque is capable of conveying with his stylistic concision. In “Crossing (11 Months/40 Years),” the poet describes his connection to the concrete/abstract dichotomy that Emily embodies. According to the speaker, Emily is “Earth / stolen from Nothing” (43), and her contrariety is what allows the poet to “halfway enter” (43) the imaginative landscapes of his poetics while remaining “halfway anchored” (43) to reality by Emily’s “small hand” (43). Emily is both the poet’s release and the poet’s tether. As a result, “Crossing (11 months/40 years)” reflects the powerful creative bond that unites father and daughter, poet and child.

As an inaugural collection of poems, Vermin reflects La Rocque’s decisive attempt to identify a personal poetic signature. La Rocque moves effortlessly between themes, capturing the quotidian in memorably expressive shards of poetic experience and revealing the diversity of subjects that preoccupy the poet. Sinewy, frugal, and highly compressed, Vermin affirms La Rocque’s perspicacious poetic eye and anticipates the poet’s future successes.


At press time: Gillian Massel holds an M.A. in English Literature from Dalhousie University where her thesis examined the autobiographical personas in selected fiction by Michael Ondaatje. Gillian's interests include Canadian Literature, Modernism, and Post-colonial theory.



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