Marcus McCann: Two new poems

Marcus McCann
Marcus McCann

Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Toronto poet Marcus McCann spent a number of years writing and publishing in Ottawa before heading off to Law School in 2009. He is the author of two books of poems—Soft Where (Chaudiere Books, 2009) and The Hard Return (Insomniac Press, 2012)—as well as a number of poetry chapbooks including So Long, Derrida (UESA, 2006), Heteroskeptical (above/ground press, 2007), Basement Tapes (with Nicholas Lea and Andrew Faulkner, 2007), petty illness leaflet (Onion Union, 2008), The tech/tonic suite (Rubicon Press, 2008), Force quit (The Emergency Response Unit, 2008), Town in a Long Day of Leaving (The Onion Union, 2009; above/ground press, 2009), The Glass Jaw (Bywords, 2010) and Labradoodle, An essay on David McGimpsey (above/ground press, 2013). He won the John Newlove Award and the EJ Pratt Medal, is a former artistic director of the Transgress! Festival and the Naughty Thoughts Book Club, and is currently a part-owner of Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop.

Between his two trade collections, Soft Where and The Hard Return, McCann’s poems made an incredible leap in quality, furthering his gymnastic precision to compose lines one can bounce either a quarter or a round off, writing of dislocation and location, and the tensions between a series of poles. In The Malahat Review, Vanessa Herman described The Hard Return as “a musical, sensual delight, a plurality of voices both human and instrumental.” In an interview conducted by Kevin Spenst soon after the publication of Soft Where, McCann wrote:

So much of poetry today works from source texts: cento, glosa, poems with epigraphs, retellings, translation (transelation, homo-linguistic translation), allusion, found poems, plunderverse, flarf, erasure, anagram, and so on. The creative act in producing a found poem, for instance, is the act of carving text out of one context and putting it in another. For erasure, the creative act is deletion. These are essentially poems created by editing, by revision. Revision as curation? Or as collation?

The density of McCann’s lines are incredibly packed, sassy, sensual and wry and move at lightspeed, nearly light-headedly so, delighting in an openness and sense of play. In The Hard Return, McCann writes poems that pilfer and magpie, reshaping them into his own fantastic entities, and include commentary and critique on human interactions as well as the failure and confusion of those interactions. One of the threads through the book is the critique that exists via poem titles, a series of pieces that lift lines from other sources—“Twenty-Two Toronto Poets Wake up on the / Bathroom Floor and Discuss Their Hangover,” “Twenty-Two BC Poets Use Orgasm As a / Metaphor for Belonging,” and “Twenty-Two Ottawa Poets Fail to Agree about / the Morning”—all of which list in the colophon the poems and poets borrowed from for each piece, in order of appearance. In an interview conducted by editor Paul Vermeersch just prior to the release of The Hard Return, McCann spoke briefly on some of his subject matter: “I write poems about cell phones and puffy coats and apartment towers because for most Canadians, that’s more likely to be an image they can conjure in their heads, compared to a red-throated lorikeet or a creeping thistle, or whatever.”

The work that has been slowly emerging since the publication of The Hard Return shows a writer with less to prove, more confidence to explore and experiment, working to stretch out the possibilities of what might be possible. In his review of McCann’s most recent chapbook, Labradoodle, over at the ottawa poetry newsletter, Ryan Pratt wrote:

Comedy is an umbrella word harboring countless sharp divisions. For the same reasons the art-form garners cautious recommendations and brazen critiques, comedy as a term maintains its positive associations because of our subjective preferences. So it comes as no surprise that Labradoodle, An Essay on David McGimpsey eschews broad observation by targeting its key demographic: the creative class. If you noted the “on” in the title, you’ll know that McCann’s punchlines are either bouncing off McGimpsey or self-inflicted, riffing constantly on the humble life of the poet. [...]

His comic timing not only registers on paper, it proves inseparable from his line breaks and I’ve sometimes needed reminding that McCann remains a poet first because of that fluidity. Beneath all of his wry, self-depreciating wit, however, is the insightful and inventive mind capable of catching fresh humour out of everyday rituals. Labradoodle contains many instantly classic, write-on-the-wall, one-liners that are best preserved in the hilarious logic of McCann’s full verse and not necessarily in McGimpsey’s shadow. All killer, no filler.


In Praise of the Sun-Cloud-Rain-Lightning Icon

Pictograph of our actual days
with a chance of everything.

Patience, honey. Air will send
live updates.

Sit still with your unsatisfied heart.
I know you want

“an answer”

oh, to abandon odds
for a thumbnail hinting
all options are equal

so none is exactly likely.
Or in the long view,

given infinite skies
the probability of all events
tends toward one.

But no. To abandon odds
is to abandon panic, panic

that cancels picnics,

sticky bike trips to nowhere.
The wheel has one bright spot
and that is enough.

Add your applause

to the tentative plaudits
of its makers:

imagine the colloquium
at the Conference of New Meteorology

—convened in a field
of thistles, bugged wind,
rim lit up in pre-storm glow—

to adopt for the future
an ideogram of doubt

and sing its song,
maybe, maybe.


A tool to stitch strips
in an overplucked

couplet. Rest

but not really. Your knees
scooching air

from a sleeping bag.
Did you know

a little breath
can make serum?

Glyph which says

knowing pause
can hide an independently
beautiful, parallel

little leer,

can hide momentum,
which wants you to

and does not want you
to stop. // watches

poor human us,
lazy, concrete lovers

and quietly pries open
poemish soundbites. I wrote

“an // independently / beautiful,
parallel // little leer”

thinking of a dam
you and a wind
can walk on.

I’m not saying mystery,
I’m just sort of

“Sort of // incompetent.”

See? Think, nap
when a nap won’t take,

anticipation, pre-photo

preening, the handsome

fidgety glottals
before a pickup starts,

rest, quarter rest, stroke

stroke, in fill,