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rob mclennan #163

rob mclennan

Force Quit by Marcus McCann. (Toronto ON: The Emergency Response Unit, 2008. 24 pp., $5)
You’re just like a Robert Bateman painting. I
you’re not blurry.
We all wake up somewhere, murmur, period.
Off the Eton track, a popular mechanic
fries pancakes, doesn’t waffle. That’s good
Flow chart breeding parts with a soaked
felt marker — representative, circle. Craft-y,
circle. Wild life, the snowstorming least
likelihood. You’re pretty sure you don’t know.
Or you’re pretty, comma, sure. You don’t know.
And when I said ‘you me me,’ your coworkers
guffawed like I’d been downing elevator gears.
Get it? That means it’s raining where
where-iness is. Mark here with an ex.
With a first trade collection, Soft where (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2009) forthcoming in spring, and more than a couple of poetry chapbooks over the past few months, including The tech/tonic suite (Edmonton AB, Rubicon Press, 2008), petty illness leaflet (Ottawa ON: privately printed, 2008) and Heteroskeptical (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2007), Ottawa poet, editor and journalist Marcus McCann has certainly been making waves with his poetry. He’s come quite a long way from publishing his first poem in The Antigonish Review when he was but eighteen, all of a decade earlier. In short, sharp bursts, his poetry plays an extremely smart and layered post-lyric lyric gymnastics, and what makes a McCann poem is the relative ease with which he twists words, phrases and ideas. He turns them so quickly-slow that you don’t even notice the twists until you’re already caught up into them, making them one of the best examples of what can be called “serious play” in poetry (which can often seem a rarity, even through those who claim to be working within it). McCann makes his impromptu feats look deceptively simple, a leap and a twist in mid-air and a perfect landing, in a poetry that knows far more than it lets on. It’s as though he is one of the few Canadian poets to pick up on what other poets such as Margaret Christakos and Erin Mouré have been laying down for years.
                        Bussing, a guest, visitation
                        Grifter is soon. Kinsey-counted digits,
                        slick skinned insert, picked a city’s
                        provocative soccer-er for visiting.
                        Curdled, terse outputs — floored outfits —
                        packed up: away, jersey. Ask
                        Kesey to cost your proposal,
                        solve palsy with a blank-K grant.
                        Uneven breathing
                        wrestles the subtler Bunsen
                        from upturned lungs, anxiety’s upswing.
                        We fought like toddlers? Pluck up
                        your cup of coddling, douse
                        the gusting ghost. This story’s got legs.
Through this small chapbook of new work, the strength of McCann’s poems lay in its inquisitions, pushing a line further than mere questioning, but weighing in, where the answers are fluid and often impossible to know, and far less important than knowing how to properly ask. In Force quit, a collection of twenty-some single page poems, each second is titled “Force quit,” what your computer asks after a program stalls and you have to suddenly push it. Quit. With each poem in the series twisting off some of the language of the previous. This is something he has done before, pilfering the words of previous works, including in the collaborative homolinguistic project of uncredited poems published as Basement Tapes (Ottawa ON: The Onion Union, 2007), produced with two of his friends, Ottawa poets Andrew Faulkner (now in Toronto, publisher of this current chapbook) and Nicholas Lea (author of the collection Everything is movies, published by Chaudiere Books in 2007). According to the ‘notes on the text’ at the back of that project, “The author of each poem only saw the individual poem he had been given and worked loosely within the confines of translation,” suggesting a sequence of originals that the three of them all worked on not included or even referenced (but for one piece done as a phonetic translation, and another where all the s-words that appear are from a previous chapbook manuscript of McCann’s).
     For whatever reason, Ottawa, over the past couple of years, has become quite a hotbed of original writing, with writers coming up out of the woodwork such as McCann, Pearl Pirie, Sandra Ridley, Una McDonnell, Cameron Anstee, Rhonda Douglas, Nicholas Lea, Max Middle and Gwendolyn Guth, all of which you will be hearing from over the next little bit, adding to an already-strong list of other active poets such as Stephen Brockwell, Monty Reid, Anne Le Dressay, Ian Roy, Peter Richardson, David O’Meara, Elisabeth Harvor, Rob Winger and Shane Rhodes.
     The fourth of McCann’s in this current series reads:
            Force quit
            From the subjective mechanics
            evaluation handout: whatever woozies,
            fuzziness, unfairness, buzzing,
            see where it’s chattery, past the grit girders,
            hurdy gurdy. Go there, eat the cheap
            breakfast. Such the juice from a dozen
            startled cirtruses. In the pane glaring:
            The navel academy instantly disproved
            by its existence, whoops, what we expect.
            Admit the word chinks are ours. What sucks
            we made. Or we suspect a hypotheses graded
            on a grid. What’s elastic, if we don’t
            bend it? Please include a cover page.