Perhaps I’m going out on a limb, but I’ll speculate that no other book of poetry published in Canada this year will include meditations on dunk tanks (that’s dunk without an r, you party animals), pissing in public, saxophones, orgasms and puffy coats. This is a good thing. Poetry is too often predictable. This book is not.
In The Hard Return, Marcus McCann responds to a world bogged down by inane blogs and a reality that seems password protected. Unlike his previous collection, Soft Where, which was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and a Lambda Literary Award, these poems seem less concerned with sex. They are still sexy, though more interested in snuggling small considerations than thrusting confessionals.
Of note is McCann’s use of lists. Unlike other mediums, where the standard list is used to document popularity and affirm nostalgia (that’s you, Jian Ghomeshi), McCann’s lists tend to layer his poems with unexpected meanings.
The poem “Pipe” is an imagistic-laden comment on the allure of drug culture and the phallic. In “Oversized Gold Lamé Handbag,” he lists the implications, as only a gay man can, of the “sun-kissed tinsel.” In “Ten Facts About the Saxophone” he describes how “the saxophone is a kind of/CPR . . . ” and it “creates understanding between the sexes.” These are all smart and original takes on everyday objects.
Whether through juxtaposition or simply acknowledging an item’s existence or giving something a new context, his poems amplify the significance of small events and gestures. This is no small feat in a world that often bombards and desensitizes.
McCann also uses the list form to create poems comprising the lines of 22 poets from each of Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto. (Disclosure: I was not aware that one of my lines was included in the collection when I agreed to review it). In this manner, he not only acknowledges these poets and their communities, but also creates new works directly from their words. It was a pleasure to be included in “Twenty-Two BC Poets Use Orgasm as a Metaphor for Belonging,” though I never expected to experience a group orgasm with most of them.
The biggest acknowledgment, however, is saved for Canadian poetry icon Don McKay, whose poem “Some Functions of a Leaf” is included in its entirety, though spread throughout the collection in 17 poems. This is a lovely touch.
Apart from a few poems that lacked the felicitous sounds and rhythms found in most of the collection, McCann has written a smart book that pinpoints without pushing or poking. Check it out.
The Hard Return