By Greg Bem
But what I said about all this,
repeating what you’d read and
re-reading what I’d read and
all we thought was said,
was all erased, or most of it,
with magnets, while I slept
on the benches of Gate Six.
– Post Futurism
Poet and educator Anthony McCann isn’t new to poetry or poetry collections. He has an exciting history that has proven his ability to tackle the massive. His latest book, however, is a short one. I ♥ Your Fate is this year’s follow-up to Moongarden (2006). A book reflecting experience and self-challenge, “Fate” is not without faults; however, the book is ultimately curious as it confronts the challenges in finding a central harmony in a world of many voices.
From the beginning the structure of the book is clear. McCann has done well to establish three distinct pieces to the larger puzzle that can be considered an official “Statement of the Artist”. The sections are succinct: “The Event” is an open-faced collage of love poems that scatter the mind and warp the glazed muse and pay homage to heroes and villains alike, never letting animal personas leave perspective. “I ♥ Your Fate” is a much more difficult series of pillar-like poems that rattle and struggle and yet have many hidden rewards. “New Dreams of Mammal Island” follows closely, closing the book with fantastical wordplay that balances the rest of the book through sincere fun but fails to achieve the amount of casual passion established at this volume’s beginning.
In a site prepared by the dead for our joy
I lay in the grass with the beetles and worms
To watch the light count off each little blade
Breathing in dirt smell, sky smell and noise
The book is divided into the three sections but its challenging emotive contexts and invisible patterning divide it even further—not necessarily for the better but not necessarily for the worse either. This book is tricky. On one hand we have McCann, poet extraordinaire, attempting to bridge reader and poetic universe—a feat both genuine and yet exciting. McCann goes out on all limbs to be fresh and vivid, portraying scenes in specific and imaginative light. What is normally a delicate task, the process of inventing the genuine image, proves nearly impossible as McCann incorporates his schizophrenic narration. There are so many stories thrust together throughout these poems that the world appears thriving and failing at the same time, the light switch of a room turned on and off again every few seconds.
That said, the challenge to express in a linear fashion is not necessarily in vogue where contemporary poetics are concerned. Where craft and style through such cessation of definition are concerned, McCann is both accurate and aesthetically gratifying. But how far these lines of verse crisscross beyond the surreal into a mass of legitimate confusion certainly cut off invitations toward a wider audience.
So that once again, beloved readers,
I find that I have died. I die
each time inside my body
each time I eat your food
– Of the Mockingbird
Readers of poetry who can successfully breach the wall, step over the boundary, and enter the cyclically-inspiring and equally-magical grounds of I ♥ Your Fate will find McCann’s lingual momentum stunning, charming, and even quite relatable. Particularly the opening section, which has the most remarkable and memorable poems in which McCann’s prowess shines rather than blurs or dulls. Whether McCann is writing from the eyes of a mockingbird or in a love letter of his own to the Catholic Church, these pieces are enjoyable.
The blurring arrives, much to the book’s disdain, with the title section, smacked into the middle of all the excitement. These intermediary poems are clever, yes, and daunting, true, but fail to provoke any equitable stimulation. There is the sense of a singular muse here, but the sense never lasts. Vantage is fleeting. These poems are momentary but lack momentum.
Fast forward through to the book’s final phase and once again the reader is confronted with a smorgasbord from the poetic continuum, but McCann’s selection in order is precise, engaging, and maintains stamina. Short volumes of poetry should sit idly as the world flies by, or vice versa. Here, poems like “Your Voice” reinvigorate the book after a downshift in the previous section:
And the trees opened their shirts stepped out of their shirts
Out of their pants stepped out of their pants
And the tree started to weep I mean rain it was raining
And stood there all naked and human and shaking
And your face was an image of waiting in that rain
A kind of rain smeared face half irritation half despair
– Your Voice
It’s hard not to like poems that catch an ear through rhythmic density, and McCann is stunning at pulling these maneuvers off every once in a while. His writing makes the effort appear both natural and planned. In this final section there are lists and there are catastrophes. There is power and there is energy. In these final pages McCann’s major influences are released: William Carlos Williams, the New York School, and major voices from the San Francisco Renaissance all creep up and linger around the edge of these poems. But aside from homage to “In the American Grain”, McCann takes no allegiance.
Like a poet who is trained in many forms and styles, or a magician who has many tactics to back up his performance, McCann has constructed within his book a toolkit, or a preview, reflecting his diverse capabilities.
Terrible dreams of alcohol. Of canals
of alcohol. Of watery transport. Awful
television dreams. Terrible dreams of children.
Reality Children of
Reality Parents. Awful dreams
of children in rows. Of all of us in the bar
as the sun sets on our faces and the
terrible alcohol burns us.
– More Dreams of Waking
While I ♥ Your Fate may not find an audience as wide as other contemporary volumes of verse, it will certainly appeal to those with a poetic history. McCann comes from the trained, the scholarly, the endearing, and he has challenged himself and his place as a writer, and will not sacrifice that challenge for his audience. The challenge is meant to be taken.