The Hard Return

The Hard Return, Marcus McCann, 78 pgs, Insomniac Press, insomniacpress.com, $16.95

T.S. Eliot wrote that “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” In The Hard Return, Marcus McMann seems to have taken this to heart, leaning toward the latter even though this is only his second full-length collection following Soft Where (Chaudiere Books, 2009). McCann has used lines from an astonishing number of poets and poems — the notes section compiles four and half pages of sources. As these are credited, they’re not technically stolen; they emerge as something in between. Borrowed, perhaps.

Some poems blatantly advertise their Frankenstein origin, such as the lines collected in “Twenty-Two Toronto Poems 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.” While for others, attribution is more ambiguous — the entirety of Don McKay’s “Some Functions of a Leaf” is spread across seventeen poems. Except where obviously italicized, I can’t tell an original McCann line from those he lifted from another work. I can’t be certain if that’s because I’m not familiar enough with McCann’s work, or the poets he borrows from, or because these poems work on their own terms, but I’m inclined to go with the latter.

A native of Hamilton, Marcus McCann now lives in Toronto, though he has lived in Ottawa, where he served as the artistic director of the Transgress festival, facilitator of the Naughty Thoughts Book Club, host of the CKCU’s Literary Landscape and, after working in various capacities, became the managing editor and associate publisher of Xtra for both the Toronto and Ottawa editions.

McCann is a veteran of the chapbook. With eight published collections to his name, he includes two poems titled “Poem for a Precious Chapbook” which are precious in their own right. From the first, “Wrench of the racketeer, the revolutionary – / you haven’t been this scared of paper / since Valentine’s Day…” His poems crackle with energetic metaphors; kaleidoscopically shifting through intimate and personal moments imagined or observed, to the more pop cultural concerns of Britney Spears, password protection and a meditation on a puffy coat. It’s a jangly, eclectic collection and one worth checking out. (Nico Mara-McKay)

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