The Hard Return by Marcus McCann

Hey, I’ve got three words in a book with a spine!

I was at Octopus Books yesterday where I picked up Lisa Robertson’s new Bookthug title Nilling, as well as Marcus McCann‘s second trade collection, The Hard Return, published by Insomniac. Marcus lives in Toronto currently, but he was a longtime stalwart of Ottawa’s creative writing community. He ran the Naughty Thoughts Book Club, was one of the stable of hosts for CKCU’s Literary Landscapes, ran his own Onion Union project, published just about everywhere, and eventually saw his first trade collection Soft Where into print with Chaudiere Books. He has also published chapbooks with many of the coolest chapbook publishers in the country (above/ground, The Emergency Response Unit, Rubicon). Marcus is a good poet, and getting better. So it was simple to buy his new book yesterday.

Flipping through, three poems jumped out: “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.” The poems perform exactly the work you would expect, pulling lines from twenty-two poets each on a particular subject. I was thrilled to find three words of my own (“becomes a corner”) tucked in among twenty-one other Ottawa poets disagreeing about the morning. McCann’s extensive notes trace the sources for each line of these three poems. I’m sandwiched in between Shane Rhodes and Stephen Brockwell, excellent company. The entire list is phenomenal, a good starting point to approach contemporary Ottawa poetry.

Twenty-Two Ottawa Poets Fail to Agree About the Morning

A humble summoning of daylight.


Shower spray, sharp needles,

the speed limit, the streamlined

visible and beloved. When we were leaving

the sky-hole, this metal tent (plastic

on the grass, human beings

beaks aloft with ribbon)

blood, velocity and steam:


it falls the way a mind

becomes a corner

now cloud, fish, river, sea

cloud cloud cloud

of sad grey computer captains, the impedimenta

soft, on leather skin.


No stopping to browse The Terror Shop:

on Elgin Street, very little

of iron and carbon–these stories of metal

consigned pounds of paper to recycling. That too

is a bit much. We’re related how?


Is this apocalypse parenthetical or parallel?

Be a saxophone disrupting sirens.

Hush baby, hush.

My poem in question is “Other Surfaces” from a very old chapbook: Remember Our Young Bones (Ottawa: In/Words, 2008).

It is somewhat horrifying to be reminded of this older work, and even more horrifying to think that Marcus had looked at it relatively recently. I remember writing and laying out this chapbook during my final summer working for the City of Ottawa in School Zone Traffic Safety in the Traffic and Parking Department (it was more exciting than it sounds!). I think the layout has held up more strongly than the poems, but I still have a soft spot for the poem Marcus plundered. Beside it in the image below is a poem that was later extended into the sequence Releasing Symmetry, published a short chapbook in January 2009.

Another interesting In/Words tangent in Marcus’ book is that he also quotes from Jacqueline Lawrence’s chapbook Surrender in “Twenty-two Ottawa Poets…” Surrender was being published just as I was becoming involved with the mag and chapbook press. I remember Peter Gibbon’s headaches over the layout. As I recall it was published jointly with Dusty Owl to coincide with a reading of Jacqueline’s. Looking back through old emails, it looks to have been published in October 2006.

When Soft Where was released I intended to write a review. It never happened, unfortunately, but I remember wanting to discuss Marcus’ public readings. I struggled with Marcus’ work until I heard him read for the first time (at a Bywords event, I believe, where I got my hands on a copy of his early chapbook Heteroskeptical, still one of the best titles I’ve heard). His is a poetry that I feel demands to be heard. Much of what he does depends on his voice, his natural rhythms. The complexity of his work comes through when he speaks it. At the time, I hadn’t read nearly enough, or variously enough, to approach Marcus’ work in an informed way. His work on the page is excellent. However, I stand by my feeling that it is only made stronger by hearing him read.  He has some launch events coming up for The Hard Return. Get out to one, buy the book, listen to Marcus. He’s a good force in Canadian poetry.

Published by Cameron Anstee

Cameron Anstee lives and writes in Ottawa ON where he runs Apt. 9 Press and is pursuing a PhD in English Literature at the University of Ottawa.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: