The Hard Return by Marcus McCann
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I picked this up based on some fantastic editorials I have seen the author write on the witchhunts of sexual minorities.
It is difficult to review books of poetry. It can always be said that you are not well versed enough to understand the deeper meaning behind it, or that you simply didn't "get" it. I think though the author has some responsibility to help us get it, to not write for himself but rather for an audience with the understanding that he is letting us into his world and that we may need navigational assistance.
There is a lot of ideas at play in McCann's sophmore effort, for example taking one poem by another author and spreading it over 17 different poems, taking lines of poems from MANY other authors and combining them into one poem, turning a review of a Britney Spears record into a poem, creating a poem with found text from the internet, etc. It's a lot of ideas for a slim volume.
The work is best with a reoccuring theme, taking inconsequential objects, a t shirt, a flip-flop, a mug, a chicken wing, and giving the items new life and purpose.
For example, the fantastic, thought-provoking "DUNK TANK" ends with:
A GAME OF SOCIAL STUDIES, THREE BALLS FOR A DOLLAR, THREE
CHANCES TO OVERTURN THE STATIC, THE GOADING, DROP A BULLY
LIKE A BULLY DROPS A BRAN MUFFIN, CHANCES THAT DEPEND
ON HOW EAGER THE ARM IS TO CATCH THE LIGHT, HOW RIGGED IT IS.
EQUITABLE ESTOPPELS, A RATIO OF VEX TO VELOCITY, YOU'VE MADE
NOW SWIM IN IT CUT WITH IT'S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE.
AND AFTER, THEY'LL EMPTY, COLLAPSE; IT'S RENTED,
SO WHATEVER WAS IN US THAT'S GLEEFUL, A TRUCK HAULS OFF AT FOUR.
But this is just one of the many, many ideas in the 63 pages of poems.
For every great one like AT FIRST I FELT SMALL, AND THEN, there are far more where the ideas presented are not at all relatable to the audience or to anyone but the author himself. And with the ideas at play constantly changing, the reader cannot really keep up.
For example, I was excited to see a poem about Toronto, HASSLE FREE CLINIC, TORONTO:
MY TORSO A RABBIT EAR ABOVE HIM.
WAISTBAND AT MY KNEES, KNEES LIKE FEET
I USED TO STAND ON SHINS.
THE INKJET IN MY HEAD SPITS REAMS.
MY MIND'S ELEVATOR MUSIC, SEX --
IF I HAD TO, I'D SAY A HALF CUP OF SUGAR POURED
INTO A SHOT GLASS. OR I'D SAY,
I WANT TO KNOCK DOWN A WALL IN MY CHEST
AND MAKE ROOM FOR MORE FURNITURE.
WITH A COTTON SWAB, THE DOCTOR
ASKS IF SOME ENCOUNTER IS STILL RIDING MY BLOOD
READY TO LICK ITS THOUSAND LIPS AND WORK
THE HUMBLE SPELL OF PHOTOSYNTHESIS IN MY TRACTS,
TO BLOOM AND OVERFILL IN SOMEONE ELSE.
Now this is not part of the found words poetry, or the inconsequentional objects poetry, but something else. I get that occasionally poems will use metaphor and creative license and we don't need to understand every line. In "Heart-Shaped Box" for example, Kurt Cobain talks about eating his cancer, the meaning of which is only known to him, but the audience picks it up again at the refrain with "Hey, Hey, I've got a new complaint". You don't have to get everything, every word, to like it.
There's just too much here for the idea being expressed to get through. "My torso a rabbit ear above him". "I used to stand on shins". "a half cup of sugar poured into a shot glass". None of these ideas will ever make sense to anyone without the writer standing beside you to explain. I think it's unfair to expect an audience to like your work when you leave them in the lurch without a map. Even "BEING ALWAYS-FOREVER-CONSTANTLY... Sex" makes less sense when there's only a couple of poems about sex in the book, how can sex be your being "always-forever-constantly" when it's never discussed?
There are too many ideas, the book needs more structure, and the author needs to present concepts that can be understood consitently by others, otherwise why publish a book for an audience at all?
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