Lullabye for Toronto

June 29, 2017

IMG_7182 JA couple of years ago, I began working on a little song writing project. It never came together, and only one lyric from that period ended up in Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe. It’s a found poem of TTC subway announcements arranged into rhyming stanzas, called Lyric for a Little Lullabye:

Lyric for a Little Lullabye

We are currently experiencing a delay
westbound at Bay.
Efforts to resume
regular service
are underway.

Do not rush when you hear
the subway door chimes.
You may experience
longer than normal travel times.

We are currently experiencing a delay
westbound at Bay.
Efforts to resume
regularly scheduled service
are underway.

We apologise for the delay.
A response crew is on its way.

Awhile back, I offered the Lyric to songwriters, if anyone else heard the music in it. There have been a few attempts, and I realize it’s difficult to find the emotional core of a found poem about subway delays, but I’m kind of partial to this one by Brian Hoppie, which appeared online yesterday:


…I had been doing this gumboot-in-a-washing-machine lyric for six or eight years, and I really like that sound in poetry—I will always love it. When I first started publishing, my goal was to maximize the density of certain hard sounds (P, B, K, T, D, G, especially). But it’s a lyric mode that suits certain subjects better than others: physical labor, big heavy things (a condo tower, exercise equipment), anonymous sex, rural and pastoral subjects, performative masculinity, awkhward social interactions . . . It’s like, I could never write a poem about a placid lake in that voice. Here’s what I’m talking about…

This interview was conducted mostly while I was in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa, in the days leading up the release of Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe. I’m feeling very grateful for rob mclennan‘s generous interview style, and his kind words in the lead-off paragraph.

Read the whole interview here. Photo by N. Maxwell Lander


Ashley Bouman had some nice things to say about Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe in the June 15, 2017 issue of Northumberland Today. She writes:

McCann’s work is a must for any lover of poems. Gritty, truthful and witty, each piece reads well. These are poems about the everyday, poems that are “relatable” in so many ways.

McCann writes eloquently. In some instances it is like a diary written in sonnets; in others, we get several words clustered together as speculation and commentary on his life. All of it is raw and real. You feel the emotion on every page, in each word. The symbolism is outstanding and the word-play is very imaginative.

Find the full piece here.


THANK YOU. We get to choose what family means to us. Many thanks to Leigh Nash and the Invisible Publishing family for believing in this weirdo little book, to David O’Meara for editing it with generosity and openness, and to all the writers who have encouraged me lo these six long years, especially rob mclennan, Pearl Pirie, Paul Vermeersch, Hoa Nguyen, and Andrew Faulkner. Shoutout to the Law Poets Society. Shoutout to the Banff Centre. I have been sustained during the writing of this book by friends, lovers, and the loose associative and interconnected network of sexual communities in Toronto and elsewhere. And to Paul Sutton, subject of so much of this book, I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world….

Heart Filled With Little Matters

You can carry a grocery bag
by its strap like a violin case
or a bucket. Set it down
as you would a baby seat
or like you’ve got to get these rocks
off your lot.
You can take care or be rough
or both. Re-potting a fern,
dropping its crumbling
brown brain on newsprint.
Coaxing and yanking. New soil
like a black velveteen
hood. You can look
with or without wanting, a dark line
like a high water mark
settling under your ring. You will give it
what it needs even if not gingerly.
Don’t mistake attention for affection.
You can live in the world
without love for it. It’s not a disaster
just a mess, heart filled with little matters
and resolution unclear to all, or to me at least.

Some news. The folks over at Invisible Publishing will be putting out a new collection of poems of mine in the spring of 2017. Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe (not to be confused with the 2015 chapbook of the same name) was a weirdly intense five-year project. I’ll have more to say about this soon, but for now, I’m just feeling the squee of excitement.

Also, big thanks to Rannie Turingan who shot a new author photo for the book catalogue. He took so many interesting photos – maybe I’ll have more to say about that later too.


“Patience, honey. Air will send / live updates.” Like much of Marcus McCann’s work, Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe (Invisible Publishing, 2017) takes as its ostensible object the disposable, the fleeting and the seemingly unimportant. The poems may be about smartphone weather apps and farting in bed, but they are also about how we respond to anxiety, overwork and overstimulation.

Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe showcases McCann’s technical toolkit: speed, sonic resonance, and wordplay. McCann continues his commitment to writing about sex, but perhaps for the first time, the poems have — could it be? — a romantic edge. McCann invites his readers to be his “bandmates / on life’s slutty bus tour.” The collection hums along with humour and heart are at the forefront — a risky turn for McCann, one that pays dividends for his readers.

Praise for his earlier work:

“Not a syllable is wasted; rather than teach an austerity of pleasure, it encourages luxuriating and loitering in the back alleys of his poems.” –Daniel Allen Cox on The Hard Return, Plenitude

“Marcus McCann’s The Hard Return is a musical, sensual delight, a plurality of voices both human and instrumental.” –Vanessa Herman, The Malahat Review

“Each publication by McCann is perfectly rendered so there’s not an ill-considered rhythm or word or syllable and going places that are interesting for journey and destination.” –Pearl Pirie, Page Half Full

“Labradoodle contains many instantly classic, write-on-the-wall, one-liners that are best preserved in the hilarious logic of McCann’s full verse and not necessarily in McGimpsey’s shadow. All killer, no filler.” -Ryan Pratt, the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter.

“The density of McCann’s lines are incredibly packed, and move at lightspeed, nearly light-headedly so.” –rob mclennan on The Hard Return

“McCann writes tightly structured poems that heave and push against the restraints, brimming with musicality, unexpected images and plenty of humour.  He also knows how to put a trope to work.” –Rob Thomas at apt613

“Poetry is too often predictable. This book is not.” -Billeh Nickerson on The Hard Return, Xtra

“From the startling metaphoric seize of the opening, the lines propel themselves fill throttle, through sonic reverberations and imaginitive mimesis.” -Stephanie Bolster, John Newlove Award citation

“This stunning book explores the possibilities of bringing image to life, written in the language of the people and soaked in a heart of sapphire. The jury was intoxicated with this book.” -Gerald Lampert Memorial Award jury citation for Soft Where



Shores of One Island
Marcus McCann

Through bramble, we caught poplars exhaling. White fur
soap bubbles, hundreds, as if pure light detached from flora

could with only an inkling of an earthly arc canoe through air.
They weren’t in my idea of the beach

but we might as well give ourselves to their whimsy.
That was the first lesson. We undressed and lay. Tiny yogis

in ermine coats headed for transcendence: they carried themselves
the way we’d hoped to treat our day’s vacation.

I wanted to touch the world so lightly.
To hammer it home, we made a game of metaphor:

crumbs of clouds, porcupines sculpted
from milkweed, souls en route to an orgy…

and I thought we’d hit the groove of lyric. But it sedimented
in the literal sense — breeze rhinestoning us

with unstoppable, obsessive fluff everywhere we sweated
plus our mouths and eyes. And when we stood, we saw

seeds had filled the shallows of the lake. We shuddered at the sight:
endless, gooseshit coloured, and sort of waving at us.

But these are different shores of one island.
There is no way off it. And as we packed, the poplar seeds

slowburning like a guitarist at a campfire
whose one drunk song is Helpless went on and on and on.


“Shores of One Island” first appeared in Matrix Magazine; photo by Martin Lang, used uder CC licence

McCann on the Query Project

February 24, 2016

When Brett Josef Grubisic asked me to contribute to Plenitude‘s Query Project, my only question was whether someone had called dibs on Buddy’s. The “project” of the Query Project is to collect queer book recommendations from queer Canadian authors.

In 2008 and 2009, when I was the managing editor of Xtra in Toronto and Ottawa, I asked authors to write similar pieces for that publication – and I was surprised to find three books that came up repeatedly: Jane Rule’s The Young in One Another’s Arms, The Collected Poems of EA Lacey and Stan Persky’s oddball memoir Buddy’s. Okay, no one is surprised to see Jane Rule on that list. But Buddy’s?

It’s rad. More on that subject here.

Not a syllable is wasted; rather than teach an austerity of pleasure, it encourages luxuriating and loitering in the back alleys of his poems. One day, someone will get the idea to use this book as a break-up letter, because woven into it are the molecular sounds of bodies that regret nothing that was physical, transcendent, important. –Daniel Allen Cox, Plenitude

Each publication by McCann is perfectly rendered so there’s not an ill-considered rhythm or word or syllable and going places that are interesting for journey and destination. –Pearl Pirie, Page Half Full

probably sleep holds you

like the synthetic fur
inside a barbecue cover.

I’m really grateful to The Steel Chisel for publishing a second poem of mine, this one in their December 2015 Issue. “Poem with Three Naps and No Plot” is an odd duck, and sometimes it can be difficult for the more angular poems to find a home. So, yeah, thank you to tem, and maybe head over there and have a look?

And while you’re at it, consider sending them some work. They have the most humane submissions guidelines of any Canadain mag I know.


I really admire the work Plenitude does. It’s Canada’s only queer literary magazine. It provides an important space for queer writers to publish, and for queer readers to discover the, well, plenitude of queer literature being produced in this country.

Find a new poem by me at Plenitude — on a bawdy subject, can you guess what?