This week, I’ll be headed to Ottawa to help rob mclennan celebrate the 20th anniversary of above/ground press, and to launch a tiny little chapbook called Labradoodle, which is an essay on David McGimpsey in the form of 5 “chubby sonnets”. Alejandro Bustos wrote up a story about the anniversary for Apartment613, but here’s the full text of what I wrote about rob and the press. Congratulations, rob, on 20 wonderful years!


It’s true that I don’t live in Ottawa, but in a way I will always consider myself an Ottawa poet, because I came of age as a writer while living there between 2001 and 2010.

It’s impossible to overestimate the role of rob mclennan and a/g in Ottawa’s poetry community. The community really is like no other I’ve seen — there is more happening in Ottawa in terms of community than in Toronto or Montreal. And rob is the fulcrum on which it turns.

And he takes Ottawa writers and puts them before wider audiences. His blog has an international following, and he’s always talking about Ottawa poets. He does Ottawa-specific things like Ottawater and PFYC. But then, given his stature as a poet, he often finds himself doing things, like curating the Dusie Tuesday poems, which are not Ottawa projects, but he mixes established national and international poets with Ottawans — I’m sure it’s a conscious choice, to expose a wider audience to our work. And then there’s above/ground — these chapbooks end up wedged into mailboxes across the country and beyond. He is a one man cultural ambassador for the Ottawa poetry community, and it’s a marvel. We’re all deeply indebted to him.

Maybe me more than most. a/g published my first nervous little chapbook, Heteroskeptical, seven years ago. He did it, I think, just so I would stop fussing with these older poems and get on to new work. Labradoodle, which I’m launching at the anniversary party, is my 9th chapbook, and my third with a/g. So, if that was his ploy, it worked. There are a few moments in poet’s career (first poem published in a magazine, first book with a spine) that are kind of transformative, and I feel like that was, for me. And he’s stuck with me — I am a child of a/g, you know?, part of his stable somehow — which is humbling, and awesome. I feel really lucky about it.

I want to also say that publishing is a tough thing to do, and it can take time away from a poet’s own work. Working on the “business” end of publishing and promotions is time rob isn’t using to work on his own projects. It’s a sacrifice. You know, rob’s work really doesn’t break down into pithy aphorisms, but in Gifts, he writes “help please me to know” — and I think that about sums it up. He wants to know, and to share, and that’s where a/g comes from. He’s got this curiosity about the craft of poetry, including its social aspects, and buried inside it is “please me”, the tremendous pleasure, the satisfaction, desire.

Winter of Weak Welcome

August 1, 2013

Two McCann poems have homes on the internet: a slab of Winter of Weak Welcome is part of rob mclennan’s “Tuesday poems”, a series he’s curating over at Dusie’s blog (although really, instead read Erín Moure’s Birthday: “Trials were alphabets, I found myself guilty, I found myself alone”); and secondly, Cover Letter at the Puritan (although really, instead read Ben Ladouceur’s Ox.)

I wrote this piece for the students at Kipling CI — after I had the pleasure of spending three sessions with them talking about metaphor as part of the Diaspora Dialogues program. I’m not totally sure what the poem means, but then again, that’s sort of the point.

Read: “Wreck of a Street Racer, Etobicoke” by Marcus McCann


Video by Glenn Nuotio.

June 22, 2012

Over at Xtra, Billeh Nickerson reviews The Hard Return. Here’s a bit of what he has to say:

Perhaps I’m going out on a limb, but I’ll speculate that no other book of poetry published in Canada this year will include meditations on dunk tanks (that’s dunk without an r, you party animals), pissing in public, saxophones, orgasms and puffy coats. This is a good thing. Poetry is too often predictable. This book is not.

Marcus McCann will be the 2012 recipient of the EJ Pratt medal for poetry (not to be confused with the EJ Pratt Poetry Award in Newfoundland.) Read the letter below:


…and in other news, check out the blog of Cameron Anstee, who grapples with having his words filched for a McCann cento in The Hard Return:

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….

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, rob mclennan turned his attention to The Hard Return in May. Here’s what he had to say:

Over the months since his first trade collection, Soft Where (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2009), former Ottawa poet Marcus McCann’s gymnastic poems have become nearly bulletproof, composing lines one can bounce both quarter or a round off. His second collection, The Hard Return (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2012), one of the final season of Paul Vermeersch’s tenure as poetry editor (before heading off to Wolsak & Wynn) writes of dislocation and location, writing the tension between a series of opposite positions. The density of McCann’s lines are incredibly packed, and move at lightspeed, nearly light-headedly so.

Thanks, rob!

The Hard Return, the follow-up to 2009’s Soft Where, is available now. From the back of the book: The Hard Return is a broken list of metaphors for the human heart. Or it’s a troubling elegy for a disposable world. Or it’s something much less serious than that. Alternating between loving descriptions of twenty-first-century excess and awkward social situations, Marcus McCann’s poems are sincere and ironic, sad and half-joking, often in the same instant. Buy it here.

Roundup of some recent links: Marcus McCann interviews Judith Butler in Xtra (and in Briarpatch); Patrick Connors interviews McCann before his reading at the Brockton Writers Series; photos taken at Versefest and Proud of Toronto; plus, some short essays: an appreciation of the poet Nicholas Lea in the Globe and Mail, and reviews of David Bateman and Hiromi Goto’s Wait Until Late Afternoon, Martin Duberman’s A Saving Remnant and Jen Currin’s The Inquisition Yours.

“The poem miscarried. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I couldn’t seem to hammer out a structure for the poem. Eventually, it just died on the operating room table. Luckily, every cadaver is full of organs.”

Allan Brown reviewed a recent McCann chapbook in the Spring issue of Jones Av, along with a handful of other above/ground chapbooks, including work by Marilyn Irwin, Cameron Anstee and rob mclennan. The verdict? It’s a little professorial. From the review:

“Marcus McCann plays more academic literary games in Town in a long day of leaving,” writes Brown, and, “sometimes the teacher cracks a joke, as in his re-arrangement of the pop song ‘Crazy.'”


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