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Tom Dvorske on Anthony McCann

Review of MoonGarden, by Anthony McCann. New York/Seattle: Wave Books, 2006. $12.00 Paper. 77 pages.

For my money, the best books of poems generate spontaneous and unexpected language use in a reader—such as the work of the Spanish surrealists, some language poets and a few of our younger, contemporary poets. Anthony McCann’s MoonGarden is one such example, delightfully dredging the sludge of our atrophied linguistic centers to free language for new associations and joys.

Reading McCann’s book is like stepping into a garden where the paths don’t quite link up. Once you discover they are made of moonlight, all is well, however, as you gaze at the fruit of this garden planted by the likes of Spanish poets—Vallejo and Jaime Saenz—, the Spanish-American William Carlos Williams, James Tate, and others. In some respects, McCann’s book reads as an exploration of the styles and modes of the poets whose work has influenced him. Take, for instance, the Tate-esque experience of the book’s title poem “MoonGarden”:

Because the moon is his most important organ

Max is obliged to conceal it in his body.

It is the source of his eternal youth.

According to Max the moon is falling

All the way through our bodies

To the bottoms of our soles.

Or in the mysterious, Poet-of-New-York, Lorca-esque conclusion to the book’s title poem “MoonGarden (November)”:

I left my voice

inside your body

when I drowned

Yet in the book’s title poem, “MoonGarden (The Enchanted Prince),” we encounter something reminiscent of the Ashbery of The Double Dream of Spring:

Logos touches the president’s hair

and his hair turns to crumpled up paper

this happens only at night

when the central city has been abandoned

and the traffic lights click and grind

and the president is dreaming of the parkway again

McCann’s humor is devious, sinister and dark, but not without its dint of tenderness as in these lines from “In Favor of One’s Time”:

near me always

was a highway

and the silent power

of the birds

 

the cry the song

finds limits

 

but my body

is a vessel

of their joy

For all its echoes of other poets, McCann’s book never descends to mere homage (as “One’s Time” suggests), but breathes through these influences his own complex experience and subjects these influences to an important sort of dialogue, for McCann’s book reads also as an inquiry into the tension between a surrealism, or deep image poetry, that suggests a powerful, metaphysical force in the universe, and a surrealism generated by a technology-driven, capitalistic culture that represents metaphysical experience as some kind of meta-marketplace confusion. The beautifully ambiguous poem “Robert Stone,” is a good example where we also see McCann taking liberally in language and style from the later WCW:

The pure products

Of America

Love Math

And Radiance

Want

 

A Real Relationship

With Divine

 

Substance

And are all

 

Criminals.

That seems about right, both taken in context of Robert Stone’s novel Dog Soldiers and as a gloss on contemporary culture’s desire for money, shiny things, and authentic spiritual revelation. McCann reminds us in this one sentence, however, that this pure America is both historically and actively criminal. The lines echo Williams’ original sentiment but remake it in important ways, for in McCann’s America “The absence / Of mercy / Is terrific.” Yet, in spirit, McCann’s project is Williams-esque in its quest for a rigor of beauty, its invenshun.

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