I ♥ Your Fate

by Anthony McCann
Wave Books 2011
Reviewed by Matt Hart

9

“And stood there all naked and human and shaking”

I.

I ♥ Your Fate is as electrified as it is buttery, as glue-faced as it is full of angles and soul—constant surprises, the turnings of corners, trap doors, blinding sunrises, Samuel Taylor Coleridge!—why can I not just type out all of the poems here and call it a day?—alibis forever, the visitor’s locker room, which turns out to be a vagina—an interview with Kobe Bryant—O beautiful for “EAGLES/big as nouns,” “…something as thoughtful as chairs in the snow…”  I could go on forever.  It goes on forever.  Figuring and reconfiguring—and then it ends, leaving me to retrace my steps, with hope, looking forward to the next tracks. The thing is, I almost don’t believe these poems exist. This isn’t a review.  It’s an appreciation, a lecture on debacle, both fuck-up and flood, a dry-dive into whatever comes next—this is our fate.  I’m spoiling too much. I ♥ Your Fate is one of those books I’d like to take to class and just read out loud with/to my students–no discussion! Why talk when one can listen?

The grass thinking snow thinking snow thinking snow
And under the grass the system of roots
The systemless system of dark wiggle roots
And the master who lurks in the rooms after dark
In his motionless hand the luminous milk

(from “Putin with Lynch”)

Why be analytical when it feels so incredibly strange and on fire to be baffled, face to face and attentive to the deepest parts we know, and yet obviously still have a lot of trouble articulating?

The purpose of behavior is disputed.
Though it serves
a hopped display

hammered in distinctness

How wonderful to be “hammered in distinctness”—that is, with clarity and detail—and also to BE hammered “indistinctness” (i.e. the opposite—unclear, ambiguous, vague, connotative) at the very same time.  There’s something nearly primordial about these poems.  We read them as they come to be, reaching prophetically, apocalyptically, lovingly, and elliptically toward their own ends, which are our ends—our FATE—as we read them:

I say the names of my hands
First left and then right and then right
Strange to have hands and a name
I look down to my hands when I speak

I don’t say my name to my hands
(I’ll save the dark magic for last!)
This event will go unrecorded
Weird, fake birds overhead

(from “Letter Never Sent”)

I like that things end—that they end and just end, making me long for new beginnings, for more Anthony McCann poems, for my fate to collide with his and theirs. I also like being blind-sided/surprised, as in these lines from (McCann’s poem) “Samuel Taylor Coleridge”:

and through my brassy spyglass
I will watch the city advance
the contracts, the workers, contractors
the plywood, and dust buttered trucks

I will dream of rivers of glue…

The adjective phrase “dust buttered” to describe the trucks is so beautifully/perfectly wrong, especially as it leads to the speaker (essentially, oh so romantically) looking away from the scene into the “dream of rivers of glue.” The image is so HIGH…and of course, so was STC a lot of his life.  Great. Welcome to life—which is everybody’s fate, one way or another.  But what’s really important here is the infusion that these poems insist upon—through their descriptive idylls, constant meander/ discovery, and one surprise party after another—into and with our lives.  As McCann puts it at the end of “Samuel Taylor Coleridge”:

tall swaying tawny thin grass
rhyming my steps with my words
the sea will appear, pocked with sails
Then I’ll enter your life

What could be more gorgeous or more intrusive or welcome?

II.

Maybe I should mention that I ♥ Your Fate consists of three titled, numbered sections—1. The Event, 2. I ♥ Your Fate, and 3. New Dreams of Mammal Island.  Sections one and three are bookends for section two—which itself consists of a single, long title poem in fourteen unnumbered sections (more on that below). A lot of books contain section breaks that seem totally unnecessary; in McCann’s book, one leads into the next, prepares the way.  There’s a real sense that one is being taken somewhere, fatefully—perhaps fatally—and yet the guide knows just about as much as we do. The difference between him and us—if there is a difference—lies only in the degree to which we’re prepared for the surprise…

Like a ghost
     showing its
first
tender
ghosthood

to another
       quieter
                more
bashful
                ghost

(from “Mammal Island”)

And this is strangely—at least to me—of some comfort.  If I’m heading into the darkness, I’d rather go along with someone who’s thrilled by it, than with someone who’s terrified.   Should we embrace our fate or work against it?  Does life actually have something in store, or is the store the thing we build over the course of our lives?

Can you believe now once how my body talked
With all these words in the hands of the dead
Every day I disown myself twice wake again
Go back to sleep with my brains in my hands

III.

Section 1, The Event, begins with the poem “Post-Futurism” in a nearly narrative voice:

When I was young, life
was instrumental and
through experience (in life)
through which I poured myself
I passed through various
Containers of
pre-dawn excellence

and then finishes up with the section’s title poem “The Event,” which itself ends:

I knew you’d come
to describe the animal
and I never drank again

I love the track this creates from the beginning to the end of the section, the speaker “pouring” himself through “various/ Containers of pre-dawn excellence” only to arrive eventually at a point where “you’d come/to describe the animal/ and I never drank again.”  There’s something wildly triumphant about tracking the section this way.  In it I find a spirit reminiscent of Rimbaud’s “Drunken Boat” and his line about seeing “what men have thought they saw.”  What gets me here is how the section enacts from beginning to end, with all its machinations in between, a big event—The Event—life-altering and pivotal.  Yet, what’s really funny is that it isn’t the declaration that “I never drank again” that’s epiphanous/momentous, it’s that “you’d come”—ENTER: you—“to describe the animal”—interpret the animal a thousand different ways.  And this leads us directly into section:

2. I ♥ Your Fate, which (as mentioned above) consists of 14 unnumbered sections (a sort of stretched to the gills, pushed to the limits sonnet-sonnet), and each of these sections in turn is composed of five quatrains, with mostly four beat lines.  In other words, McCann becomes both a balladeer and a sonnet sequence writer simultaneously, the I/you relationship taking center stage in the poem right from the start:

I came out of the past, with fingers all stained
Behind my face my brain glows like carp
It’s like this, you’ll see, even in pictures
Leave it to someone to figure that out

What follows goes wild in the streets and in the margins, the regularity of the stanzas contrasting with the contents which are as surreal as they are romantic, as violent as they are analytical, as distorted and particular as they are lyrical and volcanic.  For example, take these stanzas from 3 different sections of 2. I ♥ Your Fate:

Soft moccasin light streams down through the leaves
Can’t live a day in a world without birds!
I drag myself toward you using only my face
To see each little flower, forever at once

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“What have you done?” our someone exclaimed
You shrieked as though you’d stabbed me yourself
It was weird: being there, with the rocks and the trees
I leapt from the platform into your arms

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The miracle gland gives my body no rest
To be emptied again by the meaningless roar
Let’s go die, and then die, and then die and then die
Roll on, little toes, to the top of the earth!

As I hope these stanzas (which I sort of picked at random) demonstrate, the book’s second section is maddeningly beautiful in its wiry shiftiness.  The lack of end-stops, (except for occasional exclamation points—which serve more than anything to barrel us—with alacrity—into the next stanza) makes the sections and the individual stanzas seem less than nailed to the page.  And this, in turn, makes me want to jump around in my reading, to try new configurations of the poem’s lines/stanzas/sections.  It’s like being given a forest made out of Legos.  The first thing I want to do is map out the forest, then I want to play hide-n-seek in it, and after that I want to take it apart and build a monkey or a fighter jet.

This isn’t to suggest, however, that the poem as McCann has written it is “undone”—he’s made real choices; he’s given the poem a real trajectory and shape.  But at the same time, he’s crafted the poem (and each line) with such detailed musical consistency—and with such unnerving jump-cuts and leaps—that it almost begs to be read around in with both pleasure and re/constructive imagination.  It’s a poem to read and to play with—a toy box of Anthony McCann samples that points toward endless, marvelous (and kind of frightening) remixes.  To illustrate what I mean, take a look at these stanzas that I made from the three I quoted above:

I drag myself toward you using only my face
The miracle gland gives my body no rest
It was weird: being there, with the rocks and the trees
Can’t live a day in a world without birds!

Roll on, little toes, to the top of the earth!
Soft moccasin light streams down through the leaves
To be emptied again by the meaningless roar
I leapt from the platform into your arms

To see each little flower, forever at once
Let’s go die, and then die, and then die and then die
You shrieked as though you’d stabbed me yourself
“What have you done?” our someone exclaimed

The point here is that the poem is so rich, so musically intertwined in itself, and so out-of-control-in-control in terms of its content, that reading it as McCann has written it suggests—almost insists on—a reader’s rearranging it endlessly in order to read the massive plethora of its surfaces and depths.  It’s a poem that rewards reading, re-reading and re-inventive-reading, allowing us to get lost and find both each other and ourselves, over and over again:

No object here aches to be seen (except me)
Once again I’d arrived at the limit of friends
It might just be me and it might not be me
But it’s nice to be held while watching the waves

3. New Dreams of Mammal Island:

But one day they changed the color of everything
It was kind of like tasting all the world’s locks
And then a girder the size and shape of a fork
Fell to the floor and presented this room
And a bus barreled down and the whole building quaked
And the trees opened their shirts stepped out of their shirts
Out of their pants stepped out of their pants
And the trees started to weep I mean rain it was raining
And stood there all naked and human and shaking
And your face was an image of waiting in that rain

(from “Your Voice”)

I ♥ Your Fate’s final section seems to take off where section two leaves off, each poem a new wave pounding against us, flooding the stage with the strangest clarity ever, removing our clothes:

When I opened the fridge:
Leprosy tanks!
I’m up on the ladder
when the leaves start to shake
I am holding my hair
holding my teeth
I am resembling knees
when the birds start to twitch
In the meantime:
Miracle cops!
Filled with small traits
I was combing my head
When you touched my wrist
I was leaning

(from “Alibi”)

Everything in this book is leaning—on a slant, a little bent, off-kilter, a little bit waiting in waiting, hoping for the future, headlong into the future.  It makes me want to reflect on and connect to the world, to other people and to words, differently, physically, with abandon, apocalyptically.

It strikes me after all of this that more than most books I ♥ Your Fate is a book of intersections, of fates and lines and stanzas—of words—mingled and commingled and deliberately intertwined to create one of the strangest, most human, and most out of this world (yet) worldly places I’ve ever been. It takes me places I could’ve never predicted or expected and which feel nevertheless exactly like home. More importantly, the book points over and over to that one crucial intersection that exists in almost any reading experience, the collision of reader and writer at the book. I ♥ Your Fate is a sort of love letter to our fates intertwined—mine and yours with Anthony McCann’s and poetry.  The book’s title implies I heart your fate, because I heart our (don’t forget the “our” in “your”) fate in these poems.  To read these poems is to keep fate in mind—to reflect on where one has been, who one is (the relationships that define us) and what it all points to—with openness to the possibilities of significant dis/connection.

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