‘Moongarden’ by Anthony McCann

  • COLDFRONT RATING: three
  • PUBLISHED BY: Wave Books, 2006
  • REVIEW BY: John Deming

 

“Mindlessness and Mammalian Lyricism”

 
mccann cover

Anthony McCann wants to achieve greatness, and he wants to do it with the grunting brute-force of a wildebeest.

Moongarden, the Brooklyn poet’s second book, is full of strong poems, strong images, and strong mammals. Wildebeests “are not horses, they are large/and shaggy scholars,” he writes in “Woe to the Wildebeest, Whose Flesh is to be Torn.” Beasts are scholarly to the extent that scholars are beastly; in essence all mammals are beasts, regardless of the habits that define them. In the same poem, wildebeests are fused with literati:

They are heavy-headed mammals and

it makes them sad,

it makes them hang their heads

which gives them a formal air

during lectures and group discussions.

McCann is also ready and willing to acknowledge his own beastly nature: “And here I am Mother, slick haired and heaving/A kind of elk, something, a sort of human elk.” But despite Moongarden’s amusing human-as-beast thread, McCann’s precise lyricism is what makes this book worth returning to. In “Ode to the Sky” he states his case: “This is what my lips are for:/Replacing all the words.”

The very fact that McCann’s able to pull off such a strong poem under a risky title like “Ode to the Sky” title speaks volumes for his ability, as does another of the book’s best poems, given the always-indulgent title “Sonnet.” The narrator gives a sense of place early—“I’m alone in the McDonalds, you don’t love me,”—before offering a wonderfully creepy parenthetical: “(Ellen knocks and reenters the poem        Hello Ellen).” The strange and lonely poem also offers a strange and lonely conclusion:

The CIA gave me acid                                Now I can’t die

O guardians of the eastern door

There is no way back to the sky

There are several moments in the book where McCann’s lyric touch is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams, none more evident than in the book’s stunning Patersonian conclusion, “October.” The poem’s speaker exults over trees that have “squirrely fists,” over “fishes/and the sky,” and over a baseball game he’s watching on television. When October rolls around, he notes, even baseball “grows dense and solemn.”

The impulse behind fusing the intelligent and the animal is evident early on in Moongarden; it’s an impulse to access one’s inherent mindlessness, one’s plain being. “I, myself, should have been a thing,” he writes in “Ode to the Lake,” perhaps accounting for his interest in the moon (which is “A lifesize map of the moon”). He alludes to Stevens—who wrote about the notion of ascribing imagination to the moon in “The Comedian as the Letter C”—while deliberately avoiding mention of the poet by name: “According to The Poet—{Enter the Poet}—/The moon is not like anything.”

By the end of the last poem, one could say McCann’s found a way to achieve the mindlessness he’s after. A wildebeest might be large and domineering, but is by and large a beast of complacence. McCann’s speaker notes in “Radiance Through Fascism” that he doesn’t want to write “any beautiful poems/That are the sweet resurrection of lyrical pictures”; instead, he wants to want to help himself and others access the mindless. Finally, to “make people weep and fall in love with the land.”