Review: Thing Music by Anthony McCann

by Jackson Meazle

.Anthony’s McCann’s newest book, Thing Music (Wave Books, 2014), gets one thinking about the practice of poetry again. He says in the acknowledgments that his book is “traversed” by John’s Ashbery’s work, and that may be the case, but from the outside looking in, some of McCann’s best work is hallucinogenic hermeneutics in the tradition of Robert Creeley. And I say this because he is continuing in that tradition of the “internal” poetry, informed by the mind’s obsessive mirroring of the world. In this vein, we have exacting poems at both the beginning and the end of the book that mostly have short lines and, sometimes, one-lined stanzas.



I pushed
my body through

all this

to you


The Surface

   pouring through

my wrist


the tip
of this tongue

is a bright



gone to link

  the tip
with the Lake
of Meat

[from “Amtrak on Hudson”]

Poems like this one project a simple sight-reading of mundane experience with both startling and serene results. The pacing of the poem forces an arrest of motion that keeps the poem’s velocity barreling through friction. Even though these spare poems have a lyrical subjectivity, the poem’s searching timbre seems irreplaceable and timeless. Another poem that moves in this slow, quicksand immersion is “Like the Dirt (5 Ceremonies).” One is carried away by the basic beauty of the single-image lines, creating a corresponding latitude out of multiple trippy apparitions.

   in bark
in gnarled
blue skin

“we grasped
   one another
and entered
   the dirt”

but words
did they gleam

of white light
   on the floor
of the wind

[from “Like the Dirt (5 Ceremonies)”]


The form is tight and secure, practically flawless. More than any poem in this book, the seemingly endless manifestation of its beauty stuns and stunts, placating the audience with magical language and a mindful impingement with what we call real life. This poetry is a healing art, moving deeper into our retention to break loose from armchair enlightenment. Epitomizing the sense of sight, light is an image used throughout the book as a compositional engagement with negative capability.

Everything was noise
                  the Whole distance
All the land

Light poured
into the house
onto our bodies
behind glass

You gestured
toward the egg
and distance
in that room

that my body
might be pierced
at any moment
by the world

                        Thus I saw
your living head

your eyes
went up and down

Air rushed along the roof
There was a brand-new sound

[from “The Nouns”]

McCann’s poems speak from a source that is confident in the control it has over the spatiotemporal. Poems can be a prison of language, placed behind glass for spectators to gawk and groan at. His poems are more like an extension of personality informed by intelligent observation, rather than an enslavement of that which is external. By tumbling language off the cliff-edge of the line, these concise poems roll, picking up lint and a few blemishes that never spoil its scene. This effect of input and output makes one, above all, believe the girth of McCann’s vision. Simple language as a structure can be misleading, and all bets are placed with the poet on his mindful train.

“Mouth Guitar”



I cut off my head

and carried it

through the streets

The Dow was up
13 points       NASDAQ

is a bad move
in any poem
  It courts

relevance       I carried

my head,
et cetera

by the hair,
et cetera

through the real streets

Unencumbered by formal liability, the poems in this book cling and clang an exceptional music underlying the profundity of reference and contrivance. More than all else, the reader feels there has been a learning experience in turning corners rather than standing still in the corridor of poetic cognizance.


Anthony McCann will be joined by Cedar Sigo, Garrett Caples, Hoa Nguyen, and Rachel Zucker at City Lights Books on September 30th to celebrate 10 years of Wave Poetry!

Thing Music can be found at and right here at City Lights Bookstore.

For more poetry reviews, go here. To find all of the poetry from City Lights Books and beyond, go here.

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