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Erik Sweet reviews

Father of Noise
by Anthony McCann

Fence books/ Saturnalia
74 pages; ISBN 0-9713189-6-4
$12 US

This review is 1,360 words
or about 3 printed pages long

Who is The Father of Noise?

This piece is around 1360 words or about three printed pages long.

In Jack Spicer’s conception of the ‘Outside,’ he shares his idea that poetry can come from a source outside of the body. In this theory, he de-emphasizes the importance of the poet’s emotional concerns or feelings driving the writing. According to Peter Gizzi in his introduction to the lecture, ‘Spicer insists that the poet does not drive the poem; the poem drives the poet. Instead of becoming a master of words, the poet is mastered by words...” In his 1965 Vancouver lecture, “Dictation and ‘A Textbook of Poetry,’” Spicer claims ‘essentially that there is an Outside to the poet. Now what the Outside is like is described differently by different poets.’ When reading Father of Noise, Anthony McCann’s new collection (Fence/ Saturnalia), I couldn’t help but to keep coming back to Spicer’s idea of the Outside while reading. In many of the poems, McCann sets us up to feel a type of ‘poetical noise’ which manifests itself in particular forms, entering the poem in different ways. I read many of the poems in this book through the concept of the Spicerian Outside — which I believe can be energy, sound, light, words, or sheer noise.

In turn funny, abstract, and spiritual, this collection moves among various poetical forms. The first poem in the book, ‘Father of Noise Ceremony,’ inducts us into the often dizzying ‘writing style McCann uses. ‘It was the end of fingerprints, fingerprints / As we knew them.’ The idea that words are noise is one of the motifs in the book: ‘Words come because we are built from noise,’ he writes in ‘Elegy.’ In ‘Navigator,’ he says, ‘Everywhere is noise / and also Not Noise and its little friend, Little Shapes.’ There is also a sense of no beginning and no end in the writing, a place where contradiction is normal.

In the first poem, the narrator asks us, ‘Who is The Father of Noise?’ As a few of the poems in the collection are addressed to a higher being, it is possible McCann is exploring the connections between sound and spiritualism. With lines like, ‘Our bodies go, we watch them go, becoming land,” I see a place that he is trying to reach as being beyond describing. If it is the end of fingerprints as we know it, and our bodies are becoming land, it is possible he is remarking on the continual cycle of nature, with one form eventually becoming another.

‘Skywalker Ranch,’ the second poem in the book, immediately establishes that McCann has the ability to be really funny while still exploring the strange. His humor in the book is a strength; if we can ‘t laugh while exploring the realm of the unknown, then perhaps we will miss everything we are looking for. In the poem, an actor, ‘the world’s last actor,’ is outside of Skywalker Ranch; in case you are not familiar, this is the site of George Lucas’s LucasArts studio. Why this actor shows up at the ranch and writes a poem is not clear.

Writing these lines I am overcome with fatigue and despair as if
the temperature had risen suddenly and I,
inner pioneer and amateur pharmacologist, were sweating
true bricks!

‘Starkweather’ sets up a musical repetition of repeated lines, mostly about the landscape in Nebraska. The use of repeating lines within the space of a sequence of poems worked amazingly in Ted Berrigans’ The Sonnets. In this poem, it has the affect of someone trying to focus on a single point; for example, ‘I will now describe the building / in which he lived,’ then moving on to another image — this exemplifies the mind’s natural agenda: to constantly move. It is here that I see a connection to the Outside, a place where the poem is being fed by a variety of factors, not just the single concentration of the poet conjuring the “meaning.” By varying key lines, the piece also has the feel of a musical riff, but with subtle improvisations that feel natural. ‘Nebraska is full of details. The biography is full of details.’

In the second section of the book, called ‘Confessions,’ he starts with a poem called ‘My Relationship with Jesus,’ one of several references to the narrator thinking about god. In the other poem pointedly referencing god, ‘American Summertime Prayer,’ he talks to the ‘Lord’ about things as various as a ‘house full of booze and dope,’ and ‘The world, the yard, tattooed with bugs.’ The fact that the narrator Rick is asking the Lord that it ‘be the season of not contracting disease of the blood or liver,’ makes us realize this is a ‘real open talk’ with the Lord. Thankfully, McCann’s ‘American Summertime Prayer,’ retains some level of oddity so as to make the reader wonder what the poet and Rick are talking about. In ‘Bay Parkway and 86th,’ he even talks about the pope: ‘The pope thinks it is time for me to think./ Suddenly I am not catholic anymore.’

There are many examples of McCann’s unique humor, such as in ‘Breathing.’

I put my best face forward
as if it were a face
bobbing like a hologram
over the ocean of my uniform.
As if it were a face.
Not so much self-inflated mush.
I try not to think
about my underpants.

Along with the spiritual explorations and humorous couplets, we realize that McCann is not limiting himself as a writer: everything is game for a topic, even if sometimes it is difficult to discern who is speaking or what the speaker if talking about. I feel that he is hoping for some contact with the ‘noise’ that is out there, infused in everything. But sometimes to get answers we need to be inside our ‘negative capabilities,’ to live in the unknown. In ‘Report From The Surface,’ the narrator shows his distance and mentions loneliness.

You do not understand but
I have been to the other side and
part of me is not here, here
in the parking lot, on this planet

‘In Places of Recovery,’ he also mentions this loneliness: ‘I have many friends / but I am close to no one.’ And again in ‘Report,’ ‘You do not understand. / I am all alone here. / I am the entire away team.’ There is a closed space in many of these poems; in fact it feels like the narrator of many of these poems wants to set up a series of funhouse mirrors, instead of putting his/ her hand right into experience.

‘In Praise of Reason,’ the last poem in the book, and one of my favorites here, he sets up an image similar to what I mentioned, ‘We stand in the mirror in our bodies, the bodies we have / and our minds / is a private surface.’ He thinks it is time to ‘go back inside our bodies,’ which reminds us of Allen Ginsberg’s lines from ‘Song.’

              I always wanted,
I always wanted,
              to return
to the body
              where I was born

In McCann’s poem, we feel a sense of yearning, of wanting to be in a new space, possibly to avoid distance and feeling.

It’s time to go back inside our bodies.
We can sleep here, the weather is right.
All my life, can I say this yet?
I have wanted to be a little older,
a little more dead in the nerves
                    (but not in the heart)
and the result is this noise and distance.

This is how the book ends, with these lines. What is nice about this collection of poems is that McCann is not afraid to leave us confused in his search; otherwise there wouldn’t be a search. Even though many of these poems present contradictory images, this is why I like them. ‘All of the objects of the world / stand up with their names and are there / no more, no less / totally uninteresting and excellent.’ Having these shifting thoughts keep us at a distance is good; and they are noisy enough for me to love their discord and beauty. I truly look forward to McCann’s next book and hope that he is still searching for the Father of Noise.

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