Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe by Marcus McCann (Dusie Kollectiv 8, 2015)
With ice-breaker “In Praise of the Sun-Cloud-Rain-Lightning Icon”, McCann gives a tongue-in-cheek tribute to our collective panic, a false idol to combat life’s unknowable odds — even when it comes to the weather. Absurdity has long been a crucial component in McCann’s verse and, with Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe, the EJ Pratt Medal and John Newlove Award winner takes aim at overlooked elements of our workaholic lives, at once elevating our awareness of and reducing their real-time significance.
I say elements because unlike the sun-cloud-rain-lightning icon, some of McCann’s targets have no concrete appearance. Take, for instance, how “Cover Letter” and “Resignation Letter” poke at the formal cloaks we don in pursuit of careers, with wry truths inserted at the expense of bullet-point skills. The workplace-approved vocabulary is further refined in “To Whomever Checks the Office’s General Email Account”, although its chrome sterility is challenged by a very human dysfunction:
"Among us one who tracks info at, office at, questions at
like a teen collects and doles out bowling shoes. Support
at. Dear madam, dear operator, if it concerns you,
a mix of thanks and unease follows me
like a hunter who doesn’t know his rifle’s empty.
Please administer to us who are angry, bratty, bored,
whiny, irregular, mentally ill, unusually inventive,
truly abusive or angling for a refund.
This is, all of us, virtually."
There is no strict theme unifying this collection, although many of McCann’s critiques find unexpected levity amid the hum-drum rhythms of daily life. When unmoored from superfluous focal points, Shut Up… also abandons the office setting for “Funk from the Man-Man Cave” and “Use the Smallest Chainsaw Suitable for the Job”, two poems that seem to be talking about something other than sex, but then… aren't! Sliding between abstract imagery and abrupt directness, McCann’s metaphorical powers balance two interpretations with read-it-again stealth.
Occasionally I’m kept at a distance. Is the italicized line “lie down with snowboarders, wake up with fleece” a diss or an adage? I reckon it’ll take more than that to solve “Easy Living While Everything Else Moves” but at least I really want an answer. In McCann’s percolating verse of narrative strands and astute asides, sometimes the impenetrable bits are just as compelling.
McCann’s humour tends to grab the spotlight and, in this collection, I cannot say if that’s because or in spite of how sparingly he exercises it. A poem like “On Not Being Able to Sing”, in which he describes his voices as a “puff of noise/ you can squeeze from a rabbit with all the melody of a poem/ about Marcus McCann written by Marcus McCann”, is a solo homer. But more often than not, the amusement in Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe supports a more pervasive ideology — the transcendental advice of its title — and isolates the stress placed on certain conventions. Sticking with my baseball jargon, McCann’s more poignant offerings prove capable of going to bat with the same muscle as his comedic musings. In the imperfect snow globe of “Shores of One Island”, McCann reflects on the promise and restlessness of a day-trip; our expectations capsize a potential utopia. Although it isn’t as outwardly quotable as “On Not Being Able to Sing”, I’ll bet “Shores of One Island” stays with you longer.