Loose Canon

“Different mirrors; different reflections.”

A review by Joey Media

“Loose Cannon”: an expression that derives from the danger posed by an unsecured cannon on the deck of a ship.

Irish poet Michael McNamara’s newest collection plays on this definition. If he is the first to do so, I applaud him. The implications of this homonym certainly fit and the implications are profound.

Edgar Allen Poe said that a novel is a cannon, while a short story is a rifle. But what of poetry? We might say that a collection is a cannon, while the individual poem is the rifle.

Inserting the homonym, this loose canon of collected poetry can certainly do some damage: to the established canon and to our perceptions of time, place, and death.

These themes, prevalent in McNamara’s work, are the primary reason I am deeply engaged with it. I recently reviewed his collection, This Transmission (Argotist Ebooks, 2019), a complex work on the amorphous nature of identity. As founding editor of newmystics.com, I have promoted McNamara’s work through his author page and recently had the opportunity to read an as yet unpublished piece of his that is Gregory Corso–esque in its ruminations on death.

In Loose Canon, which features the poet on the cover, photographed with what appears to be a thermal-imaging camera, McNamara takes us around the world, looking at love, identity, death, and art. His image on the cover is done at a Dutch angle, cuing the tilt that will set that unsecured can(n)on—the poet—in motion.

The first poem, “No Fixed Abode,” encapsulates the thematic whole, like any well-structured story should. We are introduced to an “an incognito psycho wearing a Savile Row smile” in a place that sets the ancient against the modern. Duality is a primary operative in McNamara’s explorations. What is interesting is that, instead of setting things against each other, their proximal friction creates the energy that powers the poetry.

This is perhaps most prevalent in the pairs “courtly, cuntly.” High and low, in both language and socioeconomic image; yet, if you spend as much time watching Historical Fiction on Netflix and Amazon as I do—and maybe even writing it, as I also do—you know that these fit hand in glove. So much so that I have come to believe that Freud was closer to the truth of all desires, motivations, and actions originating in the groin than our pseudo-civilized society wants to admit.

Another pair, perhaps more profound in their historical linkage, is “Bloody, bloody, bloody. Holy, holy, holy.”

In the poem “Silence Folding Softly,” there are intimations of past lives remembered:

Once, I lived in a mansion, but it was cold,
the servants whispered day and night.
In this hovel the avocado stone sprouts
on the windowsill.

In “Cycles,” McNamara honors the foundational poetic approach of “No ideas but in things” (William Carlos Williams), “solidity of specificity” (William James), “details are the life of [poetry]” (Jack Kerouac), and “the natural object is always the adequate symbol” (Ezra Pound).

Yesterday’s flowers.
Someone smoking.
A played-out record recycling
scratches on a turntable
your face.

As wrote William Blake, “They became what they beheld.” What we see contained in a single frame makes a collective statement (hopefully transformative) to us. If there is dichotomy and juxtaposition, then it’s all the richer.

One of the poet’s tools, to which Shakespeare alluded, is the mirror. But mirrors can distort and reverse. McNamara writes, “Different mirrors; different reflections.”

And, in another poem, “Blind Insight”:

All our mirrors
Have been smeared
By medicine men
Masquerading as
Looking glass engineers.

Passengers, navigators we are, doing the best that we are able, each and every one of us (or perhaps at least most): “You and I, we are very simple people drawn to complex issues,
unversed in long division we contemplate geometric fractals.”

Perhaps this pair of lines, from a poem called “Dear Editor” best serve as a summation:
There are many deaths on our way to dying,
while in our words we live.

TITLE: Loose Canon
AUTHOR: Michael McNamara
PUBLISHER: Subterranean Blue Poetry
ISBN: 9798654276247