Marcus McCann Keeps it Open

I was tuned to CBC radio earlier tonight (minus one personal acceptability point), listening to Q (minus 2) with guest host Jonathon Torrens (-3) when I was surprised to hear a tease that Marcus McCann was about to go on air (click to listen) to discuss Canada’s polygamy laws alongside a Toronto anthropologist. This surprised me because, as I understood it, Marcus McCann was an excellent young poet from Ottawa, and not a radio pundit. His debut, Soft Where, made the Lampert list this year. I liked it. I liked his earlier chapbooks even more, if you can get your hands on them, they’re worth the read.

It turns out that McCann is both a poet and an occasional activist for polyamory and liberalized marriage laws. Polygamy isn’t something I’ve thought much about, but I’ve generally been against it and quite content with it being illegal. Much of this opinion was derived from the fact that a notably euphoriphobic branch of pseudo-Christianity has something of a history with it, and I’m pretty much on board with the banning of anything they like. I’ll admit, though, that after listening to the show, I was really swayed by what Marcus was saying. It didn’t make me personally want to go out and be someone’s fourth husband, but it did make me wonder what exactly we were gaining by limiting people’s freedoms with the use of such a vague and ultimately unenforceable law.

Marcus was helped in a lot of ways by the incompetence of his debating partner, some anthropologist with big ideas about how if polygamy were legal, everyone would want to do it, and this would create a new class of desperately single young men. He then pointed to a (I wish I was making this up) longitudinal study about how married people committed a greater number of violent crimes before marriage than after. Let’s just take that one assumption aside and think it over for a bit… Among the multiple logical fallacies in the sentence, the gentleman failed to say anything about how violent crime is, statistically speaking, more the domain of younger adults. As is, of course, bachelorhood.

It was particularly disconcerting to hear the anthropologist turn his macrostatistical eye to the entirety of the population, with all the candor and fear of a social conservative spouting off about how gay marriage will lead to plummeting birth numbers. As if, just because it’s legal, everyone will start to do it. He mentioned the insult to feminism posed by men having multiple wives, but never considered the alternative, equally likely, situation of women having multiple husbands. Or groups of polyamorous citizens creating sexualized cohabitations of their choosing. Or 99.8% of the country thinking that polygamy wasn’t going to meet their intimacy needs in the long-term, and deciding to sleep with only one person at a time.

I don’t want to talk too much about polyamory, though. It’s not really something I care about. But I like that Marcus McCann cares about it as much as he does. And I like when poets do well in other public forums, ones beyond the sanctity of the country’s various poetry cults. It was exciting to listen to him walk all over the other guy’s weird logic, in as mainstreamish a forum as poets ever get. Or maybe I’m reading too far into the proceedings, because I wanted the home team to win. Who’s to say. Go listen for yourself.

Rhetoric is, after all, one of poetry’s many grandparents. How many grandparents, you ask? Well, little man, let’s just say that grandpa knew a lot of ladies….

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7 Comments on “Marcus McCann Keeps it Open”


  1. Polyandry is nowhere near “as likely” a phenomenon as polygyny. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygyny Polyandry makes very little biological sense, from the point of view of reproductive strategies, selfish genes, etc. Which is precisely why, historically, it’s been extremely rare and practised most often by small isolated populations.

    This isn’t a reason to prohibit polygamy. The prohibition in our society is largely redundant, anyway, as polygamy is at odds with most of our sexual and social mores. Those who wish to do it, however, shouldn’t be discriminated against, IMO.

  2. voxpopulism Says:

    Agreed, with the caveat that things aren’t typically “historically rare” just because they not make sense evolutionarily. Not having kids, for example, makes no evolutionary sense, but people in many different roles in many different cultures have been practicing it for centuries.


  3. Agreed, but when something is cross-cultural and damn near universal, it makes sense that biology is the root cause. There are no societies, e.g., in which not having kids is the norm, (Where are the Shakers now???) so your example doesn’t really work as a counter to what I’ve said. Individual males not having kids is, in fact, a common phenomenon in polygynous societies. And societies in which there are a lot of unwed, sexually frustrated men do indeed tend to become bellicose. The fallacy perpetrated by McCann’s antagonist, it would appear, is that legalizing polygamy in Canada would lead to such a society–which can only really take shape in a much more stratified population than Canada’s.

  4. voxpopulism Says:

    I’d argue that, among the itty bitty percentage of the population that would be into this, the majority would be what you’d call “secular polygamists”, or “lifestyle polygamists”. People who fall in love in a group, and decide to cohabitate. This wouldn’t constitute a microculture (or, in your word, society) as people would enter and leave polyamory generation by generation. The impact on biodiversity would be A. Slight and even B. Slightly positive. The genetic problems of this stuff only really comes up when a closed group of people *cough*Mormons!*cough* interbreed in this way for a number of generations.

    But I agree that, overall, the impact of this is miniscule. The precedents that allow for the second kind of polyamorous culture over the first kind (gender domination, social stratification, fundamentalism) don’t really exist in Canada. Also, like you said, it’s beyond the cultural norm. We mostly find it weird, and very few of us would actually want to do it. Lots of things I don’t want to do that I don’t think should be illegal.


  5. Yeah, and the fact is that there’s nothing really getting in the way of people having multiple-partner relationships now. Those relationships just can’t be enshrined legally. I know someone who was in a long-term three-way with a woman and another man. The woman had two sons, one sired by each of her “husbands” and both treated as sons by both fathers. Both men had relations with each other as well as with the woman. The other man eventually left the relationship (recapitulating your imagined scenario of people opting in and out of polyamorous relationships). Far from the sort of situation I’d want to be in, but by all accounts it worked for them for quite a while and the two sons, now adults, lead healthy productive lives. I don’t see how situations like that can be construed as somehow harmful to our social fabric. As you say, they are if anything, slightly positive.


  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marcus McCann, rob + Jennifer. rob + Jennifer said: Chaudiere author Marcus McCann on CBC, via Jacob Mooney; https://voxpopulism.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/marcus-mccann-keeps-it-open/ […]


  7. […] Jacob McArthur Mooney’s piece here. Posted by marcusmccann Filed in Uncategorized Leave a Comment […]


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