Tuesday, August 30

Here we go again: mixing it.....

Review by Sandra Tappenden

by Andre Mangeot (Egg Box Publishing, £5.00)

‘How promising’, I thought, and ‘What a fab cover,’ and ‘Mr. Mangeot is certainly a very fine specimen of a poet, judging by his picture.’ Inside, I was greeted by tasteful typography, and many recipes for cocktails. I went back to the rear cover, where George Szirtes is quoted: “There is an element of Raymond Carver about these poems” Gosh, that’s even better, as I really admire Raymond Carver. Also, “His poetry shakes the ground, as only good poetry does.” (R.V. Bailey, of whom I have no knowledge, sadly. Unless it is Rosie Bailey, with another hat on, which conceal her earplugs.)

O my dears, I was quite soon overwhelmed to discover poetry of a mediocrity which I would have happily put down and forgotten about, if it were not for the rage which consumed me regarding the presentation. And the subject matter, and the treatment of it. I think what upset me most was the pointed trendiness, and the fact that someone had gone to all this bother to dress up dowdy poems, trying to pass them off as life-enhancing. Also, I felt quite keenly the dishonesty lurking behind all this. It reminded me of reality TV; Show Us You Care, presented by Shaun Ryder, perhaps.

Justification is required, so here we are in the Bar, watching all the funny punters who come and go. This is from “Babies”:

Me, I never had children, he says, nodding at mine
as I ease in beside him, hunched on his barstool …
Pretty wee things. He draws on a roll-up. Music swims
from the jukebox. And a fine handsome woman. Barely catch
what he says, read his lips asking Twins? – take a deep
inward breath though of course, like the rest, he is curious
and in truth we are used to this now. Yes, I say
Bo and Mai. Cambodian. Orphans. Been nearly eight years …

I want to ask
1) how is this poetry?
2) is it alright to use orphaned/adopted children as fodder for a poem?
3) wouldn’t it be more interesting to use this space to discuss the ethical concerns of cross-cultural adoption, rather than expect us to feel sorry for the pissed geezer?
Or impressed by the fact that the children were adopted at all?
4) doesn’t this stray a little too close to life-style porn?
5) is there such a thing as good taste anymore, or am I some kind of dinosaur?

By the way, Raymond Carver would never have given us quite so much (emotional) direction; that “hunched”, and “in truth”, for starters.

It’s not just that I think the poems are poetically impoverished; I think they are poor because they are trading in on goodwill, which is an ugly thing to be doing, and something I find despicable. The humanity which I’m sure Mangeot feels quite genuinely is smeared with gloss (of the lip variety), turning deadly earnest topics of weight into trendy fluff.

There is not much evidence of craft here either. In “AWOL”, the poem starts off with an introductory passage which should have been cut entirely. We jump from a list of poets who drank (drinks and drinking being the central theme of the collection) to what should have been a separate poem about Hart Crane.

“Clap of Thunder” should have been a good poem, but it is laid out like a missile/knife-blade/bullet up the page, causing line-breaks which are forced to fit the pattern, rather than enhance the possible meanings. Well, all the poem’s have only one level, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.

I find there is a self-regarding quality to some of the poems which is a real turn-off. Here’s a bit of “Ward Eight”:

For panic, rage, self-pity, shock
(an absent wife)
take four days on the ward
with manic Phoebus

Right, so the wife’s away, and we are being told that four days on a ward is going to cure us all of our self-pity. Fuck off. Four days on a ward isn’t going to tell anyone reading this poem anything, unless they’ve been sectioned, and I bet even then they’d write a better/truer poem. Anyway, Phoebus plays the guitar, and says

So why you cryin’ man?
you got real style …

And in the end, what’s revealed here is the voice in the poem’s applause for his own pity of someone else. Fuck off twice. The same problem occurs here, for me, regarding the right to use another’s misfortune, or just their life really, without recourse to a deeper investigation. I just don’t think it’s on, really, I don’t.

I suspect (I don’t really, but I am trying to be fair-minded) that Mangeot’s aim is to show us how lucky we are, and that we should count our blessings. I mean, there are poems about being with a woman so beautiful you just have to tell everyone else, and poems about friends who were brilliant at University and then something went wrong (zzzz, eh? oh, sorry) and really what I want to know is

1) where are we in this? us lot, who have shelled out a fiver? (Supposing we have)
2) where is the poet in this? Andre Mangeot, the man we have trusted, expecting him to show us something, apart from his mirrored image, in a way which surprises us?

When I first made notes toward this review, which I subsequently refused out of charity, then decided no, it ought to be said, one comment was “A triumph of style over content.” I think, on reflection , that is true. Being a performance poet (Mangeot is a member of ‘The Joy of Six’ performance group, the blurb inside the cover tells me) is not any guarantee of worth on the page. I wonder sometimes if these ways of expression can ever meet up, and get along, but then I think about Jean Binta Breeze, Linton Kwezi Johnson, John Cooper Clarke, and all those other poetry performers with three names. And then there’s wonderful Matt Harvey, whom I have seen perform several times, heard on the radio, and read lots. So there is a big something missing from these poems, and I have to say it is a heart. Writing about issues is one thing; making them ring true is another. It isn’t enough to have a nice cover photo. It isn’t enough to have an idea and a theme. Consider Joolz, who can be ghastly even in performance; she is what she is, without trying to be something else. I fear this is the problem with Mr. Mangeot; he wants to have his cake, eat it, write about it with a concerned frown, and get us to buy the book about the frown, which has also been turned into a smashing black and white photo.

I do not enjoy rubbishing any poet’s work. I have reacted personally, and admit it. What else can I do? I exit miserably, with another extract, from “Crossbow”:

… please -
show ultimate courage,
save us one cruelty:
don`t write it down
and don`t call it

© Sandra Tappenden, 2005

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