Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Monday, 20 October 2008

"Mixer" by Andre Mangeot (Egg Box Publishing, 2005)

Included is a Bridport prize-winner, and a poem shortlisted in the Blackwells/TLS competition.

It begins with 5 definitions of the noun "Mixer" - bartender, troublemaker, etc - then has a contents list broken into 6 sections (I was hoping for 5). The first poem starts with a cocktail recipe - ah, I thought, this is the bartender section, but all the book's poems start with recipes. This gives an exercise/commission feel to the poems sometimes, with some obvious associations deriving from titles (which are presumably names of cocktails).

You only need to flick through the book to appreciate the variety of forms - shaped; evenly-stanza'd; prosey; lines alternately right- and left-aligned. The dominant style is run-on, polished narrative with a streetwise twist - for example, "Clap of Thunder" ends with a 2nd-person mugger leaving the victims' car "with two raps/ on the roof, saying/ lighten up girls/ you'll still make the/ funeral, then off/ up the slope with/ your sidekick, the rain". I thought the poem was shaped like a bullet, then realised it was a knife. But is the style of the content so different from that of "Alaska" which is page-filling, left-aligned prose? And how does the recipe improve matters?

You couldn't get much more FLASHy than "Firebird" or "Pete". It's good Flash, presented as couplets. 'Why not?', you might say, 'the Pete couplets rhyme'. But amongst the 10 rhyming pairs there's "head/felt", "chapel/candles", "pool/shoes", "it/feet", etc in lines that range from 5 to 14 syllables, so unless you're reading the piece, the rhymes/assonance will be lost. The same could be said of "Garryown" made from page-filling, left-aligned prose where alternate lines rhyme or assonate - "mates" with "Papists", "throat" with "coach".

"Alexei's Sister" has stanzas ranging from 1 to 5 lines, and lines ranging from 2 to 7 syllables, but the content seems unaware of this. It starts "Until she said it no one in years had called him 'romantic'. He hadn't brought her flowers whisked her away for a weekend in Paris or fallen to his knees with a ring ...". This and "Ceasefire" follow a trend I've noticed in multi-form poetry books - the shorter the lines and stanzas, the more doubtful the content. "Beam Me Up Scotty" ends the book thematically, and confirms the trend.

"Henry's Last Hurrah" is over 2 pages long - anecdotal, but fragmentary enough not to be mistaken for Flash.

Overall I found myself wondering what the poetical accoutrements - the line-breaks, the half-hearted end-chimes, the shapes - were for. Many of the pieces lie where Flash and narrative free verse overlap. Rather than this book (which I edited and reformatted as I read) I think I'd have preferred a Flash pamphlet with no recipes, and a shorter poetry pamphlet with a few recipes.

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