Buy it now direct from Rebel Satori Press.
Most of the poetry I’ve read in the last ten years or so has
been about the poets who are writing it, not that there’s anything wrong with
that (at the risk of sounding Seinfeldian). There’s not much call for epic
poetry—tales of heroes and battles and magic—perhaps because no inspiration in
this century seems epic enough. Jeff Mann, however, has drawn upon the Edda
and Norse mythology for Ash, a bold and brilliant new book of poetry.
Far from being obscure, these pieces touch on universal
themes of devotional love, despairing loss and overriding greed and ambition
and although the names of some of the players may be unfamiliar, their concerns
and motivations are not. Mann has thoughtfully provided some quotes from the Edda
to put the poems in context for the reader.
This is poetry that speaks of a different time but also
comments on our own, as in the beginning of “Before the Norns.”
had will then.
was freshly named, freshly set
its proper order…
“We had will then.” What a powerful line—so simple yet so
filled with regret. And there are many other powerful lines in Ash; from
the vivid birth-myth of “Ymir’s Dismemberment” to the inexorable destruction of
the world tree, Ash Yggdrasil, by the serpent Nidhogg in “Gnawing” to the
Christ-like crucifixion of “Odin Hangs on the Tree,” this is poetry which is
simultaneously visceral and spiritual.
Mann introduces us to wonderful
characters as well: Idunn, the keeper of the apples eaten by the gods for
eternal youth (“Idunn and Bragi”), Heimdallr, the warder of the gods (“Heimdall
Listening”) and Tyr, who laid his hand in the mouth of a wolf so that it could
be bound (“Tyr”). But Mann has not left his Bear Essence completely behind in
favor of heroic deeds. His Vikings, in fact, revel in their sweaty, horny,
drunken hairyness, and nowhere is this attitude reflected than in “Valhalla
Revised,” which has Mann in high dudgeon, scorning other world religions in
favor of his hirsute heroes.
Because the other options are boring.
Dante’s great unfolding rose of light?
Mohammed’s houris, hovering like overpainted
cover girls around successful
assassins? Worse, Christ’s interminable choirs?
The smell of moist pigeon feathers.
Effete, officious robes with all the color
but none of the passion of a blizzard.
Mann scores big with Ash, reminding us all once again just how powerful
and heroic poetry can be.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler