A Romantic Mann – Jeff Mann (Lethe Press)

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Buy it direct from Lethe Press

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m one of Jeff
Mann’s biggest fans and have been since his Lambda award winning collection of
short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire. But beyond his BDSM leanings,
his tales of rough sex with country boys, his scholarly yet confessional
essays, and his Civil War fiction, his poetry absolutely staggers me. A
Romantic Mann
is a terrific collection that gathers some of his best work
in one slim, yet powerful volume.

No less than Trebor Healey, a marvelous poet in his own
right, calls Mann “the gay epic poet of our age” in a blurb on the back of the
back. While some of this can naturally be attributed to creeping blurb
hyperbole, there is a great deal of truth in Healey’s assessment. I can think
of many gay poets today, but none has mastered the epic sweep and the grandeur
of Jeff Mann.

A Romantic Mann is split into four parts: the first
dealing with romanticism (though this pops up other places as well), the second
has a musical theme, the third has a homespun Appalachian bent along with some
poems reacting to the student massacre at Virginia Tech where Mann teachers,
and the fourth features poems with European locales.

It has been said if you scratch a cynic, you’ll find a
disappointed romantic. Mann’s cynicism is evident, but he fully admits his
marred romanticism, especially in a thoughtful trilogy: “The Failed Romantic
Contemplates Suicide,” “The Failed Romantic Discovers Amy’s Hot Pepper Relish,”
and “The Failed Romantic Seduces a Blueberry Bar.” But no matter how Mann
contemplates, he always retains a sense of humor. From the first poem of the
trilogy comes this brilliant bit:

                                    He
would leap now, but who would/

                                    write
his elegy better than he?

                                    He
plucks at his collar and wonders/

                                    how
did Heathcliff avoid lint?

Food is also never far from Mann’s mind. The aforementioned
hot pepper relish and blueberry bars aside, Mann is both a gourmet and a
gourmand. The detailing of a sumptuous feast at “Galatoire’s” followed by “The
Men of Taco Bell,” which has another of my favorite few lines:

                                    We
eat slowly to put off heading home/

                                    We
plan how to fill our evenings./

                                    We
undress burrito supremes and fajita wraps/

                                    from
their coy paper clothing./

                                    The
tortillas resist our teeth, then yield like skin.

But whether Mann is name-checking his favorite foods
(“Sunday Morning Biscuits,” “Feasting in the Aftermath”) or his musical idols
(Joni Mitchell in “Ionian” and Simon and Garfunkle in “Dorian”), his agenda is
always epic, and he always keeps his poetic eye on how the detail fits in with
the larger picture as in another of my favorites here, “Homomonument,
Amsterdam.” 

                                    …we
sit together, knee to knee/

                                    in
the Dutch sun’s imprimatur,/

                                    dipping
frites into mayonnaise,/

                                    feeding
each another./

                                    Perfect
photo opportunity for those/

                                    in
tour boats who float by. They listen to/

                                    the
story of the Homomonument, point us out—/

living
examples!—aim their cameras. Smile.

Mann’s poetry is nothing short of spectacular, and it’s a
treat to have all these pieces from various magazines and anthologies bound in
one adroitly organized anthology. If you’ve never read Mann’s verse before, you
really should. It’s epic in a way you’ll never forget.       

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

                  

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