A Series of Short, Sharp Shocks
By Marek Kazmierski.
Baby, I’m Ready To Go, Melissa Mann, Grevious Jones Press, 2009.
If you don’t already know about Melissa Mann – read about her here – regular visitors to these e-pages should, so I won’t labour the introduction. Her latest collection of poems, Baby I’m Ready To Go, has recently been published by Grievous Jones Press. It’s founder David Oprava has gone on record as saying “The Beats are dead and no one has stepped up”. Big words from a big man, who opened the recent launch of the first three Grevious Jones titles at the Betsey Trotwood talking about “voices which needed to be heard” and all that visionary propaganda I do not want to hear but see from publishers (especially those who print and bind their own writing). Readings from the three GJ authors on offer that night proved to be a wonderfully mixed bag;
– panicked laughter racing through confessionals of rape and personal rebellion
– dull rendering of misogynistic ramblings which should never have troubled ink to page
– perfectly introduced, almost perfectly formed poems of love and its multi-layered lessons
I won’t name names, but seeing as afterwards I did go online and paid my monies for Ms Mann’s book, you can guess which was best and know you’re reading a committed consumer review here. For 68 pages of poems you get an extra 24 of index, comments and faux-interview. Meaning it’s either an innovative way of adding value for money by a writer who sure knows how to promote herself (Ms Mann runs an online magazine, book shop and now her own indie press), or a case of a publisher padding out one third of a book with deconstructions of the artist’s own art.
Is the dividing line between small and big presses lack of quality control or lack of professional editing? Studying some GJ titles it’s definitely the former, but in Ms Mann’s case only the latter. Many of her poems mix sublime subtlety with 6th form lyricisms, and it feels like a skilled editor would have gone through this collection with a real quick, sharp nib and made it into something else. Something that doesn’t apologise for or explain itself.
beauty is a tour-de-force run through some dark days, yet it ends on a wimp-out Xmas cracker joke ending – something a decent editor should have torn right off the galley proof page. And nothing is all superb lines, interspersed with dissonant phrases;
“She can feel him smiling
She can feel him lying
she can feel him wearing her
She can feel him wearing himself
She’s wearing him”
There is real gold to be found here, but neither the titles nor the language let that quality shine through. Too many words like “heart,” “alone,” “break,” “fist,” “lips,” “soul” – not enough “fleshly,” “Craigness,” “mink,” “conveniences,” “tongues.” Ms Mann can turn out one immaculate line after another – nowhere is a case in point, worth the cover price alone, death scene too, closest to classic poetic form, subtle, obtuse and devastating, in little more than a single sentence;
“Outside the window a man made of frozen tears is sweating to death on the grass i grip the sill watching the slow quiet fall of his stony stare and battered cowboy hat… a little girl is standing in front of him now i want her to go away leave him dying an indignity that should be suffered alone but the girl is not here to watch… then with pink mittened fists she starts to pummel him into nothingness i close the curtains and stare at my feet i’m imagining tomorrow me standing before the echo of him in the mulch grass his pebble eyes blank me picking up his hat feeling the past rough and unnecessary in my hands as the idea of him patters on my hood”
Many of the poems work best when set in the repetitive rhythms of chorus, refrain, chorus… numerous musical references (Boo Hewerdine, Wham, interview with various punk heroes at the back) confirm Ms Mann’s loves her lyrics, but I still think a good editor would have made these poems into something else. The love poems (‘dear jim…, nowhere, right there, stupid heart) read like conversations and the observational poems (lit’racy hour, follow the christ!, cocksuckers) like the descriptive sections in between, adding up to a book which reads like a novel already.
The poem notes and the interview (fictional) with lots of dead rock’n’rollers at the back just confirm this impression, reading like the subtle musings of a bardic raconteur. They are meant to enrich our enjoyment of what’s come before, but are far from helpful, protesting too much. Mr Ed, where art though?! Stop Ms Mann apologising for her talent! Stop her stating the bleeding obvious for every moment of bona fide beauty. Redundant in print, these bits of social commentary are best saved for the short attention spans and lazily left-wing opinions of the spoken word circuit. Most people are dumb, but rarely those who pay to read poems for themselves. We can handle both brains and balls, unlike most of the male characters we meet in her Songs of Post-Innocence.
There is an important voice coming up through the cracks here – like a female Blake, Ms Mann wanders the rotten streets of London (and other grim towns) and aches through her characters – homeless wench, past-it tart, would-be train platform jumper, Loo attendant of the Year, zimmer framed octogenarian… women fearing ageing or already aged and done. Even the Jehovah’s Witness in follow the christ! is female. Left-wing, working class, sensitive, auteur – Ms Mann has much to battle against.
“… as a perfectionist I feel it is my solemn duty in life to correct anyone I see making a mistake,” state her notes, so I will point out that her words seem to panic whenever real flames spark up. I know she is working on her next book right now and I know that it might be prose. Let no time at all tell if she will let them rip.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marek Kazmierski – born in Warsaw, raised in London. Former teacher, stripper, librarian and door-to-door perfume salesman, currently nine-to-five in prison, coordinating cultural and diversity affairs. In his spare time, Marek writes, makes films and runs OFF_Press, a bi-lingual literary enterprise. Joint winner of 2007 Penguin Decibel prize for non-fiction and sole recipient of the 2005 Bike Magazine Philosopher of the Year Award, he has been published by various people, including Penguin, and his films have been screened at various festivals, in the UK and abroad.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, January 14th, 2010.