Acid-Wash Jeans and Handbag House Anthems: A Review of Randall Mann’s Stunning New collection A Better Life (Persea Press)

by Apr 1, 2021Book Reviews

Randall Mann is the author of four previous books of poetry, Proprietary, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Northern California Book Award, as well as a book of criticism, The Illusion of Intimacy : On Poetry and co-author of the textbook Writing Poems. He lives in San Francisco.

A Better Life

During this current pandemic, Randall Mann conjures the ghost of the last one, thereby drawing parallels between the two. Like in the mirroring and repetitive lines of his clever pantoums and palindrome poems, he seems to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

In the economic lines of “Florida Again” Mann pinpoints a long-gone gay era by the use of carefully picked items: the acid wash jeans. So very specific. In “True Blue,” he is a trickster wordsmith who just can’t help his punning and sonic dexterity:

 

I pick out

my workout

outfit

 

The reader has the feeling that these half-rhymes, internal rhymes, and clangs aren’t sought out by the poet, but that they come to him in a flow, like rap. 

 

In “Rhapsody,” the skinny, concise verses march down the page and skitter across the ears in a methamphetamine frenzy:

 

we pause        

to disarticulate

our jaws

 

So very sharp. Mann renders the HIV-positive sex scene with minimal words (blue pills), and deftly indicates the passage of time with judicious image choice (receding hairline). This is the first and only time you will ever experience Doxycycline used perfectly as a verb, by the way.

 

“Executive Order” is a pantoum in form, and “RSVP” is just one stanza of a Shakespearean sonnet, but the reader knows that Mann absolutely has the classical chops to carry off the whole thing, if he wanted to. This poet doesn’t flash about his obvious formal poetic skills, but employs form when and where it suits, as is right. 

 

There’s nothing like a really specific tune to recall an exact point in time, and Mann does just that with Black Box’s “Everybody, Everybody.” The sweaty dance floor and the e-pills: 1990s San Francisco is brought to life in all its gaudy and desperate late-20th century glory. 

 

“Middle Manager” is a hymn to the closeted, but skews without bitterness, and “Extra” is hilarious in its self-deprecating humor as the poet is employed as a “hot guy” extra, then dismissed from a film set. In “Anecdote of an Ex,” the pantoum form amplifies the vapidity of the appearance-obsessed and is casually cruel in its obsessive race towards physical perfection, which is never-ending and can never be achieved. In “Long Beach,” the life of the poet’s grandfather, with all its attendant bitterness and regret over a long stretch of history, is encapsulated well in a brief, economical poem, which is one of the most successful pieces in a collection of very good poems. 

 

“A New Syntax” is a quartet or crown of pantoums, which uses repetition to good effect as it shows how the mind repeats ideas, and how history has a habit of recreating itself. The killer line in a collection full of killer lines could very well be in “Playboy”:

 

It’s always 1978 in the pages of Playboy

 

It’s always 1991 in the universe of A Better Life, but it’s also simultaneously 1981, 2001, 2011 and 2021. 

 

 

 


You can purchase A Better Life by Randall Mann from Persea Books here.

fist of wind: A poetry chapbook by nefertiti asanti

Join us for the book launch here with Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) and Foglifter!     Foglifter Press is proud to announce fist of wind, a lyrical testimony that centers the Black body as a site of healing and transformation. This chapbook/collection of...

On Yearning or I Am at Home Eating Chocolate, Thinking About Holland Taylor and Sarah Paulson by Marne Litfin

Marne Litfin (they/them) is a writer, comic, and incoming MFA student in fiction at the University of Michigan. Their essays and short stories are published and forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Phoebe, The Billfold, and We'll Have to Pass. Marne reads flash for...

“On Never Leaving San Francisco” by Sara Brody

Sara Brody is a writer from San Francisco. She holds an MFA in Fiction and an MA in English from San Francisco State University, and her work has appeared in Narrative Magazine, the Normal School, the Masters Review, the Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. In her free...

Culture Control, and the Fight for San Francisco: Tina Horn Interviews Dorian Katz

Last fall, the West SOMA Community Benefits Board (WSCBD) censored public art for the Big Belly trash can project in the SOMA neighborhood. The artists (Justin Hall, Axeish Guy, James Hion and Dorian Katz) were commissioned because WSCBD reached out to the Leather...

Review of Matthew Clark Davison’s Doubting Thomas

Matthew Clark Davison's debut novel, Doubting Thomas, will be published in Summer 2021 by Amble Press. He is creator and teacher of The Lab: Writing Classes with MCD, a non-academic school started in 2007 in a friend's living room. The textbook version of The Lab,...

Submit to Foglifter

Foglifter is now open for submission —and we're a paid market!

Support Foglifter

Help us continue providing a platform for intersectional queer and trans writing. Donate today!

Follow foglifter
on twitter

Thru 12/1: @foglifterpress is accepting submissions for Start a Riot! - a chapbook prize for emerging queer and trans BIPOC writers in the San Francisco Bay Area. 1 author will receive publication, a $1K prize, promotion, + a spot on the Sister Spit tour.

https://foglifterjournal.com/start-a-riot/

Popping in to say I'm grateful for poetry and to you dear readers.

I'm excited to share I'll be joining the Board at Foglifter @foglifterpress. If you're not familiar with the magazine read more at this link https://foglifterjournal.com/.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This