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"Magic man, poet?"
Review of name , an errant
(Stride Publications, UK)
By rob mclennan
Reviewed by John Stiles
The marketing of name , an errant, rob mclennan's eleventh book (but first in the UK) is clever in terms of theatre or spectacle. According to Douglas Barbour: Canada's 'mad pilgrim' crisscross(es) the prairies (and Eire) examining culture and 'writing down sand.' Hmmm. Wait now, isn't that more like a magician or a conjurer? Look, I'm not taking the mick here. I like that quote very much. I wish someone would call me a mad pilgrim poet; it makes me think of a true sage, a wandering nomad. But there you go. Not everyone can have 'a handle' though some poets need one, no? But wait. Is this poetry as entertainment? Why didn't someone think of that?
The book is a travelogue of sorts and very good in the sense that the poems seem to be jotted down on the road across Canada (etc.) quick to get the mood of the moment in cafes and airport lounges. There are no sentimental musings of past loves or plaintive 'if only' or 'what ifs?' After all, when you are on the trot the world is a strangely exhilarating place:
'...is nothing more frightening to a 14 year old boy than a 14 year old girl...'
This is true, no?
What strikes me is the humour in the poetry as in the following poem where the mad poet is waiting for the rain to stop at breakfast between travels. (Here too, dude. This summer Roger Federer packed up his racket and went shopping and sightseeing during the second week of Wimbledon).
it has been raining like this all morning
huge fucking raindrops & then
twenty minutes of rain
We can just imagine the grimace in the window of the Mohawk Station, can't we? mclennan puts himself in the poems and strips himself of self-importance and this works well as he doesn't preach like a charicature of himself (a mad pilgrim poet?) and what shows the skill of mclennan the poet is him again writing in the rain in seemly, a series
even though i am not gone, i end up writing you
the cold rain no longer cold or is
Here, mclennan is able in few words to give the impression of a person (writer) lost in concentration oblivious to his surrounding perhaps, lost in the moment. I like this passage for its simplicity. There is a lot to mclennan's spare writing style that has this essence. It is as if he's getting it all down as quick as possible, because no one else will. Well, will they?
I like this book, not just for its quiet insight but also for its cheek. There's a little there that is laughing at us - or the absurdity of the world - and that man "sipping ginger ale through a bendy straw" just might have an eye on what is going on in the world around him.
Bio: John Stiles is writing this review after a series of hard drinking bouts in which he appeared in an art gallery in Soho with some poets and after taking it all in recited a Mike Caldwell line (the smalls). "It's all just a torment spectacle," which went down a treat. John's second full collection is Creamsicle Stick Shivs.