Review #9: ‘Straight Razor’ by Randall Mann
Donald Justice once asked me at Breadloaf (when I was his T.A.) what I wanted him to inscribe in my own copy of his Selected, and instead of saying “Whatever you want!,” I wish I had said, “In Memory of Our Hot Night of Love,” an inscription I’d have to wait another two decades for when Richard Siken did me the honors in my hardcover copy of Crush; can you think of two poets more different in their aesthetic practices and predilections?; even so, individual poets themselves straddle a range, and for my lonesome, I prefer Justice’s free-verse “Psalm and Lament” to the tight quatrains of, say, his “Men at Forty”; or to put it another way, I love when formalist constraints take the backseat to urgent drives that propel a book forwards, say, in a book like Thom Gunn’s The Man With Night Sweats; as gay poets, we may graze and forage widely, but that said, it’s not hard to see how some are more drawn to the Auden/Merrill side of the aisle while others are more likely to pitch their tents in O’Hara or Ginsberg or Spicer camps, the ghosts of mutual exclusion hovering about however much one likes to eschew false binaries (Marilyn Hacker versus Olga Broumas; early Adrienne Rich verse later Adrienne Rich; the Ashbery of Some Trees versus Flow Chart); all this to say that I don’t finally care how accomplished a poet is in traditional poetic forms per se (as Randall Mann certainly is!), but my litmus test has more to do with whether poems show me that 1) a poet has suffered great loss and/or 2) has loved profoundly, and in Randall Mann’s most vulnerable (and playful) poems, we get radical instances of both.
Disclosures: I once messaged someone on grindr who looked like Randall Mann while bored at an AWP reading, not knowing exactly whom it was I was actually messaging.
Favorites: “End Words”; “Civic Center”; “But Enough about Me”; “To Mercury, in Retrograde.”