Mann, Jeff. “A Romantic Mann”, Lethe Press, 2013.
Sexy and Sensual
Just as I was wondering why I had not seen any new gay poetry, I came across Jeff Mann’s new collection “A Romantic Mann”. I always look forward to something new from Mann and he never disappoints. His new book of poems mirrors his appearance. Mann is a big guy and bearish. His poetry is big, or should I say epic, in emotion and like its author sweet on the inside.
There is a sense of masculinity that combines with emotion and a sense of loss and I felt what I am sure the poet felt as he wrote. As we age and mature our values as well as outlooks change and I sense that Mann is writing about facing middle-age. I felt much the same that we feel here when we read. Of course, realizing that one is no longer young can be interpreted in two ways—either our youth is gone and we have lived good lives or that the best is yet to come. It is very difficult to look back and remember the good times and think that they are over. I believe that Mann and I share the thought that aging is bittersweet. It is through his poems that Mann looks back and remembers—not wistfully but showing that the time has come to move on.
Mann writes with lyric beauty and is disciplined. His strong point in most everything he writes—prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction to use opposites and have them complement each other. Like myself, Mann is a son of the south and we sense his southern charm. He writes of the senses and I believe that is the most difficult thing to do. Ask yourself what friend chicken tastes like or how fresh coffee smells. We do not have the ability to explain those senses in words so we find other ways of doing so. When Mann writes about the senses, we feel what he describes.
The poet has situated these poems in four different sections or books and we soon sense his reason for doing this as he tells us his poems. Book one is where the poet introduces himself to us but not directly. We get an idea about him through the dichotomies he presents. He writes of men lusting after and loving each other physically and mentally and he writes off poetry. This is the most romantic of the four books. Book two consists of poems based upon musical compositions and again there is dichotomy; that of solitude and happiness. Book three concentrates on power; the power of others like Alan Turing and Mark Bingham as well as the poet’s own power to deal with hurt and revenge. It is homage to Mann’s root in Appalachia and his experiences as a faculty member at Virginia Tech. It is personal yet the poet steps back as he looks at his life and the influences that he has felt. Finally, book four again is an exercise in opposites and the expression of love and how we move forward after a devastating experience. Mann takes us to Europe with these poems. The beauty of poetry is that we experience in terms of our own lives so it would not surprise me to learn that others disagree with what I have written. But again, poetry is personal and we appreciate what we can identify with. My life is not so different than Mann’s and I identified with a lot of what he wrote and I suppose that is what makes this book so special to me.