From Publishers Weekly
Concise, witty and perhaps surprisingly grim, this second collection from Mann (Complaint in the Garden
) pays homage to the titular poet, the British-born, San Francisco–resident Thom Gunn (who died in 2004). Mann emulates Gunn's signature virtues: a wry, careful tone; tight rhymed and unrhymed forms; explicit delight in sex between men, and in the modern culture of gay liberation; and an appreciation for the Bay Area. Yet compared to his model, Mann sounds less in love with life, more attentive to death: I want lust/ as cold, precise and prescriptive/ as the en dash of a dead man, one poem concludes; another, set on Mann's birthday, declares, If life is ruin,/ then let it burn like Rome. Poems set in Florida, where Mann spent an unhappy youth, pose stark counterpoints to Mann's cityscapes. Arch verses about the poetry industry (A younger poet wrote to ask/ an older for a blurb) offset what seems most personal elsewhere. Mixing literary sophistication with a visceral self-distrust, even paraphrasing Catullus (wanting// again, a man I do not want), Mann makes his dislikes at least as vivid as his admirations. On the whole, the collection is memorable as homage, but surprisingly far from what Gunn himself once named The Passages of Joy. (Apr.)
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“With audacious wit and formal prowess equal to the master to whom he pays homage, Randall Mann has written a book both poignant and humorous, where one minute ‘we stand above it all’ and the next minute we are reading ‘the notes of the drowned.’ Mann invites us a into a ghastly metropolis, its emptiness and ruin nonetheless populated with remarkable sites of grace. If this were only the evacuated city, ‘the nothingness behind us/the nothingness ahead,’ the permanent red of Ilium scattered with fallen bodies, the feral world of nonchalant disease, rent boys and assassins, it would simply be another note of irretrievable loss in the parade of human history. But with purling fountains and lush gardens, Mann reveals the transitory but beguiling beauty that holds despair in abeyance, that reminds us of why desire propels us forward. ‘Soon we will be underground,’ he says, but for now we enjoy the cherries that dangle tantalizingly before us.”
(D. A. Powell 2008-06-13)
“Randall Mann’s second collection of poetry, Breakfast with Thom Gunn—aptly titled for its poetic inheritance of metrical clarity and its address of gay subculture—also uses moments of real social incident, transforming private history into odes to the afflicted. In this work, the many contradictions of desire touch the reader: politics, beauty, God, disease, love, art—all the world’s addictions—and it achieves an entertainment that is satisfying when harsh.”
(Miguel Murphy Rain Taxi Review of Books
Finalist, Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry
(Lambda Literary Award
"[The] bright, ironic surfaces both render bearable Mann's dark vision and somehow exacerbate it--an ambivalence wholly appropriate to such frank, pained poems."
(Benjamin S. Grossberg Antioch Review