New Welsh Review
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Our contemporary moment has come to be defined in no small part by its corresponding political conflicts and global crises. These myriad instances of turmoil shape our present anxieties, becoming potent within social consciousness itself. Frequently massive in scale and intertwining with one another, the source of our modern fears and those concerns themselves can prove challenging to effectively quantify, becoming confusing and intangible in equal measure. Events are compounded by the stress of information overload. It is often the case that when faced with difficult times such as these, artistic forms are put to the task of reflecting upon and discussing current matters. To this end, André Mangeot’s poetry collection Blood Rain serves as a compendium of the buildup to our current crisis, counterposing the constrictions of anxiety with poetry’s freedom of expression. The results create a profound sense of power and urgency.
Laid out in a sequence of poems which frequently experiment with length, form and style, Mangeot creates a palette of emotions and images that mirror those wrought by our tumultuous times. Whether through a persistent mood created by wordplay or allusion to real-world events, Blood Rain’s poems show not only an understanding of our modern anxieties but frequently of their root causes. The subjects of populism and terrorism are explored in ‘Bellwether’ and ‘Jerusalem’, both outlining, in their own ways, issues of dogmatic adherence to fallible ideologies and portraying with intelligence the comfort many find in their own strongly held personal beliefs. The former poem drives this point into focus with repetitious mantras. ‘Some called it bigotry, others theology’ is later repurposed as ‘Some called it hate, some called it love’. Such statements both chime with current political divisions, while the latter does so through its oft-repeated and weighted claim that ‘Heaven’s road is paved with selflessness and sin’. ‘Blood’ recalls still relevant violent political conflict of years past such as the Romanian Revolution, while a similar effect is achieved in the experimental ‘Cromwell’. It is perhaps ‘The Odds’ which most confidently clarifies the feeling behind these poems of this nature, drawing together as it does the lives of people from different backgrounds across the globe, expressing the connections we may all share, but also the potential alienation brought about by our differences. The reader may decide for themselves the extent to which their own and their contemporaries’ lives may represent tacit participation with global forces.
The ongoing climate struggle and its associated fears also bleed through into Mangeot’s writing at frequent intervals, given impact and pathos through his use of language in depictions of the natural world. Across such poems as ‘Oxbow’ and ‘Wild Honey’, the environment is given an air of sublimity and authenticity which is borne of the poet’s experience living in particular localities. Others following these thematic trends make reference to peaks in the Lake District, for example, ‘Heart’ and ‘Helvellyn’, which are presented in succession. Mangeot’s time in south Wales can also be seen throughout his beautifully described vignettes.
Yet, in contrast to the splendour of such habitats, these poems also emit a sense of uncertainty, manifesting the concern that such places could one day be lost to us. ‘Encounter’ exemplifies this concern masterfully, telling of a chance meeting with a doe in a valley, the narrator finding a deep connection with the animal in the brief time they spend in each other’s presence, before the fleeting moment is brought to a close, leaving only feelings of ‘longing, strange regret’. This admiration Mangeot expresses for the world also carries over to his depictions of its people, through a number of delicately woven poetic sequences. ‘Pommade Divine’, ‘Sunburn’ and others provide touching tributes to various lives, although in both, palpable love and paranoia jostle shoulders. ‘Four Dogs’ delivers on these emotions with its memorable closing line following verses which recollect a familial relationship: ‘It clambered over you for weeks, a huge black hound; then nightly laid its weight across your sleeping face, as if to smother you.’ Blood Rain excels in its quiet, personal moments, imprinting onto the reader respect for the good still present in the world while steadily maintaining its sense of creeping, underlying fear.
Mangeot’s first poetry collection since 2005’s Mixer is a return that feels pointedly relevant and informed, speaking to the troubles of this age in a fiercely effective fashion. A love for the world and its people shines through a mass of modern anxieties, keeping the collection from wallowing in despair. Blood Rain demonstrates the power of artistic expression to portray this chaotic age.
Oliver Heath is one of this season’s cultural digital correspondents in a partnership with Aberystwyth University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.