Jenny Wong reviews
The Good News
By Rob Mackenzie
Deft, purposeful and precise, Rob Mackenzie’s latest collection The Good News examines from different perspectives the human need for faith, love and truth. His poetry fuses imaginative scenarios with prophetic voices, whilst it conjures a somewhat surreal yet familiar contemporary reality.
It is a delight to see the poet’s risk-taking experiments with form result in highly original satires such as ‘Tippexed Speeches on Scottish Independence'. In measured pace, Mackenzie taps into the latent meanings of a politician’s language, reworking the news-speak by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond. By highlighting the different interpretations of ownership through the different use and repetition of ‘I/we/us’, and by leaving out parts of their speeches, the poet exposes the politicians' craft in swaying the crowd with deliberate, emotive language, such as the following imagined speech from David Cameron:
I also understand why people
want a Scotland where more people own
where more people keep more
where business can (p.17)
In looking at the question of Scottish independence, Mackenzie adopts a language of his own and presents both sides of the argument with artless humour. In his poem ‘The Point’, he explores the inclusivity and exclusivity of the pronoun ‘we’, as the people are confronted with an uncertain future:
…We cannot trust ourselves
to talk about how we think the things we've thought.
Our independence, our politics, our fitting demise
are not worth retweeting. (p.16)
Inspired by Ian Pindar’s ‘Chain Letter’, ‘A Scottish Cent(o)ury’ is a powerful poem that projects a present reality illuminated by the past. With lines chosen from 100 Scottish poems, this is a piece of refashioned vernacular kindled with hope, in the context of changing social and political expectations.
In his previous interview with Robert Peake for Huffington Post, Mackenzie talks about the difficulty to trust in a world full of subterfuge, and sees poetry as a way of countering fakery:
‘Poems can capture moments like undoctored photographs - as evidence against fakery and unreliability - but they can also enact fakery and unreliability by (in effect) photoshopping the past. Good poems don't try to fit in. Good poems don't pander to expectations. They know the official versions of events and subvert them.’
Divided into three sections – ‘The Lingua Franca Happy Hour’, ‘Autistic Variations’ and ‘Human Manoeuvre’, the book explores the needs and expectations of an individual, and reflects a constant adjustment process of perception and interpretation, of self-acceptance and self-renewal. Using the metaphor of an autistic child, the second section offers a moving account of self-exploration and understanding. For example, in ‘Torino in Furs’, a child grows up within and apart from the Torinese community, as an outsider, and his un-belongingness escapes the ‘untrained eyes’, and the place itself feels unlike home, as if it were ‘a whole city with Asperger Syndrome’.
Carefully poised and sometimes unsettling, Mackenzie’s poems tackle the gap between what seems and what really is, being arriving at what truly matters, such as the moment of clarity in ‘The Boxer’:
…I have been working on
a lyric called The Boxer, a sort of Kate Moss
vs. Simon & Garfunkel growl mix, but it’s really
about longings and other howlers I have made. (p.72)
Moving between political satires and introspective poems, Mackenzie’s book is full of optimism, vision and acerbic wit. Borrowing from a vast range of materials and voices, his poems puts forward questions or hypotheses of our existence, which are at once profound, unsettling and yet uplifting.
Jennifer Wong is a British-based poet born and raised in Hong Kong. Eyewear reviewed her recent poetry collection a few posts back.