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Blood Rain

ISBN-13: 
9781781725627
Publication Date: 
Monday, February 17, 2020
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Resonant, complex, rich in heft and texture, these are mature poems that grapple with serious themes. André Mangeot’s Blood Rain opens with a deeply personal love poem (“Remember, too, our secret pool?”) that also introduces the natural world and it’s endangerment – one of several key themes in a book that addresses some of the most troubling man-made issues now facing us all.  The second poem, ‘Bellwether’, reflects this: a subtle socio-political piece, a warning in a time of populism and radicalisation. This breadth of awareness and range is part of the collection’s appeal, giving the poems an urgent topicality and depth.

Partly inspired by the poet’s love of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, there are many sharp and sensual poems featuring landscape: a wildflower meadow, an encounter with a doe, a vertiginous ledge, ‘fast-shrinking heathlands’, ‘bell-heather and blazes of gorse’. Poems of surprise and redemption at the beauty of nature – undercut by fear of its loss.

In the second section the threats and warnings loom larger. ‘Foot and Mouth’ and the title poem ‘Blood Rain’ are darkly prophetic: smoking pyres of infected cattle and the red dust-sediment blown north from the Sahara conjure up a deep foreboding.  Other poems here (‘Scrimshaw’, ‘The Gift’ and ‘Lost at Cadiz’) grapple with wars from the recent past in original and contrasting ways.   

‘The Odds’, one of several striking sonnets in the collection, and a poem simply called ‘Blood’, turn their eye on extremism and tyranny.  In each case the political becomes personal as the focus homes in on individuals: pawns and puppeteers in a bleak and interwoven story.  The unspoken question is how we ourselves are implicated in these acts – by indifference, inaction or complicity.  A moving villanelle, ‘Jerusalem’, follows the final thoughts of a suicide bomber in a form that mirrors the relentless circularity of dogma-inspired violence: “Heaven’s road is paved with selflessness and sin.” 

The third section returns to the personal with elegies and eulogies to friends, fellow artists and family members. Relatives emerge as heroes and anti-heroes of various conflicts, public and private. The poet’s testing relationship with his late father emerges in a moving sequence (‘Four Dogs’, ‘History’, ‘Ash’ and ‘Euston Road’). ‘Sunburn’ resurrects another lost relationship from a memory of a shared moment high above Harlech and Bardsey Sound.  While ‘The Fabulists’, also a sonnet, reflects on the adventure of travel but also of love. ‘Embarking, we are always dreamers ...’

A fourth section offers us more character portraits, sometimes in the guise of extravagant fairy tales, as in ‘Escape’ where a woman is transformed into a form of plant-goddess, perhaps a partner for ‘The Green Man’ of fable, to elude the trauma of a bullied past.  Sometimes poems open-up like riddles, as in the wonderful ‘Egg’, which presents earth as ‘our blue-speckled planet, feathered with cloud.’ Overall, Mangeot’s Blood Rain is an intelligent, lovingly-crafted and necessary examination of our troubled times – a multi-faceted collection that will challenge and enchant the reader.

 

Recorded at home during lockdown, here is a video of André reading his poem 'The Odds'

 

REVIEWS

Review by Neil Leadbeater, Write Out Loud

Monday, June 1, 2020

I wonder how many of us can remember being taught about oxbow lakes in Geography? Reading the opening poem in this collection brought it all back to me. I can even recall the drawing that our teacher chalked up on the blackboard in a brave attempt to try to teach us how to calculate the sinuosity of a river. Mangeot is more concerned here with charting our changing world. It forms a perfect opening to this collection of 53 poems divided into four distinct sections of roughly equal length which cover the natural world, friends, fellow artists and family members, global challenges and character portraits.

In April 2014 dust all the way from Africa reached the UK in the wake of an unusual weather pattern prompting the government to issue warnings of very high levels of air pollution across parts of England and Wales. This is the subject of Mangeot’s title poem and also of the photograph on the front cover. Mangeot catches something of its foreboding in his opening lines: “Then, hazing the horizon, silting lungs, it came / by night, silent and unseen, this dust-shroud / blown and shed like desiccated blood…” In many ways these lines set the tone of many of the poems in this book which speak of environmental disaster, religious extremism, radicalisation and political conflict on a global scale. Mangeot is very much a poet of our time.

He is from an Anglo-French family, and grew up in Kent, Yorkshire and Suffolk before graduating from Oxford. He has published two previous poetry collections (Natural Causes and Mixer), as well as two collections of short stories, and written three novels.  For over 10 years he was a member of the poetry collective, The Joy of Six, which performed at festivals across the UK. 

Throughout this collection, he is adept at conveying a lot of information within a short space of time. This economy with words is exemplified in the opening lines of ‘Encounter’ where a number of facts are quickly established within the space of five lines:

 

     The doe freezes, as do I

     and we face one another:

     eyes locked, twenty yards apart

     holding our ground.

 

     It’s 7 am. Perfectly still.

 

Concern for the environment and the destruction of our natural world is present in poems such as ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Memory’ and the majesty of the peaks in the Lake District is celebrated in ‘Heart’ and ‘Helvellyn’. Mangeot returns to the animal world in his poem ‘Foot and Mouth’ which brings into focus the awful spectre of the wholesale slaughter of six million cattle and sheep that dominated our television screens in 2001.

An animal image can be found in the title of the second poem in the collection, ‘Bellwether’ – a term used to describe the leading sheep of a flock. It is a disturbing poem about the way in which one person can lead others astray by inciting them to adopt a collective view of radicalisation and terror: “some called it hate, some called it love.”

The curiously titled ‘Uhtceare’ – an Old English word consisting of ‘uht’ which means ‘the hour before sunrise’ and ‘ceare’, which means ‘care’ or ‘worry’ – describes the way we sometimes lie awake before dawn worrying about the cares of the world.

Pieces addressed to family members include a moving sequence (‘Four Dogs,’ ‘History,’ ‘Ash,’ and ‘Euston Road’) which testify to the poet’s relationship with his father. There are also eulogies addressed to friends such as the Suffolk artist and actress Joanna Dunham. The poet RS Thomas is referenced somewhat obliquely in ‘Hawk’ – a title that I assume draws its inspiration from one of his lines “the silence holds with its gloved hand the wild hawk of the mind”.  I would not have caught on to this but for the fact that mention is made in parenthesis at the head of the poem to St Hywyn’s church, Aberdaron, which is where Thomas ministered from 1967 until 1978.  A further poem, ‘Icehouse’, is a eulogy to the 18th century entrepreneur and philanthropist Ralph Allen who, among other things, is credited with reforming the British postal system.

The power of this book lies in Mangeot’s treatment of the big issues of our time – the rise of populism, terrorism and religious extremism. In poems such as ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘The Odds’ he ratchets up the tension. Just as birds get sucked into the turning blades of wind turbines (‘The Counterpoise’) so human beings get drawn into the whirlpool of terror described in poems such as ‘Jerusalem’ where a suicide bomber pulls the pin in a cafe full of innocent civilians. ‘The Odds’ draws together people from different areas of the globe, and expresses the similarities they share but also that which draws them apart with chilling consequences. Some of them get killed and others escape with their lives intact. This is the lottery we live in … these are the odds.

This is a powerful, thought-provoking book that reflects the troubled times in which we live. However, as “wars continue” and “our planet smoulders on”, Mangeot is at pains to remind us in the closing couplets of ‘Fires’ that “All we can leave / is love, which nothing can burn.” It is a positive note on which to end. Recommended.

Review by Jenny Lewis, Western Mail

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Evocative, insightful and bold, André Mangeot’s new book of poems is a collection for our times, writes Jenny White...

Most works in this collection explore the inner landscape as much as the outer – sometimes wistful, often a kick in the gut, they cut to the heart of the issue. The state of our planet is a recurrent theme, as is man’s propensity for violence.

“Not before time, I think an increasing number of poems now being written are reflecting concern for the planet, our ways of relating (or not) to one another and our common future,” says Mangeot. “As human beings, most of us share a sense of anger, guilt, dismay, even helplessness at what we see around us and where we seem to be heading. And, as poets, this can’t help but colour our outlook and writing.”

Blood Rain is divided into four sections – Mangeot says three became clear quite early on in the writing process as certain subjects and themes (the environment and ecological threats, conflict and violence, family and other elegies) began to emerge.

“The fourth and final part comprises poems that didn’t fit directly into the other sections but I felt were consistent with the tone and impetus of the book and concluded the sequence in the right way,” he says.

As a whole, the collection exhibits a compelling balance – and interplay – between personal and universal themes. While war, terror and global warming are all tackled, there are also eulogies to friends, fellow artists and family members, especially his late father.

“My dad died more than 10 years ago and, for most of his life, we’d had quite a difficult relationship,” he says. “But in his last few years, after significant effort on both sides, things did improve quite a bit. We accepted we were very different characters with different perspectives, but began to express warmer feelings. I know this was a huge relief to each of us and after he’d gone I found myself writing a number of poems which tried to understand the journey we’d been on together.

“I realised this only after the book came out and I don’t want to overstate it, but I can now see more clearly a kind of mirroring of these small, private conflicts within families with how resentments and misunderstandings on a national or global scale can, if not addressed, escalate into something far more serious.”

Reading the collection in the heart of the coronavirus crisis, it’s easy to discern a prophetic note in some of this work – as in Fires, where he writes of “disease, famine and tempest”.

“If one word sums up Blood Rain it’s probably ‘elegiac’,” he says. “And the book certainly touches on a variety of challenges to our future (climate change, populism, radicalisation) and the prevailing mood of anxiety.

“The book was published just prior to the lockdown, so coronavirus per se isn’t featured, but now its shadow’s there too, of course. The pandemic has simply underlined the global connection between us and is a stark reminder of our vulnerability. Reality is dawning that we are just another species in the fight for survival and that no law precludes our extinction.”

Review by Oliver Heath, New Welsh Review

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

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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 Blood Rain’s 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.
 

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