Book Review: Inner London Buddha

Inner London Buddha, by Mick Guffan, is a collection of more than eighty poems, including some previously unpublished, from the builder/poet who died in 2006. In the preface, written by Alan Dent, the question is posed:

“why focus on those who can’t find a easy, comfortable place in society when so many can?”

What is offered here is a rare and raw authenticity, an absence of too readily accepted hypocrisies:

“Don’t the rich spend heavily on booze and drugs? Isn’t there a culture of sexual abuse at the heart of our most seemingly respectable institutions?”

The collection reminds us that:

“what we are supposed to believe about our culture is far from a truthful picture”

The truth may feel uncomfortable, and there is a great deal of unpleasant imagery conjured out of these pages, but the poems offer a window into the inner thoughts and uninhibited actions that are recognisably more prevalent in society than is typically acknowledged.

Although much of the subject matter is unsavoury, at times disturbing, there is also wry humour, such as in The Man Next Door:

“He never did
a favour for
anyone.

Except me.

He did me a
favour once.

He fucked off
out of
my
life
when he moved to
Penrith.”

Several poems mention the importance men grant their private parts, aptly portrayed in the titular poem:

“despite the cold, I loosen the cloth belt
look down the old line of sour pink and familiar flesh.
My eyes naturally head towards my cock.
Where else would they go?
Ah, we’ve seen some times together.
This is what you made me.”

The cruelty of passers by towards a homeless man is starkly presented in Rough Sleeper, while first person cruelty is described in Buttercup Must Die. The reader is reminded that man has many sides whatever his perceived status.

Crumbling is one of the shorter offerings that succinctly captures the pathos of life:

“Closed sign
and
a man
sobbing.

A grown man.

He was inconsolable.

It’s the little things.”

There are poems that are stomach-churning, others that are heart-rending.

The Building Game offers up life as a labourer, the filthy conditions and contempt in which they are held by their employers.

Stopping Over provides humour, describing an unexpected nighttime encounter when an amorous couple try to use the cramped sofa the narrator is attempting to sleep on. It concludes:

“The front door slammed shut.
I do not know about him but
that was the closest I have got to
sex in four years.”

There are poems portraying the boredom and lethargy of poverty; of drug use; and sexual abuse. There is an undercurrent of bitterness but also sorrow, the difficulties of changing anything when prospects are limited and apathy eventually prevails.

Sunday Meal presents a relationship breakdown.

100 Suns is a eulogy to love:

“She was the
smell of a
flower
I was not expecting.

The light of
one hundred suns
over
endless fields.

She is away
from me now
but it is the
sadness
that remains.

The sadness
in between
I mean.

[…]

love’s deep shadow
keeps calling
her name

and I cannot be free.”

If art is required to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed then this collection succeeds beyond expectation. From out of desolation rises an unadorned humanity. The words leave an echo that resonates deeply.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tangerine Press.