Book Review: Bent for the Job

bent for the job

The privileged often espouse a view that poverty of aspiration and achievement (whatever that means) can be improved through education and temperance. They hold a belief that a desire for self-improvement is an inherent quality in man, perhaps because of their blinkered experiences. The life Mick Guffan writes of in his caustic yet remarkable poetry makes no mention of such capital ambition. It’s not for me to say if the man actively looked to improve his lot and lacked luck or opportunity, but the snippets he shares here of day to day existence are shadowed by the elemental – violence, drugs, unsatisfactory sex – endured when the effort required to effect change feels pointless to the narrator. There is little mention of pleasure other than through temporary release.

For those who regard poetry as pretentious, this collection offers an antithesis. Its raw honesty grates against any supposed rules on taste or censure. It includes references to and casual acceptance of such realities as: lice, semen, the sharing of menses. These are dealt with factually, without recoil, cutting to the quick. The poems offer an evocative rendering of a man as he sees himself – flawed and flayed by life. He is in want, and often this is not pretty.

There are injections of humour, as in ‘A Visit to the Museum’.

Browsing the bottom shelf
three specimen jars in a row.
Antiquated floating pricks as pathologist reference-
near an exposed, dangling double socket.
A sign below them all saying:
“Faulty, do not use.”

There are insights that offer a window into the sharp mind of a man whose behaviour and outward appearance may have led some to dismiss him with misplaced condescension.

(Only the righteous
shall be saved)
Ah yes, all in good time.
There are
so many
people to be.

‘Progress’ mocks

them          clever
words that         jump

poems that

tick / some / boxes
merit an    Arse Council    handout

What comes across is an impression that the narrator chooses his own path within the confines of the hand dealt him. There is no expectation of sympathy. He accepts responsibility for what he is.

The poems, for all their grimy imagery, somehow transcend. They take a scalpel to preconceptions of someone who is at times ground down, who is so much more than first impressions. If the reader is discomfited by what is being shared perhaps the onus lies within. Reality bites and Guffan chews over this with uncompromising skill.

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

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

Except me.

He did me a
favour once.

He fucked off
out of
when he moved to

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
a man

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
I was not expecting.

The light of
one hundred suns
endless fields.

She is away
from me now
but it is the
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.