Emma Lee admires Mandy Kahn’s debut collection for its spare evocative lyrics

Kahn_hires-135x207Math, Heaven, Time 
Mandy Kahn
Eyewear Publishing http://www.eyewearpublishing.com/
ISBN 9781908998293; 
72 pp    £12.99


Mandy Kahn takes both contemporary themes (such as reality TV shows) and timeless issues (such as solving problems) and forges spare, lyrical poems. She often starts by infusing a commonplace situation with a pair of juxtaposed observations, pushing the reader to take a new look at something familiar, e.g. the idea of describing how love can feel like a disused factory powering up again in ‘Stuck Windows’

My body disobeys me, my old pal,
now preferring him. When kissed, my shuttered factory
throws open its stuck windows, starting up its clunky gray
machinery to humming, ready to make a new go,
ready to manufacture
whatever it is kids are buying these days.

There’s a sense of eventual surrender in the shutters, stuck windows and starting up clunky machinery as well as a sense of not wanting to question and analyse this new love – or whatever the factory’s producing – in case it proves fleeting, ready to be shrugged off as the next trendy new thing appears on the scene. Mandy Kahn’s poems aren’t just stuck on domestic themes. In ‘What Happened Right Above You’ a retired astronaut who’s described space as blacker than what’s lost is now receiving visitors

Now we flip through the films of his past
and find him floating, tethered 
to another space suit, fixing his aging ship.
But why do we pause and watch him, hands lost
in the rising gloves, hips lost in a fabric that won’t burn
or melt, rationing his breath?
Why do we bother watching? We’re also 
in love. Who better 
knows distance than we.

The poet makes the exclusive experience of being an astronaut one that we can all relate to: who hasn’t found someone they love distanced from them by circumstance? Meanwhile, that televised couple in ‘To the Couples Who Argue on Reality TV’ can be characterised by

she’s a scarlet crane, extinct in the wild,
here only
by the grace of several zoos, and at a
staggering cost, so the world
will not yet lose her – 

and he, he is a houseboat loaded up for 
many seasons, flying streamers,
trailing a league of minnows.

The woman’s selling point is her exotic beauty and the man’s is his ability to relate to the ordinary men in the audience. She has to stand out and he has to fit in – and this contradiction is all too frequently duplicated in the real world.

Problems can be solved by taking a break to appreciate the natural world in ‘How to Solve’ where a bunch of tulips is placed near a pile of mailed paperwork that needs attention

The papers will eventually right themselves. You’ll rise one day
and process them or papers will arrive
that won’t need signing.
The point is not the flowers without the papers.
The point is not the papers plus the flowers.
A bright spot tempts the flowers and your ancient speakers leak a clear sonata.
Breathe, then stretch, a tulip,
toward your body’s love.

In ‘Man Ray’ Mandy Kahn explores how little control we have over how people perceive us. The photographer wanted to be known as a painter but history prefers his photographs. Better to focus on what we do and doing it well rather than worry about how history will label us. Mandy Kahn’s fresh, evocative short lyrics make her a poet who deserves to be labelled as such.


Emma Lee’s Ghosts in the Desert is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams Press. Previous publications include Mimicking a Snowdrop (Thynks Press) and Yellow Torchlight and the Blues (Original Plus). http://emmalee1.wordpress.com