Wendy French admires Dino Mahoney’s poems for their empathy and breadth of understanding
You could well be mistaken on looking at the cover of tutti rrutti – a bright cover with individualised coloured lettering and a pink pineapple – and think here is a book with many ‘fun’ poems included. There are, of course, witty, clever poems, which capture the personality of the author (who appears a kind and loving extrovert). As loving and fun-seeking as Mahoney is, here is a book of well-crafted serious poems that make the reader contemplate the world and our place in it. Emotions including love, anger, shame, disappointment, resilience, compassion and acceptance are here. Here are some lines from ‘Six Hundred’
They chat in tenor, piping treble, questions, stories, funny noises, sing wobbly duets…
This poem come towards the end of the book where Mahoney is reflecting on life with his estranged daughter. The book is a journey from childhood through his relationship with his mother, marriage and the break-up of his marriage undermined by his mother, Mahoney’s sexuality and other relationships.
On childhood he writes
Glittering sea pup, the son swims under her, looks up at the keel of her back, (‘Dormition’)
On his broken marriage he says, bitterly
Then you wrecked my marriage and completely broken I came back, and you hunted everyone I loved… (‘Vampire Madonna’)
‘Year of the Ox’ opens up the matter of Mahoney’s sexuality
And there it ends, something must have shown in the way I looked at their son, was too much at home.
And Mahoney’s relationship with his daughter is explored again in ‘Ring Ring’
Fine thanks, need money, food, water, electricity, last time not enough – does he want her to starve, stink, freeze?
Compassion runs strongly through most of the poems. ‘Sugar Babe’ was written for Mahoney’s aunt.
“Cos I’m slipping away Like the sand to the tide.” I lightly stroke he brittle hair, softly coo her name…
There are a few poems that sit uncomfortably with me because they show the pain that the poet has felt at different times in his life. I am not being derogatory here because these poems do enhance the collection which covers many areas of contemporary life. These poems are both honest and sensitively written and the whole book speaks of an unashamed existence. Mahoney is not afraid to tackle hard subjects like birth, growing up, sex, decay and death. The following stanza shows Mahoney’s intelligent use of language and words. Naming him mendicant gives the beggar a more respectful identity than just the word ‘beggar’. Mahoney respects everyone for who they are and not what they are.
When later you discover your loss, behind the dismay steals a feeling on enlightenment, your passport and wallet swapped for anonymity, the mendicant’s bowl… (‘Praha’)
The poems are about identity and new beginnings, the poet seeing himself in another country, foreign country or the country buried within himself. We all have countries buried within ourselves and this book grants us permission to be honest about it.
…Centre court, men thwacking balls, calves and thighs flexing as they crouch and spring. “Looking at their legs, she hisses. I boil with shame. ( ‘Riri’)
There are physical as well as intellectually demanding poems here.
He shimmers behind a veil of heat. In double Biology, we sit together in the lab, smelling of smoke and desire’ (‘Geometry’)
The poems are relevant to all of us They close in on our own insecurities, loves and losses. Our own sexual prowess is challenged again and again through the different landscapes and countries that are brought to us in colourful and meaningful ways.
Sloping down to the dark Mekon, Patrolled by giant rays, flesh-eating catfish. Mosquitoes hum and whine a soft voice purrs, “ Girl sir, want girl? Young girl? Boy sir? Opium?” (‘Night Market’)
Her painted face can trick the reeling sailor, catch husband tourist poet unaware, together stagger from the Pat Pong parlour, and through the back door mount the groaning stairs. (‘Ladyboy’)
This is a lyrical unostentatious collection of poetry in which Mahoney has an ear for natural rhythm and rhyme. This is also from ‘Ladyboy’:
With ying and yang together for good measure, The him in her and her in him my treasure,
There is a spontaneity and delight in these poems. They breathe fresh air into the world we know – or one we may not know yet but have just read about – as Mahony takes us across the planet to far-flung places, for example. China, Hong Kong, Greece and Europe. Each poem is a narrative that opens up another world (sometimes physical, sometimes emotional) within the reader that we may not know or maybe have forgotten about.
One of my favourite poems is ‘Vampire Madonna’. This poem made me weep. It records in a few pertinent lines the progression of time and ageing and the changing perceptions of how we see our parents as we grow and learn.
Once on a Greek island, I saw a woman call her son from the sea, “Kostaki! Kostaki! He waded out, balding, pot-bellied, hair-chested, and she wrapped him in a towel and led away.
This book is a tour de force. The style and form of each poems fit the content perfectly. The reader is led, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently, to different places round the world and places with ourselves. The last poem in the book, ‘African Icarus’, sums up the man I sense Mahoney to be: through the pain of his own experiences he is always looking out for others:
We would have welcomed him, given him something to eat, made up the bed in Jamie’s old room.
But I want to finish with one sentiment that stays with me:
You have to be abandoned to rise and fly. (‘Up’)
The writing is disciplined and mature with the recurring themes of love, loss, ache of separation and the need to set it all down in writing for others to read and understand what makes us human and how we can survive. Some of the poems have been set to music by Steve Halliwell from Little Machine and accompanied by Clare Harriot. With Mahoney’s ear and eye for cinematic detail and rhythm they work well encompassing another art form.
Keep on flying Dino, we need more of your poems. They speak to many of us.