Book Review

POETRY MONTH: The Marketplace of Ideas by Stefan Mohamed

the Earth itself is a revolutionary anti-capitalist (funny poems)

cw: call to revolution

People often ask: “can poetry be funny?”

What people do not ask enough, however, is should poetry be funny?

As a writer, I think I’ve indicated my performed belief that poetry may be permitted to be humorous, for example, through this “satirical poem” from my embarrassing period as a political centrist (I’m an anarchist now!) and the entire book of humorous poems and full frontal nude photography I co-made with Sean Preston, the seriousish publisher, family man and occasional pornographer.

Yes, so I must acknowledge that I have acted as if poetry should be allowed to be funny and can be funny. That said, I’ve also acted as if not immediately engaging in violent revolutionary struggle has any ethical, intellectual or ideological justification, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

The queen is dead, which is a start, but rather than a fully-justified political execution, responsibility for her death instead lays at the hands of time, which in many ways is not a capitalistic force.

With time, the ravages and the horrors that we, as a species, have inflicted upon this sad planet will be unwritten.

Time/Nature, is not revolutionary – if we talk about the history and the values of the planet as a whole rather than as a human habitat – but if we contrast Time/Nature against the ideologies and the expectations of capitalism, then we see that the Earth itself, Gaia, is a revolutionary anti-capitalist.

There’s that excellent sociopolitical theory that humanity/society has reached the level of technological, medical and scientific prowess it has not through competition – as the capitalists would have you believe – but through the opposite: through collaboration, through communication and through kindness.

This is attested to by the planet’s ability to heal itself (herself?) over time.

///

Sorry, I’ve gone completely off track here.

What I’m trying to say is: just because I’ve done something and continue to do it, that does not mean I believe my action[s] to be ethically justifiable or even humanely acceptable.

In many ways, I don’t really think any of us have a right to life (and certainly not to the type of globalised, extractive, destructive, life we all live now), but I’m not organising or advocating for genocide, so if I’m willing to accept the accusation of hypocrisy as related to the body politic and society at large, then I must also be willing to accept it as a condemnation of my inconsistencies regarding the purposes and the powers of verse.

Am I serious here? I don’t know.

///

Let’s start again:

Unpopular opinion: Poetry can be funny.

More than this, poetry can be funny and poetry should be funny.

Poetry should be all of the many things it can be, and this is why poetry is great: poetry is an open-ended and a varied and inconsistent art form.

There is no “correct” way to do poetry; there is no singular poetic form, style or type that is the only one that is permitted, effective or “of value”.

Yesterday, I read an anthology, so today I’m commenting on a single author text, a 2021 pamphlet by Stefan Mohamed titled The Marketplace of Ideas.

Stefan Mohamed is a writer who I’ve encountered on social media, who seems to be a witty and politically-engaged leftist voice. Mohamed is a performance poet, and many of the pieces in this chapbook could easily be imagined live. That said, there is also lots of visual experimentation across some of these pieces, so The Marketplace of Ideas doesn’t read like transcripts of spoken word performance.

But, yeah, it’s funny: there are a lot of great gags in here, and it is broadly satirical, looking at the contemporary political sphere, as well as broader socio-cultural trends, however one piece (titled ‘Big Mood’) about millennials (remember them/us?) feels like a poem whose best years – like millennials – are behind them: who talks about millennials anymore? The young people are Gen z’s now. Even millennials don’t talk about millennials anymore. (Though within this poem the couplet: “Millennials are having less sex than ever./ Millennials are having more sex than they can handle.” really amused me – hahaha, I know that feeling, Stefan lololololol.)

‘Big Mood’ aside, though, everything else found engaging and fun while also feelin’ fresh.

I particularly enjoyed a piece called ‘Self-Help Vending Machine’, which imagines – as you can guess from the title – a vending machine of self-help aphorism, my favourite passage of which reads: “N0/ You should get thicker skin/ P74/ You shouldn’t have done that/ Your skin is too thick now”

It’s funny.

That’s the kind of thing that is funny to me.

Though there is a gentle emotional pull in some of the later pieces in the chapbook, it is the broadly socio-cultural satire and gags that power this writing, for example in the piece ‘Meet Cute: “sipping an experimental gin/ that has a binary code/ instead of a name.”; in ‘Sleep Paralysis’: “England’s most ruthlessly authentic café, Diana beaming from every surface, builder’s tea on tap, and all around the room the salt of the earth”

The Marketplace of Ideas is fun, vibrant poetry, with lots of energy, lots of humour, lots of wit. Perhaps looser, less personal and less femme than the poetry I tend to love, but super engaging, super enjoyable and a nice example of contemporary satirical verse.

Order direct from Stewed Rhubarb Press via this link

  • September 10th, 2022

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