Book Review

POETRY MONTH: The Nancy Reagan Collection by Maxe Crandall

i read some poems on the backlot throat goat

I don’t know much about Nancy Reagan & I’m not even 100% certain if her surname should be pronounced “ray-gun” or “ree-gun”.

This is probably something I could look up and should probably learn.

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They say if you remember the ’80s you weren’t there.

I don’t remember the ’80 and I was definitely there: I’ve seen my own government-issued identification attesting to that fact (though should I trust the British state’s documentation???)

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All I knew about Nancy Reagan is that she excelled at oral sex (“backlot throat goat” was the phrase circulating on Twitter) and Joan Didion thought she was crass and low rent (though was that just an “old Cali money” vs “new Cali money” thing???)

I knew, too, that Nancy Reagan was friends with people (connections from her acting career) who petitioned her to encourage governmental intervention at an early stage in the AIDS crisis, and that she wasn’t able to make anything happen.

This 2020 poetry collection by Maxe Crandall (published by Futurepoem Books) explores not only the Reagan administration’s bleak legacy regarding this particular health emergency, but it also looks in detail at Nancy and Ronald’s [pretty open] bribe-taking and tax evasion (this was basically done by a failure to correctly declare extremely expensive gifts).

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Crandall discusses Nancy Reagan designating a sole approved flower supplier for the White House and then “banking” any flowers ordered for her as a gift, so that when she ordered flowers for someone else, they were already paid for.

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This is not only poetry but a wide socio-cultural history of America during the ’80s.

Crandall also looks in detail at the Iran-Contra scandal, something I didn’t know much about until reading the excellent poetic essay ‘Irresistible Forces’ that sits roughly in the centre of this book. This piece combines detail about illegal arms sales, propagandistic sci-fi video games, the CIA’s direct involvement in right-wing coups in Nicaragua, as well as their intentional, domestic, pushing (and then heavy criminalisation) of crack cocaine in underprivileged and predominantly Black parts of the USA.

There’s also lots about Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Nancy Sinatra, and there’s a strange, surrealist, play script featuring these figures that I didn’t really understand, but that’s ok: I accept my limitations and know that making scott manley hadley (me) confused is not the same as a text being bad.

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The Nancy Reagan Collection draws attention to the ways in which socially and fiscally conservative ideologies directly resulted in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and how homophobia is part of the same corrupt othering used by the right to “justify” funding right-wing militias in other countries, and trying to get people addicted to illegal drugs.

This is a wise, big book about the prison industrial complex, it’s about right wing economic and sociological ideologies and how they destroy industries, infrastructure, social cohesion, cities and lives, and it’s an engaging, serious – yet still entertaining – book.

I would recommend!

Order direct from Futurepoem via this link

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