Posthumous releases are tricky.
The best ones celebrate the life and work of the artist, while letting a smidgen of guilt form in the mind of the reader that they did not pick up on them in the artist's lifetime. All too often, however, some can lean more heavily towards guilt tripping rather than celebration.
The cover of Inner London Buddha looks like it could easily be from that school. A figure with straggly long hair, unkempt facial hair (resembling a young Pig Champion from US hardcore legends Poison Idea) looking forlong but also aware that he could be broken if he gives into his desires. All in tasteful black and white.
It's the sort of image that would resonate with the alienated but, crucially, the title injects a certain humour to proceedings. This is not 'Closer' nor 'Your Funeral, My Trial.' This seeming contradiction encourages you to pick the book off the shelf. And when you start reading, you're hooked.
Little is know about Mick Guffan, who died in 2006. Born in Cork, he moved to London in his teenage years and worked as a builder. His poetry is a mix of observation, confession, unapologetic sexuality and bravado. There's a solid working class ethic in his work that one or two reviewers have focused on, almost as a reaction against the gentrification of the arts for an exclusively middle class audience by an exclusively middle class audience.
It's a nice concept and, with him being dead, let's hope that his work manages to reach a wider audience.
With most of the poems barely lasting a page, Guffan manages to enthuse the writing with a downtrodden, melancholic feel that is uniquely Irish. A kind of melancholia found among those who left the country in their youth for pastures new, and never felt truly settled.
Take the poem 'Crumbling' as an example:
A grown man.
He was inconsolable.
It's the little things."
Depending on your mood, you can interpret this in a few different ways. Is this purely a piece of observation, or is it confessional. Is there a sneering tone? Is it sympathy? Is it bewilderment? You can take so much from it.
What I take from it is the narrator sees a certain kinship with the crying man, but chooses to keep his distance from him, lest he be dragged into a well of despair.
Another such example is 'Forked Road':
"It was another day
and it was
not a problem."
Three lines, and it's the pause between the second and third line that's telling the reader everything they need to know. It clearly is a problem for the narrator, as this is clearly not just another day, but a day where they must decide the path they must take in order to achieve something. That old Irish saying of the road rising with you comes to mind as well. Knowing that the road is long and uncertain, but still delaying the inevitable.
It's tempting to compare Guffan to Charles Bukowski, due to their similar approaches to poetry and subject matters. But I think it's an unfair comparison. Bukowski was writing from the perspective of someone who knew everything was crap, and with this transcendental approach, was free to write about his vices. It was very male. Whereas Guffan allows for ambiguity in his writing, plus his constant work as a builder shows him to be someone caught on the bottom rung of society, working to survive as opposed to living.
Mick Guffan, Inner London Buddha Tangerine Press ISBN-13: 978-1910691243.
Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212