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Review: Mandeville by Matthew Francis

After having picked this collection up on a whim at my local library my first port of call was to research a bit on Mandeville; in order to understand the poets source material, the linguistic differences, the subtle nuances of change between Mandeville’s original and Francis’ reincarnation.     What i found fascinating was the aura of mystery that surrounds John Mandeville and his travels, an excellent jumping board for any creative to explore. Did John Mandeville really travel to these exotic and completely unfamiliar destinations? Are his accounts anywhere near accurate? Questions that have no necessary answer but that leave space for both the poet and the reader to jump into.

In Francis’ collection there are lots of avenues. The imagery is often luxurious, at time’s sufocatingly rich such as in Of Circumnavigation where the reader is traded between lands along with ‘wool for spices, grey sea for blue, our brass for gold’, to the point where the reader becomes almost travel blind with description.     There is very little subtly about each poem, the over arching journey is at best unessential. Instead I would look towards each poem as a case study, the arch being held in John Mandeville’s own writing, this taking one fantastic element of each stage of his journey and unfolding it until it becomes something other than what it was, baring a tenuous likeness.   The collection is an intoxicating synaesthesic blend of ‘cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg..culminating in a virgin sulphur.’. I’ve read many poetry collection that take the reader on a physical tour, but this is another experience that is tangibly liked to the earth in a way that conjurs the fantastical from familiarity. Francis’ description of the dead sea uses familiar images and locations but uses anthropamorphism to conjur the spirit of the sea, as it has ‘ swallowed its tears and become parched by the salt’.  – so beautiful!     The relationship between Francis and these objects is one of almost ownership, a claiming of their relation to other things, there is little delicacy, little right to their existence without his observing them. There is something harsh about the poem that is ‘now tarnished ‘ by five hundred years of sandstorms’ – of poets that alter colour.

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