Nick Browne reviews ‘tutti frutti’ by Konstandinos Mahoney

 

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Konstandinos Mahoney’s debut collection fizzes with joie de vivre. Though it doesn’t flinch from the difficult, even the tragic, it’s sexy and life affirming: rich in sensual detail, acute, precisely, expressed observations all underpinned by a wry wit. In Ladyboy ‘A woman’s face and form, bar one small detail,/smooth legged she strides along the Silom Soi.’ In Night Market ‘mosquitos hum and whine, a soft voice purrs,/”Girl sir, want girl? Young girl? Boy Sir? Opium?”’

Tutti frutti  jostles with memorable personalities; their multilingual voices subtly conjured  or directly present in the text. There’s Aunt Aphrodite: ‘Mum’s spoons start disappearing./she’s stuffing them down her drawers,” dad says;/In her defense, I say, “she doesn’t wear any” (Aunt Aphrodite); the woman speaking with ‘martinet briskness,’ (Ring, Ring); the Reverend Doctor ‘how empty the bottle has become/how he’ll fetch another one. (An Evening with the Reverend Doctor); the child whose ‘words sprout in her mouth like milk teeth (Six Hundred) and the crazed voices of Dr Mirabilis and the Brass Wall That Will Save England “et nunc et semper, amen” an owlish friar drones/(while taking selfies for his Instagram)’

 

Mahoney’s geography is equally specific and vividly conveyed: ‘a council flat off the Lillie Road,’ ‘ a grand house in Kononaki’, ‘the dark Mekong’, ‘the slopes of Canlaon Vulcan,’ ‘In Montreal our hostess, gives a Gallic shrug.’ Such details  evoke both a powerful sense of place and an awareness of the transience of experience: the poet is one place then another. The world of this collection is broad and the poet seems to share an adventurous restlessness with his mother who in Athena Nike  ‘… conjures Smyrna in flames, flight to Alexandria, Athens in the occupation, liberation,/civil war, and English soldier, love, London, me,’. Here, Mahoney’s use of a list helps to telescope then expand time within the poem.

 

Elsewhere, repeated emphasis on single details distils the essence and striking singularity of events, people and places so that they live on the page. Mahoney implies, with great economy, a vibrant sensory hinterland within each poem: in The Alexandrian the eponymous hero has ‘ sex with sailors, waiters, stevadores,/muscled torsos, alabaster,/ideal bodies, olive skin,/mechanic’s grease, sweet jasmine’. A merchant seaman passes stalls: ‘With pomeo, pak choi, bitter melon;/shops stocked with jars of fungi, penis/horn…’ inn Aberdeen Street. In Maenad ‘she sets off tout de suite in triple time/Bourree, valeta, mazurka, tarantella’ a line which itself trip sat a dancing pace. This technique is nowhere more successful than in  After access where Mahoney’s use of the concrete creates both humour and pathos through careful juxtaposition: ‘an abandoned sandwich/small crescent bit/[…]/spell in a bucket/yipped down the sink/man on sofa/stiff drink’

 

The poems shift in mood and tone but are unified by Mahoney’s sharp eye for the absurd, the telling detail and the incongruous. In Ladyboy ‘ She lip-synchs Whitney at the Colosseum,/The songs she sings to me are out of tune,’.

Vampire Madonna ends ‘ 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 him away.’

 

These are poems in which Christmas tree are amputees, ‘Stripped bare, peg-legged, balding,’(Twelfth Night,) where bees are ‘Bright as soft chips off a tiger’s back’ ( Beeze,)

where Cherry blossom ‘Comes sudden as ecstatic foam/that blooms on epileptic lips.’ It is a collection full of unexpected turns as well as poems that tremble with desire and loss.

The earliest poems  in tutti frutti deal with burgeoning sexual desire then move on to familial relationships, death and the loss of relationships. Emotion is measured, often ambivalent but all the more powerful for that:

 

‘Holed up in his room, the son,

Too scared to get close,

To look upon in an iron god in rust,

Wary of unknotted tongues,

The crippled tenderness

That still might show.’

(Death of Poseidon )

 

‘He gave me my values,’ she whimpers,

Dabbing moist eyes,

Next morning, they leave –

Earlier than planned.

 

Car turns the corner.

Gone.

(His Values)

 

tutti frutti is as affecting as it is exuberant, the writing as meticulous as it is surprising: a scintillating  and powerful debut.

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Nick Browne has taught creative writing at Oxford University ( Continuing Education) Arvon, the British Council and a number of other universities. In addition to publishing short stories and poetry, Nick has published nine novels with Bloomsbury.

Order your copy of tutti frutti (SPM publications by Konstandinos Mahoney here: http://www.spmpublications.com/shop/tutti-frutti-konstandinos-mahoney.html

 

 

 

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