this is not me speaking: Donato Mancini’s Buffet World

Donato Mancini. Buffet World (New Star Books 2011).

The garish covert image, variations of which appear throughout, announces Buffet World as an advertising stunt gone really bad – deliberately. The multicoloured streak backing too bright bits of food, those images changing from page to page, alert potential readers to something along the line of Disney World, etc, an escape from the world of consumption through consumption, the binary upon which late capitalism both stands & falls. So Buffet World presents a smorgasbord of some visual works, a number of conceptual pieces, & those bright photos in a too bright collage of memes & themes.

In ‘If Violence (Hey You),’ the line ‘samplers are thieves’ opens a door on the construction of these works: the poet as hoarder collects as much as he can & piles it all up in these pieces; & as it says, ‘this is not me speaking.’ In a sense, not ever, anywhere, in this collection. The poet as sampler, however, is carefully constructing, for effect, for laughs:

there’s going postal
then there’s going
fed ex.

Buffet World offers us a snarky & comic (sliding towards satiric) entertainment, pushing the found language of its pieces hard so as to remind us that what we are laughing at is what we generally accept as part of our lives. We can keep our distance from a piece like ‘Alan Turing,’ where the series of ironies surrounding his death create a stark black comedy. Other pieces, like ‘Tang Dynasty,’ also keep us apart as they parade their astonishing statistics, the juxtapositions of which are both hilarious & horrifying. The lengthy ‘Air Raid over Fields of Bacon,’ pushes the straight-faced presentation of fantasies of consumption through punning intertextual connections, but perhaps it goes on a bit too long (readers will make up their own minds on this). The same might be said of the brilliantly titled (&, as readers of Mancini’s brilliant collection of visual poetry, Aethel, will know, he does great titles), ‘On Behalf of the Potato Chips Industry I Would Like to Wish You a Very Happy Birthday.’ Readers can’t help but feel a sense of complicity even as they laugh at the imagined advertising fantasies of consumption presented there. We might all say, under the advertising gun,

I’m a formed pattern
subjectivity a crust
over a soft core.
How do they
get the fruity stuff inside?
Taste asserted

as organizing principle of a
neo-culturalist vanguard
is history replayed
as an instant golden oldie

pre-aged antique.
Pre BA
it was French’s mustard
post MA (connoisseurist
omniscience) Dijon
in a stone jar. For all
the exotic cookbooks I’ve lost, still

I hate oregano.

As we follow the subtle shifts of perspective here we must also admit how fully we are compromised in this situation. Here the line breaks keep us just slightly off-balance, as we slowly discover that we all share something with that ‘I.’ Such sly moves in many of these pieces do the necessary satirical work of (almost) making us see ourselves in the wry mirror they hold up to us. Elsewhere, the comedy is good, but I’m not sure the anger satire demands is fully present.

A work like Buffet World raises interesting questions about what art can & should try to do. Although the titles of the visual constructions in Aethel often alluded to aspects of the reader’s world, they came across mainly as beautiful objects. That might have been enough for Mancini in that work, but not in all his work. In Buffet World, he offers the art of political (or politicized) collage; & at its best, it definitely manages to both entertain & provoke worried thought.

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