Friday, May 11, 2018

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Inner London Buddha

Christopher Owens reviews a work of poetry.

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:

"Closed sign
a man 

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.

At £12, 'Inner London Buddha' is a steal. What are you waiting for? Get it.

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


AM said...

Another great review.

TPQ is fortunate to have Christopher featuring here with his proclivity towards delving into what is often uncharted territory.

Christopher Owens said...


thank you very much. Greatly honoured.

DaithiD said...

Christopher, as a comedy fan, did you ever catch the show Nathan Barley? When I see three lines lauded I’m minded of the Sugar Ape magazine editorials discussing artists/authors!

Christopher Owens said...


of course! The finest programme ever about the NME! Hippies, by Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews, mined some of the same territory (their sketch asking whether a pig wearing a police officer's helmet is too subtle is not only hilarious, but also an accurate depiction of Banksy's "work").

I know what you mean. I can certainly be like that when seeing people stroke their chins over some third rate T.S Eliot style poem which means fuck all. However, some writing just hits you in the solar plexus, and this one did.

As a

DaithiD said...

I get it. The Rothko Room at the Tate is my favourite place London, I rarely admit this for fear of looking Barleyesque.

P.s I meander through most references, but I avoid anything Linehan does, for political reasons, incase it supports him, however small, in any way. The classic Partridge episode excepted.

(And I’ve spoken with jihadis so that’s saying something).

DaithiD said...

Ps Christopher, the Quill has had some classic Partridge-esque moments, I remember this article well , and mean the author no disrespect (I think you will like it)

Many gems such as :

“...Making Public Enterprises Work: From Despair to Promise: A Turnaround Account (IWA Publishing, 2009) has become a classic among global water practitioners. It is a truly inspirational read and comes highly recommended..."

Christopher Owens said...


Linehan really showed his colours for me when he was in favour of (ahem) "Count Dankula" being charged with hate speech. Clearly doesn't understand the concept of freedom of speech. A shame.

Thanks for linking that. That is a great quote, but I have to admit I couldn't read "When it comes to water, Ireland is on a different planet to the rest of the World" without hearing "Britain has some of the safest roads in Europe. But this isn't Britain. DIS IS DE AUTOBAHN!"

If you really want some Partridge level stuff, look up Mike Read interviewing Chevy Chase.