Bad Boy Poet, by Scott Manley Hadley, Open Pen, 2018, 96 pp.
Consider the front matter photograph, the poet, posed seated naked, holding the poodle on his lap. Black and white. The bookcase behind (the backdrop, for a studio portrait by Paul D. Rowland) a drop sheet of a bookcase drawing, as in comics. The poet is naked, nothing but the dog. Only one of the books in the bookcase drawing shows a title: “The Dead Doll’s Club.”
In “Acknowledgements,” we learn the photo shoot was done at “Dead Dolls House.” According to EastLondonLines, The Dead Doll’s Club is a dining club. Or was, the building slated for demolition back in 2015: “Walking into the first room is like stepping through the looking glass. A glowing bar stands beckoning in front of you, overflowing with spirits of every kind, piled high with frosted, frothing glasses and, for some peculiar reason, china dogs. The walls are covered in felt tip pen. But this isn’t the scribbling of a protesting adolescent, they’re hand crafted archways, potted plants and bookcases, with silver touches that create a fairytale setting” (Alex Kalinauckas, EastLondonLines, 24 Feb 2014). Rowland’s portrait photograph foreshadows Scott Manley Hadley’s third poem in his just released debut poetry book, “Bad Boy Poet”: (Open Pen, 2018):
She paid for
They are hers, there is no dispute.
I paid for the dog
He is mine.
A tree without a leaf of metaphor, just bleak lines, bare branches. The bad boy poet then is literal. He’s bad because he’s honest. Sans the usual figurative tricks, the poet wears no clothes. There are precursors to today’s bad boy poets. Bukowski, of course, but this bad boy insists on beginning every line with a capital letter; an insistence that these are poems, knocking on the door of the canon.
What is a bad boy, and why is he bad?
To gain attention, to attract notice. Often comic, as in the class clown. Prescriptive poets and critics create bad writing with their rules. The bad boy poet is an artist, because he has to be. There’s nothing else for him. His poetry is his survival technique. But he’s not trying to persuade anyone. There’s little argument. What arguments there might have been have passed. The bad boy poet is isolated even from the general society of poetry, the canon. This is irony. Northrup Frye, in “Anatomy of Criticism,” explains:
The term irony, then, indicates a technique of appearing to be less than one is, which in literature becomes most commonly a technique of saying as little and meaning as much as possible. The ironic fiction-writer, then, deprecates himself and, like Socrates, pretends to know nothing, even that he is ironic. Complete objectivity and suppression of all explicit moral judgements are essential to his method. Thus pity and fear are not raised in ironic art: they are reflected to the reader from the art. When we try to isolate the ironic as such, we find that it seems to be simply the attitude of the poet as such, a dispassionate construction of a literary form, with all assertive elements, implied or expressed, eliminated. Irony, as a mode, is born from the low mimetic; it takes life exactly as it finds it. But the ironist fables without moralizing, and has no object but his subject. Irony is naturally a sophisticated mode, and the chief difference between sophisticated and naive irony is that the naive ironist calls attention to the fact that he is being ironic, whereas sophisticated irony merely states, and lets the reader add the ironic tone himself…. Tragic irony, then, becomes simply the study of tragic isolation as such…. Its hero does not necessarily have any tragic hamartia or pathetic obsession: he is only somebody who gets isolated from his society.
After dog comes “dick.” But dick or not, the poet is an attitude, a temperament:
All poets ARE dicks
All poets HAVE dicks.
What is a dick? Is dick the mask? Does the introductory portrait photograph (and the poems that follow) make a mockery of Yeats and his theory of masks? What a bunch of poo is mythology, particularly the idea of creating one’s own personal mythology. There are no symbols of meaning or anti-meaning, and the narrative is not an allegory:
Both of my parents are ill
They carry on
As if home is a place of safety
As if the things that have already been lost
May be refound.
They will not:
Fighting death will only get harder.
Surprising poems of tenderness for his father and other poems of love and sadness for his mother, both parents ageing, growing vulnerable, mortal. He loves both his father and his mother. Does that sound like a “bad boy”? And the litany poem, each line beginning, “I don’t have to hate myself because….” It’s not an argument; these are statements of facts. The book “Bad Boy Poet” is a song of himself. The songs run from minor chords of minor sentiment to major statements about the effects of social media and the fallout from free love (the irony there of course is there is no such thing as free love – it all comes with a terrible but funny cost, the cost of being human), to the bite size joke, while maintaining the irony that these poems are not greeting card sentiment – this is real poetry, the raw deal, the “poo” of writing. “All writing is garbage,” said Artaud. Crap, yes, but the remains of a thinking being.
And the lying
(well the hiding the truth)
Doesn’t suit me.
It is not
Who I am.
And what I want
More than sex
Is to not be told
Who to be any more.
There are no ancient myths anymore, no canonical truths. There is only the naked body (in the symmetrically closing portrait photograph, even the dog has disappeared). The poems begin to relax, the poet to breathe from the stomach. The hysteria of popular culture, drug scenes, costume parties where everyone has prepared a face to meet other preparations – discarded detritus, and we are left with only the real poo, and then with a slowly emerging awakening (not an epiphany, which suggests grace, while these poems came from hard work):
I should love myself because I am kind….
I don’t have to hate myself because I don’t want to hate
myself any more.
I don’t have to hate myself because, now, I’m a poet.
I don’t have to hate myself.
I should love myself
Each poem in “Bad Boy Poet” stands alone, but at the same time a plot unfolds, the poems form a narrative, and a dynamic (i.e. one who changes) character emerges. There are outside references – literary, popular, presumably personal. The humor runs from the scatological to philosophical, and if we don’t get the “poo” motif, we might recall Yeats again, this time “Crazy Jane”:
A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.
We may have been taught not to confuse the narrator of a poem with the author of the poem, and while that may often lead to an accurate reading, it seems that “Bad Boy Poet” is indeed autobiographical, poetry to be taken literally. The details are often jarring, the juxtapositions discomforting:
The doctor pushed apart my peehole
Like one of those fortune tellers
Children make from paper.
It popped open and he stuck in a metal rod
Tipped by a cotton bud
And rolled it about.
We have come through a winter that may have lasted a decade of discontent. Things were spare, sparse. We didn’t enjoy having a good time. We have learned to whittle away all the fat from our poems. We are bald and naked, with a chance to relax. We may even be peaceful, and dare we even think, happy? Manley Hadley seems to have found in “Bad Boy Poet” his “craft and sullen art,” and, as Dylan Thomas did, writes not for the critics or the poets of shape and form, but for “the lovers.”
The poetry playa
The poetry game.
We’re one hundred years from Prufrock, but doesn’t he seem just like yesterday? And the bad boy poet signs off with just three kisses.
Joe Linker is a West-Coast writer and the author of Alma Lolloon (2017), Saltwort (2017) and Penina's Letters (2016). He blogs regularly at The Coming of the Toads.