Private Poems Mostly, by Chris Mahan (A Book Review)

ami j. sanghvi blog

In an age where instant gratification is all the rage and accountability is a lost art, Christopher Mahan rises above the current social climate in his poetry collection, Private Poems Mostly.

I found Mahan and his poetry through Twitter and discovered even more of it through his Patreon account. This is a man who lives his life for, by, and within poetry, never hesitating and never faltering in his dedication. I’ve also discovered he often takes the trouble to response to his mutuals with carefully crafted, poetic answers and comments. At other times, he shares slivers of his process, which is always strong-willed, extensive, passionate, and tremendously thorough.

The quality of his tweets encouraged me to start navigating his Patreon from time to time; in fact, I wish I could spend more time there reading his work…

So, imagine my excitement when I discovered he had books available for purchase on Amazon! I remember I didn’t even check my bank account as I bought them in under two minutes, and then actually allotted adequate time in my schedule to, at the very least, read Private Poems Mostly carefully.

I already wanted this book to have my undivided attention from the moment of purchase, knowing it would be something special even before cracking it open.

It turns out I was correct. The introductory section of the book is enough to reel you in and make you addicted to what Mahan has to say, share, and confess in the pages which follow. Additionally, the philosophical undertones and true approach to language as art that stretch across this entire collection are apparent from the very beginning. He also has a true awareness of the wonders and implications of poetry, and he explicitly states facts and sentiments expressing this throughout the text. Who doesn’t love poetry by a poet aware of his and others’ role as poets, as well as the place and purpose of poetry in the world?

This is the kind of stuff I live for.

The book consists not only of poems, but also the very occasional, very short story. This back-and-forth can be difficult to pull off without disrupting the poetic flow of a collection, but Mahan does a flawless job of executing this variety. Moreover, his level of skill between the two genres remains consistent, equal, and high; he writes stories and prose just as well as he does poetry.

It’s also safe to say he has mastered the craft of combining contemporary minimalism with an older-world obsession for plush, intricate, and luxurious language. Work like this gets more challenging to find with each passing day, so I’m always extremely relieved anytime I’m fortunate enough to stumble across it.

This book, from front to back, drips with honesty, authenticity, wisdom, kindness, awareness, and beauty. It is rare to see a man who writes about women in this way, and I found it deeply refreshing. Most of the poetry I find by men about women tends to be about how some “wicked” but sexually appealing “witch” shattered his heart to smithereens, and something similar follows as white men generally fetishize women of color in their written work.

Mahan is the type of man, thinker, writer, and poet who I pray there will someday be more of in this dark, patriarchal world. He knows how to see women, even the ones he appears to be romantically interested in, as human beings separate from our sexual possibilities. He writes about these women not for their skin, hair, boobs, or whatever else. Rather, he involves them in his work to pay a sort of homage to them and immortalize their pain, minds, souls, aspirations, disappointments, setbacks, achievements, lived experiences, philosophies, and poetry. He comprehends how to write about the beauty of the women he knows without objectifying or subjecting them to the narrow-mindedness and ignorance that so often comes from the pen of a man when set to poetry.

Furthermore, where he fears or realizes he could have been better to the women in his life, he does not hide this; he takes full accountability for his actions and inscribes his desire to do better moving forward.

These poems never drag themselves out, yet they all simultaneously manage to maintain a respectable, beautiful, literary slowness that indicate the time and care Mahan puts into everything he writes. This dedication very much manifests itself in the experience of reading his work here. In an era so deeply and dangerously infiltrated by the glorification of instant gratification, Mahan’s style does not succumb to these new-age pressures of rushing time. Each poem and story is meticulous in structure, language, and content; not a single one trips over itself in a race to reach the finish line. Mahan very much takes the marathon approach, and it shows in a way complimentary and telling of him not just as a poet and a writer, but also as a human being.

Every page of this book is laminated with love and compassion regarding all those it is about, as well as Mahan’s ardor for poetry, clearly stemming not just from his brain, but also from his soul. I can’t even count how many times I had to put down this collection just to pace around my living room and subdue the excitement of reading such an extravagant and intricate work of art.

If the devil is in the details, then the universe lives in poetry. In Private Poems Mostly, Mahan unarguably strikes the perfect balance between both.

10/10 would recommend.

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