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NPR Arts & Life

Randall Mann's 'Proprietary' Reinvents Classic San Francisco Poetry

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Randall Mann captures the San Francisco of his youth in his new poetry collection, "Proprietary". Our reviewer Tess Taylor says he does it while also reinventing the city for the dot-com age.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: Randall Mann's childhood is gone. His boyhood is gone. His home state is gone. People he has loved are gone, and the city he knew them in is rapidly changing. The poems in this collection also straddle the distance between a San Francisco of hedonistic pleasures and a San Francisco of corporate doublespeak. In echoing that earlier city, Mann evokes Thom Gunn, a noted San Francisco poet or even Baudelaire, a poet of raw urban desire. But in threading these poems about lust, longing and alienation through a brave new world of org charts and web portals, Mann imagines anew what it means to connect or to feel at a loss in the age of the Internet.

Poems ask what it means to be sincere, drawing near, he says, to someone I would like to like or later, as he puts it, feeling just shy of feeling. Poems edge the complex bafflements of tech guru life like this one called "Proximity", where a little white bus ferries a south to the technical mouth of the bay. And the poem says, (reading) my door is always open even when I shut it. I sit seven boxes below the CEO on the org chart. It's an art - the value add, the compound noun. What does add value, really? What does it mean to belong to a thing, to a self, to speech to one's memories?

These are poems of getting older in a precisely lighted room. Some of the poems are also about losing friends to drugs or AIDS. It was Baudelaire who said that the form of a city changes faster than the heart of a mortal, and man's poems find themselves in the aftershocks. I am legally obligated to spare you the particulars, writes Mann. That may be. But reading these poems, we also find ourselves.

SIEGEL: In the book is "Proprietary" by Randall Mann. Tess Taylor had our review. Her most recent book is "Work" And Days." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.